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In-Clinic Abortion vs the Abortion Pill: What’s the Difference?

If you’ve recently learned about an unexpected pregnancy, then you may have begun thinking about your options. It’s possible you’re feeling a little stressed from this new change, and you may be wondering how to move forward. Deciding on a plan for your unexpected pregnancy can be a personal process, as there may be some complicated emotions. Perhaps you have begun to consider abortion as an option, and you may have heard that you have a choice between taking the abortion pill (RU-486) or having an in-clinic abortion. Remember you do not have to face an unexpected pregnancy decision alone, and learning more about the differences between an in-clinic and medication abortion may prepare you for what to expect.

Are you looking for more information about abortion processes? Avenue Women’s Center supports women throughout all of their unexpected pregnancy decisions, and we’re dedicated to working with you. Our expert pregnancy consultants can walk you through each of your pregnancy options, and ensure you understand the different processes behind each abortion method. Contact us today to set up a free appointment at one of our six locations in DuPage County!

How Do I Know What Choice Is Right for Me?

At this early stage of your pregnancy, there are two types of abortions available. When it comes to deciding between a medical or surgical abortion, most women base it on a few personal preferences. Usually, the decision includes factors such as the length of the process, the pregnancy’s gestational age, and the cost.

If you’re still unsure about your abortion decision, then it may be a good idea to speak with a professional resource to see if this is still the pregnancy option you want to pursue. Sometimes talking about our worries can ease some of our fears once we’ve said them out loud, allowing these thoughts to exit our headspace. Try opening a communication channel with a counselor, a spiritual leader, or a pregnancy consultant to have some of your unexpected pregnancy questions answered, and potentially benefit from sitting down with someone who can compassionately lend you their attention.

What Is the Abortion Pill?

While a medical abortion (commonly referred to as the “abortion pill”) generally does not require surgery or anesthesia, it is usually a two-step procedure. The pill FDA approved only up to 10 weeks after your last menstrual period. Any time after that, and a surgical abortion may be necessary.

Your first appointment may include brief exam to determine if you’re eligible for a medical abortion. If an ultrasound detects an ectopic pregnancy, then you may not be able to have an abortion, as termination is likely unnecessary at this point. But if you have no health conditions that would make you ineligible for this procedure, then the first dose of the abortion pill may be given to you.

This is often referred to as mifepristone, and most women take it orally during their first clinic visit. The mifepristone often prevents the pregnancy from continuing by blocking the progesterone hormone from the uterine lining.

Typically about 36-72 hours later, you may take the pill’s second dose, misoprostol. The misoprostol can cause contractions, and the uterine content is usually expelled within a few hours or days.

While some women have likened their discomfort to painful period cramps, other side-effects have been reported. This includes nausea, vomiting, and heavy bleeding. If the medical abortion is unsuccessful, then you may need to schedule an additional appointment for a surgical abortion to complete the process.

What Is a Surgical Abortion?

There are many different types of surgical abortion procedures, but during the first trimester, an aspiration abortion may be performed. The abortion provider may give you some medication for the pain or place you under sedation. Typically, you will need to lie on your back with your feet positioned in the stirrups. This is because an abortion provider may need to insert a speculum to open your vagina.

The abortion provider may use a tenaculum (surgical instrument with long handles and a clamp at the end) to hold your cervix in place so absorbent rods that vary in size can be inserted to dilate your cervix. These rods may be put in a few days prior to the procedure.

When your cervix is wide enough, a cannula (a long plastic tube connected to a suction device) may be inserted into your uterus to suction out the fetus and placenta. While an aspiration abortion can last up to 10-15 minutes, recovery time at the clinic may take a few hours. It’s possible the use of antibiotics may be necessary to prevent infection.

While the side-effects to an in-clinic abortion can be similar to the abortion pill, as there may be cramping, and nausea, the surgical nature of it adds a few other potential complications. There is a possibility of heavy or prolonged bleeding, blood clots, damage to your cervix, or perforation of the uterus.

If any of the side-effects for a medial or surgical abortion persist or worsen, then contact a medical professional right away. But if you suspect this may be an emergency, it’s recommended you call 911.

Avenue Women’s Center is here to equip you with relevant information about your pregnancy options, including abortion. On top of confidential support, we offer clients limited ultrasound exams, providing you with information regarding gestational age and early pregnancy risks. We are here to help anyway we can. Reach out today for a free session at one of our six Chicagoland locations!


  • UCLA Health. Medical Versus Surgical Abortion. Retrieved November 2019 from:
  • UCSF Health. Medical Versus Surgical Abortion. Retrieved November 2019 from:
  • American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2015, May) Induced Abortion. Retrieved from:

Reviewed by Patricia Kuenzi, APN-CNP, MSN, ANP, PNP.

The information provided here is general in nature.  It is not a substitute for a consultation with a medical professional. Before any medical procedure, it is imperative that you discuss your personal medical history, risks, and concerns with your doctor. If you have questions during or after a procedure, your doctor should be immediately contacted. Avenue Women’s Center is not an emergency center.  If you are experiencing severe symptoms, such as bleeding and/or pain, seek immediate medical attention.  Contact your physician, go to an emergency room, or call 911.