What are the Different Types of Surgical Abortions?

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  • Written By: Amanda R. Bell
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 19 September 2019
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There are several different types of surgical abortions. Suction aspiration, dilation and curettage, and dilation and evacuation are the most common. Induction abortions and dilation and extraction abortions are the least common surgical abortion procedures; they are typically only performed when the life of the mother requires it or the fetus is deemed incompatible with life.

A suction aspiration is most commonly performed for non-medical reasons and can only be done within the first six to 12 weeks of pregnancy. The procedure takes less than 20 minutes and usually requires a few hours of recovery time before the woman is allowed to leave the clinic or hospital. A suction aspiration abortion begins with a local anesthetic being injected into the cervix, which is then manually dilated to make room for a tube to be inserted through the opening. A vacuum-type machine, which is attached to the tubing, suctions out the fetus, placenta, and other pregnancy material.

A dilation and curettage abortion can be done any time between 12 and 15 weeks gestation. These types of surgical abortions, while available in many places for non-medical reasons, are most often performed when testing shows severe health issues with the fetus or when the mother's health is at risk. It is also performed when a miscarriage fails to expel the pregnancy from the uterus.

During this procedure, which takes about 10 minutes, the cervix is dilated and a curette scrapes the fetus and placenta away from the lining of the uterus. The suction machine used in a suction aspiration abortion is then inserted to remove any remaining material. Following the procedure, it typically takes up to five hours before a woman is allowed to leave the clinic or hospital.

A dilation and evacuation abortion can be performed between 15 and 21 weeks gestation. Within 24 to 48 hours before the procedure, a medication is applied to the opening of the cervix to aid in dilation. The cervix is then manually dilated, and the uterus is scraped in the same manner as the dilation and curettage. Pregnancy material is then removed with the use of forceps, and suction removes any remaining tissue.

While these types of surgical abortions can be handled in some clinics, they are most often performed in a hospital. The abortion itself takes about a half hour, and recovery can take up to eight hours. This type of surgical abortion is, in most cases, done for medical reasons; either the fetus is incompatible with life or the woman's health is at great risk.

After 21 weeks of gestation, the only types of surgical abortions available are induction and dilation and extraction, also known as a partial-birth abortion. This procedure is almost always reserved for a pregnancy when it is determined the fetus will either die in utero or shortly after birth. An induction abortion is performed with a cervical softening medication to dilate the cervical opening and pitocin to induce labor. Once the fetus enters the birth canal, a medication is injected into it to terminate; the fetus is then expelled through natural labor.

A dilation and extraction abortion is rarely performed and is typically the most controversial of surgical abortions. A synthetic medication dilates the cervix until a woman's water breaks, which can take up to three days. After labor begins, forceps pull the fetus into the birth canal, where the surgeon makes an incision into the base of the skull. Suction then removes the brain tissue, thereby terminating the pregnancy. The fetus is then fully removed from the birth canal.

Following any of these surgical abortions, a woman typically experiences nausea, cramping, and bleeding. In rare cases, there can be damage done to the cervix or uterus, especially with procedures performed after 15 weeks of gestation. The legality of these surgical abortions vary by jurisdiction.

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