Everything you need to know when considering an abortion

It can be a confusing and often scary time for those deciding if having an abortion is right for them.
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Team Kin
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Last updated on
January 12, 2024
min read
Considering An Abortion? Everything You Need To Know | Kin Fertility
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Throughout the world, abortions are becoming a more routine procedure as part of delivering quality health care — and globally there are roughly 56 million abortions performed each year [1].

However, no matter how commonplace abortions are around the world, it is still a confusing and often scary time for those deciding if having one is right for them.

This guide outlines important information about what it’s like to get an abortion, and hopefully, it provides you with reassurance to make the best decision for your life. Let's dive into it.

Am I pregnant?

First and foremost, confirm you are pregnant.

If possible, you can start by tracking your last menstrual period. If you have a regular cycle and track it via a calendar or app, then great! However, do be advised that this alone does not confirm if you are pregnant or not, but rather if your period is experiencing an abnormal schedule.

If you have an irregular period, tracking your period can be more difficult than expected. Therefore, confirming with a pregnancy test is crucial.

You can easily buy one at your local chemist or online and do it from the comfort of your own home. The way it works is it tracks your levels of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), which is a hormone released in the body that may confirm pregnancy.

However, be aware that at-home pregnancy tests, at best, only work 6 days before your missed period, which could leave some time for uncertainty.

At-home urine tests are also not as reliable as blood tests as they sometimes can give false negatives, particularly if:

  • You take one too early
  • You don't collect enough urine to detect hCG
  • You have certain medical conditions
  • The test is expired or defective

The most effective way to find out if you’re pregnant is through a blood hCG test.

This test is much more sensitive than a urine test and can be conducted from around 1 week after conception, providing a bit more certainty.

Your GP, specialist, sexual health provider, or local clinic can provide a blood test to confirm you are pregnant and provide resources and options for your next steps.

Ok, I’m pregnant. But how pregnant?

Because regulations of abortions in most countries are determined by the weeks of a pregnancy, not knowing how far along into the pregnancy you are will help determine what your options are.

One option is to consult your calendar or cycle tracking app to estimate the first day of your last period, in order to determine how many weeks pregnant you might be.

This estimation can be highly unreliable if you have irregular periods, but making an educated guess is better than having no information at all.

There are also high-end pregnancy urine tests that have an indicator of weeks.

However, the results are very vague and only provide a weak range (i.e. 2-3 weeks, 3+ weeks) that could prove to be problematic.

In any case, most people who become pregnant won't know how far along they are until they visit a health professional to receive a dating ultrasound, a scan done early in the pregnancy to calculate the stage of pregnancy.

Just remember that your options are often purely based on how many weeks pregnant you are — so having a wrong estimation, or waiting too far into the pregnancy, could restrict how doctors are able to proceed.

How does abortion work?

Abortion is still a highly divisive debate and the laws concerning its access vary by country and state.

If you can access abortion services in your country, it's important to understand your rights and educate yourself early and thoroughly, particularly when it comes to the options that may be available to you.

Medical abortions vs surgical abortions

There are two types of abortion: medical and surgical.

According to Marie Stopes, an international sexual and reproductive health care service, “Medical abortion is a safe and effective method of terminating an early pregnancy, up to 9 weeks gestation, using medication rather than surgery.”

Medical abortion is a 2-step process in which first a tablet — sometimes referred to as abortion pill — is ingested to block the hCG hormones and 1-2 days later, a second tablet is taken to start the individual’s menstrual cycle or to expel the inner lining of the uterus.

This type of abortion is low-risk and, according to Marie Stopes, has a success rate of up to 98%.

In some states in Australia, there is a telehealth option for medical abortions performed up to 8 weeks of pregnancy.

This service, also known as a “tele-abortion”, allows patients to perform a medication abortion in the comfort of their home with the supervision of a medical professional via telephone [2]. Tele-abortion is a fairly new service that may be a preferred method for some individuals. Please be sure to check ahead of time if you are eligible for this method.

Another service for terminating an unplanned pregnancy is surgical abortion.

