To round off my 101 post series for the time being, this is an abortion 101 post where I will discuss: The types of abortion procedures, how these procedures are conducted, aftercare, the effectiveness of these procedures, the advantages and disadvantages of each procedure, the cost and common abortion myths. At the end of this post, I will list each of the potential 2012 presidential candidates and summarize their views on abortion. As usual, with my 101 posts, my sources will be cited as links at the very end of the post.
An abortion is a safe and legal procedure that terminates a pregnancy. Abortions were made legal in the US in 1973 as a result of the well-known Supreme Court decision Roe v Wade, which basically stated that an individual’s right to privacy includes a woman’s right to have an abortion. Simply put, a woman has the right to do what she wants with her body without outside interference. There are two types of abortion procedures: medical abortion and in-clinic/surgical abortion.
Medical Abortion (The Pill)
What is it?
A medical abortion involves taking a pill that ends an early pregnancy. The pill is called mifepristone. It was called RU-486 while it was being developed. The pill can be used up to 9 weeks (63 days) after the first day of an individual’s last period. After 9 weeks, it will no longer be effective and an in-clinic/surgical abortion will have to be performed.
How does it work?
Before the pill is given to the patient, the health care provider will talk to the patient about their options and medical history and conduct physical exams/medical tests. This is to make sure that the patient is making an informed decision and is healthy enough to undergo the procedure. Before going home, the patient is given more information, take-home instructions and a number to call in case they have any more questions.
There are three steps to a medical abortion procedure:
The health care provider will give the patient the abortion pill along with some antibiotics to take. The abortion pill blocks the hormone progesterone, which causes the lining of the uterus to break down, ending the pregnancy. At this point, the patient can go home and continue the rest of the procedure there.
Up to three days after taking the abortion pill, the patient will take misoprostol, which causes the uterus to empty. The health care provider will provide the patient with a timeline of when to administer the misoprostol. Misoprostol causes cramps and heavy bleeding as the contents of the uterus is expelled. Pads and tampons can be used at this point. The cramping and heavy bleeding usually lasts a few hours and some bleeding may continue up to four weeks.
After two weeks, a follow up with the health care provider is required to make sure that the pregnancy was definitely terminated and to make sure that the patient is ok.
How effective is it?
Medical abortions are 97% effective, but its effectiveness decreases over the course of the 9 week period. If a medical abortion procedure fails, then an in-clinic/surgical abortion is performed.
Some advantages to having a medical abortion compared to other abortion procedures include:
- Medical abortions can be conducted early in the pregnancy.
- Medical abortions take place in the privacy of the individual’s own home.
- It may feel less invasive than an in-clinic/surgical abortion procedure.
- No anesthesia is needed.
- The resulting bleeding is heavier with medical abortions than surgical abortions.
- The cramping is more intense with medical abortions than surgical abortions.
- It is not 100% effective.
- Rarely, an individual may have an allergic reaction to the pill or develop an infection.
Where can one find the abortion pill?
One can find and/or be referred to a place where one can find the abortion pill at a Planned Parenthood center, a clinic or a private health care center.
The abortion pill costs $300-$800, depending on the geographic location and the cost of medical exams.
What is it?
There are two types of commonly used in-clinic/surgical abortion procedures: Aspiration and Dilation and Evacuation (D&E). Aspiration is the most common in-clinic/surgical abortion procedure and it is usually performed during the first 4 months (in the first trimester and in the beginning of the second trimester). Dilation and Evacuation (D&E) is performed in the second trimester.
How does it work?
Similar to the medical abortion procedure, the health care provider will talk to the patient about their options and medical history and conduct physical exam/medical tests. This is to make sure that the patient is making an informed decision and is healthy enough to undergo the procedure.
Before the procedure, the health care provider will give the patient pain medication and the patient may be sedated so they can relax. Then a speculum is inserted into the vagina and numbing medication is applied near the cervix. The patient is also given antibiotics to prevent infections. The cervix is then dilated and a tube is inserted into the uterus through the cervix. Then suction is used to empty the uterus. Sometimes a curette is used to make sure the uterus is empty and if not, remove any remaining tissue. The procedure takes 5 to 10 minutes after the cervix is sufficiently dilated.
Dilation and Evacuation
Similar to the aspiration procedure, the health care provider will give the patient pain medication and sedation if the patient needs help relaxing. Also, similar to the aspiration procedure, the cervix needs to be dilated and the patient will be given antibiotics. A speculum will also be inserted into the vagina and numbing medication is used near the cervix.
Because the D&E procedure is performed later in the second trimester, the health care provider may also administer a shot in the abdomen to ensure fetal demise before starting the procedure.
Medical instruments and a suction machine then empty the uterus. Once the cervix is dilated, this procedure lasts for 10 to 20 minutes.
