How Abortion Works

By: Molly Edmonds

Post-abortion Recovery

Women are encouraged to rest after an abortion procedure.
Women are encouraged to rest after an abortion procedure.

After an abortion, women are kept in a recovery room for a few hours and then sent home with follow-up instructions and emergency contact information. Women will continue to bleed for several days, perhaps even passing blood clots the size of a quarter. However, women may return to regular activities, including work or class, as early as the day after the procedure. The exceptions to that rule include strenuous exercise and vaginal sexual intercourse, which should be put on hold for about a week. When women do resume having sex, they should use birth control; because abortion begins a new menstrual cycle, women can get pregnant again shortly after the procedure.

Abortions are generally very safe -- in fact, a woman has 11 times the chance of dying in childbirth as she does of dying from an abortion performed in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy [source: Planned Parenthood]. Less than 1 percent of women experience a serious complication that requires further hospitalization, but there are a few symptoms of complications:


  • Extremely heavy bleeding, to the point that more than two sanitary pads are used in an hour
  • Blood clots larger than a lemon
  • Incessant pain or vomiting
  • Pungent vaginal odors

These signs may indicate an infection, an injury to the uterine lining or the cervix, or an incomplete abortion, with fetal tissue remaining in the uterus.

There appear to be few, if any, long-term physical effects to a woman who's had an abortion. Some doctors have theorized that an abortion heightens the risk for breast cancer, largely because of studies in which women who were diagnosed with breast cancer offered up the fact that they had an abortion, as if to provide a reason. In these types of retrospective studies, it's unlikely that a healthy woman would offer up that she had an abortion [source: Bakalar]. However, in a study published in 2007, researchers followed a control group of women who didn't have abortions against a group of women that did have abortions; the incidence of breast cancer was about the same in both groups [source: Bakalar].

Abortion doesn't affect future fertility; however, abortions with curettage involve a sharp tool that could create scar tissue in the uterus. Though it's rare for this scar tissue to form, it could affect a woman's chances of getting pregnant or increase the risk of pregnancy complications [source: WebMD].

The emotional response to an abortion is different for each woman. Several sources claim that many women feel relief after the procedure is over [sources: Bazelon; Grimes, Creinin; Planned Parenthood]. There is no medical evidence that abortion has any negative effect on mental health, but some anti-abortion groups claim that abortion leads to serious mental problems known collectively as post-abortion syndrome (PAS). While PAS isn't recognized by any medical or psychological association, some claim that depression, drug abuse or self-destructive behaviors may follow an abortion. Currently, doctors suggest that those women who d­o become seriously depressed after an abortion may have been emotionally unstable to begin with [source: Bazelon].

PAS has been cited by some groups as a reason to outlaw abortions. On the next page, we'll take a look at both sides of the abortion issue.