“…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…”
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)
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.
“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