November 13, 2008
An abortion is the termination of a pregnancy by the removal or expulsion of an embryo or fetus from the uterus, resulting in or caused by its death. An abortion can occur spontaneously due to complications during pregnancy or can be induced. Abortion as a term most commonly refers to the induced abortion of a human pregnancy, while spontaneous abortions are usually termed miscarriages. Abortion has a long history and has been induced by various methods including herbal abortifacients, the use of sharpened tools, physical trauma and other traditional methods. Modern medicine utilizes medications and surgical procedures to induce abortion. The legality, prevalence, and cultural views on abortion vary substantially around the world. In many parts of the world there is intense public debate over the ethical and legal aspects of abortion. The approximate number of induced abortions performed worldwide in 2003 was 42 million, which declined from nearly 46 million in 1995 Induced abortion can be traced to ancient times. There is evidence to suggest that, historically, pregnancies were terminated through a number of methods, including the administration of abortifacient herbs, the use of sharpened implements, the application of abdominal pressure, and other techniques. The Hippocratic Oath, the chief statement of medical ethics for Hippocratic physicians in Ancient Greece, forbade doctors from helping to procure an abortion by pessary. Soranus, a second-century Greek physician, suggested in his work Gynaecology that women wishing to abort their pregnancies should engage in energetic exercise, energetic jumping, carrying heavy objects, and riding animals. He also prescribed a number of recipes for herbal baths, pessaries, and bloodletting, but advised against the use of sharp instruments to induce miscarriage due to the risk of organ perforation. It is also believed that, in addition to using it as a contraceptive, the ancient Greeks relied upon silphium as an abortifacient. Such folk remedies, however, varied in effectiveness and were not without risk. Tansy and pennyroyal, for example, are two poisonous herbs with serious side effects that have at times been used to terminate pregnancy. Abortion in the 19th century continued, despite bans in both the United Kingdom and the United States, as the disguised, but nonetheless opens, advertisement of services in the Victorian era suggests. In the 20th century the Soviet Union (1919), Iceland (1935) and Sweden (1938) were among the first countries to legalize certain or all forms of abortion. In 1935 Nazi Germany, a law was passed permitting abortions for those deemed "hereditarily ill," while women considered of German stock were specifically prohibited from having abortions. In the history of abortion, induced abortion has been the source of considerable debate, controversy, and activism. An individual's position on the complex ethical, moral, philosophical, biological, and legal issues is often related to his or her value system. Opinions of abortion may be best described as being a combination of beliefs on its morality, and beliefs on the responsibility, ethical scope, and proper extent of governmental authorities in public policy. Religious ethics also has an influence upon both personal opinion and the greater debate over abortion (see religion and abortion). When it began in the 1960s, the movement to legalize abortion "was just a brave tiny army." 1 There were no large national organizations with professional staffs advocating legal abortion. Nevertheless, a movement did take shape and in 1973 abortion became legal throughout the United States. How did this social movement emerge, and what did it look like before Roe v. Wade? An "insider" model of social movements would predict that the movement arose from within established institutions, with support from elites, or that professional movement organizers engineered the...
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