Last Updated: 27 January 2015
We provide clear answers to the following questions. Our information is based on scientific evidence and advice from experts:
You may be pregnant if you have missed your period (although this does not always indicate you are pregnant). Changes in your body due to pregnancy may indicate you are pregnant, but the only reliable way to find out if you are pregnant is to take a pregnancy test. You can purchase these at your local supermarket or chemist.
Yes. At 5 weeks gestation, (3 weeks since fertilization), inside the womb a human embryo is rapidly developing and growing. A human embryo is already a tiny human being, a very young baby. Fertilization is the time a new human being comes into existence.
To end a pregnancy, the growing embryo or fetus must be removed from the uterus of a woman, through various means, accompanied by, resulting in or closely followed by the death of the baby.
To determine which medical procedures in pregnancy are or are not abortions, it is important to consider the intent. The intent in an abortion procedure is always to deliberately destroy the embryo or fetus and involves a direct attack on the baby through medical or surgical means. See 'What About Ectopic Pregnancy?' and 'What About Other Treatments for Sick Women in Pregnancy?' for information on medical procedures which treat a woman in pregnancy.
Abortions are either performed surgically or using medicines (drugs). Surgical Abortions include 'Manual Aspiration', 'Vacuum Aspiration', 'Suction Curettage', 'Sharp Curettage', 'Dilation and Curettage (D&C)', 'Dilation and Evacuation (D&E)', 'Dilation and Extraction' (IDX), 'Induced Abortion', 'Hysterotomy' or 'Hysterectomy'. Medical Abortions include the 'Abortion Pill', 'Misoprostol' or other Prostaglandins (synthetic hormones which induce labour) or chemicals which are injected either into the amniotic sac or the fetus to directly cause the death of the baby or premature delivery.
The side effects of the abortion pill (RU486) are abdominal pain (which can be very severe), cramping and bleeding. Other side effects may be excessive bleeding, hemorrhaging or incomplete abortion requiring treatment at hospital or by the abortion provider (a surgical abortion may be required to complete a medical abortion), infection and rarely, death.
A surgical abortion is a surgical procedure whereby instruments are used to forcibly remove the embryo or fetus from the woman's uterus or in delivery.
Women's experiences of an abortion procedure vary widely, depending on the method, stage in pregnancy, treatment by the abortion provider and other circumstances including her culture, social influences and her own individual perception of abortion. The physical pain can range from "mild to moderate to extreme in each case."
There are physical and emotional risks of abortion. Based on evidence the main physical risks are excessive bleeding (or hemorrhage), incomplete abortion and infection. In the first trimester, a medical abortion is riskier than a surgical abortion.
The emotional risks of abortion include guilt, regret, depression and dysphoria (a dissatisfaction with life).
Abortion can be obtained legally under certain circumstances in most countries. In some countries, abortion laws are controlled by states or territories and may vary significantly, from state to state or to territory, from unrestricted laws to more restricted laws. You can find out more about the legality of abortion in your country using our reference table on Legal Abortion Worldwide.
Some forms of birth control (contraceptives) may cause an abortion (are 'abortificants'), while others cannot. The birth control methods that may cause an abortion are Interuterine Devices (IUDs) and the Abortion Pill (RU-486), including when it is used as an Emergency Contraception (EC). For other forms of birth control, such as 'The Pill'; other hormonal contraceptives including Implants, Injections, Rings and Patches; the Emergency Contraceptive Pill ('Morning After Pill' or 'Plan B') or Ulipristol Acetate Pills ('Ella'), the evidence is unclear on whether they may cause an abortion.
You may be able to get an abortion without too much trouble but that alone is not a 'choice'. A choice means having options. What do you need to consider having this baby? Services which provide for your particular needs in a crisis pregnancy give you a choice. Did you know that there are services available that can help you through problems you are facing so you have not just one option - abortion.. but other options too?
A crisis pregnancy means you are experiencing serious problems that prevent you from believing you can continue in the pregnancy. You deserve support to resolve these problems so you have a real choice to continue or not. In pregnancy, you need good prenatal care for your health and you will need support after an unwanted pregnancy, no matter what your decision. The alternatives to abortion are:
- Parenting (Raising your baby)
- Adoption/Foster Carer (Your baby will be raised by his/her adoptive parents or you may get assistance in raising your child with foster care)
There are many pregnancy help centres run by dedicated and caring people who know that continuing in a pregnancy is the hardest decision for a woman in an unwanted/unplanned pregnancy to make. They understand this is your decision and the great difficulties you face and are not there to judge you. Many of these centres will not only be there for you during your pregnancy but if you choose to continue, well after the birth of your baby or after an abortion. There might be a centre closer to you than you realise. You can find out now, using our our online guide or Directory.
If you just turn up at an abortion provider, you are not going to be given much of a choice when it comes to having the abortion or not. You need time with someone has nothing to gain by you having an abortion but who really cares about you as an individual and is prepared to offer you the real support you would need to continue in the pregnancy, so you have that choice. Abortion providers may not offer you counselling at all or only very little time to talk about whether you want to go ahead with the abortion, but this is not a decision you should rush. This is a big decision that will of course affect both you and your baby and it may affect the baby's father and other family members too.
Some claim that pregnancy begins at implantation, not fertilization. This was the result of the introduction of in vitro fertilization where fusion of the oocyte and sperm takes place artifically in a petri dish. Embryos produced in this way may be introduced into the uterus of a woman with the intention to make her pregnant or may be used in experimentation or discarded.
Although a woman cannot actually be pregnant unless she is carrying the embryo, the pregnancy would not exist at all without fertilization. Under normal circumstances, pregnancy always begins with fertilization which is the time a new single-cell embryo - a human being is produced. With IVF, a woman becomes pregnant with successful implantation of the embryo in her womb, however the life and development of the unborn baby began earlier at fertilization. Fertilization always marks the beginning of pregnancy, when a new human being is created.