Which methods of abortion are safe

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A pregnancy can be removed from the womb by a trained health worker in the following ways:

Abortion by suction (vacuum aspiration, MVA) The pregnancy is removed by suction using a special tube (cannula) that is put into the womb through the vagina and cervix. This can be done without putting the woman to sleep, though sometimes medicine is injected into the cervix to help with the pain. When vacuum aspiration is done by hand (manual vacuum aspiration or MVA), the pregnancy is removed using a special syringe. Otherwise, a small electric machine is used. MVA is simple and safe, and takes only about 5 to 10 minutes. It is usually done in a clinic or health post, or doctor’s office. This kind of abortion is safe to do during the first 12 weeks (3 months) of pregnancy.

Abortion by scraping (dilation and curettage, or D and C) The pregnancy is scraped out with a curette, a small spoonshaped instrument that is made especially to go into the womb. A curette is larger than a cannula and because it is sharp, the cervix must first be stretched open. This stretching can cause some pain. The D and C takes more time to do (about 15 to 20 minutes), is more painful, and costs more than vacuum aspiration. It is usually done in an operating room, and the woman is often given medicine to make her sleep.

Abortion by medicine (medical abortion) Certain modern medicines are now used by doctors and health workers all over the world to cause abortion. This is called medical abortion. These medicines make the womb contract and push out the pregnancy. The medicines are either swallowed or dissolved in the mouth. When the right medicines are used correctly, medical abortion is very effective and safe. Since nothing is put inside the womb, there is less danger of infection that kills many women who have unsafe abortions.

  • Burns, A. A., Niemann, S., Lovich, R., Maxwell, J., & Shapiro, K. (2014). Where women have no doctor: A health guide for women. Hesperian Foundation.
  • Audiopedia ID: en020208