Types of Abortion: First and Second Trimesters

By OBOS Abortion Contributors | October 15, 2011
Last Revised on Apr 1, 2014

In the United States, the vast majority of pregnancies are performed in the first trimester of pregnancy. In 2013, two-thirds were performed at eight weeks of pregnancy or earlier and 89% were performed within 13 weeks.

First-trimester abortions use one of two methods: vacuum aspiration (also called surgical abortion), or medication abortion (also called medical abortion or abortion with pills).

In vacuum aspiration, suction is used to remove the pregnancy. In a medication abortion, the pregnancy is interrupted and expelled over the course of a few days using medicines.

According to the CDC, only 7 percent of abortions were performed at 14–20 weeks’ gestation, and even fewer, 1.2 percent, were performed at 21 weeks gestation or later.

Most second-trimester abortions are done by dilation and evacuation (D&E), which involves dilation of the cervix and the use of instruments and suction. Alternatively, women who are more than 20 weeks pregnant may have the option for an induction abortion using medications that cause the pregnancy to be expelled.

Women have later abortions for a number of reasons: not knowing of a pregnancy or how far along it is; difficulty raising money for an early abortion; indecision about how to handle an unplanned pregnancy; health problems that develop or worsen during pregnancy; or because serious impairments in the fetus are detected.

The cost of abortion rises throughout the second trimester. In addition, these abortions require more time off from work or school and may require longer travel distances to find a provider. In one study, 58 percent of women who had a later abortion would have liked to have had the abortion earlier. Nearly 60 percent of women who experienced a delay in obtaining an abortion cite the time it took to make arrangements and raise money.

Although the health risks of abortion increase with gestational age of the pregnancy, the complication rates are still very low.