Here’s How Abortions are Performed

Here's how abortions are performed

Facing unexpected pregnancy can cause many different emotions and feelings. An important step in making your decision is to be fully informed about each option: parenting, adoption or abortion. Abortion is a medical procedure, so it is vital to understand the actual procedure itself before scheduling an appointment at an abortion clinic. There are two kinds of abortive procedures: medical and surgical. 



Medical Abortion

Also known as the abortion pill, a medical abortion is an abortion procedure up to the 10th week of pregnancy (during the first 10 weeks after the first day of your last menstrual period). It consists of two medications that must be prescribed by a doctor. The first medication, Mifepristone, stops the flow of progesterone, which is a hormone necessary to continue the pregnancy.  Mifepristone works by stopping the flow of blood and nutrients to the embryo.

The second medication, Misoprostol, is taken orally or placed vaginally usually between 24-48 hours after taking Mifepristone. Misoprostol causes contractions, which expels the fetus from the uterus. The expulsion process can take anywhere from several hours to several days. Expect cramping, heavy bleeding, passing of clots and delivery of  the embryo. This process occurs in your own home, not at a clinic. A follow-up visit to the clinic is usually required to make sure the abortion is complete.

What are the side effects of a medical abortion?

Potential risks or side effects of a medical abortion include:

  • Intense cramping and heavy bleeding
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Infection, mild fever and/or chills
  • Failed or incomplete abortion, requiring a surgical procedure
  • Dizziness
  • Depression or suicidal thoughts

Surgical Abortion

There are a few different surgical abortion procedures. The specific procedure you are eligible for depends on how far along your pregnancy is. 

Aspiration (Suction)

Aspiration is a surgical abortion performed between 6 and 16 weeks after LMP (last menstrual period). In this procedure, an instrument is used to dilate the cervix.  This may be painful, so a local anesthetic is typically used to numb the cervix. Once the cervix is opened wide enough, a long plastic tube is inserted and the fetus and placenta are suctioned out.  A curette may need to be used to scrape any remaining fetal parts and blood clots.

Dilation & Evacuation (D&E)

Dilation & Evacuation is performed 13 weeks LMP and up.  At this stage, the abortion provider will usually insert a synthetic dilator inside the cervix 24 hours or more prior to the actual abortion procedure. The following day, a surgical instrument and dilating rods are used to continue the dilation process. A local anesthetic is used to numb the cervix, and a shot may be used to ensure fetal death. Then, a long tube will be used to remove the contents of the uterus. Remaining fetal parts will be removed with forceps.  A spoon-shaped instrument is used to scrape the lining, followed by a final suctioning.  

What are the side effects of a surgical abortion?

Potential side effects of a surgical abortion procedure include:

  • Cramping
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Lightheadedness
  • Heavy bleeding or bleeding longer than anticipated
  • Blood clots
  • Damage to cervix or uterus
  • Infection
  • Depression or suicidal thoughts
  • Breast cancer (the association between abortion and breast cancer continues to be debated.)


If you have any questions about abortion procedures or are interested in talking to someone about your options, Her Health Women’s Center is here to help. We do not perform or refer for abortions, but we are your best first step as you are deciding what to do.  Our services are confidential and free of charge. To learn more about your options, schedule an appointment by calling our appointment line at 712-224-2000 or texting 712-522-2920 or online here.



American Pregnancy Association: Medical Abortion

American Pregnancy Association: Surgical Abortion

Fergusson, D. M., Horwood, L. J., & Ridder, E. M. (2005, September 22). Abortion in young women and subsequent mental health. Retrieved from

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Journal of the American Physicians and Surgeons. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Schneider, A. P., Zainer, C. M., Kubat, C. K., Mullen, N. K., & Windisch, A. K. (2014). The Breast Cancer Epidemic: 10 Facts. The Linacre Quarterly,81(3), 244-277. doi:10.1179/2050854914y.0000000027


Disclaimer: The sources sited for this blog are found to be reliable, however, Her Health Women’s Center can not endorse or oppose the entire content of the websites listed. The content of this blog is meant to be used for informational purposes and is not a substitute for medical care.