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Information about abortion

An abortion is when a pregnancy is ended. This is done either by surgery or by taking pills to expel the pregnancy. If it is carried out in the early stages of pregnancy, legal abortion is very safe.

Below you will find some important information and commonly asked questions about abortion. Please go to the section on advice, support and consultation to see what services are available for you here in Leeds.

What is an abortion?

When a pregnancy is ended, it is called an abortion. A miscarriage is when this happens naturally (an embryo or fertilised egg is lost, resulting in a spontaneous abortion). However, a fertilised egg or embryo can also be intentionally removed from the womb by surgery or taking pills to expel the pregnancy. This is called an abortion or termination.

Who can have an abortion?

Whatever your age, abortion is legal up to the 24th week of pregnancy in the UK. It’s important to remember that the abortion will be easier and safer if it is carried out in the early stages of the pregnancy. While you do need to carefully consider your options, it’s also important not to take too long over your decision because abortion after 24 weeks of pregnancy is only very rarely allowed. However, an exception might be made if there was a high risk of the baby having physical or mental disability or if the woman’s physical or mental health is more likely to be damaged if she was to continue with the pregnancy. Most abortions are carried out before 13 weeks of pregnancy and the majority of the remainder are carried out before 20 weeks.

Abortions are free on the NHS.

Is abortion safe?

While no medical procedure is completely free from risk, if you get your abortion legally, it is very safe. This is especially true if it is carried out in the earlier stages of pregnancy. Infection is the most common risk and a flare-up of a pre-existing STI can become a problem. This means that it is important to get tested for STIs before you have an abortion.

If you have repeated abortions or have an abortion in the later stages of pregnancy, there is an increased risk of damage to the womb. However, this risk is still relatively small if the abortion is carried out legally. Illegal abortions are very dangerous.

An abortion will not affect your chances of becoming pregnant in the future if there are no problems.

What is involved in an abortion?

If you decide that you want to end your pregnancy, you will need to visit your doctor. Two doctors will need to agree on your eligibility for an abortion. There are a number of different methods of abortion, depending on how far along your pregnancy is.

The early medical abortion can be carried out up to 9 weeks into the pregnancy. This involves taking medication that causes the breakdown of the lining of the womb and the early pregnancy to detach. A vaginal pessary or tablet is then given at the second visit to the clinic. This opens and softens the entrance to the womb, causing the womb to contract and the pregnancy to be passed out. You might experience some irregular bleeding and some pain (like period pain), which can last for a while.

An early surgical abortion can be carried out up to 14 weeks into the pregnancy. The contents of the womb are removed by suction using a pump or a syringe. There will be some cramps during the procedure if the abortion carried out with local anaesthetic but there is no pain if it is carried out with general anaesthetic. Up to 14 days after the abortion there will be some bleeding and pain (like period pain).

Medical induction can be used for pregnancies over 9 weeks. It is similar to early medical abortion but more drugs are used and it takes longer. There might be some cramping pains during the procedure. For around a week afterwards there may be some bleeding and pain (like period pain).

Dilation and evacuation can be carried out if the pregnancy is over 14 weeks. The contents of the womb are removed by narrow forceps and suction. The procedure is carried out under general anaesthetic. For up to 14 days after the abortion there might be some pain and bleeding.

What happens after an abortion?

It is essential that you have a follow up appointment at the clinic to check that there are no problems and that the abortion is complete.

You can usually return to work, school or college the next day after an early abortion. If you have had a later abortion, recovery will take longer.

This can be a very stressful time and so you can see a councillor at the clinic where you had your abortion. It doesn’t matter how long it has been since you have had your abortion, you can still access the support.

If two weeks have passed since you had your abortion, you can get pregnant again. It’s not recommended that you have sex again until the opening to the womb has closed again. This is because germs could get into the uterus and so you are more likely to catch an STI. This means that you should wait until you have had a follow up examination or until three weeks after the bleeding has stopped.

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