An abortion is a way of ending a pregnancy using medication or surgery. In New Zealand, you need approval from two certifying doctors for a termination of pregnancy to be legal.
Having an abortion is a very personal decision. The information on these pages describes the different methods available in New Zealand. If you are thinking about having an abortion seek advice from a medical practitioner or organisations like family planning. They will be able to give you the information you need to help you make this decision; in the end it is your decision to make.
Types of abortion
A pregnancy can be ended with the use of medication or by surgery.
Medical abortion is a way to end a pregnancy by using medication.
- Early medical abortion is for pregnancies less than 9 weeks duration and induces a miscarriage.
- Late medical abortion is performed during the second trimester and induces early labour.
What happens during an early medical abortion?
During early pregnancy a medicine called mifepristone can be used to block the effect of progesterone, a hormone necessary for the placenta to grow properly. After a couple of days, a second medicine called a prostaglandin is given to make the womb contract and expel the pregnancy in the same way as a miscarriage.
Like a miscarriage, there can be period-like pain. You will be given some medications for this. There will also be some bleeding which is a bit heavier than a normal period.
The main advantages of early medical abortion are that it is performed early in the pregnancy, it does not require an operation and you do not need to be admitted to hospital.
What happens during late medical abortion?
The same hormones can be used for an abortion much later in pregnancy, but the doses of hormones needed are higher than those used for an early medical abortion and it takes much longer, so often you need to be admitted to hospital.
Surgical abortion is a simple procedure carried out to end a pregnancy. It is usually performed between 7 to 15 weeks but can be done later.
What happens during a surgical abortion?
During this procedure, a small tube is inserted into the uterus through the vagina and cervix and the pregnancy is removed by gentle suction. This takes between 3 to 5 minutes and can usually be performed under a local anaesthetic. A general anaesthetic may be used if the pregnancy is further on.
Recovery after a surgical abortion is usually very quick. There is usually very little pain, and the bleeding and cramping are about the same as a period.
What are the risks involved with an abortion?
The risks of an abortion are the same as the risks of a miscarriage. The most common are vaginal bleeding and infection. These risks are very low for a miscarriage or an abortion that occurs at less than 12 weeks.
Bleeding and infection after a termination of pregnancy usually means that there is some placental tissue left in the uterus. An ultrasound scan can be used to check for this and occasionally an operation called a dilatation and curettage is needed to remove the placental tissue.
With a surgical termination of pregnancy there is a small chance of damage to a woman’s cervix or uterus during the procedure. This is one of the main reasons why medical abortion is preferred if possible.
After an abortion
Use pads rather than tampons and showers rather than baths for the first couple of weeks.
It is best to wait about 2 weeks after an abortion before having sex. If you do have sex before then you should use a condom to decrease the chance of infection.
Use contraception. This is a good time to discuss contraception and choose a method that works for you. Remember that you could get pregnant again within 2 weeks of a termination of pregnancy.
How can I help myself?
If you miss a period or have pregnancy symptoms, find out as soon as possible if you are pregnant. This will give you more time to think about your options and seek advice about how you wish to progress.
If you are not trying to get pregnant, use contraception if you are having sex. Most recommended forms of contraception are safe and reliable but you need to choose a method that works for you.
For some women, the process of thinking about and going through with an abortion can be emotionally difficult. If you are struggling in this way, it is a good idea to seek counselling and advice from a qualified therapist.