ScienceWhat is an abortion? | Live Science

What is an abortion? | Live Science


An abortion is the early termination of a pregnancy, which can happen spontaneously, as in the case of a miscarriage, or can happen when the pregnancy is ended by medical or surgical means. In these latter cases, the abortion method depends on the stage of pregnancy, among other factors.

How are abortions induced?

There are a few different ways an abortion can be induced, depending on how far along the pregnancy is and whether the pregnancy is inside or outside the uterus, said Dr. Deborah Powell, a professor of laboratory medicine and pathology at the University of Minnesota and member of the National Academies’ Committee on Reproductive Health Services: Assessing the Safety and Quality of Abortion Care in the U.S.

The majority of abortions occur within the first trimester, meaning the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, or very soon after, Powell said.

The abortion drug Mifepristone, also known as RU486, is pictured in an abortion clinic in Auckland, New Zealand. (Image credit: Phil Walter/Getty Images)

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The methods are as follows, according to a 2018 report on the safety of abortion care in the United States, authored by the National Academies’ Committee on Reproductive Health Services: 

  • Medication abortion, or “medical” abortion: This method is FDA approved for pregnancies up to 10 weeks’ gestation and involves two medications that are taken 24 to 48 hours apart. The first pill is mifepristone, which blocks the production of progesterone, an important hormone for maintaining pregnancy. The second pill is misoprostol, which induces uterine contractions that empty the uterus. (Note that, in some cases, misoprostol may be prescribed on its own, according to the World Health Organization (opens in new tab), WHO.
  • Aspiration abortion (also referred to as surgical abortion, suction curettage, or dilation and curettage (D&C)): Aspiration is the most common abortion method used in the U.S., accounting for about 68% of abortions in 2013, and it can be used up to 16 weeks’ gestation. This procedure involves dilating the cervix so that a hollow curette, or tube can be inserted into the uterus. At the other end of the tube, a hand-held syringe or an electric device is applied to create suction and empty the uterus. The procedure generally takes less than 10 minutes. 
  • Dilation and evacuation (D&E): This type of abortion is usually performed after 14 weeks’ gestation and involves dilation of the cervix followed by suction and/or forceps extraction to empty the uterus.
  • Induction abortion (also referred to as “medical” abortion): This method involves the use of medications to induce labor and delivery of the fetus. The most effective regimens use higher doses of the same medications used for medical abortions done earlier in pregnancy: mifepristone and misoprostol.

Are abortions safe?



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