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What is an Abortion?

An abortion is a procedure to end a pregnancy. In this in-depth overview, we cover everything you need to know about abortion, how it works, and what to expect.

Written by

Sally Rashid

Reviewed by

Dr. B

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An abortion is a medical procedure that is performed in order to end a pregnancy. Abortions are safe, effective, and really common—about one in four women will have at least one abortion in their lifetime. It’s important to note that women aren’t the only ones who have abortions; nonbinary and transgender people also receive abortion care. However, research  is limited on how many people have had an abortion and whether their care was trans-inclusive. At Hey Jane, we provide medication abortion care to all people that menstruate, regardless of their gender identitiy.  

While sometimes a touchy topic, abortion is a normal, common, and important part of healthcare. At one time in American history, abortion was not nearly as taboo as it is today. In fact, medications used to end pregnancies were available at many pharmacies and often even advertised in newspapers. In the mid to late 1800’s, however, stricter sexual and social norms led to increased stigma surrounding abortion. Still, the abortion rate remained the same and pregnant people often struggled to find safe abortion care. Fortunately, abortion is now legal and very safe, thanks to abortion-rights activists and the outcome of Roe v. Wade in 1973. 

There are a wide array of reasons a pregnant person may choose to have an abortion, all of which are valid. Health concerns, personal timing, or feeling like they’re not ready to become a parent -- just to name a few -- may contribute to a person’s choice. Ultimately, having an abortion is personal and wanting an abortion is reason enough to have one.

Abortion stigma still impacts many people today. If you feel like you like you’re looking for resources to cope with difficult feelings surrounding your abortion decisions, you can find support here.

How do abortions work?

An abortion procedure can be performed at a clinic or at home with medications prescribed by a medical provider. Speaking with a medical provider about how far along you are in your pregnancy, your medical history, and your personal preferences can help you determine which option is the best fit for you.

A medication abortion, often referred to as “the abortion pill,” is a safe and effective way to end a pregnancy. It’s approved in the US for use up to a gestational age of 10 weeks. Medication abortion is very common — about 40% of abortions in the US are done with medications. Many people choose medication abortion because the process is similar to an early miscarriage, like a heavy, crampy period. This process may seem more natural for some people than a surgical abortion. When taking the abortion medications, you can complete the entire treatment at home or any place you feel comfortable. Medication abortions are sometimes more affordable than surgical abortions, and don’t require a procedure in a doctor’s office, which many people find less anxiety-inducing.

The process of having a medication abortion is simple and involves taking only two medications. The first medication, mifepristone, blocks the pregnancy hormone (progesterone) which stops a pregnancy from growing. Then, 24-48 hours later, the second medication, misoprostol, is taken. This medication causes cramping and bleeding to empty the uterus or womb. You can expect period-like cramping and bleeding like a heavy period as the pregnancy passes. 

Surgical abortions can be used for pregnancies 16 weeks and more, depending on your state’s laws. A surgical abortion is also sometimes called a suction abortion because in pregnancies up to 14-16 weeks, a medical provider uses gentle suction to remove the pregnancy. After 16 weeks, the procedure may also involve cervical dilation, which is usually accompanied by some extra cramping. Surgical abortions are safe and effective, are performed in a medical clinic by a medical provider, and do not involve any cutting or scraping. Despite rumors, neither medication abortion nor surgical abortion procedures cause any harm to future pregnancies or decrease your chances of becoming pregnant in the future. Abortion does not increase your risk of getting cancer. Abortion is actually safer than childbirth and having your wisdom teeth removed. The medications used in a medication abortion are safer than taking penicillin or Tylenol!

What is the abortion process?

If you’re considering abortion to end your pregnancy, start by talking with a medical provider about your health history. In some states, you may need to get an ultrasound to confirm how far along you are in your pregnancy. If you have regular periods and can remember the date of your last one, you can use a pregnancy calculator to figure out how far along the pregnancy is. You and your healthcare provider can review which abortion procedure, medication or surgical, is right for you.

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No matter what type of abortion you’re having, you’ll want a few items on hand at home to use during and/or after the treatment. Over-the-counter pain medications approved by your healthcare provider, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, are helpful. Menstrual pads, comfortable clothes, and a heating pad are also great items to have around. If you’ve got the time before your treatment, consider making yourself a few meals you can throw in the oven or microwave, so that the only thing you’ll need to focus on is self-care.

