Abortion: Myths and Misconceptions

I cannot count the number of times I’ve talked about abortion with someone and they got something so very wrong, and I’m not just talking about wingnuts. Even my friends who are pro-choice don’t fully understand what abortion is and what it means for many women. So I’d like to take some time to correct these myths and misconceptions about abortion.

The Procedure

First off, let’s learn a bit about what abortion actually means, medically speaking. How many times have you heard some crazy bullshit from conservative christians about how awful and bloody it is? Just the other week, I was arguing with talking to a Tea Party lady who claimed that an abortion is when a doctor induces birth and then kills the baby by putting a nail through its head (“partial birth” abortion is the only kind of abortion, dontcha know). Honestly, these people have very active and gruesome imaginations; I think it’s all that bible reading they do (Srsly, have you guys read that thing? Crazy!). Anyway, that’s definitely not how abortion works.

There are two common types of abortion: medication abortion and in-clinic abortion.

Medication Abortion

This procedure can occur up to 9 weeks after the first day of a missed period. It’s called a “medication” abortion because an abortion pill, called mifepristone (or RU-486), is what is used to terminate the pregnancy. This pill  blocks the hormone progesterone, without which the lining of the uterus will break down.

There are three steps in this procedure:

  1.  A women will take the pill at the clinic, and then will be given antibiotics to take afterwards.
  2. A second medication, called misoprostol, will be given about three days later (usually at home). This causes the uterus to empty. This part is probably the worst part (but not nearly as bad as some would like to claim). This will cause heavy bleeding and cramping: like a really bad period. This will last a few days at most, but spotting can last for a few weeks afterwards.
  3. Two weeks later, there will be a followup to make sure the procedure was successful. This includes an ultrasound and a blood test.

And that’s it. Not so awful, is it? It’s just a safe, effective medical procedure.

In-Clinic Abortion

In-clinic abortions are usually performed 9 weeks or later. There are two common kinds of in-clinic procedures: aspiration (aka: vacuum aspiration) and D&E (dilation and evacuation). The first is usually performed from 9 to 16 weeks, and the latter after 16 weeks.

Aspiration:  The woman’s uterus is examined prior to beginning the procedure. She’s offered pain medication and possibly some form of sedation. Then a speculum is inserted into the vagina and numbing medication would be injected. The cervix is stretched with dilators (possibly several hours to a day before the procedure) and/or medication. A tube is inserted into the uterus and it is suctioned until the uterus is empty. Sometimes an instrument, called a curette, will be used to insure that the uterus is empty. Antibiotics will be given, like with a medication abortion. This procedure takes about 5 to 10 minutes to perform, but more time will be needed to prepare the cervix.

Dilation and Evacuation:  This procedure is similar to an aspiration abortion in many ways. The main difference is that, with later second trimester abortions, a drug may need to be injected through the abdomen to ensure fetal demise. This procedure takes 10 to 20 minutes, with additional time needed to prepare the cervix.

The few days after these types of abortions will be similar to after a medication abortion. Some bleeding and cramping may occur, lasting a few days.

And that’s that. Nothing scary or gruesome or dangerous. It’s just a simple, safe medical procedure.

How Women Feel

You’ve probably heard something like this before (actually, Santorum just said something like this): women are emotionally damaged by abortion; it ruins women’s lives; etc. etc. This just isn’t true. As Planned Parenthood puts it:

You may have a wide range of feelings after your abortion. Most women ultimately feel relief after an abortion. Some women feel anger, regret, guilt, or sadness for a little while.

Serious, long-term emotional problems after abortion are about as uncommon as they are after giving birth.

Most sources I’ve seen say that most women just feel relieved. Any post abortion emotional problems are rare and usually pass quickly. If you’d like to read more about it, Planned Parenthood has a good explanation of several studies on the topic here [pdf] (it also cites sources!).

Other Misconceptions

A lot of pro-choicers will say things like “I’m not pro-abortion; no one is pro-abortion, but women have a right…” Well, I’m here to say that I am pro-abortion. I am absolutely for a safe, effective procedure that gives women the ability to control their own reproduction. That’s not to say that I’d prefer women get abortions rather than properly using birth control. But, hey, shit happens, even with the proper use of birth control. And I’m certainly not going to make moral judgments on a woman because she’s had an abortion (or even multiple abortions).

Another misconception floating around is that a woman must have a really good excuse to have an abortion. She must be a victim, unable to financially support a child, or have a medical problem. Well, fuck that shit. The only reason any woman needs to have an abortion is that she either doesn’t want a child or cannot safely have a child. That’s it. And if she doesn’t want to explain herself to you or someone else, then she doesn’t have to.

