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Article Author:
Maleeha Ajmal
Article Author:
Meera Sunder
Article Editor:
Rotimi Akinbinu
10/23/2020 5:54:21 PM
For CME on this topic:
Abortion CME
PubMed Link:


Elective termination of pregnancy (abortion) is a common procedure despite the ethical and moral controversy surrounding it. With the availability of very accurate over-the-counter pregnancy tests that permit diagnosis of pregnancy 7 to 14 days after conception, termination is often a choice. All abortions performed 9 weeks after the last menstrual period are terminated either medically or surgically. The reasons for terminating a pregnancy may be maternal factors or fetal indications. Preabortion workup usually includes obtaining a complete blood count, coagulation profile, type and crossmatch, sexually transmitted infection screen, and human chorionic gonadotropin levels. An ultrasound is often performed to document the pregnancy. The abortion is usually performed in a clinic or hospital under local anesthesia, with or without conscious sedation.[1][2][3]

Anatomy and Physiology

External and internal genitalia typically comprise the female genital tract. The external genitalia includes:

  • Mons pubis: A rounded mass of fatty tissue lying over the joint of pubic bones.
  • Labia majora: Two cutaneous folds extend from mons pubis down to the perineum.
  • Labia minora: The region of the female genital tract buried inside the labia majora.
  • Bartholin gland: These are like bulbourethral glands in men and pour lubrication right at the entry of the vagina.
  • Clitoris: The vagina's pea-sized, most heavily innervated organ that detects sensation and stimulation.
  • Vulva: The collective term for women's external genitalia.

The female reproductive system's internal genitalia includes:

  • Ovaries: Female reproductive organs which produce all the ova (eggs) during a normal menstrual cycle.
  • Fallopian tubes: Also known as uterine tubes, these are responsible for the transportation of ova from the ovaries to the uterus. They are clinically important in abortion because they are the most common site of ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy outside the uterus).
  • Uterus: The womb is a hormone-sensitive reproductive organ where a fertilized ovum implants. It is responsible for nurturing the fertilized ovum and stages of development inside the mother's body that take place in the uterus.
  • Cervix: The lower part of the uterus, or the connection between the uterus and vagina.
  • Vagina: The lowest part of the female genital tract, starting from an external orifice to the cervix.

Understanding the normal anatomy of the female genital tract is essential. If elective termination of pregnancy fails, operative options are the next step. These options require knowledge of normal anatomy to avoid any further complications.[4][5][6]


Elective abortion has no indications because it is carried out at the mother's wish without any medical reason. Abortion, which is carried out for clinical reasons and indicated when there is harm to the mother, is therapeutic abortion.


Contraindications to an elective medical abortion include an allergy to the drugs used for the elective termination of pregnancy, inherited porphyria, ectopic pregnancy, and chronic adrenal failure. Exercise care in case of any coagulopathy or any other bleeding disorder, but these are not contraindications, the same as with anemia and seizures.


Types of equipment used for surgical abortion include:

  • Vacuum single valve aspirator
  • Locking 60 cc syringe
  • Flexible 6 mm cannula with two apertures
  • Rigid 6 mm cannula
  • Flexible 8 mm cannula with the double aperture
  • Specimen cup
  • Standard Graves speculum
  • Moore Graves speculum
  • Single tooth tenaculum
  • Straight sponge forceps
  • Small polyp forceps
  • Pratt cervical dilator
  • Curette


Medical abortion preparations include:

  • Misoprostol (tablet form)
  • Mifepristone (tablet form)
  • Medical abortion requires two tablets the prostaglandin analog misoprostol and antiprogesterone mifepristone

For a surgical abortion, arrange all the instruments required for the procedure.


Medical Abortion

Ultrasound should be carried out first to determine the pregnancy's viability, whether it is uterine or ectopic. After that, the dating of pregnancy should be determined with the help of an ultrasonogram. The drugs used for medical pregnancy termination include mifepristone and misoprostol. Mifepristone is given orally during the first visit to an abortion clinic. It blocks progesterone synthesis in the female body required to continue the pregnancy. Misoprostol can be taken orally or vaginally about 36 to 72 hours after administration of mifepristone. It prompts the uterus to contract and expel the fetus, which may take a few hours to a few days. A physical examination is carried out after 1 to 2 weeks to assess the completion of pregnancy termination or any other complication related to the abortion.[7]

Surgical Abortion

Suction aspiration and dilation and extraction are the two types of procedures for surgical abortion. Suction aspiration is usually carried out for aborting a pregnancy between 6 and 16 weeks. The patient should lie down on her back in the lithotomy position. The local anesthetic is given first, then tenaculum is used to hold the cervix in place, and it is dilated with the help of absorbent rods varying in thickness. When the cervix is dilated enough, a cannula connected to a suction device is inserted for the aspiration of the fetus and placenta. The procedure usually takes 10 to 15 minutes, and antibiotics are given at the end of the procedure to avoid septic abortion.

The dilation and extraction method is usually carried out after 20 weeks of gestation. A laminaria is inserted into the dilated cervix 48 hours before the procedure, and a small incision is made to the skull of the fetus to evacuate the cerebral material. After that, the fetus is completely removed.[8][9]


Common side effects of medical abortions include cramping, nausea, diarrhea, severe bleeding, vomiting, and infection (septic abortion). About 10% to 12% of medical abortions remain unsuccessful and need an additional surgical procedure to complete pregnancy termination.

Common side effects of suction aspiration include cramping, nausea, vomiting, sweating, and hypotension. Less common side effects include prolonged bleeding, infection, damage to the cervix, or perforation of the uterus.

Complications of dilation and extraction can also occur. Common side effects include nausea, vomiting, and bleeding. The patient may experience severe cramps, which can last up to 2 weeks. Less common side effects include perforation of the uterus, infection, and blood clots.

Clinical Significance

Surgical procedures to perform an elective abortion include using a vacuum device, suction curettage, dilatation and extraction, hysterotomy, or hysterectomy. The risk of complications and morbidity is lower for earlier abortions. Medical abortion is usually performed with methotrexate and a combination of mifepristone and misoprostol. A rare method of accomplishing an abortion is an intra-amniotic injection of digitalis or hypertonic saline. Hypertonic saline has previously been used to induce abortion, but the process is laborious, time-consuming, and often does not work. Abortion has no absolute medical contraindications, but the patient must be stable and free of any acute medical emergencies such as sepsis, coagulopathy, and heart disease. They must also be mentally competent. After the abortion, the patient should avoid sexual intercourse, douche, or the use of tampons. This chapter does not discuss the legal ramifications of elective abortion as they vary by state and country.

Enhancing Healthcare Team Outcomes

Performing elective abortions is a costly affair for the healthcare system. Given that most elective abortions in the US are performed for unintended pregnancies, the focus today is on educating the female on contraceptive management and fertility. The nurse, obstetrician, primary caregiver, and pharmacist are in the ideal position to educate the female on available contraception methods. Because most women post-abortion have successful ovulation the very next month, time is of the essence. Most obstetricians recommend the insertion of an intrauterine device at the time of the elective abortion. The procedure is safe, effective, and devoid of any major complications. Finally, both partners must be counseled on contraception if pregnancy is to be avoided in the future.[10][11] [Level 3]


For the majority of women, the outcome after an elective abortion is excellent. Fertility is not impaired, and all women can have successful future pregnancies. However, the use of contraception is highly recommended to prevent a future problem.[12][13] [Level 5]


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