Unplanned pregnancy? Need an abortion? What is the cut-off date for legal abortions? Where are legal abortions performed?

Unplanned pregnancies are very common. At least half of all pregnancies are unplanned and of those, one in 5 woman will choose an abortion. It can be a very difficult and emotional choice to make. Talking to people you trust, who can give you accurate information and support you will help.

Who may get an abortion in South Africa?

0-12 weeks of pregnancy

In South Africa, any woman of any age can get an abortion by simply requesting with no reasons given if she is less than 13 weeks pregnant. A woman under the age of 18 will be advised to consult her parents, but she can decide not to inform or consult them if she so chooses.

12 week old fetus

13-20 weeks of pregnancy:

If she is between 13 and 20 weeks pregnant, she can get the abortion if

  • her own physical or mental health is at stake
  • if the baby will have severe mental or physical abnormalities
  • if she is pregnant because of incest
  • if  she is pregnant because of rape
  • she is of the personal opinion that her economic or social situation is sufficient reason for the termination of pregnancy.

20+ weeks of pregnancy:

If she is more than 20 weeks pregnant, she can get the abortion only if her or the fetus’ life is in danger or there are likely to be serious birth defects.

Note: In general, only medical doctors may perform abortions. Nurses who have received special training may also perform abortions up to the 12th week of pregnancy. A medicine-induced abortion can be performed by any medical doctor at his premises up to 7 weeks from the first day of the last menstrual period. The usual method is a dose of an antiprogestin, followed by a dose of a prostaglandin analogue two days later.

Health workers are under no obligation to perform or take active part in an abortion if they do not wish to, however they are obligated by law to assist if it is required to save the life of the patient, even if the emergency is related to an abortion.

 What Is the Abortion Pill?

The abortion pill is a medicine that ends an early pregnancy. You can get it free from any state hospital or clinic if you are not yet 9 weeks pregnant. You don’t need hospitalization. Medication abortion with the abortion pill is very effective. It works about 97 out of every 100 times.

Types of abortion:

1.Medical Abortion (@ home abortion)

A medical abortion is one that is brought about by taking medications that will end a pregnancy, up to the 8th week of pregnancy. The alternative is surgical abortion, which ends a pregnancy by emptying the uterus (or womb) with special instruments. Either of two medications, Mifepristone or methotrexate, can be used for medical abortion. Each of these medications is taken together with another medication, Misoprostol, to induce an abortion.

8 week old fetus

2. Manual Vacuum Aspiration

Is a method of removing tissues from the uterus by suction or diagnostic purposes or to remove elements of conception during the 1st trimester of pregnancy. With the patient under local or light general anesthesia, the cervix is dilated, and the uterus is emptied with suction.

9 week old fetus

3. Suction & Curettage (in clinic abortion)

A method of induced abortion prior to the 14th week of gestation: The embryo is cut into pieces and is then removed with the placenta by applying suction to the dilated cervix.

13 week old fetus

4. Dilation & Evacuation (in clinic abortion)

Dilation (or dilatation) and curettage (D&C) refers to the dilation (widening/opening) of the cervix and surgical removal of part of the lining of the uterus and/or contents of the uterus by scraping and scooping (curettage). It is a therapeutic gynaecological procedure as well as a rarely used method of first trimester abortion.

What are the complications of an abortion?

If a woman has any of the following symptoms after having either a surgical or medical abortion, she should immediately contact the facility that provided the abortion for follow-up care:

  • severe or persistent pain
  • chills or fever with an oral temperature of 100.4° or more
  • bleeding that is twice the flow of her normal menstrual period or that soaks through more than one
  • sanitary pad per hour for two hours in a row
  • malodorous discharge or drainage from her vagina
  • continuing symptoms of pregnancy

What are the complication from ‘backstreet’ / unsafe abortion?

Immediate complications from unsafe abortions include:

  • severe bleeding
  • uterine perforation
  • tearing of the cervix
  • severe damage to the genitals and abdomen
  • internal infection of the abdomen
  • blood poisoning

Get help

This is a medical emergency and a person with these symptoms should seek immediate medical assistance from their nearest hospital. Medium-term complications range from reproductive tract  infections and pelvic inflammatory disease to chronic pain.

Questions you might have:

  • What happens if I was raped?
  • How does a medical abortion feel?
  • What is the symptoms of a septic abortion?
  • What happens during a medical abortion?
  • What are the signs of post abortion complications?
  • How safe is the abortion pill?
  • What will the impact of abortion be on me if I am religious?
  • What does abortion cost?
  • Are products from sangomas or traditional herbalists safe for abortions?
  • What about ‘back street’ abortions if I am over 12 weeks pregnant?
  • Do I have to tell my parents?


Do a self-test quiz to get more information about the symptoms of pregnancy.

Pregnancy Quiz.

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