Late abortion

Also known as ‘late term abortion’: this type of abortion is carried out at a later stage in a pregnancy – hence the name. There are two options with a late abortion which are:

This method of abortion is carried out between 20 to 24 weeks of pregnancy and is considered the most complex and, the most controversial of all the methods.

Both options require an overnight stay in hospital or the clinic.

Medically induced abortion

This is a two part process in that you receive medication in the form of prostaglandins in the first part, and in the second part, undergo dilation and evacuation to remove the foetus.

You are conscious in the first part of the treatment but will be given a general anaesthetic in the second half.

The medication you are given is the same as that used in an early medical abortion. Prostaglandin is injected into your womb which causes it to contract strongly.

These contractions last from 6 to 12 hours and are very similar to labour pains.

During this time you will be given painkillers to deal with the pain.

The second half involves the removal of the foetus with forceps and a small suction tube as used in the dilation and evacuation method.

The effects of this treatment are similar to a miscarriage.

Two-stage surgical abortion

You will be given a general anaesthetic for this procedure.

The first stage involves softening the cervix so that it is dilated (open) and relaxed. The foetus’s heartbeat is also stopped.

The second stage is performed the next day and involves removing the foetus with forceps and suction tube in the same way as used for dilation and evacuation.

Recovery after a late abortion

Once you have recovered from the general anaesthetic you will be able to return home. Some patients do find that they feel sick after an anaesthetic but this soon passes.

However, arrange for someone to drive you home and avoid doing anything which requires you to concentrate for the next 48 hours. Do not operate any machinery or sign any legal documents during this time.

You will experience some bleeding in the first two weeks after this procedure so wear sanitary towels rather than tampons during this time. In some cases this bleeding can persist up to a month after the abortion.

Do not use tampons for at least a month after your abortion as using them may cause an infection. Wait until the bleeding has stopped and a month has passed before resuming them.

You will experience abdominal pain and cramping during this time which will feel very similar to a heavy period. Painkillers such as Ibuprofen or Paracetamol will help.

Do not resume sexual activity until the bleeding has stopped. As soon as you are able to, use contraception such as ‘the pill’ or condoms to prevent the risk of a sexually transmitted disease (STD). Another reason for this is that you are highly fertile following an abortion which increases your risk of a further pregnancy.

So ensure that you have arranged a suitable form of contraception after your procedure. Ask for advice about this at the hospital or clinic.

You will be required to attend the hospital or clinic for a follow up visit the first two weeks after your abortion. They will check your general health and can offer support and counselling to deal with any emotional aspects. This is particularly important as many women do experience strong emotions after an abortion which it can help to talk about.

This is discussed further in our coping after an abortion section.

This check up can be done by a doctor at the clinic or hospital or you can ask your GP.

If you experience any of the following symptoms then contact your GP:

  • High temperature
  • Severe pain
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Heavy bleeding which contains large blood clots
  • A dark or strong smelling vaginal discharge
  • Severe lower abdominal pain and/or swelling

These indicate that you have developed an infection and require medical treatment.

Are there any risks or complications with a late abortion?

Surgery is safe but no procedure is 100% risk free. Abortion has been performed countless times and is safe but there are a few risks which include excessive bleeding, infection and an adverse reaction to anaesthesia.

These and others are discussed further in our risks of an abortion section.

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