Chemical Abortion : Types, Procedure & Risks


We have all heard of surgical abortion methods and medical abortion methods, but not many of us have heard of chemical abortion. A chemical abortion is nothing more than a non-surgical abortion method wherein the pregnancy is terminated by introducing medication or chemicals into the system that prevent the pregnancy from progressing.

So Why Call It A Chemical Abortion?

Why not simply call it a medical abortion and leave it at that? That’s a good question. And the answer has nothing to do with the abortion itself.

Chemical AbortionThe term “chemical” abortion is a moniker that was adapted by conservative, anti-abortion, religious groups to give abortion a dark slant. Think about it for a moment for yourself – when you hear the term ‘medical’ abortion, you don’t really give it a second thought; but say ‘chemical’ abortion and suddenly it feels wrong and unnatural in your head, doesn’t it? The word ‘chemical’ plays a huge role in changing your mind, which is the agenda of the anti-abortion groups.

This kind of word play is often used in public relations and advertising to influence the audience in a certain direction. And it works with chemical abortion too. Although technically these anti-abortion groups are right – pharmaceuticals are chemicals, they definitely don’t grow on trees or anything – the intent behind calling it a chemical abortion is not to educate but to intimidate and manipulate, which is just plain wrong.

When women hear the term chemical abortion, it makes them think twice about getting an abortion and some of them will not get an abortion at all if they are continuously dogged by anti-abortion groups and pounded with the propaganda every day. Even if abortion is the best choice for them.

However, chemical abortion and medical abortion are inter-changeable terms. Non-surgical abortion, medical abortion and chemical abortion – they all fall under the same banner although the methods used to terminate the pregnancy will differ depending on the type of chemical abortion used.

Types of Chemical Abortion

There are a few different types of chemical abortion. They are categorized on the basis of the following factors:

  • Age of gestation
  • Type of chemical (medicine) used to induce the abortion
  • Method of administering medication or chemical into the body

Chemical Abortion With Abortion Pill

Medical abortion with the abortion pill is a chemical abortion method that is conducted in the pregnancy first trimester, usually only up to 7 weeks of pregnancy. Two medications are administered orally – one to thin out the uterine lining and the other to stimulate uterine contractions that eject the contents of the pregnancy through the vagina. This chemical abortion method is about 97% to 98% effective and is one of the safest abortion methods for the first few weeks of pregnancy. Sometimes, the medication may be administered by injection or vaginally. However, this is a bit of an outdated method; the oral method is most popular and most convenient for both doctor and patient.

Chemical abortion with the abortion pill is covered more thoroughly in another post. So we won’t go into that in much detail here.

Chemical Abortion with Prostaglandin

Prostaglandin chemical abortion is a chemical abortion method that can be employed in the pregnancy second trimester if necessary. It’s not very popular though since there are much safer abortion methods than this chemical abortion method to terminate a pregnancy in the second trimester. This chemical abortion method has not been used much since the 1970s.

With this method of chemical abortion, artificially-produced prostaglandin is administered via a long needle into the amniotic sac after some amniotic fluid has first been removed. Prostaglandins are hormones that induce strong, almost violent uterine contractions that cause premature labor. The baby is too young to survive outside the womb at this stage so it dies up on birth or is dead before it is born due to the intensity of the uterine contractions. However, there have been cases where the baby does indeed survive this way. So an injection of salt or urea is first administered in the amniotic sac to poison the baby, which usually dies, then the prostaglandin is administered and the baby is delivered dead.

Depending on your doctor, the prostaglandin may be administered vaginally through the use of a suppository instead of injected. A suppository is medication that is inserted into the cavity in the body and which dissolves and perpetuates as a result of the higher temperatures within the body.

Risks of Prostaglandin Chemical Abortion

As mentioned earlier, prostaglandin chemical abortion is not very popular. Firstly, the method itself makes you cringe. It is an ugly and violent way to terminate a pregnancy and can exacerbate the psychological trauma of an abortion. Even if you have no qualms about getting an abortion, you are sure to have some kind of emotional upheaval after going through such a horrifying chemical abortion method. But these are hardly the only reasons that prostaglandin chemical abortion is not a good idea. There are several medical and health risks of chemical abortions with the use of prostaglandin.

  • A fair number of women suffer from heart attacks after this method of chemical abortion.
  • Live birth still occurs with prostaglandin chemical abortion.
  • The prostaglandin in this chemical abortion method can cause trauma to the cervix.
  • There is a possibility of the uterus rupturing due to the violence of the contractions.
  • Intense nausea, vomiting and diarrhea are known to occur with prostaglandin chemical abortions.
  • There is also a high risk of hemorrhage with prostaglandin chemical abortion.
  • Death is also a possibility.
  • Other side effects and risks of prostaglandin chemical abortion include hyperthermia, irregular heart beat, and difficulty breathing.

Chemical Abortion with Salt Poisoning / Saline Amniocentesis

A small portion of amniotic fluid is taken out and, as the name suggests, a saline solution is administered directly into the amniotic sac via along needle. The salt quite literally burns the foetus alive. When this happens, the body automatically goes into labor to expel the foetus. If labor does not occur, however, prostaglandin may be given to induce uterine contractions.

This chemical abortion method can be used in the pregnancy first trimester as well as the pregnancy second trimester. But like prostaglandin chemical abortion, salt poisoning is not a popular abortion method since there are other far more humane methods of terminating a pregnancy. Again, this is a very outdated abortion method and not one that you should opt for if you have a choice.

Risks of Chemical Abortion with Salt

The mother is at great risk when a chemical abortion via salt poisoning is performed.

  • Severe hemorrhaging may occur as a result of chemical abortion with salt poisoning.
  • The mother may suffer seizures.
  • Some women slip into comas after this chemical abortion method.
  • Death is not unheard of.
  • Chemical abortion with salt can also give rise to severe and uncontrollable blood clotting throughout the body.

Chemical Abortion with Urea Poisoning

This is done in the same way as salt poisoning, except that urea replaces the amniotic fluid instead of salt. Urea may replace salt in a chemical abortion to avoid the potential risks of saline poisoning. Here also the urea is introduced into the amniotic sac through a needle just like in the previous two chemical abortion methods. The only problem is that using urea is not a very effective chemical abortion method. And prostaglandin has to be administered after the urea in several cases since the body does not always go into labor.

Risks of Chemical Abortion with Urea Poisoning

  • Incomplete abortion remains one of the highest risk of urea chemical abortion.
  • Cervical injuries are also common with this chemical abortion method.
  • Over-whelming nausea and/or vomiting can occur.
  • Uterine infection is one of the biggest risks of urea poisoning. With this chemical abortion method, the uterine infection can get so bad that hospitalization is required.

While it is true that all abortion methods have some level of risk, the last three chemical abortion methods discussed above should really be avoided. These methods of abortion are not only outdated, they are also highly risky for the mother and can lead to complications which are easily avoided with other abortion methods.


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