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Early Pregnancy Unit


What to expect if you decide to have an Abortion

Abortion is the termination of a pregnancy through a surgical procedure or the use of drugs. Over 90 percent of the abortions done in South Africa happen in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Under some circumstances, abortion can be done up to 20 weeks, but the procedure is safer and simpler done early.

Abortions are very safe. Less than one percent have any complications. Abortions can be done in birth control clinics, hospitals or free standing abortion clinics. Abortion is legal in South Africa and is regulated in the same way as all other medical procedures.

If you are pregnant and you want to discuss having an abortion, talk to your family doctor or the staff at your local birth control clinic. If they do not perform abortions, they can refer you to a hospital or clinic that does. Most places that do abortions can also refer you to counselling that will help you make the best decision for you around unplanned pregnancy.

Abortion Procedures

There are two types of abortions - medical abortions and surgical abortions. Medical abortions use drugs to empty the uterus, surgical abortions use instruments to remove the contents of the uterus. There are many factors that influence the decision about which abortion procedure is best for you. Some things that you may want to think about include:

  • do you want to be awake or asleep for the procedure?

  • where are you most comfortable having the procedure done (an abortion clinic or hospital)?

  • do you want to have surgery or would you prefer a medical (drug) option?

A number of other factors will also influence your decision:

  • how long it has been since your last period (some procedures can be done only early in pregnancy)

  • if you have any health conditions that might limit your options

  • what procedures (if any) are done near your home

  • how far you might have to travel to have a procedure done

Unfortunately, many women in South Africa have to travel to have access to an abortion. Sometimes this can delay the procedure and limit your options. Talk to your doctor or the staff at your local public health unit or birth control clinic for more information about what is available in your area. If you are not getting enough information for you to make this choice, you may need to find an alternative source of information. Organizations like DISA Health Care or the Reproductive Rights Alliance should be able to refer you to the closest resources.

A number of different abortion procedures are done in South Africa. Use the links below to learn more about each type of procedure.

Weeks Gestation (time since your last period)

2  4  6  8  10  12  14  16  18  20

Medical Abortion: 7 weeks


Manual Vacuum Aspiration: 8 weeks


Suction Curettage: 6 - 14 weeks


Dilation & Evacuation: 14 - 20 weeks

After Care

Most women recover quickly. However, some women experience bleeding, cramping or stomach pain for up to two weeks. Contact your clinic or hospital if these symptoms are severe.

Your period should return in four to six weeks. During this time you can get pregnant again if you have unprotected intercourse, so you should use some method of birth control. You should have a post abortion check two to three weeks afterwards to make sure the procedure was successful and your body has returned to normal.

Emotionally, some women find it hard to cope with having had an abortion. Often women are very conscious of the time factor when they make their choice. Hormonal changes when the pregnancy is terminated may also make a woman more emotional. Talk to your partner or other people you can trust and let them know what you are feeling. Some women may want professional counselling at this time. If you are not sure how to arrange counselling sessions, talk to the people where you had your abortion and ask them to refer you.

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