The clinical definition of the term "abortion" is the termination of a pregnancy, and it is an extremely common event that can occur naturally in a woman's body before she even realizes she is pregnant. Induced abortion, however, is the term to describe intentional abortion procedures. There are several different types of abortion procedures, including nonprofessional abortion procedures that the pregnant woman or some other unlicensed professional attempts in order to end the pregnancy.
Medical abortion can be done using established medical procedures by a trained medical practitioner, by the use of hormone combinations, or by taking a drug called RU-486, which is available in the U.S. only on a trial basis.
Three Types of Abortion
There are three main types of medical abortion. By far the most common procedure involves insertion of a cannula through a woman's cervix and removing the fetus and placenta using vacuum aspiration. This procedure generally is used in the first trimester (i.e., the first three months after conception) and accounts for about 90% of all medical abortions.
In this procedure, which takes about 5 to 10 minutes and can be performed in a physician's office, the woman lies on an examining table with her feet in stirrups. A local anesthetic is administered to numb the woman's cervix. In some cases, a general anesthetic may be used to induce sleep, but this is usually not necessary.
The first step in the procedure involves the insertion of a speculum to hold the vaginal walls apart, followed by insertion of a cannula through the dilated cervix. The cannula is connected to a mechanical aspirator. The sucking action of the machine, similar to the device used by dentists to remove excess saliva during dental procedures, removes the contents of the uterus.
To insure that the abortion is complete, the physician may insert a spoon-like instrument, called a curette, and checks the walls of the uterus. This ends the procedure.
About 10% of abortions are performed after the 12th week of pregnancy. Two alternative procedures are used with later-term pregnancies. The first is quite similar to the procedure described above, but, because the fetus is larger and more firmly attached to the uterine wall, in addition to using suction the physician inserts a forceps to remove fetal parts that may be too large to be successfully aspirated. The procedure takes up to 30 minutes and may involve the administration of pain medication to the woman.