A surgical abortion involves having surgery to end a pregnancy.
All surgical abortions happen in a hospital. You will be booked into hospital as a day case.
You will not normally have a surgical abortion if you are under 9 weeks pregnant. But your doctor can advise it under special circumstances depending on your medical history.
Before a surgical abortion
You will have a pre-abortion consultation where a doctor will certify that you will be no more than 12 weeks pregnant at the time of the abortion.
You then need to wait at least 3 days until you have the abortion. For example, if you have your pre-abortion consultation on a Tuesday, the earliest you can have a surgical abortion is Friday.
You should have your pre-abortion consultation as early as you can. This is because there may be delays in certifying that you can have an abortion or in getting an appointment with a doctor.
Your GP or doctor will refer you to a hospital to have the procedure.
Learn more about what happens before an abortion
What happens during a surgical abortion
The type of surgical abortion carried out in Ireland is called vacuum aspiration.
Vacuum aspiration uses suction to remove the pregnancy. It takes about 5 to 10 minutes.
You'll have to sign a Surgical abortion consent form (PDF, 1.6 MB, 1 page) before having a surgical abortion. The doctor will also check and confirm that you are still no more than 12 weeks pregnant.
You will be given medicine to put in your vagina to soften the cervix (entrance to the womb) 3 to 4 hours before the procedure.
You will lie on a bed with supports for your legs. A doctor or nurse will offer you sedation before the procedure begins.
You will have 1 of the following:
- local anaesthetic (where the area is numbed)
- general anaesthetic (where you're asleep)
The type of sedation offered will depend on what is available in the hospital.
An instrument called a speculum will be put into your vagina. This holds the walls of the vagina open so the cervix can be seen.
Your cervix will be gently widened using thin rods called dilators.
A tube will be inserted through the cervix and into the uterus (womb). The pregnancy is removed from the womb using suction.
Pregnancy tissue will be disposed of according to the hospital's policy. This will be explained to you when sign your consent form.
If your blood type is rhesus negative, you will have to get an anti-D injection.
After a surgical abortion
After the abortion you will need to stay in the hospital for a few hours. This is so health professionals can make sure you are OK. The length of time you will need to stay in the hospital will depend on your treatment and sedation.
If you have had any sedation, you will need someone to take you home. This could be a friend or relative. You should not drive for 24 hours.
You may need to take a low-sensitivity pregnancy test after a surgical abortion, but it is not routine. Your doctor will tell you in the hospital if you will need to take one.
You will also be offered a free post-abortion check-up about 2 weeks after having an abortion.
Risks and complications
Most women will not experience any problems after a surgical abortion. But there is a small risk of complications. You may need to go to hospital for treatment.
Risks and complications include:
- the pregnancy is not completely removed — this happens in 1 in every 600 abortions
- a continuing pregnancy — this happens in 2 to 3 in every 1,000 abortions
- heavy or irregular bleeding during the procedure
- injury to the cervix (the entrance of the womb)
- perforation of the uterus (womb)
- injury to bowel, bladder or serious injury to cervix (neck of the womb) – this is very rare
- mental health problems such as feeling down or upset
If complications do happen, you may need further treatment.
This could include:
- repeat surgical abortion or uterine aspiration (suction to remove any remaining pregnancy tissue)
- blood transfusion
- laparoscopy or laparotomy — operation to look inside the abdomen (stomach), if it is thought that damage happened during the procedure
- repair of damage to cervix (neck of the womb), uterus (womb), bladder, bowel or blood vessels
- a hysterectomy (surgical removal of the womb) – this happens in 1 in every 35,000 abortions
Success rate of surgical abortion
A surgical abortion has a 99% success rate of terminating the pregnancy. Less than 1% of procedures fail.
The abortion will need to be repeated if it fails.