Abortion is the termination of a pregnancy. It can be classified as either spontaneous or induced. A spontaneous abortion is a miscarriage, that is, the pregnancy ends usually due to various chromosomal or congenital defects, diseases or infections—of fetal or maternal origin. Unlike spontaneous abortion, induced abortion is not a natural process of the body and involves a medical intervention. This intervention is of two types—therapeutic or elective—depending on the reason for the abortion. If the mother’s life is in danger, as in the case of cardiovascular and hypertensive diseases, an abortion might be performed for therapeutic reasons. An elective or voluntary abortion, on the other hand, is requested for reasons other than maternal health and is the most commonly performed type of abortion in the West today. It is estimated that approximately 25 percent of all pregnancies in the world are terminated by elective abortion, making this the most common method of reproduction limitation.
The method chosen for abortion is commonly determined by factors like the duration of the pregnancy, the patient’s health, the experience of the physician and the physical facilities. The methods include (1) suction or surgical curettage; (2) induction of labor by means of intra- or extraovular injection of a hypertonic solution or other oxytocic agent; (3) extraovular placement of devices such as catheters, bougies or bags; (4) abdominal or vaginal hysterotomy and (5) menstrual regulation. About 75 percent of induced abortions in the United States are performed by suction curettage for a pregnancy of twelve weeks’ duration or less; these are usually performed in abortion outpatient clinics. There are, however, medical concerns about this spreading practice.
The two major medical reasons for limiting abortion today are fetal viability (which changes with technological capabilities) and medical consequences to the mother. Viability, the point at which a fetus can survive outside the mother’s womb, now stands at twenty-four weeks and can often be easily defined. Yet the consequences of an abortion procedure to the mother are debated and controversial. While most abortions, especially those done in the first trimester, are safe for women physically, the psychological sequelae have gone undocumented. Some reports deny serious psychological effects of abortion, but most cite overwhelming statistics indicating dire long-term negative effects, including guilt, shame, depression, grief, anxiety, despair, low self-esteem, distrust, and hostility. Women with previous histories of psychiatric illnesses tend to be affected to a greater degree.
Both the Canadian Medical Association and the American Medical Association recognize abortion as a medical procedure available under the law. Recently, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education called for compulsory abortion training for students of obstetrics (McFarland, p. 25). In contrast, the Christian Medical and Dental Society (CMDS) opposes the practice of abortion.
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