- Both in-clinic and medical abortions are very safe and the risks are often rare and minor.
- While uncommon, the risks include infection, pelvic pain, and damage to the cervix.
- You can minimize your risk by having an abortion performed by a certified provider sooner or later.
Terminating a pregnancy through legal abortion is extremely safe. Each year, an estimated one million people in the United States have an abortion, and only about 2% of them experience complications.
In addition, most of these complications are minor and can include excessive bleeding, infection, pelvic pain, and side effects of anesthesia.
There are two types of abortions: medical abortion, where you take a combination of pills, and surgical abortions, where a doctor dilates your cervix and then uses a suction device to remove pregnancy tissue.
“Both options are very safe, with no negative health effects or risks to future pregnancy outcomes,” says Dr. Stephanie Grube, Director of Family Planning at Northwell Staten Island University Hospital.
People in the US are 14 times more likely to die in childbirth than to die from complications of abortion, said Dr. Siripanth Nippita, a professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at NYU Grossman School of Medicine.
Still, like any medical procedure, abortion has risks. Here are the possible complications of abortion that you should weigh when deciding whether this procedure is right for you.
1. heavy bleeding
One of the most common risks of abortion is heavy bleeding. In fact, a 2021 study found that of those who went to the hospital after a medical abortion, 78% were there because of excessive bleeding.
It is important to note that some bleeding is expected and normal for several days to weeks after an abortion. But excessive bleeding — where you bleed enough to soak through two maxi pads or more in two hours — isn’t.
Plus, if you pass clots bigger than a lemon for more than two hours, that’s not normal either.
About 1% of people who have an abortion will bleed profusely, Grube says. And of that small percentage, only one in five people need additional treatment, such as a transfusion, surgery or overnight stay in the hospital.
2. incomplete abortion
In most cases, medical abortion terminates a pregnancy. However, there is a 2% to 6% risk that the pills will not work for people who are eight weeks or less pregnant.
That risk increases as the pregnancy continues, reaching 13% for people who are 10-11 after the first day of your missed period.
If the abortion pill doesn’t work, you may be offered another dose. That makes it effective almost 100% of the time and is a good option for people who want to avoid surgery. You can also opt for a surgical abortion.
If you undergo a surgical abortion, the risk is less than 1% as long as you see a trained medical professional who will remove all fetal tissue.
About 1.4%-1.7% of people who have an abortion in developed countries like the US can get an infection.
While this is very rare, it can be serious and lead to shock if left untreated. So it’s important to know the warning signs, Grube says. Among which:
- Severe abdominal pain
- A fever
- flu-like symptoms
- Rapid heart rate a day or more after the procedure
When in doubt, always call your provider about these symptoms as they should be addressed promptly with:
4. preserved tissue
Sometimes some of the pregnancy tissue remains on the uterus, increasing the risk of infection or bleeding. This occurs in about 1% of both surgical and medical abortions.
About 1 in 300 people who have a second-trimester abortion experience retained tissue. In this case, they may need a second procedure to remove the remaining tissue.
5. Cervical or uterine damage
The risk of damaging the uterus or cervix is higher for surgical abortion than for medical abortion, but it is still extremely low.
About 1 in 90 people who have a surgical abortion will have a cut or other damage to their cervix. This can usually be treated with stitches, but can increase the risk of bleeding or preterm birth in subsequent pregnancies.
About 1 in 300 people who have a surgical abortion will experience a perforation of the uterus. If the doctor notices the perforation during your abortion, they may stitch it up or give you antibiotics to reduce the risk of infection.
If it occurs after that, they will monitor you for any symptoms of infection while the uterus is healing. However, perforation can increase the risk of uterine rupture in future pregnancies.
6. Other risks
In addition to the risk mentioned above, people who have an abortion may experience the following:
How do you make a safe abortion?
Abortion is safe in the US because patients have access to legal abortions performed by trained medical professionals, Grube says.
Unfortunately, around half of the people who want to have an abortion worldwide undergo unsafe abortions, which are not supervised by a trained professional and do not meet the minimum medical safety standard.
As a result, unsafe abortions are one of the leading causes of maternal deaths worldwide, especially in developing countries.
Therefore, a nationwide abortion ban in the US could increase the maternal death rate in the US by 21%, according to a 2021 study.
“The biggest piece of advice to maintain access to safe abortions is to stop the criminalization of reproductive health care,” Grube says.
Here’s how to make sure your abortion is safe:
Find a qualified provider
If you decide that abortion is right for you, talk to a trained abortion provider who can help you decide whether a medical or surgical procedure is the right choice.
Abortion access funds can help you find a provider outside of your state if needed. Grube recommends www.abortionfinder.org.
Finding information about abortion online can be tricky, as the anti-choice movement publishes information intended to discourage people from having an abortion.
These publications often disseminate information that can be inaccurate, misleading, and even dangerous. However, it can be difficult to identify, Grube says.
To ensure you get accurate, current advice, stick to well-known sources such as Planned Parenthood, the Guttmacher Institute, or the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Or speak directly to your doctor.
earlier is better
The risk of complications from abortion increases by 38% each week after eight weeks of pregnancy. So try to have an abortion as soon as possible after making your choice.
But remember, abortion at any time during pregnancy is safer than childbirth, Grube says.
When in doubt, call your doctor
If at any time during or after your abortion you are concerned that what you are experiencing is not normal, talk to your doctor.
“The risks of an abortion endangering your health are extremely low, but I always emphasize asking questions if you’re concerned,” Grube says. “It’s your body and you should feel informed and empowered to ask questions and raise concerns.”
About one million people have an abortion in the US every year. Only 2% of them have complications, most of which are minor.
Globally, abortion can be quite dangerous as about half of people seek unsafe abortions outside of a medical setting.
The most common risks of abortion in the US are bleeding, infection, abortion failure, and residual tissue.
Very rarely, additional risks such as damage to the cervix or uterus can occur. In the United States, however, abortion is safer than childbirth and does not affect future fertility.
“Abortion is one of the safest medical processes to take place in the United States,” Grube says.