- Clinic and medical abortions are very safe and the risks are often rare and minor.
- Although uncommon, risks include infection, pelvic pain, and damage to the cervix.
- You can minimize your risk by getting an abortion as soon as possible from a certified provider.
Terminating a pregnancy with a legal abortion is extremely safe. Each year, an estimated one million people in the United States have an abortion and only about 2% of them experience complications.
Additionally, the majority of these complications are minor and can include excessive bleeding, infection, pain in the pelvis, and side effects of anesthesia.
There are two types of abortions: medical abortionwhere you take a combination of pills, and surgical abortionswhere a doctor will dilate your cervix and then use a suction device to remove any pregnancy tissue.
People in the United States are 14 times more likely to die during childbirth than to die from abortion complications, says Dr. Siripanth NippitaProfessor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at NYU Grossman School of Medicine.
However, like any medical procedure, abortion carries risks. Here are the potential abortion complications you should weigh to decide if this procedure is right for you.
1. Heavy bleeding
One of the most common risks of abortion is heavy bleeding. In fact, a study 2021 found that of those who went to hospital after a medical abortion, 78% were there because of excessive bleeding.
It is important to note that bleeding is expected and normal for several days to several weeks after an abortion. But excessive bleeding – where you bleed enough to get through two or more maxi pads in two hours – is not.
Also, if you pass clots larger than a lemon for more than two hours, that’s also not normal.
About 1% people who have abortions will experience heavy bleeding, says Grube. And of this small percentage only one in five will require further treatment such as a blood transfusion, surgery or overnight hospitalization.
2. Incomplete abortion
In most cases, medical abortion terminates a pregnancy. However, there is a 2% to 6% risk pills do not work for people eight weeks or less pregnant.
This risk increases as the pregnancy progresses, reaching 13% for people aged 10 to 11 after the first day of your missed period.
If the abortion pill does not work, you may be offered another dose. This makes it effective almost 100% time and is a good option for people who want to avoid surgery. You can also opt for a surgical abortion.
If you are having a surgical abortion, the risk is Less than 1%as long as you see a trained medical professional who will remove all fetal tissue.
About 1.4%-1.7% people who have abortions in developed countries like the United States can develop an infection.
Although very rare, it can be serious and cause a shock if left untreated. So it’s important to know the warning signs, says Grube. These include:
- Intense abdominal pain
- Flu-like symptoms
- Rapid heartbeat a day or more after the procedure
If in doubt, always call your provider about these symptoms, as they should be treated promptly with
4. Restrained tissue
Sometimes part of pregnancy the tissue remains on the uterus, which increases your risk of infection or bleeding. This occurs in about 1% of surgical and medical abortions.
About 1 in 300 people who have second-trimester abortions have retained tissue. In this case, they may need a second procedure to remove residual tissue.
5. Cervical or uterine lesions
The risk of damage to the uterus or cervix is higher for surgical abortion than for medical abortion, but it is still extremely low.
About 1 in 90 people who have a surgical abortion will experience a cut or other damage to the cervix. This can usually be treated with stitches, but may increase the risk of bleeding or preterm labor in subsequent pregnancies.
About 1 in 300 people who have a surgical abortion will experience a perforation of the uterus. If the doctor notices the perforation during your abortion, they may stitch it up or give you antibiotics to reduce the risk of infection.
If it later presents, they will monitor you for any symptoms of infection while the uterus heals. However, perforation can increase the risk in case of uterine rupture in future pregnancies.
6. Other risks
In addition to the risk outlined above, people who have an abortion may experience:
How to have a safe abortion
Abortion is safe in the United States because patients have access to legal abortions performed by trained medical professionals, Grube says.
Unfortunately, around the world half the people who seek abortions have unsafe abortions that are not supervised by a qualified professional and do not meet minimum standards for medical safety.
For this reason, unsafe abortions are one of the leading causes of maternal death worldwide, especially in developing countries.
“The biggest piece of advice for maintaining access to safe abortions is to end the criminalization of reproductive health care,” Grube said.
Here’s how to make sure your abortion is safe:
Find a qualified supplier
If you decide that abortion is right for you, talk to a qualified abortion provider who can help you decide if medical or surgical intervention is the right choice.
Abortion Access Funds can help you find a provider outside your state if needed. Grube recommends www.abortionfinder.org.
Finding abortion information online can be tricky, as the anti-choice movement publishes information intended to dissuade people from having abortions.
These publications often disseminate information that may be false, misleading, or even dangerous. However, it can be difficult to identify, says Grube.
Therefore, to ensure you get accurate and up-to-date advice, stick to well-known resources such as Planned Parenthood, the Guttmacher Institute, or the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Or speak directly to your doctor.
Earlier is better
The risk of abortion complications increases 38% every week after eight weeks of gestation. So, try to have an abortion as soon as possible after making your choice.
But remember that at any time during pregnancy, abortion is safer than childbirthGrube said.
If in doubt, call your doctor
If at any time during or after your abortion you are concerned that what you are experiencing may not be normal, contact your doctor.
“The risks of an abortion endangering your health are extremely low, but I always insist on asking questions if you have any concerns,” says Grube. “It’s your body and you should feel well informed and empowered to ask questions and raise concerns.”
Each year, approximately one million people have abortions in the United States. Only 2% of them have complications, most of which are minor.
Worldwide, abortion can be quite dangerous as around half of people seek unsafe abortions outside of a medical setting.
The most common abortion risks in the United States are bleeding, infection, failed abortion, and residual tissue.
Very rarely, additional risks such as damage to the cervix or uterus may occur. However, in the United States, abortion is safer than childbirth and does not affect future fertility.
“Abortion is one of the safest medical processes to occur in the United States,” Grube said.