Despite the controversy surrounding the pro-life versus pro-choice debate, the fact remains that abortions are currently legal in the United States, and are therefore performed routinely. The term "abortion" refers to removal of a fetus from a woman's uterus before it can live on its own. Abortions can occur spontaneously, which is often termed a miscarriage, or can be the result of a medical procedure. There are several different abortion procedures used to end pregnancy, including medical abortions, the IPAS syringe method, vacuum aspirations and dilation and evacuations.
Early Medical Abortion
Before an abortion is performed, most clinics insist that the woman meet with a counselor to ensure she wants to go through with her decision to end the pregnancy. Then, the doctor must determine how far along in the pregnancy the woman is, since this will dictate which procedures are available. The least invasive procedure is termed a "medical abortion," and it is available only up until 8 weeks past the last menstrual period (LMP). Medical abortion involves a woman taking the prescription abortion drug commonly known as RU486 at the clinic to end the pregnancy, then taking another drug in 2 to 3 days at home to cause the uterus to contract and expel the fetus. The woman must then make a follow-up visit to the clinic or hospital to ensure the uterus has completely emptied.
IPAS Syringe and Vacuum Methods
Another type of early abortion is the IPAS syringe method. It can be performed as soon as the fetus is found on ultrasound, which is typically around week 4 or week 5. This method involves inserting thin, flexible tubing into the uterus via the cervix and then suctioning out the fetus with a hand-held syringe. This procedure is very quick, taking only a few minutes to perform. Similar to the IPAS syringe method, the vacuum aspiration method can be performed throughout the first trimester and is by far the most common procedure used during this time. First, a local anesthetic is injected into the cervix, followed by the insertion of a flexible tube. Next, the fetus is suctioned out of the uterus by way of a machine. These types of abortions are typically performed in out-patient clinics and sometimes involve the use of general sedation. In either of these procedures, the use of dilators may be needed to help open the cervix, as well as the use of a special instrument known as curette to scrape away any remaining fetal tissue from inside the uterus, which leads to the name D&C (dilation and curettage).
Dilation and Evacuation
Second trimester abortions use the dilation and evacuation (D&E) procedure. This surgery occurs over a couple of days. Once an ultrasound has been used to determine fetal size, a local anesthetic is injected into the cervix, followed by the insertion of cervical dilators. The woman is then sent home, where the dilators work overnight to open the cervix and prepare it to deliver the fetus. The following day, anesthetic is injected again into the cervix, and the dilators are removed. Then, the physicians scrape away the fetus from the uterus, followed by suctioning the material out with an aspirating machine. This procedure may or may not involve general anesthesia.