This section gives information about abortion methods that are used in the UK.
More detailed information on abortion methods is available from here
Abortion procedures change according to the gestation (stage) of the pregnancy. The gestation is measured in weeks counting from the first day of the woman's last menstrual period.
Up to 9 weeks
This method is also known as the abortion pill but this is not a very accurate description, as it does not involve simply taking a pill. During an early medical abortion, drugs are used to cause an early miscarriage. One works by blocking the action of the hormone that makes the lining of the uterus (womb) hold onto the fertilised egg. The other, given 48 hours later, causes the uterus to cramp. The lining of the uterus breaks down and the embryo is lost in the bleeding that follows, as happens with a miscarriage.
5 to 15 weeks
Vacuum aspiration simply means suction. During a vacuum aspiration abortion a thin, round-ended plastic tube is eased into the uterus through the cervix, the passage that links the vagina to the womb. The contents of the uterus pass into the tube using a gentle pump. It is possible to have a vacuum aspiration abortion under local anaesthetic or general anaesthetic.
This method is often called 'early surgical abortion'.
15 to 19 weeks
After the woman has been given a light general anaesthetic, the doctor gently stretches the passage through the cervix until it is wide enough for narrow forceps to be used to remove most of the contents of the uterus. Then a tube attached to a vacuum pump is used to remove any remaining tissue.
20 to 24 weeks
During a medical induction, the fetal heart is stopped and then the doctor uses drugs to induce premature labour.
A surgical two-stage abortion involves one procedure to cut the umbilical cord and another surgical procedure to remove the contents of the womb. The woman is given a general anaesthetic before each stage.
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