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Abortion

Abortions are Legal in Pennsylvania

Reproductive health care services, including abortion, remain safe, accessible, and legal in Pennsylvania. The U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision on abortion does not impact the ability to access abortion services in Pennsylvania. Abortion is an available reproductive health option through the 23rd week of pregnancy, and after that time, in certain cases when the health of the pregnant person is in danger. Both medication and in-clinic procedure abortions continue to be legal and available in Pennsylvania.

Governor Wolf signed an executive order designed to protect persons seeking reproductive health care services in Pennsylvania and medical professionals offering those services from discipline in other states.

The Department of Health has regulatory oversight of abortion facilities and continues to ensure that abortions provided in Pennsylvania are safe. To find healthcare facilities near you, please use this facility search tool.

Acting Secretary of Health and Pennsylvania Physician General Dr. Johnson, an Obstetrician and Gynecologist, provided testimony in July 2022 on the importance of maintaining the full range of reproductive health care services.

For more information and resources about abortion laws in Pennsylvania, please see this publication from the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General.

What is an abortion and how is it done?

Under Pennsylvania law, an abortion is the termination of a clinically diagnosed pregnancy and is an available reproductive health option through the 23rd week of pregnancy (and in certain cases beyond the 23rd week when the pregnancy poses a serious health risk or threatens the life of the pregnant person). If you decide to have an abortion after your pregnancy is confirmed, a provider will determine how far along you are, review your medical history, and discuss the options available to you based on your preference, medical history, and how far along you are, along with the benefits and risks of each option. Additionally, you must undergo pre-procedure testing and counseling prior to your medication abortion appointment or in-clinic procedure. Based on this and other questions, you will be given the option for a medication or in-clinic procedure abortion after participating in necessary pre-procedure testing and counseling. In Pennsylvania, abortion is an available option through the 23rd week of pregnancy, and after that time, in certain cases where the health of the pregnant person is in danger.

What are the different types of abortion?

Medication abortion: You take two medications (mifepristone and misoprostol) usually around 24-48 hours apart. The first medication, mifepristone, blocks the hormone progesterone, causing the lining of the uterus to thin and preventing the embryo from staying implanted and growing. The second medication, misoprostol, causes the uterus to contract and expel the embryo through the vagina. You'll experience cramping and bleeding at that time. Some people experience other mild side effects like continued spotting, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or dizziness. The first medication is often taken in a medical office and the second at home.

Vacuum aspiration: In this procedure your cervix may be gently stretched to allow a suction device to remove the pregnancy tissue from your uterus. Toward the end of the procedure, you may feel some cramping. This is typically an outpatient procedure, meaning you go to the office, have the procedure, and go home, all in the same day. The suction portion of the procedure itself usually takes less than 15 minutes but the timing may vary. Depending on the clinic, you may be able to select from a few different options to manage discomfort or pain during the procedure – from local numbing medicine to medication administered intravenously that will put you to sleep during the procedure.

Dilation and curettage (D&C) procedure: A D&C is a surgical procedure that dilates the cervix and uses an instrument called a curette to remove the pregnancy tissue from the uterus. This outpatient procedure may be done in a hospital, clinic, or your healthcare provider's office, does not usually require an overnight stay, and anesthesia is administered.

Dilation and evacuation (D&E) procedure: A D&E procedure is performed in the second trimester of pregnancy. It includes a combination of the D&C procedure, vacuum aspiration, and possibly surgical instruments. This outpatient procedure may be performed in a hospital or clinic, does not usually require an overnight stay, and anesthesia is administered.

How safe and effective are abortions?

Abortion is extremely safe. In 2020, there were 32,123 abortions performed in Pennsylvania and out of those, there were 239 reports of complications from abortions that were submitted by providers.1 Additionally, the national case-fatality rate for legal induced abortion for 2013-2018 was 0.41 per 100,0002 and the maternal mortality rate for 2020 was 23.8 per 100,0003. This means the risk of dying because of an abortion is lower than the risk of dying from childbirth. Abortion is one of the safest surgical procedures for pregnant people in the U.S.

A vacuum aspiration procedure works more than 99% of the time. Medication abortion is 95% to 98% effective.

What are the reasons for getting an abortion?

There are many circumstances where abortion is necessary for pregnant individuals' physical, mental, and spiritual health. Abortion is an essential component of health care for women and birthing people, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the World Health Organization, and countless other public health and medical professional membership organizations. The Pennsylvania Department of Health believes the decision to have an abortion is best made in consultation between a pregnant person and their physician, with the needs of the pregnant person foremost in mind. 

What are the current restrictions on abortions in Pennsylvania (as of July 2022)?

In Pennsylvania, abortion is a safe, legal reproductive health option through the 23rd week of pregnancy. However, there are certain requirements that have to be met before medication abortion can be prescribed or an in-clinic procedure can be performed. These requirements include certain pre-procedure laboratory testing; receipt and acknowledgment of counseling materials at least 24-hours prior to the appointment or procedure; and parental consent for minors who have not gone through the judicial bypass process (learn more about judicial bypass). 

For abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy, additional restrictions are imposed by law including two physicians certifying that the abortion is necessary to prevent either the death or substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant person. 

These restrictions generally do not apply in cases of medical emergencies. 

Abortions are only available at certain locations registered or licensed by the Department of Health. A list of free-standing locations is available through the Department's facility search tool.

How can I pay for an abortion?

Some private health insurance plans cover the cost of an abortion. In Pennsylvania, Medicaid and plans purchased through the Affordable Care Act or the state's insurance exchange marketplace do not cover the cost of abortion (except for cases of a pregnant person's life endangerment, rape, or incest).

If you need help paying for an appointment, visit:

If you need help arranging or paying for travel, visit:

  • Brigid Alliance provides help with travel expenses. You can make an appointment at one of their partner clinics to access this help.
  • Haven Coalition provides help with overnight lodging for those who need to travel to New York City for an abortion. You can make an appointment at one of their partner clinics.

What are crisis pregnancy centers?

Crisis pregnancy centers or pregnancy resource centers are not licensed or regulated by the Department of Health and do not provide abortions. View more information about Department of Health licensed facilities that provide abortions.     


Sources

  1. https://www.health.pa.gov/topics/HealthStatistics/VitalStatistics/Documents/Pennsylvania_Annual_Abortion_Report_2020.pdf
  2. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/70/ss/ss7009a1.htm
  3. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hestat/maternal-mortality/2020/maternal-mortality-rates-2020.htm#:~:text=The%20maternal%20mortality%20rate%20for,20.1%20in%202019%20(Table).