How to answer your patient’s most frequently asked questions about abortion

Honest answers—supported by facts and research—and patient resources too!

by Robin Watkins, CNM, WHNP-BC

published 05/18/21

While the decision to have an abortion may be difficult for some, for many others it’s not. Most people feel certain about their decision to have an abortion and research from the Turnaway Study shows that after five years, 99% of people felt that abortion was the right decision for them. While the decision to end a pregnancy is personal, health care providers are a key resource in offering supportive, non-judgmental pregnancy options counseling and honestly replying to patient questions with answers supported by the facts and research. Here are some of the most common questions I hear from patients along with the answers and resources supported by the research.

Can I get pregnant in the future after having an abortion?

Yes. Having an abortion ends the pregnancy you have right now; it doesn’t cause long-term health risks or affect your chances of getting pregnant in the future.

If your patient is asking about their fertility after an abortion, they might be wondering about the safety of abortion in general and the good news is that having an abortion is safe. The risk of having a major complication with an abortion, such as needing a blood transfusion, is very low (0.23%). That is in line with many other common outpatient procedures, such as a colonoscopy or wisdom tooth removal. The risk of complications increases the further along you are in pregnancy, so let patients know that the earlier in pregnancy you get an abortion, the lower the chances are of having a complication.

Is it legal to have an abortion in the US?

Yes. Abortion is legal in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, but access to abortion care varies widely across the US depending on where you live, how old you are, and how far along in pregnancy you are.

Nearly half of states have passed medically unnecessary rules or standards for abortion providers and services, such as mandatory waiting periods between initial counseling and abortion care or specific building requirements. These laws are called targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) laws and they can impact perception of abortion legality, so let patients know that abortion is legal, but getting the abortion care they need might look different depending on where they live, how old they are, and how far along in pregnancy they are.

For more information about the TRAP laws where you live or work, providers can check out this resource from the Guttmacher Institute. For patients with questions about how to navigate getting an abortion near them, check out Abortion Finder—state laws are integrated into the finder.

What type of abortion should I get?

Depending on how far along in pregnancy you are, you have options about how to end a pregnancy—either the abortion pill (also called medication abortion) or an abortion procedure (also called in-clinic abortion).

While both abortion types are safe, legal, and effective ways to end a pregnancy, patients often consider a variety of personal factors when making decisions about their preference—such as privacy or the availability of sedation and pain medications. In recent research, most patients seeking abortion care (84%) expressed a preference for one type over another, with 41% preferring medication and 59% preferring an in-clinic procedure. However, nearly a third (32%) of patients who preferred a medication abortion were more than 10 weeks along—the FDA approved gestational age limit for medication abortion. While the abortion pill is FDA approved through 10 week (70 days), safety and efficacy have been studied beyond 70 days, and some clinics may not offer medication abortion beyond 70 days. Let patients know that how far along they are in pregnancy and the clinic’s policies limit the type of abortion they can access.

For people who need help deciding what type of abortion to get, you can share this comparison of the pros and cons of each type from Abortion Finder.

Can I get an abortion online?

Maybe. If you are less than 10-11 weeks pregnant and want to have a medication abortion, you may be able to have your counseling appointment via telehealth and then have your medications mailed to you. Having an abortion procedure at home is not available, so if you are further along in pregnancy or do not want to have a medication abortion, you’ll have to see a provider in person.

Research has shown that accessing medication abortion care via telehealth is safe and effective. Since July 2020, the FDA has exercised enforcement discretion on requirements for in-person dispensing of mifepristone as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, increasing access to medication abortion via telehealth.

How much does it cost to have an abortion?

It depends. Unfortunately, your insurance, as well as how far along in pregnancy you are, and what clinic you are going to, can affect how much it costs to have an abortion. You can contact the clinic and the NAF hotline to learn more about help paying for your abortion.

Bottom line

Providers play a key role in answering questions about abortion supported by the facts and research. For answers to more frequently asked questions, such as how to prepare for an abortion or what to expect during an abortion, you can share Abortion Finder’s FAQs page. For more information and to talk to an unbiased, non-judgmental counselor, you can refer to All-Options.

Robin Watkins is the Director of Clinical Affairs and Medical Education at the Society of Family Planning. Robin is a midwife and women’s health nurse practitioner focused on expanding provider capacity to offer just, equitable, resonant, and high-quality sexual and reproductive health care. Robin provides clinical care in the Washington, DC area. When she is not talking sex or placing IUDs, you can find her riding her bike on the streets of DC or eating ice cream for dinner.
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