How Abortion Works

By: Molly Edmonds

Vacuum Extraction Abortion

There are several surgical methods for performing an abortion; which method is chosen largely depends how far along the pregnancy is. The most common method is vacuum extraction, also known as aspiration, which can be performed for 12 weeks after a woman's last period. The fetus is extracted either manually, with a handheld suction device, or with a machine vacuum.

A manual vacuum extraction is one of the earliest surgical options available to a woman; the procedure can be done within the first six to seven weeks of pregnancy. In this method, a speculum is inserted into the woman's vagina. The ­cervix may be slightly numbed, and depending on the woman, the cervix may need to be stretched with dilators. Dilation isn't common with manual extraction, however. A tube is inserted through the cervix and into the uterus, and the doctor applies suction with a special handheld device, extracting the contents of the uterus through the tube. The process takes only a few minutes; women report cramps, nausea and feeling faint.


Those symptoms are slightly more severe with a machine vacuum extraction. This method is used in the first six to 12 weeks of pregnancy. With this approach, the woman's cervix will need to be dilated, which is accomplished either with absorbent dilators inserted a day beforehand, or by inserting rods that gradually increase in size on the day of the procedure. The rest of the procedure is similar to that of a manual extraction, except a machine applies the suction that pulls out the uterine contents through the tube.

There are a few more methods of surgical abortion, which we'll cover on the next page.