Important abortion information
While pregnancy is a cause for celebration for many women, there are those for whom being pregnant is distressing or even dangerous. Despite the moral controversy it continues to engender, abortion has been a legal alternative in the United States since the landmark case of Roe v. Wade in 1973.
The term "abortion" is used to describe a medical procedure in which a pregnancy is deliberately terminated and the fetus is removed from the uterus. Abortions can happen naturally, as well, but this is normally referred to as a miscarriage.
If you're considering an abortion, it is extremely important to know and understand the procedure, its side effects and the potential health risks before you make your decision. It is also important to talk to your doctor or a medical professional to determine whether abortion is really the best option for you.
There are a few different ways to perform a medical abortion. During the first trimester, when most abortions are performed, the most frequently used method involves suctioning the fetus from the uterus using a medical vacuum. Fetal tissue may also be removed from the uterine wall with a loop-shaped knife called a curette. This method is known as suction curettage and is the most common form of surgical abortion.
In the second trimester, the fetus is too large for suction curettage, so the preferred method of abortion is dilation and evacuation (D&E), in which the cervix is stretched open and the fetus is removed with forceps.
For women in the very early stages of pregnancy (8 weeks or less), there is a pharmaceutical alternative to a surgical abortion. The abortion pill (RU486) is actually two medications taken two or three days apart – the first blocks the hormone needed to maintain pregnancy, and the second induces contractions that eventually expel the fetus. A two-week follow-up appointment with a physician is needed to confirm that the process is complete.
Some key facts to keep in mind when considering an abortion are:
- Most abortions in the United States are performed within the first trimester. After this, both the risk and the controversy increase, so it gets harder to find a doctor who will do the procedure.
- Abortion is generally considered a low-risk procedure. In fact, before the 16th week of pregnancy, abortion is safer than childbirth.
- Abortion side effects include abdominal pain, cramping and some bleeding. Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea may also occur.
- The potential risks of abortion are severe bleeding (hemorrhaging), infection, damage to the cervix or uterus and, in extreme cases, death.
- There are also mental health risks associated with abortion. These include guilt, depression, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder and suicidal thoughts.
- Women who have an abortion are more likely to deliver prematurely in the future. Premature birth is associated with several complications, including cerebral palsy.
- Recent studies indicate that abortion may be linked to later development of breast cancer. The connection is still being studied, but researchers do know that carrying a first pregnancy to term increases a woman's protection against the disease.
As with any medical procedure, an abortion should be carefully considered and thoroughly discussed with a doctor or other qualified professional. However, not all doctors will perform abortions, so don't be surprised if your doctor refers you to an abortion clinic. Abortion clinics are medical facilities that specialize in abortion procedures and aftercare. Often, these clinics also offer counseling services to help women cope with the mental and emotional aspects of the procedure.
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