Procedures: Surgical Abortions

If you’re considering an abortion, there is a lot you need to know. Just like any other medical procedure or surgery you might have, you have a right to be informed about the risks, methods, and after-care options available to you. There are several types of abortion procedures. The gestational age of your baby will determine which procedure is available, and each come with different risks.


Surgical abortions end a pregnancy by physically removing the fetus and other tissue from your uterus. Depending on how far along you are in your pregnancy, you may need general anesthesia, which carries its own risks in addition to the abortion procedure. In the state of Texas, surgical abortions may be performed up to 20 weeks gestation.

Vacuum Aspiration Up to 12 weeks

This procedure is done by inserting a series of dilators (metal rods) into the cervix to open it. A plastic tube is then inserted through the cervix and into the uterus, and suction pulls the fetus out of the uterus.

Dilatation and Curettage (D&C): 12 to 15 weeks (or earlier)

This surgical abortion is also done by inserting a series of dilators (metal rods) into the cervix to open it.  A curette, or loop-shaped knife, may be used to scrape fetal parts and placenta from the wall of the uterus. A plastic tube, attached to a suction machine, is inserted through the cervix and into the uterus. Suction pulls the fetal parts and placenta out of the uterus.

Dilatation and Evacuation (D&E): 13 to 22 weeks

This abortion procedure is used in the second trimester (in Texas, only until 20 weeks). The cervix must be opened wider than in a first trimester abortion, so laminaria—matchstick-sized pieces of seaweed or artificial seaweed—are often inserted into the cervix to dilate it further than the rods. Laminaria insertion is usually done 1-2 days before the actual abortion.

On the day of the procedure, the laminaria are removed. Forceps or other instruments remove the fetus and placenta, usually in pieces. After 16 weeks, this procedure must be done in a licensed ambulatory surgery center, and general anesthesia is often used.

Possible risks of each of these procedures:

  • Perforation of the uterus (a hole in the uterus)
  • Cervical laceration (a torn cervix)
  • Hemorrhage (heavy bleeding)
  • Infection
  • Complications from the anesthesia, including nausea and vomiting, headaches, respiratory problems
  • Incomplete removal of the fetus or placenta requiring another surgery
  • Infertility
  • The need for a hysterectomy
  • Rarely, death

Long-term complications may include:

  • Anxiety, guilt, personality disturbances, or depression
  • In future desired pregnancies, miscarriage or premature delivery due to cervical damage
  • There are some studies that show a link between abortions and certain types of cancer, but the exact relationship is unknown.

To learn more about these procedures and other options available to you, schedule an appointment today to speak with one of our counselors!

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