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Comparing Options: Medical vs. Surgical Termination of Pregnancy
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August 30, 2023
Dr Hina

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The topic of abortion is a difficult one and for those women considering their options, it is not an easy choice to make. However, abortions in the UK alone are extremely common, with over 185,000 women between the ages of 15 and 44 undergoing an abortion each year. 

An abortion can be a very difficult decision, and create a traumatic, emotional time for women. To make things more challenging, abortion is still largely considered to be a taboo topic, making it harder for women to seek the advice they need.

In this article, we aim to support women and their decision to have an abortion. Whether you have the support you need or not, we hope this article informs you of your choices so that you can make the best decision for you and your body.

What is Abortion? 

“Pregnancy is one of the biggest events in a woman’s life. Unfortunately this event may not come at a time when we are physically, emotionally or mentally ready.” – GynaeDoctors

Abortion, simply put,  is the termination of a pregnancy. In the UK, abortion is legal and carried out in professional settings such as hospitals and private clinics. According to Wikipedia, abortion in the UK is permitted on the grounds of:

The third ground is typically interpreted liberally with regards to mental health to create a de facto elective abortion service: 98% of the approximately quarter-million abortions performed in Great Britain are done so for that reason.” 

Abortion is an extremely difficult choice to make and one that many women struggle with. 

The Two Types of Abortion: Medical and Surgical 

In the UK, there are two types of abortion available: medical and surgical. Here at GynaeDoctors we perform both procedures, so whichever you choose we’ll be here to support you throughout. 

Many women ask us which option is better and the honest answer is; it depends. Ultimately, choosing between a medical and a surgical pregnancy termination is up to you. The main difference between these two procedures is at what stage of pregnancy patients are administered. 

It isn’t our intention to scare or overwhelm you with information, but it is important that you understand your options. 

What follows is a breakdown of medical and surgical abortions, the main facts about each procedure, and the differences between the two. We hope it helps you make a decision that’s right for you and your body.

What is a Surgical Abortion?

A surgical abortion is a safe and simple operation that can be performed on women up to 24 weeks pregnant. This is in accordance with current UK laws. Although it is called a surgical abortion, no cuts are made to the body, so the term can seem misleading. Surgical abortions are safe procedures and are an effective way to terminate a pregnancy.

What Happens in a Surgical Abortion? 

In a surgical abortion, the pregnancy is removed vaginally. This is done using narrow forceps or suction. Most women request to have the procedure carried out while under local anaesthesia, which is generally advised. 

Immediately after the surgical abortion, you will receive a short observation by our medical team before being allowed to return home and commence your normal activities. 

A Surgical Abortion: Step-by-Step

Here is a quick run-through of what a surgical abortion involves. 

Firstly, you will be asked to undress from the waist down (just as you would for a smear test). You will then lie down on a bed with your feet raised. A speculum will be inserted (again, just like a smear test) and a local anaesthetic will be injected into your cervix using a very fine needle. 

Next, a small cannula will be placed into your uterus and then suction will be applied. During this time you will likely experience bad period cramps. You will be given 1-2 minutes of rest before the suction is repeated (for 15 seconds at a time) up to 3-4 times.

After the procedure, an ultrasound will be carried out to ensure that the pregnancy has been successfully terminated and to confirm that no tissue remains. You will then receive a follow-up check after a short rest before being sent home to rest.

Surgical Abortions and Pain

One of the most commonly asked questions we receive about surgical abortions is, will it hurt? And while the answer is, yes; there are a lot of variables. 

Firstly, the pain experienced can vary a lot from woman to woman. The amount of pain you experience may also depend on how far along you are in your pregnancy. Some women find that terminating their pregnancy early (before 10 weeks gestation) lessens the pain they feel during the procedure. However, again, this can vary. 

Rest assured that however the procedure feels to you, we’ll be there throughout to ensure you receive the best care and support possible. What’s more, there are numerous options for pain relief such as numbing medications and oral medications that will help ease any discomfort you may be feeling. And there is always the option to have the procedure done while under local anaesthesia, if you wish.

The Benefits of Surgical Abortion

What is a Medical Abortion?

A medical abortion is a non-invasive pregnancy termination that involves taking one pill orally (Mifepristone) and a second pill vaginally (Misoprostol), up to 24 hours apart. A medical abortion is typically safe to carry out at home and should only be undertaken by women who are 10 weeks pregnant or less. 

A medical abortion works by stopping the growth of the pregnancy and causing the uterus to contract and shed its lining (just as it would during a miscarriage). Many women prefer a medical abortion over a surgical abortion as it feels like a more natural end to their pregnancy.

What Happens in a Medical Abortion?

As previously stated, a medical abortion involves taking one pill orally and one vaginally to initiate the termination of a pregnancy. Each pill should be taken 24 hours apart. The pills will block progesterone production and encourage contractions, stimulating a miscarriage. The process typically takes up to eight hours, beginning two hours after the second pill has been administered.

The Benefits of a Medical Abortion

How Painful is a Medical Abortion?

The pain women experience can vary. However, typically with a medical abortion women experience levels of pain somewhere between period and labour pains. Generally, these can be well-managed with strong pain killers, rest, and a bath or hot water bottle. 

Many women considering an abortion choose to have a medical abortion because it is a non-invasive procedure that can be carried out in the privacy of their own home. This allows women to feel comfortable and in control, helping the whole experience feel more natural.

Medical Abortions and Bleeding

Medical abortions do cause women to bleed (just as they would during a miscarriage). The bleeding can vary in amount and is likely to last for up to three weeks after the pregnancy’s termination. Bleeding can be heavier than your normal period for 2-3 days but should then become more manageable.

If you experience very heavy bleeding that isn’t normal for you and you’re soaking a sanitary towel within an hour, it’s important to call your healthcare provider for advice.

How to Choose the Best Option for You

Ultimately, the decision to have an abortion is up to you, as is the method of terminating your pregnancy. However, you may find your choices are limited due to your personal circumstances, preferences, medical history, and medications. As such, we always recommend that you speak to a medical professional before commencing treatment. They will ensure you choose the best and safest option for you.

We hope this article has helped shed light on the differences between medical and surgical abortions so that you can make an informed decision about your next steps.

Contact GynaeDoctors for Advice

Here at GynaeDoctors, we’re available to support you during this difficult time. We know making the decision to terminate your pregnancy isn’t an easy one and that’s why we’re here to talk, answer your questions, and help in any way we can. Definitely get in touch with us if you’d like to chat. We’re happy to help.

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