Facts & Considerations: Abortion — Which Type of Anesthesia?

Abortion — Which Type of Anesthesia?

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Abortion With Sedation or Local Anesthesia?

  • Two different types of anesthesia can be used for surgical abortions: intravenous sedation or local anesthesia.
  • The attending physician may recommend which type to use on a case-by-case basis.
  • The choice between local anesthetic and sedation is usually left up to the woman.
  • There are pros and cons for each kind of anesthesia.

This article provides you with information on anesthesia during an abortion.

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How Does Abortion Under Sedation Work?

Varying degrees of sedation can be used during an abortion. While general anesthesia (deep sedation) is still the norm in some countries, waking sedation is preferred in most clinics.

  • Conscious (Waking) Sedation
    IV sedation, also known as twilight sleep, is used to reduce anxiety and pain. The medication causes you to be sedated but responsive, awake but not as aware of what is going on around you. Breathing is unassisted.
  • Deep Sedation
    General anesthesia causes you to fall asleep within seconds of receiving the medication. Depending on the dose, you will be completely unaware of your surroundings for a specific length of time. You will not feel pain, and breathing is assisted.

Before an abortion, the doctor or anesthesiologist discusses the procedure in detail and provides information regarding risks and side effects. Informed consent papers are given at this point.

Whenever undergoing a surgical procedure under sedation (including an abortion), it is necessary to be accompanied since driving is not permitted for the remainder of the day. Additionally, rest is essential for recuperation.

How Long Does an Abortion Under Sedation Take?

Right before the procedure, a sedative and anesthetic are injected intravenously. Terminating a pregnancy via vacuum aspiration takes about 15 minutes. Therefore, the anesthesia is not very strong. While under sedation, there is virtually no sensation of pain.

When the procedure is complete, the anesthesiologist will rouse the woman. At this point, mild to moderate pain is common, usually lasting up to half an hour. Initial dizziness or lightheadedness can be expected.

After the procedure, it is normal to remain in a recovery room for at least half an hour. When the woman feels reasonably stable, she will be released to go home.

Abortion Under Local Anesthetic

In contrast to general anesthesia, the woman is fully conscious under local anesthesia and also more aware than under conscious sedation. Only the sensation of cervical pain is suppressed or reduced.

Before using local anesthetics, the doctor will discuss any necessary medical information.

How Does Abortion with Local Anesthesia Work?

  • Immediately before the procedure, an analgesic is injected through the vagina and into the cervix, i.e., the opening of the uterus. Within two to six pricks, the cervix is numbed, intending for (almost) no pain to be felt during the necessary dilation of the cervix.
  • Next, the surgical abortion is performed.
  • The anesthetic gradually wears off after the procedure.

Sedation vs. Local Anesthesia Abortion

Every woman is unique and reacts differently to general anesthesia and abortion. However, here are several possible scenarios:

Sedated Abortion Pros and Cons

Women's responses to an abortion under sedation vary greatly.

Being sedated during the procedure is often considered an advantage, since one is unaware — or less aware — of what is happening. This can be a relief.

Other women experience this sedation as confusing, since, upon awaking, the pregnancy is suddenly over. Some women struggle while trying to process this moment. Another disadvantage of sedation is that it often leaves you feeling very dizzy and light-headed for several hours.


  • Unconscious, or less aware, during the procedure


  • Confusion and a sudden sensation of an inner void when everything is abruptly over
  • Dizziness after the sedation
  • Sedation raises the cost of an abortion (by at least US $40)

Local Anesthetic Abortion Pros and Cons

Women’s experiences of abortion without sedation vary.

Some women prefer to be completely aware of the procedure in order to consciously experience the abortion. This makes it easier for them to process the experience. Other women find it hard to be fully conscious, aware of all conversations and sounds.

A disadvantage of local anesthesia is that it does not necessarily completely suppress all pain. This means some women still feel slight to moderate pain when the cervix is dilated. In addition, since the rest of the uterus is not numbed, many women also experience pain during the aspiration and the subsequent contraction of the uterus. This begins to subside when the procedure is complete.


  • Being fully aware helps some women better process the experience
  • Local anesthesia costs less than sedation


  • The sensation of pain is not necessarily completely suppressed

  • For many women, it is emotionally stressful to be fully conscious during the abortion

Abortion with or without Sedation?

You probably came across this article because you are considering an abortion and wondering how you can get through this step, both physically and emotionally. Deciding on the type of anesthesia for an abortion, as well as the abortion method itself, are two of many important considerations.

You are the only one who can make that call. Your peace about your decision will strongly depend upon the degree of freedom you have in making this choice — a decision based on your values.

It can still be helpful to discuss all your questions with others who care — without coercing — whether you just found out you are pregnant or even if the abortion appointment has already been made.

You do not have to walk this road alone — allow us to walk alongside you! We would like to provide
you with a judgment-free setting so you can find the path that is just right for you:

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