Generally speaking, there are three major methods of abortion: Spontaneous, Induced, and Herbal. In addition, you can also consider self-inflicted abortion as a method, but as this is not popular and not necessary in modern times, I do not consider it as one of the major methods of abortion. Self-inflicted abortion is often done with a sharp object, often a coat hanger, which is inserted by the expectant mother into her own cervix. This is extremely dangerous, not reliable and sometimes even deadly.
Herbal abortion is the oldest of the methods of abortion. Like self-inflicted abortion, Herbal abortion is not very safe, and often does not produce any effect other than a very sick pregnant woman. Many different herbs have been used over the hundreds of years people have been using this method of abortion, including tansy, pennyroyal, black cohosh, silphium – which is now extinct – birthwort, and even herbs that modern people use daily: dill, marjoram, thyme, parsley, lavender, and juniper. These herbs are referred to as “abortifacient”, which means simply that they can cause abortion.
The most commonly known and used methods of abortion are surgical. Early-term abortions can be performed by one of three surgical procedures: Manual Vacuum Aspiration (MVA), Electric Vacuum Aspiration (EVA), and Dilation and Curettage (D&C). MVA uses a syringe to suction out the tissue; EVA uses an electric pump to suction the tissue out.
D&C uses a sharp curette to clean the walls of the uterus once the cervix has been opened. Later-stage methods of abortion are Dilation and Evacuation (D&E), Hysterectomy Abortion, and the controversial Intact Dilation and Extraction (IDX), or Partial Birth Abortion. D&E is performed opening the cervix and cleaning out the uterus with instruments and suction. A Hysterectomy Abortion is essentially a cesarean section that terminates a pregnancy.
IDX involves dilating the cervix, using forceps to grasp and turn the fetus into breech position, and then withdraw the fetus until just the head is left inside the cervix. The head is then collapsed by suctioning the brain matter out of the skull through a small incision made at the base of the skull. This method of abortion is currently banned under the Partial Birth Abortion Ban law that was passed by Congress and signed into effect by President George W Bush in 2003. The US Supreme Court is currently examining the legal validity of this law because it does not provide for cases where the health of the mother is in jeopardy.
Chemical methods of abortion are done by a combination of drugs that effectively terminate the pregnancy. Methotrexate or mifepristone is used, and is followed by one of two types of prostaglandin. The type used depends on where the procedure is taking place. In the US, misoprostol is commonly used; in the UK and in Sweden, gemeprost is used.