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You are here : 3-RX.com > Medical Encyclopedia > Surgeries and Procedures > Elective Medical Abortion

Elective Medical Abortion

Alternate Names : Induced Abortion, Interruption of Pregnancy

Overview & Description | Preparation & Expectations | Home Care and Complications

When a woman chooses to end a pregnancy, the procedure is called an elective abortion. The fetus may be removed from the uterus by means of an elective surgical abortion or an elective medical abortion. A medical abortion is done by giving the woman medicines that will end the pregnancy.

Who is a candidate for the procedure?

Any woman who chooses to end a pregnancy for health or personal reasons is a candidate for an elective abortion. Abortions are legal in the United States during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. After that, abortion is regulated by each state.

How is the procedure performed?

Before an abortion is done, a doctor will confirm that a woman is pregnant. The length of a pregnancy will be measured by noting the number of days that have passed since the first day of her last menstrual period, known as the LMP. A medical abortion can be done as soon as the pregnancy is confirmed. Medical abortions do not work as well later in pregnancy, so they are not generally used past 7 weeks after LMP. After 7 weeks, an elective surgical abortion can be used.

To prepare for an abortion, a pelvic exam might be done to confirm the size of the uterus. Lab studies will rule out anemia, determine the woman's Rh factor, and screen for sexually transmitted diseases. The woman should be taught what to expect during and after the procedure, and psychological support should be given as needed. Medicines used for a medical abortion include:

  • methotrexate, a medicine approved by the Food and Drug Administration, called the FDA, for cancer treatment. Methotrexate is most often given as a shot, but it also can be taken by mouth. Methotrexate stops the fertilized egg from implanting in the uterine lining during the first few weeks after conception.
  • mifepristone, known as RU-486, which was recently approved by the FDA for medical abortions. Mifepristone works by blocking the female hormone progesterone. As a result, the lining of the uterus breaks down and is passed out of the uterus, along with the fetus, through the cervix.
  • misoprostol, which is taken a few days after the woman takes either methotrexate or mifepristone. Misoprostol is given by tablets that are either swallowed or inserted into the vagina. It causes the uterus to contract and expel the fetus through the vagina.


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    Elective Medical Abortion: Preparation & Expectations

    Author: Eva Martin, MD
    Reviewer: Kathleen A. MacNaughton, RN, BSN
    Date Reviewed: 10/10/02

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