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#wokewednesay | What's the Difference Between Medical and Surgical Abortions?

What do we actually mean when we talk about “abortion”? Unfortunately, many people, on all sides of the issue, have a little knowledge of the actual procedure of an abortion. This is an issue that abortion provider and activist Dr. Willie Parker takes up in his excellent new book Life’s Work: A Moral Argument for Choice. This book is highly recommend for anyone wanting to know more about the medical details of abortion, but for today, drawing on Dr. Parker’s work, we are going to discuss the different types of abortion procedures available.

First, you will often hear the terms medical abortion (also called medicated abortion or medication abortion) and surgical abortion. So what is a medical abortion? It is a simple procedure that involves taking two pills (mifepristone and misoprostole) 24-48 hours apart to terminate a pregnancy. It is typically only done for early-stage pregnancies (up to 8 weeks). Medical abortion has proven to be very safe and effective and many patients prefer it to the more invasive surgical procedures.

Unfortunately, in Arizona medical abortion is not as convenient as it could be, as it is subject to burdensome and medically unnecessary regulations. This includes banning doctors from prescribing the pills via telemedicine, which greatly disadvantages patients in Arizona’s many vast rural areas. In addition, in 2015 the Arizona state legislature attempted to promote a fallacious claim that medical abortion could be “reversed” by not taking the second pill. The legislature passed a law requiring doctors to inform patients of this junk science, but it was fortunately repealed in 2016 after outcry from the public and medical associations.

The term “surgical abortion” actually refers to two different procedures. A procedure known as a Cutterage is performed for pregnancies up to 15 weeks, while at 16 weeks and above a procedure known as a Dilation and Extraction is performed. Both procedures have been proven extremely safe and effective.

For patients or potential patients in Arizona, the distinction between the two types of surgical abortion is important to know. The Planned Parenthood facilities which perform surgical abortions in Arizona only perform Cutterage. For Dilation and Extraction procedures, a patient must visit one of the four independent abortion providers, all of which are located in Phoenix. Once again, this puts an even more severe burden on patients from rural areas. Currently, the Abortion Fund of Arizona prioritizes patients whose pregnancies are at 16 weeks or above exactly for these reasons.


UCS Health, “Medical vs. Surgical Abortion”

Phoenix New Times, “AZ Doctors Liberated from ‘Junk Science’”

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