Kin Fertility's Medical Director, Dr Vamsee Thalluri, says a surgical termination of pregnancy is done by a procedure known as a "dilatation and curettage."

"This procedure involves dilating the cervix and then passing a suction-like tube through the cervix, into the uterus and removing the pregnancy tissue with gentle suction," said Dr Thalluri.

"The procedure typically only takes around 5 minutes to perform and is done under a light anaesthetic while you are asleep. Women are then discharged the same day".

What’s next?

Next, you’ll have to decide if an abortion is the best option for you.

Unfortunately, this is the stage of the process in which a “how to” guide will fail to offer you a clear answer for your situation.

Ultimately, only you will know if having an abortion at this time is right for you. However, we've listed some basic points to consider that might guide the decision-making process.

Not all of these are suitable factors for everyone, but they might be for some, so pick and choose what’s best for your reality:

  • Mental health: Is having an abortion or not having an abortion right now better for my long-term mental health?
  • Support: Do my family, friends, and/or partner support my decision to have or not have an abortion?
  • Finances: Do I have the finances to support my decision?
  • Timing: How do I believe having a baby right now will impact my life?

What happens during your first appointment?

If you have decided that having an abortion is the right decision, it’s important to make an appointment with your healthcare provider as soon as possible.

Marie Stopes has Family Planning locations throughout Australia, but there are also smaller clinics that might be more convenient to your location.

You might also prefer utilising your GP or specialist for the procedure if you are more comfortable with their practice.

Be sure to ask about any state or clinic-specific requirements and if there is anything you should prepare for in advance.

Clinics can have varying processes depending on their state laws and how they are funded. It is important to be aware of these requirements as things like waiting times could limit your options.

On the day of your appointment, although it is not required, you may want someone to accompany you.

We suggest wearing comfortable clothes and coming prepared to wear a sanitary pad, as you might experience some vaginal bleeding after the abortion procedure. We also recommend blocking out the day or afternoon as there could be long waiting times and it can be an emotionally draining experience for some, but not all.

If you need additional support, reach out to friends and family you feel comfortable discussing your experience with.

What happens during the procedure?

Unless your healthcare provider has already confirmed the number of weeks of pregnancy, you will have an ultrasound to verify this on the day of your abortion.

This is to ensure the provider is abiding by the government restrictions for abortion in your area and to confirm what your options are.

Once the ultrasound confirms the number of weeks, you will discuss whether a surgical or medical abortion is right for you with your healthcare provider.

Both options have similar effectiveness rates and are medically tested to be safe procedures.

Your healthcare provider can recommend what’s the best method for your situation, but be prepared that your options may vary if you are not certain of the number of weeks of pregnancy.

Recovery after a medical or surgical abortion

After the procedure, it’s best to rest and avoid any activities that cause increased pain.

You can plan to resume your normal activities the following day, but it’s best to avoid having sex and using tampons for at least 2 weeks, or until your body feels ready [3].

According to Dr Thalluri, you may bleed up to a week or so after the procedure, but the flow should improve over time.

“If the bleeding gets heavier or is associated with pain or unusual discharge, then it is important to see your doctor to exclude the possibility of any retained products of pregnancy or infection," he says.

You should expect your next menstrual period to begin 4-7 weeks after your procedure, and it is recommended that you maintain your routine contraception and birth control methods [4].

You should also schedule a follow-up appointment with your healthcare provider, as it may be a suitable time to reconsider your contraceptive options.

Deciding to have an abortion is difficult for some, but it might be a bit easier if there was a broader understanding of the complete process.

Everyone’s body reacts differently, so it’s important to be easy on yourself and not to push yourself before you’re ready. This can sometimes be a lonely experience, so be sure to stay connected to those who offer you support.

Marie Stopes also offers complementary abortion counselling if you would like support from a trained professional before, during, or after the procedure.

Even if you are a supporter of a woman’s right to choose, the experience can be more intense than you realise when you are the one enduring an abortion firsthand. But hopefully, your experience can be a testament to others, and you can pay forward what you once received and needed.

All of the tools you need to take your reproductive health into your own hands.