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Medical abortion

A medical abortion occurs when a woman takes medications to induce abortion. Sometimes, a woman may take these medications because she has experienced a miscarriage. The medications help to ensure all products of conception are passed to avoid infection and so that a woman can conceive again in the future.

Which medical abortion option a doctor may prescribe often depends on gestational age or how many weeks into a pregnancy the individual is.

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Examples of medical abortion approaches with regards to timing include:

  • Up to 7 weeks pregnant: The medication methotrexate (Rasuvo, Otrexup) can stop cells in the embryo from rapidly multiplying. A woman then takes the medication misoprostol (Cytotec) to stimulate uterine contractions to release the pregnancy. Doctors don’t widely prescribe methotrexate — this approach is usually reserved for women with ectopic pregnancy, where the embryo implants outside the uterus and the pregnancy will not be viable.
  • Up to 10 weeks pregnant: Medical abortion may also involve taking two medications, including mifepristone (Mifeprex) and misoprostol (Cytotec). Not all doctors can prescribe mifepristone — many must have a special certification to do so.

Surgical abortion

A surgical abortion is a procedure to either end the pregnancy or to remove remaining products of the pregnancy. As with medical abortions, the approach may depend on timing.

  • Up to 16 weeks pregnant: Vacuum aspiration is one of the most common approaches to abortion. This involves using special equipment to remove the fetus and placenta from the uterus.
  • After 14 weeks: Dilation and evacuation (D&E) is the surgical removal of the fetus and placenta. This approach may be combined with other techniques like vacuum aspiration, forceps removal, or dilation and curettage. Doctors also use dilation and curettage (D&C) to remove remaining products of conception if a woman has miscarried. Curettage means a doctor uses a special instrument called a curette to remove pregnancy-related tissue from the uterine lining.
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