First trimester abortion

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A first trimester abortion is an abortion that takes place during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.[1]

Surgical abortion

The most common first trimester abortions are vacuum aspiration and suction curettage.[2] In this procedure, the mother's cervix is dilated to the point where insertion of the suction device, known as a "cannula", can be inserted into the uterus. The contents of the mother's uterus — the fetus — are then vacuumed out through the cannula, using either an electronic or hand-powered suction device.[2] In some cases, the curette is then inserted to "scrape out" any remains from the mother's uterus.[3]

Chemical abortion

Chemical abortions are also performed in the first trimester, typically within the first nine weeks of pregnancy.[2] This is performed by a variety of different measures:

  • Mifepristone (RU-486) is used to chemically induce abortion between five and nine weeks of pregnancy.[4] More information about mifepristone can be found here.
  • Methotrexate is typically used as a treatment for autoimmune disorders and cancer by inhibiting the metabolism of folic acid, the B vitamin necessary for cell division. Methotrexate attacks the fast-growing cells called trophoblasts, which essentially are life support for the fetus. The trophoblasts draw oxygen and nutrients from the mother's blood supply.[4] Deprived of nutrition and oxygen, the baby dies.


In the United States, state governments can only restrict abortions after the first trimester.[5] This means that a woman can freely decide to terminate her pregnancy in the first trimester, even if suffering no medical complications. In the Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade, the Court found that:[5]

For the stage prior to approximately the end of the first trimester, the abortion decision and its effectuation must be left to the medical judgment of the pregnant woman's attending physician.

Fetal development in the first trimester

The following is a list of developmental traits acquired by the fetus in the first trimester of pregnancy.

  • Heartbeat begins - the baby's heart first starts beating at around five weeks gestation, though the precursor to the circulatory system begin forming as early as three weeks.
  • The brain begins to form its most complex parts.
  • Arms, legs, hands, and feet are maturing. The baby can make a fist at around nine weeks.
  • Everything that is present in an adult human is now present in the small embryo at eight weeks.[6]

Morning after pill

There is some controversy as to whether or not the "morning after pill" — a high dose of typically-prescribed birth control administered after unprotected sex[7] — is considered an abortive procedure. WordNet encyclopedia defines pregnancy as "the period from conception to birth when a woman carries a developing fetus in her uterus"[8] This would indicate that pregnancy begins at conception, defined as the point when the sperm fertilizes the egg.[9] The morning after pill does not inhibit fertilization; rather, it prevents the fertilized egg from implanting onto the uterine wall, causing the potential life to die.[10] By using this logic, one can conclude that the morning after pill is considered a method of abortion used at the very beginning of the first trimester.