Abortion Methods: An Overview

“…I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody if asked for it,
nor will I make a suggestion to this effect.
Similarly I will not give to a woman an abortive remedy.
In purity and holiness I will guard my life and my art…”

(Hippocratic Oath)


Most people hold strong opinions on the issue of abortion…yet in my experience, there is a widespread lack of understanding surrounding the actual procedure.

In the political realm, abortion is debated as an abstract concept. It’s dehumanized. For many, the word evokes only a vague understanding that a “clump of cells” is being removed from a woman’s uterus. Even the word “abortion” is being abandoned in favor of euphemisms like “women’s reproductive rights”.

In this post, my goal is simply to present the various methods used to carry out abortions. I’ll be relying mostly on diagrams, testimonies, and excerpts from medical resources. I’ve intentionally avoided using gory photographs for shock value, but be forewarned that some content is, nonetheless, quite graphic.

If you believe there’s nothing morally or ethically wrong with abortion, then none of what follows should be troubling.


1. The most common abortion method in the United States is vacuum aspiration, accounting for 88.3% of all procedures in 2003 (1). This method is used for both first and second trimester abortions, though the majority take place between 6-9 weeks gestation. For reference, a heartbeat is typically present by 5-6 weeks gestation; by weeks 8-9, “everything that is present in an adult human is present in the developing embryo.” (2) The limbs and major organ systems are in place, and the child has begun to kick and move.

During this procedure, “a tube is inserted through the cervix into the uterus. Either a hand-held suction device (MVA) or a suction machine (D&C) gently empties the uterus. A separate curette may be used to help remove the tissue that lines the uterus.” (3)

Vacuum Aspiration

2. Approximately 7.7% of abortions are drug-induced “medical abortions” (1). The pregnant woman typically receives oral doses of mifepristone (a progesterone receptor antagonist, which results in endometrial degeneration) and misoprostol (a PGE1 analog, which induces uterine contractions). The developing embryo is torn from the uterine wall and expelled through the vagina, usually in the privacy of the woman’s home.

3. A less common type of first-trimester abortion is the dilation and curettage procedure. Although still used in many countries, this method has been largely replaced by vacuum aspiration in the United States. The overall procedure is similar to a vacuum aspiration, except that a metal rod is used to scrape the wall of the uterus. The small body is torn to pieces and pulled out through the cervix. As with vacuum abortions, the nurse will often reassemble the arms, legs, head, and torso to ensure that the entire body has been removed.

4. Dilation and evacuation abortions generally take place during the second trimester. The procedure is described below by Dr. Anthony Levatino, who performed approximately 1200 abortions in the early 1980’s, including 100+ dilation and evacuation abortions.


“A second trimester D&E abortion is a blind procedure. The baby can be in any orientation or position inside the uterus. Picture yourself reaching in with the Sopher clamp and grasping anything you can. At twenty-four weeks gestation, the uterus is thin and soft so be careful not to perforate or puncture the walls. Once you have grasped something inside, squeeze on the clamp to set the jaws and pull hard – really hard. You feel something let go and out pops a fully formed leg about six inches long. Reach in again and grasp whatever you can. Set the jaw and pull really hard once again and out pops an arm about the same length. Reach in again and again with that clamp and tear out the spine, intestines, heart and lungs.

The toughest part of a D&E abortion is extracting the baby’s head. The head of a baby that age is about the size of a large plum and is now free floating inside the uterine cavity. You can be pretty sure you have hold of it if the Sopher clamp is spread about as far as your fingers will allow. You know you have it right when you crush down on the clamp and see white gelatinous material coming through the cervix. That was the baby’s brains. You can then extract the skull pieces. Many times a little face may come out and stare back at you. Congratulations! You have just successfully performed a second-trimester Suction D&E abortion.” (4)

5. Instillation abortions are also used during the second trimester. Although quite common in the 1970’s, this type of abortion has declined in popularity.

“A long needle is inserted through the mother’s abdomen directly into the sac, and a solution of concentrated salt is injected into the amniotic fluid. The salt solution is absorbed both through the lungs and the gastrointestinal tract, producing changes in the osmotic pressure. The outer layer of skin is burned off by the high concentration of salt. It takes about an hour to kill the baby by this slow method. The mother usually goes into labor about a day later and delivers a dead, shriveled baby.” (5)

You can read about a woman who survived such an abortion HERE.

6. Another type of late term procedure is the hysterotomy abortion. This is essentially a Caesarean section. The baby is surgically removed from the uterus, and either killed outright or allowed to die of neglect.

7. In rare cases, intact dilation and extraction abortions are used. These are commonly referred to as “partial-birth abortions”, and were outlawed in the United States by the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act in 2003. This act was narrowly upheld by conservative Supreme Court justices in a 5-4 decision back in 2007.

