Surgical abortion is the most common form of abortion today. Every year, thousands of women choose this type of abortion to end their pregnancies.

As a woman considering your abortion options, you likely have many questions about the safety, availability, and effectiveness of the surgical abortion procedure. Here, find answers to the most common questions women have about in-clinic surgical abortions.

  1. What is a surgical abortion?

Surgical abortion, also called in-clinic abortion, refers to a medical procedure that is used to end pregnancy. These abortions are performed by a doctor or advanced practice nurse in a clinic or hospital.

There are several types of clinical abortion. The most common are:

  • Aspiration abortion: Sometimes also called vacuum abortion or suction abortion, this is the most common surgical abortion procedure. Vacuum aspiration abortion is generally available during the first trimester, often up to the 16th week of pregnancy.
  • Dilation and evacuation abortion: D&E abortion can be performed later than the 16th week of pregnancy. However, it can be difficult to find an abortion provider after the first trimester, and abortions are not typically performed after 24 weeks of pregnancy unless there are extreme health issues.
  1. How does surgical abortion work?

Abortion is a personal process, and your surgical abortion experience may vary based on your circumstances, your healthcare provider, and your state’s abortion laws.

In general, here’s how your abortion surgery will work:

  • Contact a healthcare provider. The first step for any woman considering abortion is to meet with her doctor or a health clinic to discuss her options, talk about her health history and complete a physical exam, which may include an ultrasound to confirm the stage of pregnancy.
  • Take pain medications. During the abortion surgical procedure, you will receive a numbing medication to help you feel more comfortable. Your healthcare provider may also offer you sedatives and other pain medications. You may need to bring a friend or family member with you to the clinic so you will have someone to drive you home after the procedure; it may not be safe to drive after taking these medications.
  • Empty the uterus. In a surgical aspiration abortion, a slender tube will be inserted through the cervix, and gentle suction will be used to empty the uterus. Sometimes, the doctor may use a medical tool called a curette to gently scrape any remaining tissue from the uterus. This is sometimes referred to as a dilation and curettage abortion or D&C abortion.

In the case of a D and E abortion, some additional steps may be necessary. In addition to the medications offered for pain and relaxation, many women will be administered a shot through the abdomen to stop the fetus’s heart before the procedure begins. Additional medical tools, such as forceps, may be used to help empty the uterus.

  1. How long does a surgical abortion take?

Abortion by aspiration can typically be completed in about 5–10 minutes, while the D & E abortion procedure may take 15–30 minutes. However, additional time will likely be required to complete the physical exam and prepare your cervix for the procedure. Many clinics also require you to spend an hour or two in recovery before returning home following an abortion.

In total, you should expect to spend a few hours at the clinic on the day of your procedure. Most women are able to resume normal activity the following day.

  1. How effective is surgical abortion?

Surgical abortion is successful about 99 percent of the time. You will need to schedule a follow-up appointment with your clinic or doctor following the procedure to ensure it was effective and that you are recovering fully.

  1. Is surgical abortion safe?

As with any surgical procedure, there are some medical risks associated with surgical abortion, including allergic reaction, blood clots in the uterus, infection, incomplete abortion, failure to end the pregnancy, or injury to the cervix or other organs. These risks increase the longer a woman waits to complete the abortion.

Certain symptoms could be the sign of a rare but serious complication. You should contact your healthcare provider immediately if you experience any of the following:

  • Uncontrollable or excessive bleeding for two or more hours
  • Blood clots that are larger than the size of a lemon
  • Severe abdominal pain or discomfort
  • Chills and fever after the day of the procedure
  • Nausea, vomiting, or other gastrointestinal issues
  • Signs of pregnancy

Please read the following for more information about the risks and side effects of abortion.

  1. Does surgical abortion hurt?

Every woman is different, and the level of surgical abortion pain can vary from patient to patient. Some women experience pain similar to menstrual cramps, while others find it more uncomfortable. Your doctor should offer pain medications to make your experience as comfortable as possible.

  1. How much does a surgical abortion cost?

The cost of surgical abortion can vary based on a number of factors, including your healthcare provider, the stage of your pregnancy, your insurance situation, and more. The type of medical procedure necessary to complete your abortion may also contribute to cost; for example, in many cases, aspiration abortion costs less than D&E abortion.

According to Planned Parenthood, surgical abortion costs can be up to $1,500 during the first trimester, and that cost can be much higher for second trimester abortions.

  1. Where can I get a surgical abortion?

Many health centers, clinics, and private healthcare providers can offer abortion services or direct you to the resources you need to find an abortion center.

To find the in-clinic abortion services you need, contact your doctor or a health clinic right away. The later you are in your pregnancy, the more difficult it may be to find a safe abortion provider.

Final Thoughts

There are a number of factors to consider before making an abortion decision. To learn more about your unplanned pregnancy options or other types of abortion, speak with a medical professional or licensed counselor.

The following resources can also provide additional information about in-clinic abortion procedures: