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Abortion services

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 4 minutes read

If you find yourself pregnant and do not wish to keep the baby or have it adopted for any reason, you can seek an abortion to bring the pregnancy to an end, otherwise known as a termination of pregnancy. Abortion laws vary greatly from state to state.

If you find yourself with a positive pregnancy test and are unsure of your decision, you do not need to rush into things. You can turn to your partner, trusted friends or family. You might wish to discuss with someone outside your circle, so your doctor can be a good source of guidance and can refer you for maternity or abortion services. Alternatively, you can refer yourself to abortion services, and they will have counselors to talk through your options and the strong emotions it can bring up.

An abortion carries less risk the earlier it is carried out. Earlier discussions also allow for more time to think about the right option for you.

Doctor’s advice

Do I have to give a reason?

The decision to go ahead or not with an abortion is yours alone – you cannot be forced into it by family members or a partner or spouse, and your partner cannot prevent it. In state where abortions are allowed the practitioner will discuss your reasons for not wanting to continue the pregnancy.

Abortions are carried out in licensed clinics or hospitals, by a registered medical practitioner, and may be covered by insurance.

Does anyone need to know?

Medical information is always kept confidential, apart from those who are involved in your care in the clinic and they may let your doctor know. It is only breached on the rare occasion that there may be a serious risk to your health or that of others.

You can refer yourself for an abortion, or speak to your doctor or a sexual health clinic for them to refer you.

You can still have an abortion if you are aged between 13 and 16 in some states. The practitioner involved will encourage you to tell your parent or parents, but if together you decide that proceeding without them knowing is the best way forward, your parents do not need to be informed.

As long as the practitioner feels you understand the information given to you and can use it to weigh up and communicate any decision, you have a right to confidentiality as any adult. The only exception to this is if you may be a danger to yourself or others, or if you may have been the victim of sexual abuse.

What does an abortion involve?

An abortion is brought about by either medication or a surgical procedure – your practitioner and you will discuss the best option based on length of pregnancy, other medical conditions and your own preference. Medication is usually preferred for a pregnancy that is less than 10 weeks. You will be given two pills, to be taken 24 to 48 hours apart. If the pregnancy is less than 10 weeks, this can be at home, if 10 to 24 weeks, this will be in a clinic.

Surgery involves a minor procedure in a clinic – if you are less than 14 weeks pregnant, this is usually under local anesthetic (you are awake throughout). If you are more than 14 weeks, you may be given a sedative (which makes you sleepy) or a general anesthetic (you are kept asleep).

Abortion is different from the morning-after pill or emergency contraception, where either a contraceptive coil (intrauterine device) is inserted or a tablet is taken to prevent a pregnancy from occurring. It prevents a fertilized egg from implanting in the womb, and therefore is only effective up to five days after unprotected sex. After this time, it is unlikely to have any effect.

What can I expect after an abortion?

Most women recover quickly after an abortion. You are likely to experience some abdominal pain and bleeding afterward. After a medical abortion, this may be fairly heavy with some clots or tissue passed within hours and up to a few days afterward – light spotting may continue for a couple of weeks. With a surgical abortion, bleeding is lighter, more like a period, and should finish after one to two weeks. Acetaminophen and ibuprofen can help with abdominal cramps.

If you experience excessive or prolonged bleeding, significant abdominal pain or your tummy is sore when you press on it, if you have vaginal discharge or you feel feverish or unwell, contact the clinic or seek urgent medical attention at your local Emergency Department.

Your period is likely to return four to six weeks afterward. If it’s delayed, take a pregnancy test.

It’s common to feel a whole range of emotions after an abortion: guilt, sadness, relief, regret. It’s important to talk to someone if this feels overwhelming or is preventing you from getting on with home or work life.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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