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Abortion is the intentional killing of a human being in utero (a human embryo or fetus). Here are the main abortion methods that are used today.


Suction curettage/aspiration


This first-trimester surgical method is the most common method of abortion. A tube attached to a powerful suction machine is inserted into the uterus, and the unborn child is vacuumed out of the womb. A curette may then be used to scrape out any remaining parts. (See a medical illustration of the procedure.) Some early suction abortions (often before seven weeks) employ a hand-held syringe rather than a suction machine. This is called manual vacuum aspiration.


Chemical abortion


Chemical or drug-induced (non-surgical) abortions are also used early in pregnancy (through about nine weeks). The pregnant woman is usually given a combination of two drugs. The first drug, mifepristone (RU486), blocks the flow of progesterone receptors in the uterine lining, depriving the unborn child of necessary fluids and nutrients. The second drug, a prostaglandin (usually misoprostol), is later taken to cause contractions that expel the child.

Dismemberment abortion illustration

Dilation and evacuation

The primary abortion method during the second trimester is called dilation and evacuation (D & E) or dismemberment abortion. Instruments are used to reach into the uterus and grasp parts of the unborn child (such as arms and legs) and tear them out piece by piece; the head may need to be crushed in order to facilitate removal. The placenta and any remaining uterine contents may then be suctioned or scraped out of the womb. After the procedure, the body parts are reassembled on a tray to make sure that nothing is left inside the mother. (See a medical illustration of this procedure.)

Partial-birth abortion


Called dilation and extraction (D & X) or “intact D & E,” partial-birth abortion involves using instruments to remove the unborn child—intact rather than in pieces—from the womb feet-first until only the head remains inside. The back of the skull is punctured and the brain suctioned out, collapsing the head. The delivery of the dead child is then completed.

The use of partial-birth abortion on a living unborn child was banned under federal law in 2003, and the ban was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in its 2007 Gonzales v. Carhart decision. The D & X procedure may still be performed if the unborn child is killed first through lethal injection.

Partial-birth abortion illustration

Induction abortion

Another late-term abortion method involves inducing uterine contractions to prematurely expel the child. Drugs (often prostaglandins like misoprostol) are used to induce labor. Today, to prevent the possibility of a live birth, the child is usually killed by lethal injection before delivery. A chemical agent such as digoxin or potassium chloride is injected into the amniotic fluid, umbilical cord, or heart in order to kill the child.

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