First Trimester Surgical Abortion
What is a surgical abortion?
Surgical abortion, also known as suction (or vacuum) aspiration, can be performed in a one-day procedure if less than 12 weeks have passed since the first day of the woman’s last menstrual period. The cervix (the opening to the uterus) is stretched open slightly, then the pregnancy is removed through a small tube (that is similar to a straw) using suction.
This procedure usually takes five to 10 minutes, although the entire appointment may take up to three hours. During the procedure, and for a short time afterward, women may have strong cramping. Spotting or bleeding (similar to a period) may last for a few days or weeks.
The procedure is performed in the doctor’s office, in a private room, with local anesthesia and oral pain-relieving medications.
Complications are rare, but include infection, excessive bleeding, a tear in the cervix or uterus, incomplete abortion, or a continuing pregnancy.
What to expect during a surgical abortion
We hope the following will prepare you for what to expect. Your entire visit will take about two hours.
You can also read our comparison of Medication vs Surgical Abortion to decide which method is right for you.
When you check in for your appointment, the receptionist will notify our staff that you have arrived. The Comprehensive Women’s Health Center is integrated into the general clinic practice; women are not identified in the reception area as desiring pregnancy termination and there are no signs advertising our clinic. This ensures the privacy and safety of our patients and staff.
Shortly after you arrive, one of our health educators will bring you to a private room. At this time, we will collect payment and give you some paperwork to complete, including a medical history form. You will discuss and learn about pregnancy options, the abortion procedure, and various birth control methods.
The health educator will take your blood pressure, pulse, and weight. If you brought a support person with you, s/he may accompany you during the health education.
Meeting with the doctor
After your conversation with the health educator, you will meet the doctor. Our physicians are obstetrician-gynecologists with specialized training and interest in abortion provision and family planning. The doctor will review your medical history and discuss the abortion procedure, including possible risks and complications, and ask you to sign a consent form.
She will also perform an ultrasound exam to determine your pregnancy’s gestation and give you an oral pain medication at this time. If you are 10-12 weeks pregnant, you may also receive a medication called misoprostol, which softens your cervix to make dilation easier.
Medication wait time
If you are 10-12 weeks pregnant, the misoprostol needs one hour to work. You will be asked to wait in the reception area. We have magazines, but you may want to bring something else to read or to occupy your wait time.
Your support person can be right next to you for the whole procedure. When you are ready, the doctor will:
- Use a speculum to view inside your vagina.
- Clean your vagina and cervix with gauze soaked in soap.
- Apply numbing medication to your cervix.
- Dilate your cervix (the opening to your uterus) with thin plastic rods.
- Insert a short, narrow flexible tube (similar to a straw) into your uterus.
- Apply gentle suction to the other end of the tube to remove all of the pregnancy tissue.
Toward the end of the procedure, you may feel a cramp (similar to a menstrual cramp) in your uterus because it is shrinking down to its usual size. Most of the procedure time is spent preparing your body for the procedure. The suction is only used for about two minutes.
After the procedure, you should remain resting for a few minutes. You will probably have some cramping and spotting; we will provide you with a heat pack, a maxi-pad, and juice and graham crackers. When you feel able, you may get dressed. Your health educator will then give you instructions on how to take care of your body after the abortion.
The doctor will give you antibiotics and a prescription for birth control, if desired. You must have a ride home. You should go home, rest, and let the medications wear off. You should be able to return to normal activities, such as work or school, the next day.
Unless you are experiencing complications related to your abortion, you do not need to visit our office again. We recommend that you make an appointment to see your regular physician for an annual pap smear, physical/gynecologic exam, and birth control refill requests. You can always call us with questions.