Abortion is one of the most emotional and divisive moral issues of twenty-first-century American life. Consensus has not been reached on the numerous questions that swirl around the subject, including whether or not a woman has the right to choose a legal abortion, and under what conditions; the role of parents if she is not legally an adult; and the roles of the state and religion having veto power. In addition, the questions of when life begins and at what point it should be protected remain controversial. Strictly defined, abortion is the expulsion or removal of an embryo or fetus from the uterus before it has developed sufficiently to survive outside the mother (before viability). As commonly used, the term abortion refers only to artificially induced expulsions caused by mechanical means or drugs. Spontaneous abortions occurring naturally and not artificially induced are commonly referred to as miscarriages. Women choose to have abortions for a variety of reasons: They have had all the children they wish to have; want to delay the next birth; believe they are too young or too poor to raise a child; are estranged or on uneasy terms with their sexual partner; or they do not want a child while they are in school or working.
Artificially Induced Abortion around the World
Unplanned and unwanted pregnancies are common, and this fact fuels the controversy in every region of the world. Globally, more than one in four women who become pregnant has an abortion or an unwanted birth. In the developed countries of the world, including those in North America and Western Europe, where average desired family size is small, an estimated 49 percent of the 28 million pregnancies each year are unplanned and 36 percent of the total pregnancies end in abortion. In the developing countries, including parts of Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, where desirable family sizes are larger, an estimated 36 percent of the 182 million pregnancies each year are unplanned and 20 percent end in abortion. Women worldwide commonly initiate sexual intercourse by age twenty, whether they are married or unmarried. In the developed countries, 77 percent have had intercourse by age twenty. This compares to 83 percent in sub-Saharan Africa and 56 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean. Couples in many countries have more children than they would like, or have a child at a time when they do not want one. The average woman in Kenya has six children, while the desired family size is four; the average Bangladeshi woman has four children but desires three. From a global perspective, 46 million women have abortions each year; 78 percent of these live in developing countries and 22 percent live in developed countries. About 11 percent of all the women who have abortions live in Africa, 58 percent in Asia, 9 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean; 17 percent live in Europe, and the remaining 5 percent live elsewhere in the developed world. Of the 46 million women who have abortions each year in the world, 26 million women have abortions legally and 20 million have abortions in countries where abortion is restricted or prohibited by law. For every 1,000 women of childbearing age in the world, each year 35 are estimated to have an induced abortion. The abortion rate for women in developed regions is 39 abortions per 1,000 women per year; in the developing regions the rate is 34 per 1,000 per year. Rates in Western Europe, the United States, and Canada are 10 to 23 per year.
Methods of Abortion
About 90 percent of abortions in the United States are performed in the first twelve weeks of the pregnancy. The type of procedure used for an abortion generally depends upon how many weeks the woman has been pregnant. Medical induction: The drug mifepristone combined with misoprostol has been used widely in Europe for early abortions, and is...