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Abortion

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Abortion


The loss of a fetus before it is able to live outside the womb is called
abortion. When abortion occurs spontaneously, it is often called a miscarriage.
Abortion can also be intentionally caused, or induced. Induced abortion is
regarded as a moral issue in some cultures. In others it is seen as an
acceptable way to end unplanned pregnancy. Abortion is a relatively simple and
safe procedure when done by trained medical workers during the first three
months (first trimester) of pregnancy. Abortion is less safe when performed
after the 13th week of pregnancy. Before the right of a woman to obtain an
abortion was affirmed by the United States Supreme Court in the 1973 ruling on
Roe vs. Wade, many abortions were performed illegally and in unskilled ways.
This caused the deaths of many women from infection and bleeding. It also caused
much sterility, or the permanent inability to have a child. The usual surgical
technique of abortion during the first trimester is to insert a metal or plastic
tubeinto the uterus through its opening, the cervix. A spoonlike instrument at
the end of the tube is used to gently scrape the walls of the uterus. A suction
machine at the other end of the tube removes the contents from the uterus. This
procedure is called vacuum aspiration and is done primarily in a medical clinic
or doctor's office using a local anesthetic for the cervix. During the second
trimester, abortions are usually done by means of dilation and evacuation. This
procedure uses forceps, curette, and vacuum aspiration. Although rarely sought,
third-trimester abortions may be performed when the fetus has severe genetic
defects or because continuing the pregnancy would be a threat to the woman's
health. A controversy began in 1988 over a drug, developed in France, called
RU 486, which, when taken during the first 7 weeks of pregnancy, causes the
embryo to become detached from the uterus. The drug was reported to be safer and
less expensive than surgical abortion. Antiabortion groups in France succeeded
in temporarily halting the sale of the drug, although the government later
ordered it to be made available. The use of RU 486 was supported by family-
planning agencies in the United States, France, and elsewhere and by the World
Health Organization and the World Congress of Gynecology and Obstetrics. The
long-term effects of RU 486 on women's health were unknown. Abortion as a way
to end unplanned pregnancy is practiced in many countries. In Europe by 1992
only Ireland had a complete ban on abortion. In the United States the legality
of abortion was affirmed with Roe vs. Wade in 1973 over the objections of some
groups, the Roman Catholic church in particular. Many opposed to abortion
believe it is the taking of a human life. Those who favor the legal availability
of abortion cite the right of women to control their reproduction and of
physicians to perform abortions without fear of criminal charges. Other
arguments in favor of abortion include population control, the social problems
caused by unwanted children, and the dangers of illegal abortion. In 1989 and
in 1992 the United States Supreme Court in 5-4 rulings upheld provisions of a
1986 Missouri law and a 1989 Pennsylvania law restricting abortion. In Webster
vs. Reproductive Health Services and Planned Parenthood vs. Casey the court
stopped short of overturning the landmark Roe vs. Wade ruling, but it upheld the
power of individual states to impose restrictions. The battle over abortion
rights moved to the state legislatures and to the streets as massive
demonstrations for and against legalized abortion continued into the 1990s.
Missouri's and Pennsylvania's laws to impose severe restrictions on abortion
were partially upheld, but similar attempts in Illinois and Florida were
rejected. In 1989 the United States Congress approved the use of Medicaid funds
to finance abortions for poor women in cases of rape or incest, but President
George Bush vetoed it. The most restrictive law in any state was passed in Idaho
in 1990, but the governor vetoed the bill. A related controversy arose in the
late 1980s centering on the use of tissues from aborted fetuses for medical
research and treatment. Experiments using cells from aborted fetuses showed that
these cells were uniquely capable of alleviating certain conditions, such as
Parkinson's disease, when transplanted into the diseased tissues of a host. The
debate over the ethics of using tissues from miscarried fetuses did not halt
research or the application of these discoveries.

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