Abortion is when someone decides to end a pregnancy. It’s sometimes known as termination.
There are different ways of ending a pregnancy, which are suitable at different stages. Most of the time you’ll have a choice about the type of abortion you have. Most abortions happen in the early stages, before 15 weeks. In the UK, you can have an abortion up to 24 weeks.
Abortion is a very safe procedure and legal in the UK. It’s available free on the NHS. And having an abortion does not affect your fertility or your chance of getting pregnant in the future.
How to get an abortion
There are 3 main ways to get an abortion funded by the NHS – you can:
ask your GP to refer you
contact your local sexual health clinic and ask to be referred to an abortion service
You can also pay to have it done privately.
At your first appointment with your GP or clinician, you'll be able to talk about your situation and which method of abortion is most suitable. You'll be told about any risks and what you can expect to happen.
The options you have will depend on how many weeks pregnant you are. Abortion is safer early in pregnancy, so it should be done as early as possible.
Types of procedure
There are 2 types of abortion procedures available.
Medical abortion is done by taking 2 types of medication that you can get online or in a clinic. You can take these pills at home. Or if you get them through a clinic, you can take them there.
In England and Wales, some services now offer telemedical abortion or at-home abortion. You'll talk with a clinician over the phone and the medication is sent in the post for you to take at home. This is available in the first 9 weeks and 6 days of pregnancy.
From 10 weeks up to 24 weeks, medical abortion is still an option and the same tablets are used. But you will be invited to a clinic to take them and might need to stay overnight.
For a medical abortion, you’ll be asked to take 2 different tablets, 36–48 hours apart.
The first pill, called mifepristone, blocks the progesterone hormone. This causes the lining of the womb to break down. Without this, the womb cannot support the pregnancy. You could have mild cramping and some bleeding at this stage.
2 days later, you can take the second medicine, called misoprostol. This medicine causes the muscles in the uterus to contract and the cervix to soften. This helps your womb to pass the pregnancy.
Everyone's experience is different, but it’s likely that this stage will be more painful. We recommend taking some painkillers 10 minutes before taking the misoprostol. You’ll experience heavy bleeding, more than you’d see from your usual period.
Your clinician will tell you what to expect when you take the misoprostol. If you’re taking it at home, it’s a good idea to be prepared and get what you need to manage the cramps and bleeding. This could be painkillers and heat, like a hot water bottle, and plenty of sanitary pads. Most people will pass the pregnancy within 4 hours of taking the misoprostol, but the time does vary and it's ok if it happens sooner or later.
Surgical abortion uses a minor operation to end the pregnancy. This is done in a clinic. There are 2 types of surgical abortion:
This method can be used between 7–15 weeks. It uses gentle suction to remove the pregnancy from the womb. It usually takes 5 to 10 minutes. You could be sedated for this, or given local or general anaesthetic.
Dilation and evacuation
Between 15 - 24 weeks you can have a dilation and evacuation (D&E) procedure. This is done under general anaesthetic or sedation. It usually takes 10–20 minutes. You may be able to return home the same day.
After a surgical abortion, it's likely you’ll get some bleeding that can last up to 21 days. You may get cramps, and you can take painkillers to manage this.
Does it go on my medical record?
Having an abortion is your decision and yours only. Your details will be kept confidential and you do not have to tell anyone. If you’re under 16, your parents do not usually need to be told.
If you get a referral from your GP, then the abortion will be recorded on your health record.
If you self-refer, you might be encouraged to tell your GP, but the service is confidential and will not add anything to your record.
BPAS (British Pregnancy Advisory Service) is an independent charity offering abortion, contraception and reproductive health advice and services across the UK
MSI Reproductive Choices and Brook offer free pro-choice counselling – that is, no one will try to influence your decision. They'll listen to you and help you decide what to do, but the choice will be yours
After an abortion
Lots of studies have found that abortion is unlikely to affect your chances of becoming pregnant in future. Your fertility should return to normal immediately after an abortion, so it’s important to start using contraception if you do not want another pregnancy. You can have sex as soon as you feel physically and emotionally ready.
For all types of abortion, you'll likely have some pain and bleeding. You can take painkillers like ibuprofen or paracetamol to help. You should use sanitary towels or pads rather than tampons until the bleeding has stopped.