Understanding the Difference Between a Medical and Surgical Abortion

The decision to end a pregnancy can be both difficult and complex, and there are many reasons you may choose to have an abortion. What you may not realize is that you may also have options when it comes to the type of abortion you have.


Depending on how far into a pregnancy you are, as well as other factors including your personal preference, your overall health, and your doctor’s recommendation, you may choose to have either a medical or a surgical abortion.


At Abortion Care in Somerset, New Jersey, we take the time to help women understand their options, and our doctors help you make the right choice as it applies to your individual health and circumstances.


To help you understand your choices, we’ve provided this overview of the two types.

Medical abortion

A medical abortion involves medication, rather than surgery, to terminate your pregnancy.

How a medical abortion works

You’ll take two different drugs at specific times. The first drug is called mifepristone, or RU-486, and it’s usually taken at the doctor’s office. This medication causes the lining of your uterus to break down.


About 24 to 48 hours later, you’ll take the second drug, misoprostol. This medication causes your uterus to contract and empty. Typically, your doctor will recommend that you return for a second appointment rather than taking misoprostol at home.


You may need to return to Abortion Care for a third and final appointment to verify that the medications were successful and that you are no longer pregnant.


A medical abortion can be an option if you’re no more than 10 weeks pregnant. Prior to the 10th week of pregnancy, medical abortions have a 95-97% efficacy rate and are more effective the earlier the abortion is performed.

What to expect after a medical abortion

Following a medical abortion, you can expect strong cramps, which may require over-the-counter or prescription pain medication, and you’ll likely experience heavy bleeding and you may even pass some blood clots. In some cases, you may have light to moderate bleeding for about two weeks.


Your ability to become pregnant and bear children in the future is unlikely to be affected. Both of the medications used in a medical abortion have been studied extensively and found to be safe. Complications are extremely rare.

Surgical abortion

As the name suggests, a surgical abortion involves surgery to terminate a pregnancy. There are two types of surgical abortion: aspiration and dilation and evacuation (D&E).

How a surgical abortion is performed

Aspiration is the preferred surgical method during the first trimester of pregnancy. To perform the procedure, your doctor numbs and dilates your cervix to allow for the insertion of a vacuum tube, which uses suction to empty your uterus.


D&E is generally used for later-term abortions, after the first trimester up to 24 weeks. The procedure is similar to the aspiration method and is typically recommended when a fetus is discovered to have severe medical abnormalities later in the pregnancy or in cases of later-term miscarriage.


Both procedures only take a few minutes; however, you can typically expect your entire appointment to last 3-4 hours.

What to expect after a surgical abortion

You may experience strong cramping during the procedure and light to moderate bleeding for up to 6-8 weeks afterwards. Surgical abortion has a 99% effective rate, and first trimester abortions have a less than 1% complication rate. Unless there are serious complications, your ability to have children in the future will not be impaired.


Choosing to terminate a pregnancy is not an easy decision, but understanding your options can help you make the best choice for your health and well-being.


To learn more about each type of abortion, book an appointment online or by phone at Abortion Care. Our staff are happy to discuss your personal situation and provide the specific information and care you need.

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