As Trump's administration ushers in a new era in the White House, our right to choose what happens to our own bodies is under threat now perhaps more than any other time since the Roe v. Wade ruling in 1973. While those who oppose abortion often tout religious reasons for denying women this basic human right, many people are still unclear about what actually happens during an abortion. So let's clear that up, shall we? Knowledge is power, after all.
According to an article in Reuters by Ellen Wulfhorst, two court cases, both in southern states, are at the forefront of new abortion regulations and are likely to reach the Supreme Court. One of the laws in Arkansas, which is currently being challenged in federal court, requires clinics inducing medical abortions with drugs to contract with a doctor who has admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles. This can make it difficult for clinics to provide the procedure if they cannot find a doctor with whom to partner, a particular challenge in rural areas. While those who support the law say it is based on safety; opponents say it is just one more way to block the right to abortion.
And this is where it becomes useful to know what does and doesn't happen during an abortion — because many of the mandates allegedly geared towards "safety" are not actually necessary to carry out safe abortions. Regardless of politics, asapSCIENCE breaks down the technical aspects of the procedure and provides evidence of the benefits to our health, and society at large, for protecting this basic human right.
92 Percent of Abortions Take Place During the First 13 Weeks of Gestation
While abortion opposition advocates claim that late-term abortion are common, it's simply not true. Our Bodies Ourselves reports that 92 percent of all abortions take place during the first trimester of pregnancy.
First-trimester abortions are often completed with an oral tablet, which is effective 49 days from a women's first missed period. The tablet commonly contains Mifepristone and works by blocking the hormone progesterone thus causing the uterus to contract and end the pregnancy. Women usually experience what feels like a heavy period after taking the pill.
The second option for first-trimester pregnancies for those who have missed the window to take the oral tablet is what is called vacuum aspiration, which can be used up to 16 weeks after conception. The procedure is typically performed under local or general anesthesia. The cervix is numbed and opened wide enough to pass a slender tube into the uterus; suction is used to empty the contents.
A third option is known as dilation and curettage (D&C). During this procedure the cervix is dilated using small instruments or medication and then an instrument called a curette is used to remove the contents of the uterus.
Only 1.2 Percent of Abortions Occur After 21 Weeks
If a woman's pregnancy is between 12 and 24 weeks the procedure dilation and evacuation (D&E) may be used. During this procedure the cervix is dilated using osmotic dilators, which can be short rods made of seaweed or synthetic material which absorb moisture and slowly stretch the cervix. The rods are typically inserted the day before surgery. Once the cervix is sufficiently dilated, the uterus is emptied using either vacuum aspiration or a combination of forceps and a curette.
Women's heath advocate and author Mira Ptacin has written extensively about this procedure in her 2016 memoir Poor Your Soul. Ptacin and her husband discovered severe fetal abnormalities during a routine ultrasound during her second trimester and were given the options to terminate the pregnancy or deliver a child who would not live.
The couple decided to terminate, and Ptacin, who did not have health insurance, chronicles navigating Medicaid in New York City, and in some instances, being treated poorly by some of the medical professionals she encountered during her journey to access her basic healthcare rights.
Abortions after 24 weeks are usually for reasons of severe fetal anomalies.
Abortions Are One of the Safest Procedures in Medicine
Abortions performed by medical professionals are one of the safest medical procedures with only one death occurring per 100,000 procedures. The risk of dying in childbirth is 14 times higher than the risk of dying during a legal abortion.
In a 2014 article for Planned Parenthood, Miriam Berg wrote, "Anti-women’s health politicians have passed more than 200 abortion restrictions since 2011 in states across the country, many in the name of protecting patient health and safety. Yet a study released Dec. 8  reaffirms that abortion as practiced in America today is safe — and just further proof that these restrictions are actually intended to block access to safe and legal abortion."
Even though we are just weeks into 2017, Olivia Becker for Vice News writes that more than 45 anti-abortion bills are already in front of state legislators.
Abortions Do Not Cause Cancer or Problems Conceiving
Myths that abortion is linked to cancer or can prevent women from conceiving in the future are reportedly false. The American Cancer Society reports that there is no scientific link between abortion and breast cancer. Additionally the Mayo Clinic reports that there is no link between a safe abortion and future infertility.
Abortions not performed by a medical professional cause 68,000 deaths per year with a further 5 million women suffering disabilities from unsanctioned procedures, according to asapSCIENCE.
Unsafe abortions run the gamut from ingesting toxic chemicals to inserting objects into the uterus and even physical trauma to induce a miscarriage.
The World Health Organization has called unsafe abortions a "preventable pandemic."
Laws that Limit Abortions or Make them Illegal Do Not Reduce the Number of Abortions
Countries that have outlawed abortions have roughly the same number of abortions as countries where the procedure is legal -- the difference is that when abortion is illegal, the incidents of unsafe abortions rise.
A report from the medical journal Lancet shows that the abortion rate in countries that have banned the practice is actually higher than in countries where women have access to a safe and legal abortion.
Additional research has found the the best way to reduce abortions is to provide comprehensive sex education and access to contraception to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies, thus once again proving that education instead of restriction is a powerful tool.
If you're having a conversation with someone about abortion fact versus fiction, in addition to this video, arm yourself with some abortion myth-busting facts.