A first-trimester abortion (vacuum aspiration, or suction abortion) is usually performed on an outpatient basis, using local anesthesia. This is the most common type of abortion procedure in the United States today and accounts for 88% of all abortions (F. H. Stewart, Ellertson, & Cates, 2004). In this procedure, a woman lies on an examining table with her feet in stirrups, and a speculum is placed in her vagina to view the cervix. Local anesthesia is injected into the cervix, which numbs it slightly. Dilation rods are used to open the cervix and usually cause mild cramping of the uterus. Following dila­tion, a cannula is inserted into the cervix and is attached to a vacuum aspirator, which empties the contents of the uterus.

A first-trimester abortion usually takes between 4 and 6 minutes. After it is com­pleted, most clinics require a woman to stay in the clinic, hospital, or doctor’s office for a few hours. Once home, she is advised to rest, not to lift heavy objects, to avoid sexual intercourse, not to douche or use tampons for at least 2 weeks, and not to take baths; all of these activities increase the risk of hemorrhaging and infection. She will also experi­ence bleeding and perhaps cramping, as she would during a normal period. Her men­strual period will return within 4 to 6 weeks.

There are several potential risks associated with a first-trimester abortion, including excessive bleeding, possible infection, and uterine perforation. However, because these risks are much lower than for a second-trimester procedure, most physicians advise women who are considering abortions to have a first-trimester procedure.


vacuum aspiration

The termination of a pregnancy by using suc­tion to empty the contents of the uterus.


dilation rods

A series of graduated metal rods that are used to dilate the cervical opening during an abor­tion procedure.



A tube, used in an abortion procedure, through which the uterine contents are emptied.


vacuum aspirator

A vacuum pump that is used during abortion procedures.


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