After the Procedure
The patient will rest in the recovery area for about an hour. The health care provider will then give the patient aftercare instructions and a telephone number to call if they have any questions. Some clinics offer to insert an IUD (see birth control 101 post) after the abortion procedure. After 2 to 4 weeks, the patient is required to see the health care provider for a follow up appointment. After an aspiration procedure, an individual should be able to return to their usual activities the next day. Recovery after a D&E procedure may take longer.
How effective is it?
Both procedures are 99% effective and rarely fail. In the case that an in-clinic/surgical abortion fails, it is repeated.
- There is less bleeding and cramping than a medical abortion procedure.
- In-clinic/surgical abortions can be done later in the pregnancy than medical abortions.
- In-clinic/surgical abortions have a higher success rate than medical abortions.
- The procedure takes place in a clinic instead of the patient’s home.
- It may feel more invasive than a medical abortion.
- The patient may have allergic reactions to the pain medicine or experience side effects.
It costs $300 to $900 in the first trimester and more in the second trimester.
Did you know that some states in the US require that individuals who are under 18 years old obtain parental consent? Yeah, seriously. And the only way to avoid asking one’s parents for permission is to go to court and obtain permission from a judge to have an abortion without telling your parents/legal guardians. What about cases in which individuals are abused or raped by these guardians? Either deal with the stressful/triggering situation of reliving the experience in front of a stranger (the judge) or deal with the horrific reality of confronting the abusive parent with the situation. Just food for thought. The parental consent laws vary from state to state so check out what your state has to say on the matter.
Common Abortion Myths
“Abortions are extremely dangerous.”
Actually, a legal induced abortion is safer than giving birth. The mortality rates are 14 times higher in childbirth than in a legal abortion procedure.
“If you have an abortion, you will become psychologically scarred for life.”
Not True. There is no scientifically proven link between having an abortion and poor mental health. Abortion syndromes and other fabricated psychological disorders that one is supposed automatically acquire after having an abortion do not exist. Previous studies which declared that these syndromes exist failed to check for confounding variables that would distort the validity of their research data (E.G. Not checking to see if the individuals had psychological issues before having the abortion).
“If you have an abortion, you won’t be able to have children in the future.”
Incorrect. A person can become pregnant very soon after having an abortion. It is very important for the individual to start using birth control once they are ready to have sexual intercourse again.
“Most people have abortions because they are selfish.”
The most common reason for someone to have an abortion is that, because of their current life situation, they are financially unable to provide the child with a good life.
“Partial-birth abortions are common.”
Ok so what is a “partial-birth abortion”? According to the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003,” a partial-birth abortion is “an abortion in which a physician delivers an unborn child’s body until only the head remains inside the womb, punctures the back of the child skull with a sharp instrument, and sucks the child’s brain out before completing the delivery of the dead infant”. Now, a reader might wonder, “Why didn’t she talk about this method in the procedure section?” Let me explain: This is an extremely utterly rare procedure (0.6% of all cases), which would occur in the third trimester. Nearly all in-clinic abortions procedures occur in the first or second trimester. The only instances in which a third trimester abortion (i.e. partial birth abortion) would occur is if the individual originally intended on keeping the baby, but cannot for serious health reasons, like severe fetal abnormalities that would make it impossible for the baby to live outside of the womb or if giving birth to the child would be fatal for the mother. So why ban a procedure that is extremely rare and is only used if the baby or mother is threatened? Doctors and pro-choice organizations fear that this is just the first step in an attempt to ban other abortion methods. Spreading the myth that partial-birth abortions are common or at least common enough to warrant a law being passed also maintains the lie that abortions are dangerous, immoral and should be banned. One lie feeds another.
Some more food for thought, if politicians are so horrified and worried about late-term abortions, then why don’t they support comprehensive sex education and better access to birth control to reduce unintended pregnancies? And why are laws being passed and bills being written that would require mandatory ultrasounds, waiting periods and parental consent before an abortion and allow pharmacists and institutions to refuse to supply emergency contraception for religious reasons? These bills/laws make it harder to have the usual abortion procedures (which are performed early in the 1st and 2nd trimester) and could lead to an increase in the late-term abortions that they claim to want to prevent.
And Now For Some Politics
President Barack Obama
April 2008 - Obama said that he has not “come to a firm resolution on” whether or not life begins at conception. - 2008 Democratic Compassion Forum at Messiah College
He stated that comprehensive sex education should be taught in order to reduce teen pregnancies and abortions. Abstinence should also be taught, but not as the only option.
2008 - “On an issue like partial birth abortion, I strongly believe that the state can properly restrict late-term abortions.”
