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What is abortion?

Abortion is when someone sometimes chooses to end a pregnancy. It is sometimes called a ‘termination’. Find out more about abortions.

Abortion is when someone sometimes chooses to end a pregnancy. It is sometimes called a ‘termination’.

People choose to end a pregnancy for lots of reasons. It might be because they don’t want children, or aren’t financially able to support a child. It might also be because it would be medically unsafe for them to have a baby. Whatever someone’s reasons are for having an abortion, it is their choice and their right to do so. 

Read our page on making a decision about a pregnancy.

Abortion is a very safe procedure, and on average it is much safer than continuing with the pregnancy and giving birth. The earlier an abortion is carried out, the safer it is, too. But like any other medical procedure, it has a risk attached to it. The doctor or nurse who is advising you should always provide information about the potential risks before you go ahead.

Types of abortion

There are two ways of ending an unwanted pregnancy; a medical abortion (which involves taking medicines) or a surgical abortion (which requires a surgical procedure).

The type of abortion you can have depends on several factors but you should always be able to choose the method you would prefer as long as it suits your medical needs. The doctor or nurse advising you will tell you which methods are suitable based on your medical history, how many weeks the pregnancy is and whether you prefer to be awake or asleep for the procedure.

Abortions up to 10 weeks

Early medical abortion is provided in the first ten weeks of pregnancy. It is sometimes known as the ‘abortion pill’.

This method involves taking two medicines which end a pregnancy. It’s not the same as emergency contraception, which can be taken to try to prevent pregnancy from happening in the first few days after unprotected sex.

The first medication you will be given is mifepristone, which ends the pregnancy. The second medication is misoprostol and is taken 24 to 48 hours later.

The second medication causes your womb to expel the pregnancy through cramping and bleeding and this usually takes between 4 and 6 hours but sometimes longer. You will be offered pain relief. Most early medical abortions take place at home.

It is now possible to have a telephone or video consultation and if it is agreed that medical abortion is the right treatment for you you can have all the medication sent to you at home, without the need for a visit to a clinic.

You will have cramps and bleeding and are likely to spot blood for up to fours weeks following the abortion.

Read this guide from the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) for more information on medical abortion.

Abortions up to 15 weeks

Abortions given between 10 and 15 weeks are called vacuum aspiration, also known as the ‘suction method’.

For this procedure either a general (asleep) or local (awake) anaesthetic would be given. The procedure only takes about 5-10 minutes and there is no wound or stitches.

The cervix (the entrance to the womb at the top of the vagina) is gently stretched to allow a thin tube to pass through it into the womb. Once the tube is inserted the pregnancy is removed by suction. Most people only take an hour or so to recover and go home the same day.

Read this guide from the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) for more information on surgical abortion.

Abortions after 15 weeks

Abortion after 15 weeks is less common and most abortions happen in the first 13 weeks of pregnancy. However, sometimes people need to have an abortion later on in pregnancy. They might find that they need to travel out of their local area to do so, as abortion after 15 weeks is not always as easy to access. Again, it’s important to talk to a doctor as soon as possible.

The exact procedure offered to you will be explained by a doctor or nurse before the abortion goes ahead. Here are the procedures that you may undergo:

  • Medical abortion can be carried out up to 24 weeks of pregnancy. You will be admitted to the clinic and be given two medications. The first medication is mifepristone, which ends the pregnancy and the second medication is misoprostol which expels the pregnancy. You will have contractions but should be given pain relief and looked after by a doctor or nurse until the pregnancy has passed. You will stay in the clinic until the abortion is complete. In some cases you might have to stay overnight until the pregnancy has passed.
  • Surgical dilation and evacuation (from 15 weeks of pregnancy) is a minor operation, and is usually done under general anaesthetic (meaning you will be asleep). It usually takes around 10-20 minutes. The opening to the womb, called the cervix, will be gently stretched, and the foetus will be removed using a suction tube. You might be able to go home the same day if it all goes well, or you might need a stay overnight in hospital. Afterwards, you may bleed a bit for up to three weeks.

Read this guide from the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) for more information on surgical dilation and evacuation.

What are the risks?

There are risks with any medical or surgical procedure and your doctor or nurse should explain them clearly to you before you go ahead with an abortion. Each procedure has a different set of risks and you should be given written information about those risks.

After an abortion, there is a small risk of infection. You may be given antibiotics after an abortion to stop infections. The symptoms of infection include pain in your pelvic area (like extra bad period pains), and heavy bleeding from your vagina.

Find out about the process of having an abortion.

Find out about accessing abortion services.

Finding Support

Brook services do not perform abortions but we do provide emergency contraception, pregnancy tests and abortion referrals. This means that Brook can provide you with emergency contraception, pregnancy tests, and if you are pregnant and want to end the pregnancy – we can refer and support you into other services near you that provide abortions.

If you would like more help or advice about abortion you can:

If you need help quickly

If you need help quickly you can contact these organisations:

  • For medical advice contact NHS by dialling 111 24 hours a day, 365 days a year
  • For help if you’re under 18 contact Childline on 0800 1111
  • For urgent emotional support contact the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90


    Other Stuff you might find useful…

    Accessing Abortion Services
    Making a decision about a pregnancy
    Real Stories
    Abortion: Helen’s Story
    What is abortion?
    Abortion: advice for partners
    Pregnancy test: Am I pregnant?


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