Inside Abortion Clinics: Here’s What Really Happens When You Get an Abortion

There’s a lot of controversy when it comes to terminating a pregnancy. And no matter what side of the debate you’re on, you probably personally know someone who’s had an abortion. But here’s something interesting: NPR reports the number of abortions is steadily declining year after year, and birth rates aren’t necessarily increasing. This hopefully means more contraception options are reaching those who haven’t had access before.

Though the U.S. remains divided on the issue, there’s a lot of misconceptions about the actual procedure. Here’s what really goes on.

You’ll probably have to walk by protestors before you enter a clinic

Medical equipment seen inside an abortion clinic.

Entering an abortion clinic can be an emotional and scary experience. | Homonstock/Getty Images

Many people stand outside of clinics to protest the procedure daily. Journalist Wendi Kent took photos of the protestors and shared them with The Washington Post. Many of the protestors pray silently and don’t participate in harassment, but Kent reports others go out of their way to chastise women entering the clinic.

Many clinics have “buffer zones” so the protestors can’t block the entrance or exit. But even so, they can get very close to those entering and often cause quite a stir.

You receive preliminary counseling and questioning

Doctor talking to patient.

You’ll have to go through a lengthy consulting process. | Ridofranz/Getty Images

In many states, you can’t enter the clinic for the first time and get an abortion that same day. Guttmacher Institute explains 35 states require women receive counseling prior to the abortion, and most of them also explain the procedure and information on how a fetus naturally develops. There are also 13 states that tell women the fetus can feel pain, and six states that say the fetus becomes a person as soon as it’s conceived, no matter what the woman’s beliefs are.

After the counseling session, many clinics require a 24-hour waiting period before the abortion. The multiple trips back and forth make it difficult for many women to complete the procedure.

It’s not always an intrusive surgery

A hospital/nurse/patient gown on a wooden table.

There are different methods available. |

If it’s early in the pregnancy (eight weeks or fewer), many women opt for a medication-induced abortion. Planned Parenthood explains this method involves two medications — one pill is taken at the clinic, and the second is taken between six and 48 hours later at home. Together, the meds block progesterone and empty the uterus.

The process is a lot like an early miscarriage, and many women like that they can do this in the comfort of their own home.

The procedure itself only takes 5 minutes

A doctor smiles while sitting in front of a patient.

Doctors and nurses will explain the procedure to you. |

When women choose to have abortions by nurses or doctors, the procedure itself typically only takes between five and 10 minutes, says Planned Parenthood. Essentially, the doctor dilates the cervix prior to the procedure. Then, a suction machine removes the pregnancy tissue from the uterus. For abortions later than 16 weeks into the pregnancy, it’s a little bit more involved, but it still only takes about 20 minutes before it’s finished.

And you should take as much time as you need to recover

A patient and doctor look at a folder together.

Self-care efforts are strongly recommended. | Bowdenimages/Getty Images

After the procedure, it’s advised to take it easy the rest of the day and avoid any activities that may cause discomfort. UCSF Medical Center says bleeding often occurs as well, and it can take up to four weeks after the procedure for it to completely stop. In this instance, women should use sanitary pads instead of tampons.

For women who experienced pregnancy symptoms like nausea or breast tenderness, those symptoms go away around a week after the abortion. Infection is possible, but complications aren’t typical as long as the right aftercare is taken.

The No. 1 feeling after having an abortion? Relief

A patient sits on a chair while talking to a therapist or doctor.

Surround yourself with people who care about you. | Highwaystarz-Photography/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Evidence shows over 95% of women who receive abortions don’t regret them. As a 22-year-old woman named Emma told The Telegraph, “It was really upsetting but the first feeling I had was just sheer relief I wasn’t going to be a mother.”

Kate Smurthwaite, vice chair of pro-choice group Abortion Rights U.K., echoes the same sentiments. “For a lot of women it’s actually not a big deal. … I’m unsurprised to discover women are good at making choices and ones they feel confident about having made.”

There are fewer abortion clinics now than there were 10 years ago

A doctor comforts a patient while sitting at a table.

Abortion centers are often hard to find. | Psphotograph/Getty Images

This fact may surprise you, but Business Insider reports there are indeed fewer clinics than there used to be, which also contributes to America’s all-time low number of abortions. Back in 2008, there were 851 clinics around the country. In 2014, that number dropped to 788, with several states only offering one clinic.

Fewer abortion clinics doesn’t necessarily mean fewer terminated pregnancies, however. Studies show when these places close, a higher number of women try to abort the pregnancy themselves, which can result in complications or death.