Text Size: Normal / Medium / Large
Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version

What is an abortion?

When a pregnancy ends on its own, it is called a spontaneous abortion. When a doctor ends a pregnancy, it is called a therapeutic abortion. In Canada, there is no law on therapeutic abortion. The Canadian Women’s Health Network supports the availability of a therapeutic abortion to any woman who wants it or needs it. It is, after all, a medical procedure. However, abortion is not equally available across Canada. (See Canadians for Choice (CFC) [http://www.canadiansforchoice.ca/] for availability of services near you: Access at a Glance: Abortion Services in Canada PDF)

Are you pregnant?

If you had unprotected vaginal intercourse and have missed a period, or your period is late, you may be pregnant. The sooner you have a pregnancy test, the sooner you can make a decision about your pregnancy. You can buy a pregnancy test at your local pharmacy or have one done for you at a health clinic or doctor’s office.

What now?

Many women are very clear about their decision right away: they want to end the pregnancy. They need to find an abortion facility as soon as possible. Although some agencies advertise “help for pregnant women”, they are unlikely to support your decision. Their real purpose is to discourage women from choosing to end their pregnancy. (See “Where Can I Get More Information” below.)

If you search the Internet, you may find a legitimate clinic close to you, depending on where you live. Your Public Health Unit should have information as well. Or, you may look in the blue pages of your phone book. Some provinces do not offer abortion services (see CFC above). In some provinces, the procedure is not covered by the health care system. Even in provinces where the procedure is covered, some abortion clinics have extra costs.

If you decide you want to continue the pregnancy and keep the baby, you will need good prenatal care. If you are going to choose adoption, you will also need good prenatal care while you find an agency that handles adoptions, such as the Children’s Aid Society or Canada Adopts (http://canadaadopts.com/). You will have to stop using substances like alcohol and tobacco and consult your health care provider about taking any medications. You may also want to contact your local Public Health Unit for information and support.

Do you need help making the decision?

You may want to discuss your decision with your health care provider if you feel comfortable with that person.  Or, you may want to start with people close to you if you know they will support whatever decision you make.

You may choose to go to a sexual health clinic. There, you can discuss whether you want to continue the pregnancy or not. They will ask:

-          how you feel about the pregnancy

-          if you have financial and emotional support

-          about your health and substance use, including prescribed medications

It is important to make a decision that is right for you at this time. Although you may want to consult with people you are close to, you are the only one who can make this choice. No matter what you decide, afterwards you need to be able to say to yourself that you made the decision that was right for you.

What are the different abortion procedures?

Therapeutic abortion is a common and safe procedure when performed by a doctor in sterile conditions.  It is unnecessary – and dangerous – to attempt any kind of “home remedy”.

If you decide to end the pregnancy, the sooner you have the procedure, the better. There are several procedures depending on when you became pregnant. Doctors start counting the weeks of a pregnancy from the first day of your last period.

Abortions take place in clinics and hospitals. Hospitals may use general anesthetic, but most abortion clinics use local anesthetic.

Less than 7 weeks

Some abortion clinics offer a medical abortion (or, an abortion where medication is used). It takes three to four visits to have a medical abortion. After an examination and ultrasound, the health care provider gives you an injection of methotrexate. For a small number of women, the abortion will be completed with methotrexate alone. Most women return five to seven days later to receive misoprostol tablets to place in the vagina. A week later, the health care provider will do a follow-up exam to make sure that the abortion was successful. For the small percentage of cases where the abortion was not successful, the woman will need a surgical abortion.

Manual vacuum aspiration: This procedure takes less than 10 minutes. It can be done under local anaesthetic. The physician may or may not need to use a dilator to gently open the cervix. They use a hand held syringe to draw the tissue from the uterus.

7 – 12 or 13 weeks

Vacuum aspiration: The physician usually uses small dilators to open the cervix. They place a tube inside the cervix which is attached to a vacuum pump to empty the contents of the uterus. They pass an instrument called a curette along the walls of the uterus to make sure there is no tissue left.

14 - 15 weeks

Dilation and evacuation: This is a different procedure from vacuum aspiration (although some clinics will do vacuum aspiration at 14 weeks). It is a two-stage procedure, usually done the same day. They may use misoprostol to soften the cervix. Some clinics use a laminaria tent which absorbs moisture, gradually opening the cervix. Then, they remove contents of uterus.

 16 weeks – 20 weeks

Again this is a two-stage procedure but it takes place over two days. They may use misoprostol or a laminaria tent to open the cervix. Practices vary from one clinic to another. On the second day, they remove the contents of the uterus.

More than 20 weeks

Although the majority of abortions take place when women are less than 12 weeks pregnant, it is sometimes the case that a woman needs to have a later abortion. Later abortions are available in some provinces in Canada. Canadians for Choice (CFC) will have the information you need. In the United States, some clinics will do abortions up to 24 weeks. Again, CFC can provide you with details.

Post abortion care:

Your health care provider will explain what to expect after the procedure. Some women may have cramping and/or bleeding or spotting up to 3 weeks after an abortion.

It is very important to have a check-up 2 to 3 weeks after the abortion to ensure the uterus and cervix have returned to normal.

In the days and weeks that follow, typically women feel relief. Because of the drop in hormones, some women may feel sad and tearful. Some women, although they have no regrets about their decision, may grieve that they were unable to have a baby at this time in their lives. If you are not coping well after an abortion, many abortion clinics also offer post abortion counselling.

Where Can I Get More Information?

Agencies who oppose a woman’s right to choose will give incorrect information to discourage women from choosing abortion. For accurate information, we advise you to go to:

 Canadians for Choice (CFC): http://www.canadiansforchoice.ca/ . Hotline: (24 hours a day, 7 days a week) for options and access to abortion services: 1-888-642-2725.

National Abortion Federation Canada: www.nafcanada.org. Hotline:  1-800-772-9100

Canadian Federation for Sexual Health: http://www.cfsh.ca/Your_Sexual_Health/Abortion/

This FAQ may provide medical information, but is not meant to be a substitute for medical advice. When you have questions about your health, it is always advisable to ask a health care practitioner.

Created August 2013. Last update September 2013.