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Comparing abortion methods

Two methods of abortion are available in Aotearoa New Zealand - early medical abortion (EMA) and surgical abortion. Both require some pre-abortion tests. 

What methods of abortion are available in aOTEAROA New Zealand?

Two methods of abortion are available in Aotearoa New Zealand - early medical abortion (EMA) and surgical abortion.

Both are very safe and serious complications are very rare. It is extremely rare for future fertility to be affected.

Some tests are required for both methods.

What is EMA?

Early medical abortion (EMA) is an option up to nine weeks (63 days) of pregnancy. An early medical abortion brings on a miscarriage similar to a natural miscarriage.

Two medications are taken for an EMA. Usually, the medications are taken two days apart, but if the pregnancy is less than seven weeks (49 days) you may be able to take both medications on the same day. 

Once you have taken the medication you go home to miscarry the pregnancy.

You are likely to have heavy bleeding and some cramps (which may be strong) at the time the miscarriage happens.

You should have a support person with you and have a phone available if you need to call for advice or information. 

There are usually strong cramps during the miscarriage itself, which is usually within 4-6 hours of having the second medicine.

The procedure is generally between 97 and 99% successful – depending on how many weeks pregnant you are. If the procedure fails, you may be referred for a surgical abortion.

You need to have a blood test one week after the medication to check that the abortion is complete.

EMA can require more visits to a clinic than a surgical abortion. It also requires two blood tests.

  • Stage 1 - First medicine and blood test (day one).
  • Stage 2 - Second medicine (may be same day or 24 to 48 hours later).
  • Stage 3 - Blood test one week later.

Some people prefer EMA as:

  • it may seem more natural, like a miscarriage
  • it can be carried out very early in pregnancy
  • it can occur at home with support people
  • there is no operation (unless it fails).

Some people dislike EMA as:

  • it takes several days and requires several visits to the clinic
  • how long it takes can’t be predicted
  • cramping can be severe and last for longer
  • it fails slightly more often (depending on how many weeks pregnant).

What is a surgical abortion?

Surgical abortion is usually done up to 12 weeks and six days into the pregnancy.

This method of abortion requires fewer clinic visits than EMA. You will need to have the procedure in a clinic or hospital and have a follow-up appointment two weeks later.

The abortion itself takes 3-5 minutes but you will spend 1-3 hours at the clinic.

Bleeding after the procedure finishes more quickly, usually within two weeks. Bleeding is lighter than with EMA.

You will be given medicine to help with the pain. Some people don’t feel anything while others find the procedure causes cramps and discomfort. A few find it painful.

The procedure is usually successful (99%) but if it fails it will need to be repeated. Surgical abortion is more predictable than EMA and most people experience similar effects in a similar time frame.

Some people prefer surgical abortion as:

  • it is quick, over in a few minutes
  • there is less cramping and bleeding (both during and afterwards)
  • it is highly successful.

Some people dislike surgical abortion as:

  • it may not be done as early in pregnancy
  • there is an operation
  • they have less control over the procedure.

 More information

Family Planning has clinics located throughout New Zealand. Use the clinic finder to find your nearest clinic.

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