Surgical abortion

If you are thinking of ending your pregnancy, there are two different types of abortion that may be available to you: surgical abortion and medical abortion.

There are differences to each procedure, and you will want to think about whether surgical or medical abortion is best for you.

What is surgical abortion

Surgical abortion is a safe and simple procedure used to end a pregnancy. The pregnancy is removed through the vagina by a doctor using a suction method. Slender specialised instruments may also be used.

The procedure for a surgical abortion can differ depending on how many weeks pregnant you are, and it will take place at a healthcare facility.

When you have a consultation with your doctor, they will advise you on what type of surgical abortion procedure you can have. You can also contact us to discuss your options.

When can surgical abortion be used

Surgical abortion is effective for both early pregnancy, and pregnancies later than 9 weeks when taking abortion pills may not be suitable.

99 out of 100 women will have a successful surgical abortion, but the procedure can sometimes fail in very early pregnancy (before 6 weeks). This is because the pregnancy will still be deeply embedded within the womb wall.

If you are less than 9 weeks pregnant, you may wish to consider medical abortion instead, which can be done as soon as you miss your period. Use our pregnancy calculator to work out how many weeks pregnant you are.

Whether you can have a surgical or medical abortion will also depend on the laws in your country. The Centre for Reproductive Rights gives up-to-date information on abortion laws around the world.

What can you expect from a surgical abortion

You can expect to have mild to very strong cramping while a surgical abortion is being carried out. Pain medication can be used during and after, and depending on the type of surgical abortion procedure, you may also be offered an anaesthetic. You should discuss this with your doctor beforehand.

The whole procedure can be completed very quickly, with a surgical abortion taking between 5-20 minutes. However, you may spend longer in the clinic itself.

Most women will experience some bleeding and cramping after a surgical abortion. Bleeding can last for 1-2 weeks and will be similar to a heavy period. Cramping pains are also normal following the procedure, as the womb returns to its normal size.

After a surgical abortion

It is rare that you will need a follow-up with a healthcare professional, as this normally only happens if the surgical abortion was unsuccessful. In this instance, you may receive medication to prepare and dilate (gently open) your cervix, and will then have a surgical evacuation of the uterus. This is also known as dilation and evacuation (D&E).

Feelings after an abortion can vary. Most women feel relieved, but some also feel sad or guilty. Occasionally, although you might feel well physically, it could lead to an emotional struggle. This range of emotions is completely normal. It can help to talk to someone you trust about how you are feeling, or call an MSI Reproductive Choices contact centre.

If you are looking to prevent future pregnancy, almost all contraceptive methods can be started immediately after surgical abortion. Speak to your doctor about your options, or take a look at our information about contraception to see which method is best for you.

Read about medical abortion.

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