Abortion, is the termination of pregnancy before birth resulting in, or accompanied by, the death of the fetus. Other form of abortions are induced—that is, intentionally brought on—because a pregnancy is unwanted or presents a risk to a woman’s health.
Induced abortions are performed using one of several methods. Abortions in the first trimester of pregnancy are easier and safer to perform while abortions in the second and third trimesters require more complicated procedures and pose greater risks to a woman’s health.
A variety of drug-based abortion methods may be carried out under a physician’s supervision, about a week later, the woman takes misoprostol to induce uterine contractions and expel the fetus. Both types of abortions typically require no anesthesia and can be performed in a clinic or physician’s office.
In preemptive abortions the most common complication is infection. Vacuum aspiration is the procedure used for abortions in the 6th to 14th week of pregnancy. After the first 16 weeks of pregnancy, abortion becomes more difficult. An induction abortion can also be performed in the second trimester, usually between the 16th and 24th week of pregnancy.
On one side are pro-choice supporters—individuals who favor a woman’s reproductive rights, including the right to choose to have an abortion. Abortion has been practiced around the world since ancient times as a crude method of birth control. Throughout the middle and late 1800s, many states in the United States enacted similar laws banning abortion. An estimated 50 million abortions are performed worldwide each year. In some African countries, illegal abortion may contribute to up to 50 percent of pregnancy-related deaths. In Romania, where abortion was outlawed from 1966 to 1989, estimated 86 percent of pregnancy-related deaths was caused by illegal abortion.
In countries where abortion is legal, less than 1 percent of pregnancy-related deaths are caused by abortion. In the United States, the legalization of abortion began in 1966 when Mississippi passed a law permitting abortion in cases of rape. The law allowed individual states to enact laws restricting abortion after viability, except in cases when abortion is necessary to preserve the life or health of the woman. Three years later the court ruled that states may require the consent of one parent of a minor requesting an abortion. Other state-imposed restrictions regulate who pays for abortions, where abortions are performed, and what information is provided to women seeking abortions. For example, in 1977 the Supreme Court allowed states to limit the use of Medicaid funds (government assistance for health care) for payment of elective abortions—that is, those abortions not medically required. A law upheld by the Supreme Court in 1980 restricted the availability of federal Medicaid funding for abortions deemed medically necessary.
After that ruling, abortion payments for poor women were limited to cases in which pregnancy threatened the woman’s life. Also in 1977, the Supreme Court allowed the city of St. Louis, Missouri to exclude elective abortions from procedures performed in a public hospital. Similarly, in 1986 the court struck down a comprehensive Pennsylvania law requiring that state-developed materials about abortion be offered to women undergoing the procedure. The Webster case upheld a Missouri law that prohibits the use of public facilities or public employees for abortion and requires a physician to determine the viability of a fetus older than 20 weeks before performing an abortion. In 1996 the Congress of the United States enacted a bill banning the practice of partial birth abortions.
Since the Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion in 1973, pro-life supporters have worked continuously to reverse the decision. They have lobbied state and federal officials to place restrictions on women seeking abortions or on individuals providing abortions. That same year, in a case known as Madsen v. Women’s Health Cennter, the Supreme Court upheld the basic right to protest in peaceful, organized demonstrations outside abortion clinics.
More than two decades since the Supreme Court first upheld a woman’s right to abortion, the debate over the morality and legality of induced abortion continues in the United States.