All of the following abortion techniques are carried out under the 1967 Abortion Act except for abortifacient drugs and devices, which are legally viewed as contraceptives.
The morning after pill is misleadingly marketed as 'emergency contraception'. It is 50 times as strong as some forms of the mini pill and while it can act as a contraceptive by suppressing ovulation, it also works by making the lining of the womb hostile to the newly-conceived embryo, causing an early abortion. Other drugs and devices such as the IUD (the coil) and the mini pill are called contraceptives but can act in the same way as the morning after pill.
RU-486 or misfepristone
This is the fastest growing abortion technique in the UK. This abortion pill blocks the effects of the hormone progesterone that is needed to maintain the lining of the uterus. This causes the lining of the uterus to become detached along with the unborn child and is usually used with another drug, a prostaglandin, which helps to dilate or open the cervix (the entrance to the womb) and expel the foetus as in a miscarriage.
This is the most common abortion technique in Britain and is used in pregnancies up to 14 weeks. The cervix is dilated and a tube connected to a suction pump is inserted into the womb. The fluid around the baby is sucked out. Then the baby is torn apart by the force of the pump and sucked into a jar to ensure that the abortion is complete.
Dilation and curettage (D&C)
The cervix is dilated and an instrument called a curette used to scrape the developing child out of the womb. As with vacuum aspiration, all foetal parts must be removed to prevent medical complications developing. D&C which used to be the most commonly used abortion procedure is now not listed as a separate abortion procedure and is listed alongside D&E
Dilation and evacuation (D&E)
This procedure is used later in pregnancy (usually after 20 weeks) when the baby's skeleton and nervous system are well developed. After dilation, forceps are inserted to crush the body and remove it, piece by piece, from the womb.
The use of prostaglandins is the most common form of late abortion in the UK. Prostaglandins are hormone-like substances administered to the pregnant woman through an intravenous drip or directly into the womb. Between 12 and 24 hours later, contractions occur, causing the premature birth of the baby. To make sure that the baby is not born alive, abortion doctors may poison the baby by injecting potassium chloride into the baby's heart or urea or salt solution into the amniotic sac.
Hysterectomy and hysterotomyHysterotomies are very rarely performed nowadays. The procedure is similar to a Caesarean section and the baby is removed, intact and often alive. Abortion by hysterectomy is also very rare and involves the removal of the womb along with the unborn child.