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Abortion is a generic term for pregnancies that do not end in a livebirth or a stillbirth. It is the premature expulsion from the uterus of the products of conception, which include the placenta, bag of waters, and fetus, if present.
There are two types of abortions. Spontaneous abortion refers to a natural biological process by which some pregnancies end. Induced abortion refers to pregnancies terminated through human intervention.
Spontaneous Abortions. A large percentage of the products of the union of an egg and a sperm never become infants. If there is something seriously wrong with the fetus, the uterus often expels it. This may occur very early in the pregnancy, with the woman only experiencing a larger than usual blood flow around the time of her expected menstrual period, or it may occur later in the pregnancy. This latter event is commonly called a miscarriage, but technically it is a spontaneous abortion if it occurs before twenty weeks of pregnancy. Spontaneous abortions are often the body's way of preventing the birth of a defective child, although sometimes they are due to maternal health problems.
Induced Abortions. In contrast, induced abortions result from the planned interruption of a pregnancy. Throughout recorded history, humans have taken a variety of steps to control family size: before conception by delaying marriage or through abstinence or contraception; or after the birth by
Therapeutic Abortions. This term refers to abortions thought necessary because of fetal anomalies, rape, or to protect the health of the mother when a birth might be life threatening or physically or psychologically damaging.
Elective or Voluntary Abortions. Interruption of a pregnancy before viability at the woman's request for reasons other than fetal anomalies or maternal risk is often referred to as elective or voluntary abortion. Such abortions often result from social problems, such as teenage pregnancy or non-marital births; economic difficulties, such as insufficient income to support a child; or inappropriate timing.
Legal and Illegal Abortions. Induced abortions may be legal or illegal. According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the federal agency that collects data on abortions, a legal abortion is "a procedure, performed by a licensed physician or someone acting under the supervision of a licensed physician, that was intended to terminate a suspected or known intrauterine pregnancy and to produce a nonviable fetus at any gestational age." An illegal abortion may be self-induced, induced by someone who is not a physician or not acting under her or his supervision, or induced by a physician under conditions that violate state laws governing abortions.
Author Info: LORRAINE V. KLERMAN, JACOB A. KLERMAN, The Gale Group Inc., Macmillan Reference USA, New York, Gale Encyclopedia of Public Health, 2002
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