Planned Parenthood

Abortion Q&A

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Does having an abortion really lead to breast cancer?

No. No. No. No. No. There is no truth to this at all. It is one of those nasty myths invented by anti-choice organizations to frighten women away from having an abortion.

Four years ago, the federal government put together a team of researchers to review the many studies that have been done on this over the years. They decided that there were flaws in the studies that linked abortion and breast cancer. The best studies, including one of 1.5 million women in Denmark, have found no link between cancer and abortion — none. These finding were reconfirmed in 2010.

A friend told me that Bill O’Reilly said on his radio show that abortion is never needed to save a woman’s life. Is that true? Is abortion ever really necessary to save a woman’s life?

Yes. There are a variety of health conditions in which abortion may become critical to protect a woman's life. There is, for example, a form of pregnancy-related high blood pressure that can be life threatening. The medical term for it is preeclampsia. It occurs in seven percent of pregnant women. If it is untreated or doesn't respond to treatment, it can lead to convulsions, failure of various organ systems, coma, or death. Abortion may be the only way to save the woman's life.

Certain other conditions, such as severe diabetes, heart disease, or trauma from car accidents, may also require abortion to save a woman's life. Termination of pregnancy is also essential to save the life of a woman with an ectopic (tubal) pregnancy.

What's wrong with having a 24-hour waiting period before abortion?

State laws that require mandatory waiting periods before a woman can get an abortion do not offer any health benefits. They result in increased expenses, travel difficulties, and medical risks. They unnecessarily postpone the procedure even when a woman has already made a deliberate, mature, and fully informed choice.

In many areas, women's health centers that provide abortion do not operate daily, so a mandatory 24- or 48-hour delay may result in a much longer waiting period, increasing the number of later abortions. Because 87 percent of all counties in this country have no abortion providers, these requirements are especially burdensome to rural and poor women, who may not be able to take extra days off from work, travel long distances, or find appropriate child care while they are away from home.

I'm scheduled to get a D&C abortion next week. What will happen?

The more precise term for the kind of abortion you will be having is vacuum aspiration abortion. The health care provider will empty your uterus with machine-operated suction or with a hand-held device that creates suction through a syringe. D&C (dilation and curettage) refers to use of medical instruments to open the cervix or mouth of the uterus so that the uterus can be emptied — dilation — and the use of a narrow metal loop called a curette to clean the walls of the uterus — curettage. This method is used from four to 16 weeks after a woman's last period.

Before having an abortion, a woman must sign a consent form, provide her medical history, and have laboratory tests and a physical exam. A vacuum aspiration abortion will only take 10-20 minutes, but women who have abortions in the first weeks of pregnancy are asked to rest in the recovery room for about an hour afterwards.

Most women feel pain similar to menstrual cramps. For others, abortion is more uncomfortable. Local painkillers are used, but some women opt for sedation or general anesthesia. After the abortion, a woman may have cramps and may bleed on and off for several days up to a couple of weeks. She'll receive after-care instructions and will need to schedule a follow-up appointment in two to four weeks.

If a woman says she's had a D&C, does that mean that she had an abortion?

Not necessarily. Dilation and curettage (D&C) is a procedure that involves stretching open the cervix with medication and/or instruments called dilators and then removing all or part of the uterine lining — the endometrium — with a spoon-shaped instrument called a curette. D&C is done for many reasons. It may be done to

  • perform an abortion
  • remove remains of the placenta after childbirth or miscarriage
  • diagnose or rule out endometrial cancer
  • diagnose or remove suspected polyps
  • diagnose and treat problems with heavy or abnormal bleeding
  • follow up on Pap or other tests that indicate abnormalities in the uterus

If the D&C is done to diagnose a possible abnormal condition of the uterus, the tissue removed is analyzed by a pathologist.

How accurate are pregnancy tests after abortion?

The pregnancy hormone, HCG (human chorionic gonadatropin), can remain in the body for up to 60 days after an abortion. Similarly, HCG levels can be measurable for weeks after childbirth. This can lead to pregnancy tests with false positive results for women who take home pregnancy tests.

Women who use home pregnancy tests and who are concerned that pregnancy is continuing or another pregnancy has occurred can consult their health care provider to test for the precise levels of HCG. After at least two tests, the provider will be able to tell whether the HCG is rising — a continuing or new pregnancy — or whether it is falling — no pregnancy.

This column is for informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have a medical problem, please call toll-free 1-800-230-PLAN for an appointment with the Planned Parenthood health center nearest you.
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Abortion Q&A