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How Can Pregnancy Be Terminated?

Pregnancy terminations in the UK can be performed using two main methods: the abortion pill and surgical abortion. How exactly do these different methods of abortion end the pregnancy?

How Can Pregnancy Be Terminated

Medical Abortions

The most common method of pregnancy termination used in the UK is the medical abortion. It involves taking two different types of medication.

  • The first abortion pill is mifepristone. It will block the activity of a hormone called progesterone, which is responsible for maintaining the pregnancy. Without this hormone, the womb lining will start to break down, in the same way as it does when you have a period.
  • The second abortion medication is misoprostol, which is usually taken as a vaginal pessary 2 days after the first pill. Misoprostol will trigger cramping and bleeding to empty out the contents of the womb. It is a bit like a heavy period.
  • The pregnancy will be ended by the first medication, but the second medication is needed to clear out the tissue from your womb safely and quickly. If you only took the first pill, then it could take 1-2 weeks for your uterus to empty itself.

Surgical Abortions

Medical abortions can only be performed up to 9 weeks. Surgical methods must be used instead to end a pregnancy after this date or if there is a reason why a medical abortion can’t be performed (such as an allergy to the medication).

The methods used for surgical abortion can depend on the length of the pregnancy, but they usually involve the following steps:

  • Local anaesthetic is used to numb the cervix. A sedative or general anaesthetic will be used if necessary.
  • Medication is used to dilate or open up the cervix.
  • Instruments are used to remove the contents of the womb.

When surgical abortions are performed early in the pregnancy, it is possible to remove the womb contents with suction alone. After 15 weeks, it is usually necessary to use other instruments. Different types of instruments are required at different stages.

Most abortions in the UK are performed before 13 weeks, but it is sometimes necessary to terminate a pregnancy later on. The surgical procedure can be riskier and more complicated later in the pregnancy, but the basic method is essentially the same.

Which Method is Right for You?

If you are considering an abortion, then the most important factor in deciding which method to use is the length of the pregnancy. Medical abortions can only be performed up to 9 weeks and manual vacuum aspiration is available between 7 and 15 weeks. Different surgical methods can be used after 15 weeks.

Since there is some overlap in the availability of these methods, you may be able to choose between different options. A medical abortion is usually preferred when possible as it is the simplest and safest procedure. However, surgical terminations may be performed early on if there’s a medical reason why you can’t take the abortion pill.

You will be able to learn more about the different types of abortion and how the procedures are performed during your initial consultation at the abortion clinic. You will also get personalised advice on which option is right for you.

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