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Abortion - surgical and medical options

6-minute read

An abortion is when a pregnancy is terminated (ended). There are 2 options if you want to have an abortion — a surgical abortion or a medical abortion.

If you think you are pregnant, the first thing to do is take a pregnancy test. You can do this by visiting your doctor or buying a test from a pharmacy or supermarket. The sooner you do this the better. If you are going to have an abortion, it’s best to have it as early as possible. The longer you leave it, the harder and more expensive it becomes to have one.

If you are pregnant, you can work out the stage of your pregnancy by calculating the number of days since the first day of your last period. Your doctor or the clinic you attend will need to know this.

There are 2 ways to have an abortion — via surgery or by taking a pill (before you are 9 weeks pregnant). Both ways are very safe and effective in Australia.

What is a surgical abortion?

A surgical abortion uses suction to remove the pregnancy. It is done by a trained doctor and works for more than 99 out of 100 women.

There are 2 types of surgical abortion:

  • Suction abortion: This is the most common method of abortion. This method involves gentle suction to empty your womb (uterus). It’s done until about 14 to 16 weeks after the first day of your last period.
  • Dilation and evacuation (D&E): Suction and medical tools are used to empty the uterus. This is normally done for pregnancies that are further along (more than 16 weeks).

Before the procedure

Before you have a surgical abortion, your doctor or clinic will give you information about other options such as adoption or foster care. They will link you with support services. If you decide to go ahead, they will give you information about the procedure and what to do afterwards.

Making a decision about how you’d like to proceed can be very emotional. You can get counselling from a trained professional to help you through this process.

If you choose to have a D&E, you will need medication to open your cervix a day or so before the procedure.

During the procedure

You should not eat or drink for 4 to 6 hours before a surgical abortion. You will usually be given a light general anaesthetic. Some women will have a local anaesthetic with sedation to make them feel drowsy.

During the procedure, the doctor will put a small plastic tube through your vagina into your uterus. This will suck the pregnancy out. It takes about 5 to 15 minutes. You won’t feel any pain during the procedure.

After the procedure

You will probably stay at the clinic for 1½ to 3 hours after the procedure.

You may feel cramping, which can feel like period pain. Make sure you have some maxi pads and a heat pad ready. You can take pain medication, but not aspirin.

It’s OK to have a shower and you can go back to work the next day. But for 1 week afterwards you should not:

  • have a bath or swim
  • do any strenuous activity or sport
  • have sex

Your doctor will give you antibiotics. It’s very important that you take these. You can get pregnant again right away, so it’s a good idea to use birth control.

Call your doctor if:

  • you bleed very heavily (you soak 2 pads every hour for 2 hours)
  • you have cramps that don’t get better with medication
  • you have a fever

You will need to have a check-up 2 to 3 weeks after the procedure.

How much does surgical abortion cost?

The cost of an abortion differs between each state and territory. Medicare will cover some of the costs.

What is a medical abortion?

A medical abortion is when you take certain pills to have an abortion. This method is only available if you are less than 9 weeks pregnant. A trained doctor will prescribe this medication to you.

The advantage of a medical abortion is that you can have it at home.

A medical abortion is very safe and it works in for between 95 and 98 women out of 100. If it doesn’t work, you will need a surgical abortion.

However, a medical abortion is not suitable for everyone. People with some medical conditions, who are on some medications or who are more than 9 weeks pregnant should not have a medical abortion. If you have an intrauterine contraceptive device, it will need to be removed first.

What happens before a medical abortion?

Before a medical abortion you will need an ultrasound and blood test to confirm you are pregnant and the stage of your pregnancy.

You will also be given information about other options, counselling and support services.

What happens during a medical abortion?

The procedure for a medical abortion happens in 2 stages. First you will be given a pill called mifepristone (RU486) to take straight away. Then you go home and have 4 more pills called misoprostol. You take these 36 hours to 48 hours after taking the mifepristone. It's important you take these pills as instructed by your doctor.

When you have completed this course of medication, you will start bleeding and cramping. Make sure you rest at home and take painkillers if you need to. You might also experience:

  • vomiting
  • diarrhoea
  • dizziness
  • tiredness
  • mild fever

After 4 to 5 hours, you will pass the pregnancy out through your vagina. You might pass some large blood clots and clumps of tissue.

After a medical abortion

Most women will experience bleeding for up to 14 days after they have a medical abortion. You might also experience cramping, which might feel similar to the cramping you might experience during a heavy period. Rest for the first 48 hours and take some anti-inflammatory medication to help manage any cramping. Speak to your doctor if you need stronger pain-relief medication.

To reduce the risk of infection, in the week following the procedure you should not insert anything into your vagina (including tampons) and not have vaginal sex. You should also avoid any heavy physical work or strenuous sporting activity and only have showers (no baths or swimming).

After 1 or 2 weeks, you will need a follow-up appointment with your doctor. You may have an ultrasound or a blood test to confirm the pregnancy has ended.

You can get pregnant again right away, so it’s a good idea to use birth control.

How much does a medical abortion cost?

The cost of an abortion differs between each state and territory. Medicare will cover some of the costs.

Where can I get more information and advice?

For information and support, contact:

You can also call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby on 1800 882 436 to speak to a maternal child health nurse.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: March 2021

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