Results of vacuum aspiration abortion performed at 10 weeks

Forcefully tearing apart the fetus

[Image of vacuum aspiration abortion performed at 10 weeks]

The cervix is dilated with metal rods. A plastic tube, called a cannula, is inserted into the uterus. The tube is connected to a machine which works very much like a vacuum cleaner.

Many women are not prepared for this procedure because they have been told it is quick and easy. Women have also been told that the pain they will feel is similar to menstrual cramps, but a little more painful. They are reassured that they will be given a local anesthetic. Despite the use of a local anesthetic, many women find this method extremely painful.

The suction is quite powerful. It must pull the fetus and the placenta from the wall of the uterus, and also cut them into small enough pieces to pass through the cannula and tubing. At this point the doctor must scrape the lining of the uterus with a sharp instrument called a curette. The doctor will then suction again to be sure that no fetal tissue or parts remain in the uterus.

If even a tiny piece of tissue remains in the uterus, severe infection can develop. This infection can lead to bleeding, cramping, fever, and even sterility. It may result in pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), an inflammation of the reproductive organs that can recur for years and cause scarring that makes it difficult to conceive a child. Infection may also be a sign that the uterus was injured. Surgery, and occasionally a hysterectomy, may have to be performed if prompt medical attention is not given to the problem.

Excessive, uncontrolled bleeding (hemorrhaging) can also occur during or after a suction abortion. The larger the fetus, the more of a chance there is of excessive bleeding, but any woman can suddenly start hemorrhaging during an abortion. Blood transfusions, which increase the risk of exposure to the HIV virus and hepatitis, may be needed.

There is also a risk that scar tissue will form in the uterus. During the pregnancy, the placenta roots itself into the wall of the uterus, and often after suctioning, the abortionist must scrape the wall of the uterus to remove all remnants of the placenta. This can leave areas where the normal uterine lining cannot grow again, making it difficult to conceive because the embryo cannot implant on the scar tissue.

Scar tissue may block the Fallopian tubes, either partially or completely. If the tubes are completely blocked, conception is impossible. If they are partially blocked, sperm may pass through the Fallopian tubes and fertilize an egg, but the zygote is then unable to leave the tube and move into the uterus. As the embryo starts to grow in the Fallopian tube, the woman may experience a great deal of pain. This condition is called an "ectopic" or "tubal" pregnancy. If the tube is not removed surgically, it will burst, resulting in internal hemorrhaging and possible death.

During the pregnancy, the uterus becomes softer, and easier to perforate. Perforations may be "mild to severe," and may also cause scarring and hemorrhaging. Remember which organs are nearby. If the abortionist is not careful, he can pull part of the intestine through the uterine wall. In the event of a perforation, it is sometimes necessary to remove the uterus to control bleeding.

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This page last updated on 2/2/96