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... [continues]
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