What is abortion? – Types, Side Effects, Reasons, Access


Since news broke that the United States Supreme Court has voted, in a majority draft opinion obtained by Politicsto spill Roe vs. Wade (legislation that makes abortion legal at the federal level), a whirlwind of discussion around access to abortion has taken off – and for good reason.

Now, more than ever, it’s a crucial time to read about what abortion is, how it works, in which states it’s legal, and perhaps most importantly, what kind of societal impact a nationwide ban can to have. As you continue to engage in what could be difficult conversations with peers, parents and colleagues, for ease, we’ve spoken to experts for insight and outlined facts on the subject below. .

What is abortion?

Abortion ends a pregnancy with drugs or a medical procedure, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). The college says about one in four women in the United States will have an abortion before age 45. “What we know before Roe vs. Wade, is that banning or limiting abortion does not decrease the total number of abortions performed in the United States,” says Jennifer Doorey, MD, MS assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Virginia . “It just decreases the number of safe abortions.”

Why is an abortion performed?

There are various reasons why an abortion might be the best course of action for a pregnant person’s health and personal life. “Contraception fails, lives change, unexpected complications arise,” says Jen Villavicencio, MD, partner and chief equity transformation officer at ACOG. A 2017 study which examined abortion data from 14 countries found that patients most often cited socioeconomic concerns or family planning as reasons for undergoing the procedure. A similar 2013 study found timing, partner-related difficulties, and the need to focus on their other children as recurring explanations.

Additionally, some doctors may recommend an abortion if the fetus has a medical condition that will be fatal near birth or if the pregnancy is life-threatening to the parent. Doorey specifically fears that an imminent reversal of Roe vs. Wade will have disastrous effects on increasing the maternal mortality rate, especially among women of color, who are the most vulnerable.

What are the types of abortion?

Abortion can be divided into two types, according to ACOG: medication and procedural abortions. The names are pretty self-explanatory – medical abortions involve taking what is commonly called an abortion pill, which causes the uterus to expel pregnancy tissue, like an early miscarriage. A procedural abortion is a medical procedure that involves vacuum aspiration (a suction device) and/or instruments to remove the contents of the uterus.

Abortions using only vacuum aspiration are offered for pregnancies up to 13 weeks, according to ACOG. Second-trimester abortions (those occurring after 13 weeks of pregnancy) require dilation and evacuation (D&E), which involves dilation before the procedure with medications or the insertion of rod-like dilators, then the removal of the contents of the uterus with instruments and a suction device.

Depending on location and insurance resources, Doorey says patients undergoing procedural abortions may have access to a variety of sedation and numbing options, ranging from having “a little sedation” to be completely asleep.

What are the side effects of each type?

According to ACOG, medical abortions can cause much more vaginal bleeding than a menstrual period. There may also be severe cramping, nausea, vomiting, fever, and chills. Procedural abortions can leave patients with pain, cramping, and bleeding or spotting for up to two weeks. Painkillers are often prescribed for recovery, but most patients return to normal life within days, according to Planned Parenthood.

If you experience unusual pain or discomfort, a follow-up doctor’s appointment is usually necessary. Additionally, patients can sometimes experience temporary mental health symptoms like sadness or guilt as part of recovery. There are many organization hotlines available for assistance, including Exhale at 617-749-2948 or All-Options at 1-888-493-0092. However, Doorey says long-term research shows that “the overwhelming majority of women who have abortions do not have significant mental health impacts.” She adds, “More people are very assertive, year after year, that they made the right decision.

In which states is abortion legal?

Because Roe vs. Wade has not yet been officially canceled, abortion is technically legal in all 50 states. However, there are restrictions (i.e. the 20-week abortion ban in Texas) in place in many states that can make access to abortion difficult. On its website, Planned Parenthood outlines access to abortion in each state and its potential future in the event that Roe vs. Wade is overturned. If so, the decision, which has been in place for almost 50 years, will have major impacts at all levels of society.

“Abortion is an essential component of comprehensive medical care,” says Villavicencio. “Access to abortion care improves the health and well-being of those who need it, and data has long shown that restrictions on access to care only do harm. Quite simply, people will always need access to abortion.

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