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What Is An Abortion?
What Is An Abortion?
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What Is An Abortion?

Youth

Every day, all around the world, people get pregnant under a range of circumstances. When a pregnancy is not intended, a person has to decide if they want to be a parent. Some people choose to become parents when a pregnancy was not planned. If a person chooses not to parent, another option is to arrange an adoption for their baby. A third option would be to choose to have an abortion. Abortion is when a pregnancy stops developing. Sometimes this can happen without a person choosing it, which is called a spontaneous abortion or miscarriage. If a person chooses to have an abortion, they will decide to have either a surgical or medical abortion procedure.

A surgical abortion is a short procedure—usually 10 to15 minutes long—that takes place in a clinic or hospital, and is performed by a medical professional. During the procedure a person may be put to sleep or given something to help them relax. A small tube is then used to gently suck the developing pregnancy (called an embryo or fetus) from the uterus through the vagina. In a medical abortion, a person is given pills that stop the pregnancy from continuing to form. The pills also help the uterus to contract and push the embryo or fetus out of the body, similar to a heavy menstrual period. A person will usually seek the medical procedure during the first three months of a pregnancy, and the surgical procedure if the pregnancy is older, up to about six months. Most people who have had abortions say they feel like strong menstrual cramps. There is usually some pain involved with both procedures, though the amount felt can vary from person to person.

Abortion is a safe and common procedure; it’s estimated that one in four people with a uterus will choose to have an abortion in their lifetime. It’s also a very personal decision, one that can only be made by the person who is pregnant. Not every person faced with an unplanned pregnancy will make the same decision about what to do. That said, most people do not take the decision to have an abortion lightly. No matter what a person decides, facing an unintended pregnancy alone can be hard. If you are dealing with an unintended pregnancy, be sure to talk with an adult you trust, who can help you figure out what is best for you.

FAQs

Why would someone have an abortion?

A person may choose to have an abortion for many different reasons. Someone may not feel ready to assume responsibility for children. A person may not be able to afford taking care of a child or already have more children than they can afford. A person could also have a high-risk pregnancy that is endangering their life or the life of the fetus. Abortion may not be the right choice for everyone. It is, however, important to respect the reasons people might choose an abortion, as well as respect people’s right to determine what is best for their bodies.

Why would someone choose abortion over adoption?

Adoption is an alternative to abortion if someone does not want to parent. However, like abortion, adoption can be a complicated process, especially for someone who is under 18. If a person does not want to go through the pregnancy process, or has a health challenge where pregnancy or giving birth could put them in danger, they might find abortion to be a safer option than adoption. Some people might choose an abortion rather than add more children to the number who already need homes. Finally, adoption is not an automatic process and requires particular knowledge and resources that may be difficult for a young person to access. In some cases, adoption may be a better choice for someone over abortion, or even parenting. In any case however, it is important to respect a person’s choice, whatever it is they decide.

There’s a clinic in my neighborhood that advertises being able to help pregnant people with their pregnancies. Can those places help me get an abortion?

Not every clinic can help with accessing an abortion. Some places, called “crisis pregnancy centers,” actually exist to try and prevent people from having an abortion. Some of these places do provide free health services and use names like “Women’s Choice” or “Real Women’s Health” to mimic traditional clinics.  However, even with those services included, crisis pregnancy centers will also use false information to trick and/or intimidate people into carrying pregnancies. If a person is looking for a place that provides abortions, make sure to ask specifically if they provide that service, so as not to get trapped at a fake clinic.

Can I get an abortion if I’m under 18?

In some states, if you are under 18 years old, you are not required to ask your parent/s or guardian for permission to get an abortion. In other states, a young person who is under 18 may be able to get special permission from a judge (referred to as a “judicial bypass”) to have an abortion without parental permission.  Regardless of age, laws and circumstances in the state in which you live affect whether abortion is available. For example, depending on where you live, it may be difficult to find a clinic that provides abortion, and due to a range of state laws, sometimes people have to travel a long way to get an abortion. In any case, it is important to find out what laws apply in your particular area, as that will directly affect available options. Visit Sexetc.org’s “Sex in the States” for more information.

Can abortion cause long-term negative effects?

When done by a reputable medical professional, abortion is a minimally-invasive procedure that has no long-term negative physical effect on the body, even if the person has had more than one procedure. Research has also shown that most people who have had an abortion do not report feeling any regrets about their decision. Other research suggests that the decision to have an abortion can be emotionally difficult for some people. This is often related not necessarily to the abortion itself, but to the difficulty of all the factors that may lead a person to choose an abortion in the first place, as well as the stigma one can experience from having an unintended pregnancy. There is no way to know how abortion might affect a person emotionally, which is why it is a good idea to talk with a trusted adult before making a decision.

Parents

Abortion can be, arguably, one of the most challenging topics to discuss with young people. And yet, abortion, like so many other aspects of human existence, is a normative part of the life cycle and sexual health. It is estimated that one in four people with a uterus will have an abortion at some point in their lives. These odds increase the likelihood that a young person will either know someone who has had an abortion, or will elect to have one themselves. For this and other reasons, learning and having healthy conversations about abortion with your child is of utmost importance.

There are many misconceptions surrounding abortion that must be cleared up before any meaningful conversation on the topic can take place. To begin, abortion occurs when a pregnancy—any pregnancy—stops developing. This can be either voluntary or spontaneous, such as in the case of a miscarriage. If a person chooses to have an abortion, they will either pick a surgical or medical abortion procedure. Emergency contraception, or “Plan B,” does not cause an abortion and is different from a medical abortion.  Emergency contraception can, if taken within 72 hours of unprotected penile-vaginal sex, prevent a pregnancy from occurring. It cannot, however, stop a pregnancy once it has already started.

