Depending on the gestation of your pregnancy, you may have the option of choosing either a surgical abortion or a medication abortion.
A surgical abortion is a simple surgical procedure to remove the pregnancy tissue from the uterus using a gentle suction. For pregnancies under 16 weeks, this is generally done in one clinic visit lasting three to four hours including recovery time. As it is a surgical procedure, it also involves anaesthetic. Abortion is one of the safest and most common types of surgery in Australia  and is 98-99% effective , so a small number of women may require a second procedure if the first results in an incomplete abortion.
A medication abortion involves a miscarriage induced by medication. It can involve multiple visits to a GP or clinic, and the miscarriage generally takes place at home over a 24 hour period. It doesn't involve an anaesthetic but most women will experience symptoms like cramping and nausea as part of the process. It is only available under 9 weeks gestation. It is successful in 93-98% of cases , so you will have to be prepared to have a surgical abortion procedure if the medication abortion does not result in a complete miscarriage.
Which option is best for you?
Your decision will depend on a number of factors, including your personal preference. Some other factors women take into consideration are:
Location: Depending on where you live, you may have difficulty finding a service which provides your preferred option. Providers of medication and surgical abortion around Queensland are listed here. Access to either option can be much more difficult if you are in a rural, regional or remote community, although medication abortion via telehealth may be an option for women who live within an hour of a hospital.
Gestation: Surgical abortion is available from around 6 weeks gestation to up to 19 weeks, although there are only two providers in Queensland who will offer procedures in the 19th week. The upper gestational limit differs according to which provider you are seeing; some only offer to 14 weeks gestation. Medication abortion is only available at under 9 weeks gestation.
Cost: Pregnancy termination is not routinely offered through public hospitals in Queensland, and the vast majority of abortions are performed by private clinics and a small number of GPs. Almost all these services have out of pocket costs attached, and most will have to be paid up front. A medication abortion by a GP will generally cost between $250 and $580, while a medication or surgical abortion by a clinic will cost approximately $400 at minimum. Prices for surgical abortion procedures increase sharply each week after around 11 weeks gestation. See our abortion costs information for more detail.
Physical and emotional health: Risk of complication after an abortion is similar for both medication and surgical methods [1, 3]. It is important to follow aftercare instructions provided by the doctor. There may be medical factors which make one option preferrable over the other, or make one option unavailable to you - for example, mifepristone (the drug used in medication abortion) is not recommended for women with high blood pressure or who are taking blood-thinning medication . There may be other reasons why you would prefer one option over the other - like a fear of needles, or a low pain threshold. These are all factors you should discuss with your GP or provider.
Generally speaking, if you:
- feel comfortable with the idea of having a miscarriage at home;
- live near to a service that provides medication abortion or are eligible for a telehealth medication abortion;
- would like to avoid a surgical operation;
- don't mind more than one appointment; and
- are fewer than nine weeks pregnant
then medication abortion may be suitable for you.
- prefer to complete the abortion in a single visit;
- prefer not to be conscious for the procedure;
- can access a service which provides a surgical abortion; and
- feel comfortable with having a surgical procedure and anaesthetic
then surgical abortion may be suitable for you.
1. See for example Abortion procedures - surgical: a factsheet by Better Health Channel, a website managed and authorised by the Department of Health and Human Services, Victoria.
3. Philip Goldstone, Jill Michelson and Eve Williamson 'Early medical abortion using low-dose mifepristone followed by buccal misoprostol: a large Australian observational study' Medical Journal of Australia 2012; 197 (5): 282-286.
4. Abortion procedures - medical: factsheet by Better Health Channel, Department of Health and Human Services, Victoria.