Last Updated: 3 November 2014
Women's experiences of an abortion vary widely, depending on the method, stage in pregnancy, treatment and care of the abortion provider, physical and psychological reactions to the procedure and other circumstances including culture, social influences and each woman's own personal views on abortion. Studies have noted that psychological effects, particularly anxiety, fear and social and moral concerns appear to influence the level of physical pain reported by women.1
The physical pain can range from "mild to moderate to extreme in each case."2 Comparing surgical and medical abortion, a systemetic review in 2002 found medical methods of abortion may be more painful, although it is hard to compare the degree of pain between surgical and non-surgical procedures because women who have surgical abortions often receive some from of pain relief medication before the procedure.3
Below are real comments from women who have experienced a medical or surgical abortion.
(After taking misoprostol).."15 minutes later i started getting pains like strong period cramps which grew worse and worse it was shooting down my legs and burning and i could no longer stand, i went and sat on the toilet and this is where it got nasty. I am not going to lie, I didn't know pain existed like it. It took over my whole body roaring through it in waves of ache, pain and burn, the left side of my body went numb i couldn't feel my hands or face or legs i was shivering then boiling, i had to pant to breathe and just rocki couldnt cry because it hurt too bad." - everyonemakesmistakes, Oct 12, 2011, eHealthForum Retrieved 16 August 2014.
"I have to agree, it was the most painful experience of my life. I could feel every contraction. I ended up fainting on the toilet with the pain. But that worst bit only lasted about 2 hours and then it is just like bad period pain." - agrc, Nov 27, 2011, eHealthForum Retrieved 16 August 2014.
"Once I was called into the room for the actual abortion, I was only in there for about 15 minutes. I chose to stay awake. After they administered the shots (that hurt like HELL), the actual abortion took two minutes. It was painful, but I was able to count down the seconds with a nurse who was holding my hand. There was a clock on the wall at eye-level, and that helped a lot. Afterward, I was given my clothes and a SUPER HUGE maxi-pad. I had a glass of orange juice and a lollipop, was given post-abortion information along with a prescription for a antibiotic, and was out the door 10 minutes after the procedure." - lucy315, July 5, 2009, eHealthForum Retrieved 16 August 2014.
"the doctor inserted something to keep my vagina open. not the most comfortable thing but it was bearable and i was joking with them about it. then he put antibacterial stuff on the walls to prevent infection. then comes the awesome injections into your cervix. NOT the most comfortable thing in the world but definately not as bad as you would expect. the injections are definately the worst part and they are really not that bad and i dont have a high pain threshold. after that was done he used the suction vaccume for literally 30 seconds then it was over. it was a terrible experience but mostly becuase i psyched myself out the past two days. the pain was NOT worse than period pain for me. i used to get terrible cramps where i would have to sit out at work." - jazzy1361, Mar 23, 2011, eHealthForum Retrieved 16 August 2014.
The latest systematic review on research into abortion and mental health found that 'ALL women who have an unwanted pregnancy are at risk of mental health problems regardless of her choice, whether it be for abortion, parenting or adoption.'
If you are experiencing an unwanted or unplanned pregnancy, check what may increase your risk of mental health illness after an abortion at: Women at Risk of Mental health Problems After Abortion
1 Belanger et al. 1989. Pain of first-trimester abortion: a study of psychosocial and medical predictors. National Center or Biotechnology Information. Mar; 36(3):339-50. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2710563 Retrieved 16 August 2014.
3 Say L et al. 2002. Medical verses surgical methods for first trimester termination of pregnancy. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. Issue 4. Art. No.: CD003037. DOI:10.1002/14651858.CD003037.pub2.