April 2007 - On the topic of partial-birth abortion: “And I trust women to make these decisions in conjunction with their doctors and their families and their clergy…There is a broader issue: Can we move past some of the debates around which we disagree and can we start talking about the things we do agree on? Reducing teen pregnancy; making it less likely for women to find themselves in these circumstances.” - 2007 South Carolina Democratic primary debate, on MSNBC
March 2001 - “Obama was the only Illinois senator who rose to speak against a bill that would have protected babies who survived late term labor-induced abortion. Obama rose to object that if the bill passed, and a nine-month-old fetus survived a late-term labor-induced abortion was deemed to be a person who had a right to live, then the law would ‘forbid abortions to take place.’ Obama further explained the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment does not allow somebody to kill a child, so if the law deemed a child who survived a late-term labor-induced abortion had a right to live, ‘then this would be an anti-abortion statute.’”
June 2011 - “I believe people understand that I'm firmly pro-life…And I believe in the sanctity of life from the very beginning until the very end.” - 2011 GOP primary debate in Manchester NH
December 2007 - “I believe from a political perspective that life begins at conception. I don’t pretend to know, if you will, from a theological standpoint when life begins. I’d committed to the people of Massachusetts that I would not change the laws one way or the other, and I honored that commitment. But each law that was brought to my desk attempted to expand abortion rights and, in each case, I vetoed that effort. I also promoted abstinence education in our schools. I vetoed an effort, for instance, to give young women a morning after pill who did not have prescriptions. So I took action to preserve the sanctity of life. But I did not violate my word, of course.” - Meet the Press: 2007 “Meet the Candidates” series
November 2007 - “Let me say it. I’d be delighted to sign that bill [to overturn Roe v Wade]. But that’s not where we are. That’s not where America is today. Where America is, is ready to overturn Roe v. Wade and return to the states that authority. But if the Congress got there, we had that kind of consensus in that country, terrific.” - 2007 GOP YouTube debate in St. Petersburg, Florida
October 2002 - While running for governor in Massachusetts, Romney said that he would “preserve and protect” a woman’s right to choose.
January 2012 - Gingrich supports the Pro-life Presidential Leadership Pledge, which states that the candidate agrees to support a very strict anti-abortion political platform.
August 2011 - He believes that women should not have abortion even in cases of rape or incest: “You know, the US Supreme Court on a recent case said that a man who committed rape could not be killed, could not be subject to the death penalty, yet the child conceived as a result of that rape could be. That to me sounds like a country that doesn't have its morals correct. That child did nothing wrong. That child is an innocent victim. To be victimized twice would be a horrible thing. It is an innocent human life. It is genetically human from the moment of conception. And it is a human life. And we in America should be big enough to try to surround ourselves and help women in those terrible situations who've been traumatized already. To put them through another trauma of an abortion I think is too much to ask. And so I would absolutely stand and say that one violence is enough.” - Iowa Straw Poll 2011 GOP debate in Ames Iowa
June 2011 - "I believe that any doctor who performs an abortion should be criminally charged for doing so."
July 2006 - Santorum voted for the Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act, which was designed to require that the parents of a minor be notified if the minor wants to get an out-of-state abortion.
April 2003 - He believes the right to privacy does not exist: “The undermining of the fabric of our society all comes from this right to privacy that doesn't exist in the US Constitution… The idea of the "right to privacy" is that the state doesn't have rights to limit individuals' passions. I disagree with that. There are consequences to letting people live out whatever passions they desire.” - Associated Press in USA Today: Santorum Interview
March 2003 - He voted in favor of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003.
June 2000 - He voted for a motion to maintain a ban on privately funded abortions on overseas military bases.
May 2011 - Paul voted in favor of the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, which was designed to ban federal health coverage that includes abortion, except in cases of incest and maternal mortality.
April 2011 - “It is now widely accepted that there's a constitutional right to abort a human fetus. Of course, the Constitution says nothing about abortion, murder, manslaughter, or any other acts of violence. Criminal and civil laws were deliberately left to the states. I consider it a state-level responsibility to restrain violence against any human being. I disagree with the nationalization of the issue and reject the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion in all 50 states.” - Liberty Defined, by Rep. Ron Paul, p. 2&6-7
April 2005 - He voted against the Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act, which requires that the parents of a minor be notified if the minor wants to get an out-of-state abortion.
October 2003 - Paul voted in favor of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003.
September 2002 - He voted in favor of the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act of 2002, which prohibits the federal, state and local governments from not funding health care providers, health insurers, health maintenance organizations, and any other kind of health care facility, organization or plan that decline to refer patients for, pay for or provide abortion services.
May 2001 - Paul voted in favor of banning Family Planning funding in US aid abroad.
June 1999 - He voted against the Child Custody Protection Act, which was designed to make it a federal crime to transport a minor across state lines for the purpose of obtaining an abortion.