What To Know About Abortions

woman with doctor
Chinnapong / Getty Images.

Abortion can feel like a tough subject to talk about or even think about. Yet millions of women face the prospect of an untimed, unintended, or unplanned pregnancy or a pregnancy that must be terminated for medical reasons. While abortion may feel taboo to talk about, many women get abortions each year because that feels like the best choice for their lives.

If you are looking at the possibility of getting an abortion, what you need is good information and resources. This guide is not meant to make the decision for you about abortion—that is a deeply personal choice, and should be based on your own needs, in consultation with a medical professional.

Rather, this guide will answer your basic questions about abortions in general, along with what the procedures look like, and where to get counseling on making a decision.

What to Know About Abortions

There are a lot of misconceptions about abortion out there. So, let start from the beginning, with the legalities of abortion in the United States.

Legalities

Since the 1973 Roe v Wade decision, it has been legal to get an abortion in any state in the United States. Although simple and easy access to abortions and abortion coverage varies from state to state and from region to region, it is your legal right to obtain an abortion. 

In some states, there are shortages of abortion clinics or providers. There may also be a lot of red tape in place that makes it hard to get good, clear information about your options and about insurance coverage for abortion.

If you are unsure of where you can find a doctor or clinic who can perform the procedure for you, you can contact Planned Parenthood for more information, including your financial options. These days, you can even do a virtual appointment with Planned Parenthood, so you can find out what your best options are for an abortion in your particular community.

How Common Are Abortions?

Besides being legal, abortions are very common. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), one-quarter of women in the U.S. will seek an abortion by age 45. As Planned Parenthood points out, even women who already have children get abortions—six out of 10 women who get abortions are already mothers.

There are many reasons why a woman might seek an abortion during her childbearing years. These reasons might be circumstantial; they might be as a result of trauma; and they might be medical, including mental illness.

ACOG lists several of these reasons, including:

  • Lack of access to birth control
  • Birth control failure
  • Rape
  • Incest
  • Domestic violence
  • Fetal abnormalities

A woman may experience life-threatening pregnancy complications where the abortion becomes the only means to save her life. These complications can include:

In addition to the above, a woman’s life circumstances—including income, age, marital status, and how many other children she already must care for—may influence her decision to seek an abortion.

There is no one right answer here: We each have our own unique situation, and the decision to seek an abortion might include more than one reason at once.

Are Abortions Safe?

In places where abortion is legal, it is usually very safe. In contrast, in places where abortion is illegal, complications and deaths are more common.

“Today, approximately 25 million women around the world resort to unsafe abortions each year, and complications from these unsafe procedures account for as many as 15% of all maternal deaths, approximately 44,000 annually,” says ACOG's 2020 committee opinion.

The ACOG opinion also notes that the risk of death from abortion in the United States is very low: “The risk of death associated with childbirth is approximately 14 times higher than that with abortion. In the United States, 88% of abortions occur within the first trimester, when abortion is safest. Serious complications from abortions at all gestational ages are rare.”

When Can You Have an Abortion?

The majority of abortions occur during the first trimester of pregnancy (the first 12 weeks), which is also the generally safest time to have an abortion. In some occasions, you will be able to find a provider who will give you an abortion in the second trimester, but because that can be harder to obtain, it’s best to seek care in your first trimester. Some abortions happen after 24 weeks, but this is rare, and you must have a medical reason for this.

What Are the Different Abortion Procedures?

There are two main types of abortions: in-clinic abortions, and medical abortions.

In-Clinic Abortions

In-clinic abortions take place at a doctor’s office or clinic. They are performed by a medical professional and involve a suctioning of the pregnancy from your uterus. This procedure is 99% effective, and quick (about 10 minutes), but the entire appointment may take several hours.

There are two main types of in-clinic abortion:

  • Suction abortion (vacuum aspiration) is most common and involves gentle vacuum suctioning of the contents of the uterus. This can be done in the first trimester and early second trimester of pregnancy.
  • Dilation and evacuation (D&E) involves both suctioning and the use of medical instruments to remove the pregnancy from the uterus. The advantage of a D&E is that it can be done later on in pregnancy, usually at 16 weeks or more.

Medical Abortions

Medical abortion involve pills that will terminate your pregnancy. Some are ingested orally (dissolved under the tongue) and some are placed inside the vagina.

Over the course of a few days, you will be given several pills that will cause your body to expel the pregnancy. This will be similar to experiencing a miscarriage, and will involve several days or weeks of cramping or bleeding.

Medical abortions are very effective, but the earlier they are done, the more effective they are. Most of the time, medical abortions aren’t recommended past about nine weeks of pregnancy. One main benefit of medical abortions is that they can be done in the comfort of your own home and don’t involve an in-person medical procedure, which can feel traumatizing for some women.

Common medications that induce abortion include:

  • Oral mifepristone (Mifeprex)
  • Oral misoprostol (Cytotec)

Less common abortion medications include:

What Is Recovery Like After an Abortion?

You will be given pain medication options for use during and after your abortion and procedures. Your doctor or nurse will also give you written instructions for recovery and when you can resume certain activities. Usually, there will only be a few days of cramping and pain, but you should expect to set aside some time to rest for a few days following your abortion.

Even after the initial discomfort, you will be experiencing a week or more of bleeding. So stock up on pads, tampons, and other menstrual supplies. You can resume your normal activities within a day or two of having an abortion, but it’s advised that you refrain from heavy exercise or strenuoous activities for a several days after your abortion.

Besides the physical experience, recovering from an abortion can be an intense emotional experience. You may feel guilt, worry, sadness, and even numbness. On the other hand, you may feel relief. All those feelings are common and normal. Your hormones are also shifting from a pregnancy state to a non-pregnancy state. So be gentle with yourself during this time. Find trusted friends to confide in.

Your nurse or doctor may recommend a counselor to help you sort out your feelings. Exhale is a free hotline to help women who have recently had abortions discuss their feelings.

Where Can You Get Help In Making Your Decision?

Again, the decision about whether or not to have an abortion is a deeply personal decision. Because abortion is still considered so taboo, it may be difficult to share your feelings and concerns with even your closest friends or family members.

The good news is that there are several free and confidential resources out there to help you sort out your feelings and help you make a decision that feels right for you. These places offer compassionate, non-judgmental counseling and will help you search within yourself for a decision that feels right.

Resources

Planned Parenthood is a go-to resource for abortion, and offers free and low-cost counseling for women struggling to make this decision. Virtual appointments are available as well.

All-Options is a free hotline you can call to speak to a counselor who can help you talk about your decision and provide you with helpful resources.

A Word From Verywell

Most women don’t experience any long-term emotional scarring from abortions, but that doesn’t mean the experience isn’t intense or even traumatic for some women. It’s important to understand that having intense feelings after an abortion is normal, and doesn’t necessarily mean that you have don’t anything wrong or that you won’t feel like yourself again soon.

However, if you have lingering feelings that make it difficult to feel normal or function in your day-to-day life, it’s vital that you find a therapist or counselor to talk to. Again, places like Planned Parenthood can offer options for counseling. You can also find a psychotherapist or psychiatrist to help you work through any mental health issues you are experiencing. Remember, your happiness and well-being are important, and deserve care and attention.

Was this page helpful?
1 Source
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Increasing access to abortion: ACOG Committee Opinion summary, number 815. Obstet Gynecol. 2020;136(6):1240-1241. doi:10.1097/AOG.0000000000004177