Beth Walsh, MA
Therapeutic abortion is the ending of a pregnancy on purpose. A medical abortion is done by taking medicines. This procedure is done in very early pregnancy. It can be done up to seven weeks.
This process is not the same as emergency contraception. An abortion ends an established pregnancy. Emergency contraception helps prevent pregnancy.
A therapeutic abortion may be done to:
Complications are rare. But, no procedure is completely free of risk. If you are planning to have an abortion, your doctor will review a list of possible complications. These may include:
A medical abortion is unsuccessful about 5% of the time. If the abortion was not complete, you may need more medication or a surgical abortion to end the pregnancy.
It is best to do the procedure as early in the pregnancy as possible. This decreases the chance of complications.
If you think you might be pregnant, see your doctor. The earlier you find out, the more time you have to make an informed choice about the pregnancy. Early symptoms of pregnancy include:
Your doctor may:
No anesthesia will be used.
The process can take anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks. The amount of time depends on the specific drugs used.
Acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) or ibuprofen (such as Advil) can reduce most of these symptoms. Do not take aspirin unless directed to by your doctor.
After a therapeutic abortion:
Sudden hormone changes may increase natural feelings of guilt, anger, sadness, and regret. Most doctors can offer or refer you to follow-up counseling.
After arriving home, contact your doctor if any of the following occurs:
In case of an emergency, call for medical help right away.
American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc.
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada
Women's Health Matters
Medical abortion. American Pregnancy Association website. Available at:
http://www.americanpregnancy.org/unplannedpregnancy/medicalabortions.html. Updated December 2011. Accessed December 17, 2012.
Medical abortion. Regina Qu'Appelle Health Region website. Available at:
http://www.rqhealth.ca/programs/in_hospital_care/womens_health/therapeutic.shtml. Accessed December 17, 2012.
What is medical abortion? National Abortion Federation website. Available at:
http://www.prochoice.org/about_abortion/facts/medical_abortion.html. Updated September 2008. Accessed December 17, 2012.
What you need to know: The difference between medical abortion and emergency contraceptive pills. Association of Reproductive Health Professionals website. Available at:
http://www.arhp.org/factsheets/mifepristone_ec.cfm. Updated December 2010. Accessed December 17, 2012.
1/11/2010 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance
: Robson SC, Kelly T, Deverill M, et al. Randomised preference trial of medical versus surgical termination of pregnancy less than 14 weeks' gestation (TOPS).
Health Technol Assess. 2009;13(53):1-124.
Last reviewed May 2015 by Andrea Chisholm, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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