Abortions are one of the most routine medical procedures performed in the UK. Long gone are the days of coat hangers and invasive surgery, now a pill can even induce an abortion in relative safety. Occasionally, an abortion needs to be surgically induced but it is mostly a routine and safe procedure.
There are risks, however, and an abortion is only legal when performed by a licensed medical practitioner for good reasons. In the UK, abortions can only be carried out in licensed clinics or hospitals. In countries where abortion is illegal or heavily restricted, many women who need to have an abortion find themselves administering these drugs themselves and putting themselves at risk of harm or even death.
Before you have an abortion, you need to arrange for an assessment with the licensed doctor. This assessment involves answering questions about why you are having an abortion, to make you aware of the risks, to offer you counselling, and to perform an STD and pregnancy test.
Complications of Abortion
Having an abortion is usually safe, but there are occasionally complications. Very rarely are they life threatening. With appropriate medical care, the patient almost always recovers very quickly.
Remnants of the Pregnancy in the Womb
In about 1 in 20 cases, some of the matter from the pregnancy does not get flushed out with the rest of the pregnancy. This poses an infection risk but is easily manageable with further treatment.
1 in 100 pregnancies result in a continuation, where the pregnancy is not terminated successfully and the patient will need further treatment. This is rarely dangerous but can be traumatic for the patient, who will need continued support.
About 1 in every 10 abortions results in an infection in the womb. These are rarely life threatening and most infections respond very well to antibiotics. This very rarely affects a woman’s fertility.
Very rarely (about 1 in every 1,000 abortions) does an abortion cause excessive bleeding, but it is a real risk. Because the patient is in a medical facility when she is obtaining an abortion, there are surgeons and blood transfusions on hand, reducing the risk substantially.
In 1 in every 100 surgical abortions there is damage to the cervix, the entrance to the womb. This is painful, an infection risk, and very occasionally harms a woman’s fertility, but in the vast majority of cases is relatively easily remedied.
Rarer than cervical damage, damage to the womb occurs in about 1 in every 1,000 surgical abortions and 1 in every 1,000 chemically induced abortions in the later stages of pregnancy (the risk rising as the patient approaches the 24 weeks threshold).
Mental Health Issues
Even though having an abortion can be a traumatic and deeply upsetting occurrence, women who have an abortion are no more likely to develop mental health issues as a result than women who continue with their pregnancy.
Although it has been rumoured, there is no evidence whatsoever that having an abortion increases the risk of developing breast cancer.
After the Abortion
Abortions can be traumatic to the body, there is no escaping a small amount of damage. Most women experience period-like pain and/or bleeding from the vagina in the days after having an abortion. Keep the doctor who is managing your case informed and it can be managed effectively. The pains usually go away after a week or two. It should be stressed that this is the body healing itself and it’s perfectly normal.
After having an abortion, the patient should be aware of excessive bleeding. Large clots of blood or more than 2 sanitary pads in the space of an hour is an indication that the patient should seek medical help.
Pains are common after an abortion, but if the pain is unmanageable with regular painkillers, it would be prudent to seek medical advice as it could be the sign of a number of conditions.
Vaginal discharge is expected after an abortion but if it has a bad smell, it is an indicator of an infection in the womb or cervix and should be dealt with in a hospital.
Fevers are indications of infections, so if the patient is running a temperature, sweating excessively, or feeling any of the other symptoms of fever, they should present themselves at the clinic they obtained the abortion at for treatment.
Sore breasts and waves of nausea are indications that something is not right, and the patient should tell their doctor about these symptoms.
Abortions do not affect the patient’s fertility. Only if there is severe surgical damage or a severe infection does a risk to fertility occur. Pelvic inflammatory disease can reduce the fertility of a woman or increase the risk of ectopic pregnancy. This is very rare. With appropriate care and antibiotics, the infection can be cured and the risk to fertility reduced significantly.
In fact, most women can get pregnant immediately after having an abortion, so the use of contraception is advised.
Repeated abortions do slightly increase the risk of premature birth.