Therapeutic medical abortion; Elective medical abortion; Induced abortion; Nonsurgical abortion
A medical, or nonsurgical, abortion can be done within 7 weeks from the first day of the woman's last menstrual period. A combination of prescription hormone medicines are used to help the body remove the fetus and placenta tissue. The doctor may give you the medicines after performing a physical exam and asking questions about your medical history.
Medications used to end an early pregnancy include mifepristone, methotrexate, misoprostol, prostaglandins, or a combination of these medications.
Why the Procedure Is Performed
There are several reasons a medical abortion might be considered:
The developing baby has a birth defect or genetic problem
The pregnancy is harmful to the woman's health (therapeutic abortion)
The pregnancy resulted after a traumatic event such as rape or incest
The woman may not wish to be pregnant (elective abortion)
Risks of medical (nonsurgical) abortion include:
Fetus not passing completely from body, making surgery necessary
Before the Procedure
The decision to end a pregnancy is very personal. Most health care providers recommend careful counseling before making such a decision.
Abortion is a controversial issue. A woman who chooses to end a pregnancy may feel she cannot share her decision with others. Therefore, it is important for her to identify those who may help her through what may be a difficult time.
Women who are trying to make this difficult decision should find a safe place in which they can obtain counseling regarding all options for pregnancy resolution.
If a woman chooses to have an abortion, she should find a safe place to have the procedure performed and obtain the proper support and follow-up care afterwards.
Test done before this procedure:
Pelvic examination is done to confirm the pregnancy and estimate how many weeks pregnant you are.
HCG blood test may be done to confirm the pregnancy.
Vaginal or abdominal ultrasound may be done to determine the exact age of the fetus and its location in the womb.
After the Procedure
Physical recovery usually occurs within a few days, depending on the stage of the pregnancy. A small amount of vaginal bleeding and mild uterine cramping should be expected for a few days.
A hot bath or use of a heating pad or hot water bottle on the abdomen may help relieve discomfort. Strenuous activity should be avoided for a few days. Sexual intercourse should be avoided for 2 to 3 weeks. A normal menstrual period should occur in about 4 to 6 weeks.
It's important to begin using birth control immediately after the abortion procedure. It is possible to get pregnant again even before having a normal menstrual period. Improved methods of contraception can help prevent many unplanned pregnancies. However, unplanned pregnancies occur even when couples use birth control.
Complications rarely occur.
Women who have a medical abortion have cramping and bleeding, and pass the pregnancy-related tissue as though they were having a miscarriage.
Some women feel ambivalent about ending a pregnancy, and may need psychological and emotional support. It may be helpful to seek counseling before making this very difficult decision.
ACOG. Clinical management guidelines of obstetrician-gynecologists. Medical management of abortion. Obstet Gynecol. 2005 Oct;106(4):871-82.
Mischell DR. Family planning: contraception, sterilization, and pregnancy termination. In: Katz VL, Lentz GM, Lobo RA, Gershenson DM, eds. Comprehensive Gynecology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2007:chap 14.
Simpson JL, Jauniaux ERM. Pregnancy loss. In: Gabbe SG, Niebyl JR, Simpson JL, eds. Obstetrics: Normal and Problem Pregnancies. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2007:chap 24.
Annas GJ, Elias S. Legal and ethical issues in obstetric practice. In: Gabbe SG, Niebyl JR, Simpson JL, eds. Obstetrics: Normal and Problem Pregnancies. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2007:chap 51.
Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine; Susan Storck, MD, FACOG, Chief, Eastside Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound, Redmond, Washington; Clinical Teaching Faculty, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.