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Abortion is one of the most highly scrutinized of all medical procedures. Legally performed abortions are safe with very low serious complication rates. The risks do increase as the length of pregnancy advances. The safest gestational age for an abortion is between 6 and 8 weeks, though it remains very safe throughout the first and second trimester.
Complications associated with abortion are generally much less frequent than with childbirth. Abortion is 10 to 30 times safer than childbirth depending on the length of pregnancy at the time of termination and the age of the woman. The younger a women is under age 20, the higher the risk for carrying the pregnancy to full term and the safer abortion is in comparison.
Women can lower their risk of complications by doing the following:
Possible side effects include strong cramps, nausea, headache, vomiting and diarrhea. There is also a small risk (1 per 100,000) of a severe infection that can be fatal.
In U.S. clinical trials, three percent of women needed a D&C after the medical abortion either to remove retained tissue, to control excessive bleeding or for other reasons. The Women’s Med Centers provide this service in our offices for no charge for our patients who require it.
Like all surgeries, there are some risks. It is very unusual to have a complication requiring hospitalization following an early abortion, less than 1 per 10,000 surgeries. The risk of dying is less than 1 per 400,000 surgeries. A first trimester abortion is much safer than carrying a pregnancy to full term and delivery.
At Women’s Med about 1 patient out of every 300 needs the surgery repeated because of retained tissue, blood clots in the uterus, excessive bleeding or other reasons. There is no charge for this extra surgery. We have never had a death.
Dilation and Evacuation (D&E)
As pregnancy advances, the risks to the health of a woman from terminating a pregnancy do increase. Even so, they remain less than the health risks of carrying a pregnancy to term and having a baby. For second trimester abortions (14 to 22 weeks) the risks of dying are 1 per 100,000 surgeries. The risk of serious complications requiring hospitalization vary from 1 per 5000 surgeries at 14 weeks to 1 per 1000 for surgeries performed between 20 to 22 weeks.
After the abortion, most women feel a sense of relief. However, a few women experience mild emotional or psychological distress. Women with support from family or loved ones usually work through this within a brief period of time. In rare cases, professional help may be required.
Abortion has not always been safe. Until 1973 when abortion became legal in the United States, women felt desperate and alone. They often attempted unsafe measures to terminate the pregnancy themselves or they would find someone to perform an abortion. Frequently, these abortionists were not physicians and performed abortions in unsanitary facilities using primitive instruments. Thousands of women died every year and thousands more suffered serious medical complications.
Making abortions legal has made them very safe, ensuring that they are performed by licensed, trained physicians in clean medical facilities. In addition, the routine use of ultrasound and other improved technologies have made abortions much safer.