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What is a Non-Surgical Abortion?

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  • Written By: Marjorie McAtee
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 28 November 2016
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Non-surgical abortion is a method of abortion that uses oral and sometimes suppository medications to terminate an early pregnancy. Non-surgical abortion typically relies on the ingestion of two drugs, mifepristone and misoprostol. Mifepristone can cause a miscarriage in women who are less than nine weeks pregnant. Misoprostol is often administered to help the womb expel the pregnancy. Collectively, the drugs used to perform a non-surgical abortion are often known as RU-486, and they are generally limited in their availability.

RU-486, the drug combination typically used to perform a medical or non-surgical abortion, is legal only in some countries. It must typically be administered under a doctor's supervision. Most women can only take advantage of this form of abortion during the initial weeks of pregnancy. Local laws generally limit the use of RU-486 beyond the eight or ninth week of pregnancy. After the ninth week, a surgical abortion is generally considered necessary.

Proponents of this method of abortion believe it can be safer than surgical abortion, particularly for women who lack access to adequate health care facilities. Non-surgical abortion does not require a sterile clinic environment, so it can allow doctors and nurses to perform early-term abortions even when the creation of a sterile environment is impossible. There is no surgical procedure involved, so women who live in rural areas, or remote regions, can benefit from this type of abortion even when their access to qualified medical personnel is limited.

Medical supervision of the patient is required in many of the countries where non-surgical abortion is legally practiced. Risks of RU-486 can include excessive bleeding and allergic reaction. A small number of women who use this method of abortion experience prolonged bleeding that continues for much longer than normal. There is a risk of infection associated with this procedure, but it is small.

Women are generally subjected to a physical and pelvic exam before being approved for the procedure. The best candidates are in good health, do not use tobacco, and are less than nine weeks pregnant.

The completion of a medical abortion can take anywhere from four hours to two weeks. The first drug, mifepristone, is usually taken 24 to 48 hours before the second drug, misopristol. Women may be hospitalized for supervision for four to six hours following the administration of each drug. Side effects generally include mild to moderately painful cramps, bleeding, nausea, vomiting, headache, and diarrhea.

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