What is Abortion

Abortion or medical termination of pregnancy is the procedure of medically or surgically evacuating an intrauterine pregnancy. This is prescribed by law in the Indian constitution and is a right of any pregnant woman in this country. It can be safely performed upto 20 weeks of pregnancy and in special cases, upto 24 weeks if permission is granted by a court of law (eg. in case of an abnormal baby detected late). There are many countries in the world where abortions are illegal and women need to resort to unsafe abortions resulting in complications.

What are unsafe abortions?

Over 50 million abortions are performed every year, but often they are performed in unsafe, unhygienic conditions without proper medical equipment, sterilisation procedures and poor quality consumables. In fact, nearly 7 million women are admitted worldwide due to complications from unsafe abortions and 10% of all maternal deaths can be attributed to unsafe abortions as per the WHO.

Myths on Abortion

There are several taboos and myths about abortion, which are mostly spread by word of mouth or via internet and social media. We take a look at some of the more common myths:

An abortion can be a life threatening procedure

Modern methods of medical and surgical abortion are safe, effective and have no long lasting consequences in over 99% of cases. When performed in an accredited clinic by a skilled practitioner and supporting staff, there are extremely low chances of complications.

When performed in unhygienic conditions, with poor or no medical equipment, lack of sterilisation, reused or poor quality consumables (so called back street abortions) the unsafe abortion my result in complications and death of the woman. This is common in some countries where abortion is illegal and in some developing countries where safe abortion services cannot be easily accessed.

Abortions are illegal

In India, the MTP Act of 1971 provides a clear set of guidelines for women and healthcare professionals to perform safe abortions and offer appropriate services. The Act has been revised several times since it was first passed to help bring it in line with modern society and cultural values and attitudes.

Abortions are against our religion

No holy book or religious text has ever condemned or spoken out against abortion and this is just a myth created to confuse women and make them feel guilty about seeking an abortion.

Women who have abortions land up with mental problems

When performed for a clear indication (financial issues, new job, spacing etc), most women do not regret having an abortion and the incidence of mental issues is lower than if they were forced to continue an unwanted pregnancy. Unsafe abortions leading to protracted medical issues, readmission and disability are more likely to cause simultaneous mental issues than a safe abortion which a woman desires for a clear cut indication.

The baby experiences pain during an abortion

Science has clearly demonstrated that babies cannot perceive pain before around 30 weeks or 7 months of pregnancy. This is just a myth to make the woman feel emotionally responsible for causing pain to the fetus.

Time limit for having an abortion

As per Indian law, pregnancy termination can be carried out at any time upto 20 weeks. In certain cases such as abnormalities being detected late in pregnancy, it may be carried out upto 24 weeks.

The best time from medical point of view would be 6-10 weeks as the procedure is easy, uncomplicated and can be performed in a short period of time. Over 11-12 weeks, it can be performed in centres with expertise. Beyond 14 weeks upto 20 weeks, the procedure is different from a simple surgical evacuation and may require admission for a couple of days. Your doctor will guide you further regarding the specifics of the procedure as applicable to you.

Repeated Abortion

A woman suffering from multiple miscarriages is termed as having a recurrent pregnancy loss or recurrent abortion. This happens naturally in some women and they fail to carry a pregnancy for a full nine months repeatedly (usually twice or thrice). This requires a special set of investigations to identify the cause and treat the same so that she may be helped in the next pregnancy and can have a safe delivery after 9 months.

If a woman chooses to have an abortion every time she is pregnant for reasons of spacing, perhaps she could discuss an alternative, safe effective contraceptive method. Your doctor will be glad to assist you in choosing the right contraception for you. Feel free to discuss this with your doctor to prevent unwanted pregnancies in future.

Early Abortion

First-trimester abortion guidelines

As per the MTP Act and other government issued guidelines, there are certain rules and regulations for both the patient and the government authorised centre which should be followed.

  • Pregnancy should be confirmed
  • It should be an intrauterine pregnancy
  • Duration of the pregnancy should be assessed
  • Consent of both the partners is necessary on paper
  • Confidentiality of the couple should be preserved
  • Records should be kept and produced when demanded by authorities (maintain an MTP register)
  • Standard consent forms and register proforma have been made available

Induced Abortion

Post Abortion issues

Some women may experience nausea and vomiting owing the effects of anaesthesia and medications. These will usually subside in a few hours or by next day.

Bleeding or spotting usually subsides in a few days. If prolonged beyond a week, it may be necessary to investigate further. The next menses may occur on time or may be delayed occasionally. Having an abortion does not protect against having a pregnancy in the immediate future and some form of contraception is advisable in the forthcoming months.

What is Mifepristone

Medical Abortion

Over the past few years, medical abortion has become a preferred method for many women that they can use in the safety and comfort of their own home. However, this is only recommended if the duration of pregnancy is less than 7 weeks, is confirmed on ultrasound examination to be intrauterine and the couple is counselled and advised regarding this option.

All the legal procedures are to be followed including investigations and consents from the partners. Usually, a course of two medications is administered one after the other with a time gap between the two and a day or two later, bleeding starts followed by evacuation. Some women may experience heavy bleeding or have an incomplete abortion, necessitating an emergency visit to the clinic. Occasionally, a surgical evacuation may be necessary to complete the procedure.

Surgical Abortion

This is usually carried out when all the preoperative investigations are performed, ultrasound has confirmed the site and size of the pregnancy and the necessary consents have been obtained from the woman and her partner. Surgical termination is a day care procedure usually not requiring overnight admission.

Under anaesthesia, the cervix or neck of the womb is carefully dilated and the uterine contents are evacuated by vacuum aspiration. After confirming that the procedure is complete, the patient is taken to a recovery room. A few hours later, she can have liquids and juice and if she is comfortable she can go home in about 4-6 hours. She can resume all normal daily activities the following day without any long lasting side effects.

Some medications like antibiotics may be prescribed for a few days and there is usually a follow up visit to the clinic about a week later.