How safe is a medication abortion? What are the risks?

Medication abortion is very safe. In fact, having an abortion is less risky than carrying a pregnancy to term. Complications occur in less than 1 out of every 100 people that take the abortion pills. Occasionally, people will experience nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea after taking the abortion pill. Misoprostol, the second medication, usually causes strong uterine cramping, like a very heavy period. Vaginal bleeding is expected. In very rare cases, you should seek additional treatment if you are bleeding too heavily – if you’re passing golf-ball-sized blood clots for longer than two hours or you’ve soaked through two menstrual pads an hour for more than two hours, contact your care provider. 

You may have heard rumors about taking the abortion pill, including that it will impact your chances of becoming pregnant in the future, cause depression, or impact your hormones long-term. Medication abortion is extremely common and has been widely studied, so we know these rumors are not true. Medication abortion is safe, does not cause depression, has no long-term effects on your hormone levels, and will not affect your future ability to get pregnant when (and if) you decide the time is right. Furthermore, there are many negative consequences associated with denying an abortion to someone who wants one. 

Allergies to the abortion medications are rare (reactions occur in only 0.008% of cases and are generally mild), but if you experience itching or hives contact your care provider immediately. If you experience facial swelling or difficulty breathing after taking mifepristone or misoprostol call 911 for emergency care. 

What to expect after an abortion

Following your abortion, you’ll likely experience some uterine cramping and vaginal bleeding, typically a bit stronger and heavier with a medication abortion simply because causing the uterus to empty is how the procedure works. Bleeding is normal with both procedures, however, as previously mentioned, if after your abortion you’re passing golf ball sized blood clots for longer than two hours or you’ve soaked through two menstrual pads an hour for more than two hours, contact your care provider. 

After an abortion, you can resume physical activity such as working or exercising as soon as you feel ready! Some people find that they are able to resume normal life immediately, while others may need a few days at home to rest.

You may resume sexual activity as soon as you feel ready. Some providers suggest waiting for vaginal bleeding to subside before engaging in sexual activity in order to reduce the risk of infection, but check in with yourself and your own comfort level to make this decision.

You are able to become pregnant any time after your abortion, as the abortion procedure has no impact on your fertility. Because of this, choose and begin using birth control immediately after your treatment if you do not wish to get pregnant.

While most abortion procedures are effective immediately, follow up with your abortion provider as advised. This may mean checking in via client survey, a secure-chat or, in some cases, following up with a provider by phone or in person. This post-abortion communication will allow the provider to make sure your treatment was successful.  

After an abortion, it’s common to experience all sorts of feelings, even if you felt sure about your decision. From relief to guilt or sadness, all of your feelings are valid. Pregnancy and abortion are both life stressors, so be patient with yourself as you process your experiences. If you’d like to speak with a caring support person, you can find links to talk and text lines on our resource page. If you’re feeling like you need urgent help, contact your healthcare provider or call 911. 

How to get an abortion at home

If you’re interested in having an abortion at home, Hey Jane can help. First, check if you are eligible. In order to receive a medication abortion through Hey Jane, you’ll need to be at least 18 years old, live in an eligible state, and be up to 10 weeks pregnant. You can determine your gestational age by the first day of your last period. If you have questions, you can chat with one of our licensed providers who will help answer your questions. 

Once you’ve spoken with a Hey Jane provider and are approved for treatment, you’ll receive FDA-approved abortion pills within 1-3 days. They’ll arrive in an unmarked box to protect your privacy, and include instructions you’ll need to complete the treatment process. 

If you have questions, we offer text-support 7 days a week, from 10am to 8pm EST at (405) 342-3654. If you’re a patient with medical concerns, we are available 24-hours a day.

You can chat with us anytime, 24-hours a day, if you have any questions before, during, or after you’ve taken your abortion medications.
Have more questions? Be sure to check out our FAQ page or contact us here.


Meet Hey Jane: modern, virtual abortion care

Learn more

Written by

Sally Rashid

Sally Rashid is a Registered Nurse and writer living in Detroit, Michigan. She has worked in reproductive care for a decade as a doula, nurse, and advocate for abortion access. Sally was a 2020 winner of Yes, And Laughter Lab's competitive incubation program for her work as writer and co-creator of Darling, a dark comedy about an abortion clinic at constant risk of closure. On top of writing for the beauty and healthcare industries, Sally is an all-around creative lady who loves music, making connections, and chilling with her two cats.

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