One thing really bothers me is how the media sometimes reports about abortion. Have you ever been watching a report about something abortion related and seen the stock-footage they use? It’s just fucking stupid. They always show women who are hugely pregnant; ones that are clearly in their late third trimester. Or they show ultrasounds that are similarly from later in a pregnancy. As if indicating that this is what women who get abortions look like; this is what their fetuses look like. Well, it’s not! Abortion that late in pregnancy just doesn’t happen. It’s not even legal in the US! I mean, I doubt they’re (usually) pushing an anti-choice agenda. They’re probably just lazy and have grabbed whatever stock-footage they found first.

These are just some of the myths and misconceptions floating around these days. There are many more, but hopefully, my dear reader, you’ve come away from this with more knowledge about this “controversial” topic.

If you’ve heard any myths about abortion that I didn’t get to, please leave a comment.



Filed under Feminism, Politics, Science, Skepticism

13 responses to “Abortion: Myths and Misconceptions

  1. BeccaTheCyborg

    This post is all kinds of amazing.

  2. Cactus Wren

    Thanks for this posting — it’s very important and I hope many young people read it!

  3. Amy

    Thank you for clearing some items up for people that don’t know anything about this subject. I have had both procedures done and do not regret them at all! I’ve had normal periods worse then the Medical Abortion. I was not (and still not) ready to be a Mom yet.

  4. Tyler

    I guess I am for a womans “right to choose” or at least get an abortion in a safe facility as I know rich women will have access to that. I am not pro abortion though, that seems a bit callous. I strongly dislike abortion. I am 110 percent for birth control, I am also for a socialist system that wouldn’t abandon a single child so please don’t put me in the same box as the Republican religious right, who also oppose birth control. I am deeply concernd about the fact that the majority of Down Syndrome babies are beng aborted, many people with Down Syndrome are wonderful and lead happy lives. This smacks of eugenics. So I don’t think a woman who was going to otherwise have a baby should pick and choose whether to bring it into the world based on how genetically “perfect” they are. I hear there will soon be prenatal testing for Autistic people. Despite the huge stigma against Autistic people and the “race for the cure” people and “its the vaccines” people stoking fear it is believed by many historians Autistic people have existed for centuries and been some of our greatest scientists. Such as Marie Curie Nikola Tesla and maybe even Einstein. But Autistic ain’t cool in Americas cookie cutter education system so abort? I don’t like that, I am Autistic and glad I was born.

    • bleep

      The majority of autistic people are mentally retarded, only a tiny few are einstein material. I had two children with autism and they drove me insane. After 8 years I ended up having a nervous breakdown and had to give them up. It was traumatic for all of us. Now my birth control failed and Im pregnant. I am definitely getting an abortion and I believe in doing it early before 8 weeks. 25% of pregnancies end in miscarriage naturally anyway. As far as eugenics, yes I believe parents should have a choice in aborting an autistic fetus. It is likely that their life as well as the childs life will be horrible anyway so I dont see why not.

  5. Vacuuming a fetus out sounds pretty nasty to me.

    • Mahndisa

      Either way you look at it, you’re still terminating an innocent life if you choose to abort. It doesn’t matter how it was done nor the age of the baby in the womb. Have you ever seen an abortion performed? Ultrasound guided abortions make the procedure safer but all the more obvious for what it really is. I think you conflate what is legal with what is ethically or morally decent.

      • Nat

        Abortion isn’t necessarily killing the baby. Some forms are just the removal of a already dead baby from the mother, so the dead fetus’ body won’t give the mother an infectious disease that would threaten her health. If you ban abortion, this method is also banned to. Really, pro-life are usually more religious about abortion. They are using their religion as an excuse to make an entire nation of different ethnicities obey it. If you don’t want abortion don’t get one. Don’t hurt others emotionally to try to change them. Besides, if you want to get all religious, why can’t somebody make a religion or have one saying abortion is completely safe and should be practiced or something like that. The US constitution offers the freedom of religion, unless the religion is directly going against the constitution.

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  9. dani

    You should watch this video on YouTube called the silent scream. It is an uultrasound guided abortion of a 12 week fetus. The tissue blob looks like a baby and it moves and twists it’s tissue blob body to get away from the suction instrument. Then the mouth of the tissue blob opens wide like it’s screaming as you see it’s legs ripped off. Way cool. You would really enjoy it.

    • dani

      By the way, my horrific comment was sarcasm. The misconception of abortion is that people believe the baby is nothing more than a blob.

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