What happens during an abortion procedure?

ribbon Medically reviewed Aug 2020 by Robin Watkins, CNM, WHNP-BC

During the abortion, you’ll be undressed from the waist down with a sheet over your lap. If you prefer, you can wear a long, flowy skirt or dress, and then you can just remove your underwear and pull the skirt up. (Just keep in mind that if you wear a jumpsuit or romper, you will have to take the whole thing off.) You’ll lie back on an exam table with your feet in stirrups—just like when you go to a gynecologist or other provider to get a Pap smear or a swab for a yeast infection. The health care provider will use a speculum to separate the walls of your vagina in order to get a good view of the cervix, and they will then inject numbing medication into your cervix. For abortions early in pregnancy, the provider will then dilate (open) your cervix. Soon after, the abortion provider will use a gentle suction to empty your uterus. The procedure itself typically takes only a few minutes to complete.

If your pregnancy is more than 16 weeks along, you may need an extra step to dilate your cervix more before the procedure to make it easier to complete the abortion. You’ll either take a medication to dilate your cervix, or a health care provider will insert a special dilator called laminaria into your cervix. The laminaria will slowly expand and open your cervix gradually. This kind of abortion is called a D&E—dilation and evacuation. The dilators—whether it’s medication or laminaria—may take a few hours or overnight to work. After your cervix is properly dilated, the abortion provider will use suction and some tools to gently empty your uterus.

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