Legal abortion, carried out by trained medical practitioners, is one of the most common and safest surgical procedures. About 1.5 million Americans have induced abortions each year. Fewer than 1% of all abortion patients experience a major complication associated with the procedure.
Abortion refers to the extraction of the contents of the uterus (uterine lining and implanted fertilized egg), which ends the pregnancy. In Rhode Island, abortion procedures are performed in medical clinics rather than in a physician's office. Each clinic is inspected and regulated by the Rhode Island Department of Health in the same manner as hospitals and individual medical providers. In other states, abortion procedures may be performed by an individual physician in their office.
In early pregnancy, the procedure used most commonly in the US is vacuum aspiration (suction). The procedure itself takes about 10 minutes and is usually done with a local anesthetic, although sedation or general anesthetic may be requested. The cervix (opening to the uterus) has to be opened (dilated) enough for a small tube to fit in. The plastic tube is attached to a machine that creates a mild suction. With this suction, the doctor removes the endometrial lining of the uterus, the embryo, and the placenta. Vacuum aspiration abortions may be done from 5 to 16 weeks after the last menstrual period. For pregnancies beyond that point, which represent about 1/10 of the total abortions performed, other methods are used. Abortion is not performed before 5 weeks because the embryo is too small to ensure that all fetal material has been removed. Lab examination of the removed uterine contents helps to prevent incomplete abortions.
After any surgical abortion procedure, patients remain at the clinic for several hours so that their vaginal bleeding and health status can be monitored. An injection of antibiotics is often given after the abortion to guard against infection. Also routine is a discussion about contraceptive methods and giving the patient contraceptive supplies before the end of the visit. We encourage involvement of a friend, partner or family member throughout the abortion process, from the diagnosis of pregnancy through follow up after the procedure.