A surgical abortion is a short procedure—usually 10 to 15 minutes long—that takes place in a clinic or hospital, and is performed by a medical professional. During the procedure a person is given anesthesia, and a small tube is used to gently suck the developing pregnancy (called an embryo or fetus) from the uterus through the vagina. In a medical abortion, a person is given two medications that stop the pregnancy from continuing to form, and then expel it from the body, similar to a heavy menstrual period. The medical abortion is most effective when done within the first three months of a pregnancy, while the surgical procedure can be done if the pregnancy is older, up to about six months. Most people who have had abortions say they feel like strong menstrual cramps. There is usually some pain involved with both procedures, though the amount felt can vary from person to person.

States’ laws vary as to whether or not parental permission is required for a young person to receive an abortion, or even if abortion is available at all. In some states parental notification is necessary for a young person to receive an abortion. Ideally, young people will talk with a parent or caregiver when making a decision about an unplanned pregnancy. That said, teens are much more likely to use adult counsel when they trust that they will not be shamed or judged for having had an unintended pregnancy in the first place and when they feel fully supported in their decision-making process. Fear, mistrust and doubt are three major factors in preventing young people from reaching out when in a vulnerable situation.

Voluntary abortion is, above all else, a medical procedure. People have abortions for a wide range of reasons, and the choice can be easy or difficult, depending on a whole host of factors. In any case, the decision to parent or not parent lies firmly with the person who is pregnant. In the case of a young person, having a caring and trusted adult available is crucial to helping them make the best decision for themselves.

CONVERSATION STARTERS

When parents and caregivers engage in open and honest conversations with children about abortion, it lessens the shame and stigma that may come with experiencing an unintended pregnancy. Bringing up abortion as a topic even before it needs to be considered can be a useful way to normalize pregnancy loss, and to let your child know that you are available for any questions or concerns they may have. Engaging in early conversations about abortion—and pregnancy more generally—shows that you value your child’s developing autonomy, and respect their ability to make sound, responsible and informed decisions.

Ideally, your children will look to you as the trusted adult they can come to if they experience an unintended pregnancy. Be open to hearing what they have to say, and avoid projecting your judgments or plans onto them, regardless of your personal values related to abortion.

Below are some ways to start conversations on pregnancy and abortion:

Discuss abortion laws in your area

Although abortion is legal on a federal level, several states have pushed legislation that changes what is accessible at the local level. Consider exploring what the laws are in your state with your young person, garnering their general feedback on abortion as a whole. You can use their response as an entry point for answering any questions they might have, and to share your own ideas and values.

Discuss depictions of pregnancy in popular media

If you’re watching a show where an individual or couple is pregnant or discussing the possibility of pregnancy, talk to your child about it. You could ask questions, like “Do you think those people are ready to have a baby?” or “What do you think they should do if they are pregnant?” Use the moment to explain abortion as an option, or to share and discuss values if abortion has already been mentioned.

Share your values without projecting or applying undue pressure

It is quite likely that you have strong opinions about abortion, whether you support it or not. At the same time, a primary task of all human beings is to develop their own moral compass, which may or may not be informed by what they learn from their early environment. Do not be afraid to share your personal values with your children, yet be careful not to force your values on your child if they do not agree with them. Not only will it not be an effective strategy in having your child adhere to your values, it may adversely affect the relationship you have with your child, and prevent them from seeking you out in the event an emergency occurs.

Educators

Every day, all around the world, people get pregnant under a range of circumstances. When a pregnancy is not intended, a person has to decide if they want to be a parent. Some people choose to become parents when a pregnancy was not planned. If a person chooses not to parent, another option is to arrange an adoption for their baby. A third option would be to choose to have an abortion. Abortion is when a pregnancy stops developing. Sometimes this can happen without a person choosing it, which is called a spontaneous abortion or miscarriage. If a person chooses to have an abortion, they will decide to have either a surgical or medical abortion procedure.

A surgical abortion is a short procedure—usually 10 to15 minutes long—that takes place in a clinic or hospital, and is performed by a medical professional. During the procedure a person may be put to sleep or given something to help them relax. A small tube is then used to gently suck the developing pregnancy (called an embryo or fetus) from the uterus through the vagina. In a medical abortion, a person is given pills that stop the pregnancy from continuing to form. The pills also help the uterus to contract and push the embryo or fetus out of the body, similar to a heavy menstrual period. A person will usually seek the medical procedure during the first three months of a pregnancy, and the surgical procedure if the pregnancy is older, up to about six months. Most people who have had abortions say they feel like strong menstrual cramps. There is usually some pain involved with both procedures, though the amount felt can vary from person to person.

Abortion is a safe and common procedure; it’s estimated that one in four people with a uterus will choose to have an abortion in their lifetime. It’s also a very personal decision, one that can only be made by the person who is pregnant. Not every person faced with an unplanned pregnancy will make the same decision about what to do. That said, most people do not take the decision to have an abortion lightly. No matter what a person decides, facing an unintended pregnancy alone can be hard. If you are dealing with an unintended pregnancy, be sure to talk with an adult you trust, who can help you figure out what is best for you.

Discussion Questions

After watching the video with your class, process it using the following discussion questions:
  • What are three important points that Sam made about abortion?
  • If a person gets pregnant, what are the three options they have for addressing it?
  • What are three reasons why a person might choose to have an abortion?
  • What are the two types of voluntary abortion, and what are two main differences between them?
  • What is a crisis pregnancy center, and how could it be harmful to someone who wants an abortion?
  • Why do you think abortion is, as Sam described, such a big and complicated topic?
  • If a person under 18 wanted to get an abortion in your state, what might be the first three to five steps they would want or need to take?

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