“Partial-birth” Abortion

“IDX first involves administration of medications to cause the cervix to dilate. Dilation usually occurs over the course of several days. Next, the physician rotates the fetus to a footling breech position. The body of the fetus is then drawn out of the uterus feet first, until only the head remains inside the uterus. The physician then uses an instrument to puncture the base of the skull, which collapses the fetal head. Typically, the contents of the fetal head are then partially suctioned out, which results in the death of the fetus and reduces the size of the fetal head enough to allow it to pass through the cervix. The dead but otherwise intact fetus is then removed from the woman’s body.” (6)


(1) Abortion Surveillance – United States, 2003 (CDC) http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/ss5511a1.htm

(2) American Pregnancy Association: Concerns Regarding Early Fetal Development. http://www.americanpregnancy.org/pregnancycomplications/earlyfetaldevelopment.htm

(3) Planned Parenthood Association of Utah: Procedures. http://www.plannedparenthood.org/utah/procedures.htm

(4) Dr. Anthony Levatino testimony before US House subcommittee, May 17, 2012

(5) “Whatever Happened to the Human Race?” by CE Koop and FA Schaeffer

(6) Medical Dictionary – The Free Dictionary. Abortion, partial birth. http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/partial+birth+abortion


42 thoughts on “Abortion Methods: An Overview

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  2. Reblogged this on anglicanboyrichard and commented:
    RICHARD’S THOUGHTS–My friend Matt, a dedicated Christian and specialized medical student, wrote the following–I would note that he is not given to hysteria, and is generally fair to opposing views in pretty much all of his writings. What he shares here is disturbing to me. Whether you consider yourself “pro-life” or “pro-choice” I would implore you to be willing and ready to think your views through on this. MOST abortions in our day and age are used in some manner as a form of birth control. The battle here is not “should there be an exception for rape and incest” or the life of a mother? The law as set up currently makes it easier, legally speaking, than a minor getting his or her ear pierced. And the point that abortion is de-humanized to the point of only calling it a “baby” if wanted by the parents is ludicrous and self-serving, as well as intellectually dishonest at best. Matt’s words ring true to me. In most cases there are better answers. I will leave it there. But please read what is a very enlightening and frightening article. The mothers of Tim Tebow, Nick Cannon (married to Mariah Carey), and Justin Bieber all were either urged or tempted to abort. I wonder what other great persons have been denied existence due to the procedures listed here? Worth meditating on.

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    • That’s part of the original Hippocratic Oath, yes. Most medical schools nowadays use a “revised” version which has that section removed. At my own school, many of the Christian and pro-life students will get together before graduation to recite the original version.

    • That is a version of it. The oath was written in Ionic Greek and there are varying translations. From what I’ve read abortions were legal at time time of its writing, and that section referred specifically to abortions by use of a Pessary which were potentially fatal to the woman. As such it did more harm than good (assuming that abortions are good).

      Additionally, doctors don’t have to swear this (or any version) of the Hippocratic oath. Its volountary.

  4. It is a shame that more people won’t read this. I have never understood how anyone can condone abortion. You are always seeing ads with some celebrity trying to save some animal but the same person sees nothing wrong in aborting a child. How has our world become so unfeeling and without morals? Thank you, Matt, for posting this to inform people of what that baby is going thru. Everyone, please pray for the end of abortion.

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  6. I didn’t know that the Hippocratic Oath contained those lines. Actually, I’ve never read it in total. Goes to show us how important our Judeo-Christian beliefs are in the core of just about everything. I didn’t watch the video, but read the transcript. Sick. I cannot imagine being able to describe that so matter-of-fact and brutally with what looks like voila-you-have it. (Ugh.) I scrolled carefully down through your post, knowing I’d turn sickly green inside. But, we really do need to understand this.

    I’m glad to hear that the Christian med students get together and recite the original Oath. I’m also glad to know that you, one learning and ultimately to practice medicine, are able to see it truthfully and that you’re posting about it. How will doctors who disagree be able handle the the proposed abortion-on-demand laws? What a dilemma.

    It all kind of makes sense, you know, when you read (prophetically speaking from the Bible) where our world is going to go. Turns out it’s trying to go the same direction it was in the days of Noah …. man’s hearts continually evil.

    My heart goes out to those who are fighting to keep their pregnancies against odds they can’t control, those who don’t have children and wish they did, those who have hurt themselves by abortion and those who just don’t know what they’re getting into. And, it nearly crushes my heart to think about the babies.

    I have a poem that I wrote a long time ago about abortion (after having looked through pro-life brochures). I posted it on my previous blogs, and I’m thinking of posting it along with a repost of your article. I’ll let you know.

    Thank you for pursuing medicine and these thoughts on your blog.

  7. PS – I did a page on my “other blog” (Jenn’s Faith) and wrote about your post and my poem. Thank you for the inspiration to go ahead and post it again. (Levatino? Is he now on the pro-life platform? I Googled him a moment ago and saw a brief note about “former abortionist”. ???) Thanks, again.

    • Thanks; I’ll definitely check out your post.

      I believe Levatino is currently a pro-life advocate. I know that he quit performing abortions a couple decades ago after his young daughter was run over by a vehicle in their neighborhood. It’s my understanding that this tragedy caused him to re-evaluate his position on abortion.

  8. Some say that abortion is the slavery of our time, the moral equivalent of what was happening in nineteenth-century America; then as now, people treated their fellow human beings as less than human, on a huge scale, with official sanction of the law. Perhaps another parallel will be that when people see what the inhuman abstraction looks like in practice, they will be moved to compassion and realize that we’re all human beings after all.

    Thanks for putting this together.

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  12. Have you heard of Dr Nathanson (can’t remember first name). He was a well know abortionist in New York and performed thousands in 70s and 80s. He had a change of heart with the advent of the ultrasound and eventually became a Christian /Catholic and was radically prolife for the remainder of his life, I wish I could remember his first name , I think you’d enjoy reading his story. Anyway, excellent post, I like the simple facts you have presented. Good job!

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  15. God bless you for telling it like it is, Matt. So many people are in denial about what abortion involves. It’s one thing to debate pro-liife and “pro-choice” in schools of higher learning. It’s something else to see a baby torn out of it’s mother’s womb. Thank you for the reality check.

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  18. The truth is so heartbreaking. I wish more people would come to the realization of what they are doing and with all the scientific evidence behind and stop this murder of innocents. God bless you for speaking truth!

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