Medical Abortion vs. Surgical Abortion: What Is the Difference?

When you’re in the process of deciding what to do about an unexpected pregnancy, so many questions arise. If you’re considering abortion, you may be wondering about the difference between a medical abortion and a surgical abortion.

We applaud you for gathering information, so you have accurate answers before making a final decision about your unplanned pregnancy.

This article aims to empower you as you learn more about medical abortions, surgical abortions, and the differences between the two.


What Is a Medical Abortion?

A medical abortion is also referred to as a chemical abortion or the “abortion pill.” It is a procedure that involves taking two different medications, mifepristone and misoprostol, to end a pregnancy.

Mifepristone interrupts the pregnancy’s attachment to the uterine lining by blocking the progesterone hormone. Misoprostol expels the pregnancy by producing heavy uterine cramping.

What Is a Surgical Abortion?

A surgical abortion is a procedure using instruments and suction to end a pregnancy. There are different types of surgical abortions depending on how far along the pregnancy is. Suction abortion is used up to 14-16 weeks after the first day of the last period. D&E abortions are performed for pregnancies over 16 weeks.

Medical Abortion vs. Surgical Abortion: What Is the Difference?

Medical and surgical abortions are different in how, when, and where they are performed. There are also differences in discomfort level and risks.

1. Medical abortion

  • Mifepristone and misoprostol are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for medical abortions up to 70 days (10 weeks) of pregnancy. Some clinics allow medical abortions up to 77 days of pregnancy.
  • The first medication (mifepristone) is given at a clinic. The second medication (misoprostol) is taken at home, and the abortion is completed at home.
  • A medical abortion can take anywhere from 5-48 hours. This is longer than a surgical abortion because your body needs to do the work to expel the pregnancy.
  • A medical abortion can involve passing large blood clots, heavy bleeding, painful cramping, nausea and/or vomiting, diarrhea, tiredness, and dizziness.

2. Surgical abortion

  • Surgical abortions are performed after ten weeks of pregnancy or for women not eligible for a medical abortion.
  • The surgical abortion procedure is performed in a clinic or hospital, sometimes with sedation or pain medication.
  • The abortion procedure lasts anywhere from five minutes for a suction abortion to twenty minutes for a D&E abortion.
  • Bleeding afterward is similar to a lighter period.
  • Research reveals that surgical abortion increases the chance of very premature delivery (less than 28 weeks of pregnancy) for first pregnancies after the abortion(s).

It’s important to note that abortion laws are changing throughout the United States. A new bill was signed into law in Texas that would prohibit medical or surgical abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected. Typically a heartbeat can be seen about two weeks after a missed period — when a woman is six weeks pregnant. Although it is being challenged, this law is slated to take effect on September 1, 2021.

We Are Here for You

During this challenging time, you deserve to receive the support and clarity you need before deciding your next steps. Fort Worth Pregnancy Center offers a safe and judgment-free environment so you can explore your pregnancy options and make the best decision for you.

We provide you with high-quality pregnancy services at no cost, so you feel equipped to take your next step with confidence. Our team includes licensed healthcare professionals who compassionately listen to your unique needs and provide the answers you’re looking for about your pregnancy.

Learn more or reach out today by scheduling your confidential appointment at Fort Worth Pregnancy Center. You can call or text us at 817-924-9110. Or email us at



Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. (2021, April 13). Mifeprex (mifepristone) Information. U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Martinez, MD, L. Q., & Zieve, MD, D. (2020, December 2). Abortion – surgical: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. MedlinePlus.

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2020, May 14). Medical abortion. Mayo Clinic.


National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Health and Medicine Division; Board on Health Care Services; Board on Population Health and Public Health Practice; Committee on Reproductive Health Services: Assessing the Safety and Quality of Abortion Care in the U.S. The Safety and Quality of Abortion Care in the United States. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2018 Mar 16. 4, Long-Term Health Effects.