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Legal Abortions

Summary:What Are the Different Types of Legal Abortions?

Legal abortions refer to approved methods of ending a pregnancy and are usually broken down into medical abortions or surgical abortions. In a medical abortion, the pregnant woman takes medications that induce the end of the pregnancy. A surgical abortion is one in which special medical tools are inserted into the body to assist with emptying the womb. The length of time in which a woman has been pregnant determines which legal abortion options can be performed and which will be the safest and most efficient option for the pregnant woman.

The earliest type of abortion that can be performed is a medical abortion. The main medical-based legal abortion used today involves taking the abortion pill, also known as mifepristone. Mifepristone is generally used only to terminate pregnancies in women who are no more than 63 days, or nine weeks, pregnant. The procedure is noninvasive and resembles a natural miscarriage.

Use of the abortion pill will usually require making several office visits to a health care provider. On the first visit, patients will be given a dose of mifepristone; the drug halts the production of the hormone progesterone, causing the uterine walls to break down. On a follow-up visit within 48 hours, misoprostol will be given; the drug encourages contractions in the uterus so the pregnancy can fully end. Usually, the bleeding and cramping associated with the end of a pregnancy will began soon after taking misoprostol, and the abortion is typically completed from a few hours for some women to several days for others. Women are usually directed to come back to their doctor for a follow-up visit within 14 days to ensure the pregnancy has fully ended.

Surgical abortions usually refer to several different legal abortion methods that extract the contents of the uterus through use of suction or other surgical procedures. For pregnancies of at least five weeks and usually no more than 12 weeks, a vacuum aspiration can be done. This clinical abortion procedure involves inserting a hollow tube into the uterus and gently suctioning out the tissue to end the pregnancy. The procedure can take as little as 15 minutes to complete and usually is associated with less bleeding than taking the abortion pill.

In some areas, legal abortions are available in the second and third trimester of pregnancy. If so, these abortion methods usually include some type of dilatation to assist in emptying the uterus. One option in the second trimester is a dilatation and evacuation (D&E). The procedure can be completed after 12 weeks but is generally completed for pregnancies ranging from 15 to 24 weeks. A D&E consists of dilating the cervix to allow forceps to fit into the uterus. Then the pregnancy is removed, and suctioning is used to pull out any remaining tissue.

Besides the use of legal abortions, some women may choose to use nonstandard methods of abortion, such as the use of herbs and other drugs believed to lead to abortion. Such methods, however, are not performed with the assistance of trained medical practitioners and could lead to serious complications such as organ failure and death. In some areas, these attempts to self-induce an abortion may also be against the law.

Techniques for legal abortions tend to differ in various parts of the world. For instance, in Sweden and the United States, women taking misoprostol may have the option of taking the drug at home rather than returning to their health care providers’ office to receive the medication. Women interested in getting an abortion or just finding out more information can check federal and state abortion laws that exist in their area and talk with their doctors about safe and legal abortion methods. 

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