What it really means to have an abortion

Content warning: abortion in detail.

For years, the issue of abortion has been one of polarisation and controversy. It is repeatedly depicted as a black and white subject, with labels of pro-life and pro-choice being assigned to further bolster the divisions. While the issues of morality and ethics are often given air time in relation to abortion, the intricacies about what actually happens in the procedures are too often left unspoken.

There are two types of abortions, medical and surgical. A medical abortion involves the taking of two tablets, either in one day or spread over several. The first pill is called mifepristone, which works by blocking the hormone progesterone. Without progesterone, the lining of the uterus breaks down and the pregnancy cannot continue. The second pill is misoprostol, which is placed within the vagina either by yourself or a medical professional. The pill starts the labour process, making the womb contract, with side effects of cramping and heavy bleeding. Misoprostol is administered every three hours until the abortion is complete. Medical abortions are akin to experiencing a miscarriage with most pregnancies passing in 4 or 5 hours.

Surgical abortions involve a minor operation, either by vacuum aspirations or dilation and evacuation. In vacuum aspirations, sedation or general or local anaesthesia is administrated and the pregnancy is removed through gentle suction. The procedure lasts 5 to 10 minutes, following a resting time in a recovering area for 30 to 45 minutes. This means it is only necessary to be at the clinic for 3 to 4 hours.

In dilation and evacuation, general anaesthetic is given and, using both instruments and suction, the pregnancy is ended. Cervical preparation is needed the day of or the day before surgery and patients should expect to be at the clinic for the entire day. The surgery takes between 10 and 20 minutes, with 1 or 2 hours afterwards under observation before being allowed to go home.

Timing is key when having an abortion. The earlier on in the pregnancy you are, the more options there are available. Medical abortions are usually the prescribed option up to 10 weeks of pregnancy. Vacuum aspirations are up to 15 weeks and dilation and evacuations between 15 and 24 weeks. In most situations in England, Scotland and Wales, abortions are practiced up to 24 weeks. The number of weeks of pregnancy is calculated from the time of your last period, not the last time you had sex. However, it can also be deduced through the use of ultrasound.

Abortion is still a significant issue both politically and socially across the world. Trump’s presidency has the potential to threaten abortion rights in the US. Abortion is still illegal in Ireland and Northern Ireland, although a referendum will be held in May to decide whether to ease anti-abortion legislation. In several parts of the world, abortion is criminalised. In El Salvador, a 19-year-old rape survivor was given 30 years in prison after giving birth to a still born baby, on charges of ‘aggravated homicide’ on the basis that she had not sought medical attention.

Abortion is a serious issue, and a decision not to be taken lightly. However, it should be a decision taken without any shame or pressure attached. Difficult conversations need to be had to ensure that humiliation, guilt and scandal are not synonymous with abortions.

Whilst the medical jargon surrounding abortions may sound out the realities of experiencing one of the available procedures, undergoing an abortion is a difficult, emotionally draining and often traumatic experience. It is important to raise awareness and spread information about abortions, to allow you to form your own opinions about the issue and to ensure that if such a situation were to arise, you would have the necessary knowledge to make an informed decision or to provide support for someone else. To find out more about the issue, visit the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) website or visit the Chalmers Sexual Heath Centre on Chalmers Street to speak to someone.

image: Pregnancy test result.jpg via Wikimedia Commons


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