Surgical abortion

Surgical abortion is a safe and straightforward day-surgery procedure that is most commonly performed in the first trimester (up to 12–14 weeks’ gestation). Second trimester termination of pregnancy, also known as late term abortion, may be performed up to 20-22 weeks’ gestation, depending on where you live.

Surgical abortion in the first trimester is a low-risk procedure with a high success rate of greater than 98%. A doctor uses gentle suction to remove the pregnancy from the uterus. The procedure takes between 5–15 minutes and is usually performed under intravenous sedation. Local anaesthetic can be used if preferred.

When you book you will also be given the option of having a long-acting reversible method of contraception fitted post-procedure. Combining procedures can be convenient and cost-effective.

For more information about what’s involved in a surgical abortion you may wish to read our surgical abortion FAQs below.

This short patient information video can also help to explain what to expect from your Marie Stopes surgical abortion clinic appointment. To watch the video with subtitles in your preferred language, click the settings (cog) symbol, then subtitles, then auto-translate.

Surgical abortion procedure

Surgical abortion: what to expect

Surgical abortion is a safe and simple day-surgery procedure that may be used to terminate a pregnancy at various stages of gestation, dependent on the laws in your state.

There are slightly different procedures involved in a surgical abortion at different gestations.

Manual vacuum aspiration is our preferred procedure, utilised up to 9-10 weeks, with suction curettage beyond this.

You may leave as soon as you feel well enough and have been discharged but you will need someone to accompany you home.

An approximate timeframe in the centre is around 4 hours, as it is a day surgery procedure, which includes check in, waiting time, consultation time with the nurse/doctor, procedure and recovery time.

Surgical abortions where the gestation is above 12 weeks will require a longer stay in the centre as medication may be required to help open the cervix before your procedure. From 16 weeks onwards you may require two consecutive appointments to complete the procedure. The duration of a second trimester termination will depend on gestation, previous obstetric history and the type of procedure advised by the doctor on the day.

Like all surgical procedures, there are some risks associated with surgical abortion. Whilst it is rare to have serious complications1, risks do include damage to the womb or cervix, uterine perforation (accidental puncturing of the uterus by an instrument used in the procedure), infection, retained pregnancy tissue or clot, and continued or ectopic pregnancy.

Generally, early abortion (less than 12 weeks) is one of the safest and most common procedures carried out in hospitals and clinics throughout the world. There is no medical evidence to suggest that a surgical abortion with no complications has any impact on future fertility or any other aspect of general health.

Your consulting doctor will discuss these risks with you on the day and gain your consent to proceed. For more information about the risks involved, you may wish to read an article comparing the risks and benefits of medical and surgical abortions.

You should contact our centre if you have any of these warning signs:

  • Excessive bleeding, that is, soaking through a super pad every half hour for 2 hours
  • Bleeding much heavier than your normal period, lasting for more than 2 days
  • Constant pain or cramps continuing for more than 2 days
  • Abdominal pain or tenderness that changes in nature, especially towards one side of your abdomen
  • Persistent blood clotting
  • Smelly vaginal discharge
  • Raised temperature or flu-like feeling
  • Sickness or breast soreness that has continued for more than 1 week
  • Absence of a normal period 4 to 6 weeks following the procedure (except in second trimester abortion).

If you chose to have the procedure under IV sedation you are unlikely to experience or recall any pain during the procedure, although you may experience some period-like cramping afterwards. If you choose to have the procedure under local anaesthetic you may still experience cramping during the procedure that may range from mild to strong.

There is a small chance, up to 2%, that the surgical abortion will be incomplete and a follow up procedure be required. Continued pregnancy is uncommon (1 in 500) and is more likely in terminations performed under 6 weeks.

Do not have intercourse or insert anything in your vagina for one week because your cervix is open and this may increase the risk of infection.

You can have a shower as soon as you wish, but we advise you not to have baths or go swimming for 1 week after the procedure.

Avoid any strenuous activity for at least one week, including sports or heavy physical work to allow your body time to recover.