Surgical abortion involves an operation to remove the pregnancy from the womb. It may be done with:
- local anaesthetic (to numb the cervix)
- conscious sedation (where you’re relaxed but awake)
- deep sedation or general anaesthetic (where you’re asleep)
Most people having deep sedation will not remember anything and will not be aware during the operation. If you have a general anaesthetic, you’ll be fully asleep during the operation and will not remember anything.
What kind of anaesthetic or sedation you have depends on your circumstances, how many weeks pregnant you are and your own preference.
Before a surgical abortion, you’ll be asked to have a medicine to open the cervix. This happens either a few hours or 1 to 2 days before the operation, depending on the medicine used.
There are 2 methods of surgical abortion.
- Vacuum or suction aspiration
This can be used up to 14 weeks of pregnancy. Vacuum aspiration involves a small tube (cannula) which is inserted into the vagina, through the cervix (the mouth of the uterus) and into the uterus. The contents of the uterus are then suctioned out. Vacuum aspiration is a simple and very safe procedure that should only take about 5-10 minutes. It is highly effective for both abortion and treatment of incomplete abortion (when an abortion has started but the contents of the uterus have not been fully expelled) and can be used from early to later pregnancy.
- Dilatation and evacuation (D&E) This is used after 14 weeks of pregnancy. D&E is a form of abortion that uses a combination of specialized forceps and vacuum aspiration to empty the uterus, it involves inserting special instruments called forceps through the cervix and into the womb to remove the pregnancy. The procedure can be used for an abortion in later stages of pregnancy than the MVA procedure, and for treatment of incomplete abortion or postabortion care. D&E is usually carried out under sedation or general anaesthetic. It normally takes about 10 to 20 minutes and you’re usually able to go home the same day.