Methods of abortion

There are two main types of abortion:

Medical abortion

Medical abortion uses the abortion pill which involves taking medicines to end the pregnancy.

How abortion pills work

The abortion pill works by breaking of the lining of the uterus breaks down and inducing a miscarriage

  • Medical abortion (the “abortion pill”) – taking medication to end the pregnancy
  • Surgical abortion – a minor procedure to remove the pregnancy

Medical and surgical abortions can generally only be carried out up to 24 weeks of pregnancy.

But in exceptional circumstances an abortion can take place after 24 weeks – for example, if there’s a risk to life or there are problems with the baby’s development.

You should be offered a choice of which method you would prefer whenever possible.

Medical abortion

A medical abortion involves taking medication to end the pregnancy. It doesn’t require surgery or an anaesthetic, and can be used at any stage of pregnancy.

It involves the following steps:

  • You first take a medicine called mifepristone – this stops the hormone that allows the pregnancy to continue working; you’ll be able to go home afterwards and continue your normal activities
  • Usually 24 to 48 hours later, you have another appointment where you take a second medicine called misoprostol – this will either be a tablet that you may swallow, let dissolve under your tongue or between your cheek and gum, or put inside your vagina
  • Within four to six hours, the lining of the womb breaks down, causing bleeding and loss of the pregnancy – you may have to stay at the clinic while this happens or you may be able to go home

If a medical abortion is carried out after nine weeks, you may need more doses of misoprostol and you’re more likely to need to stay in the clinic or hospital. Occasionally, the pregnancy doesn’t pass and a small operation is needed to remove it.