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Abortion

Abortion is defined as the termination of pregnancy by the removal or expulsion from the uterus of a fetus or embryo before it is viable. An abortion can occur spontaneously, in which case it is usually called a miscarriage, or it can be purposely induced. The term abortion most commonly refers to the induced abortion of a human pregnancy.

Abortion, when induced in the developed world in accordance with local law, is among the safest procedures in medicine. However, unsafe abortions (those performed by persons without proper training or outside of a medical environment) result in approximately 70 thousand maternal deaths and 5 million disabilities per year globally. An estimated 42 million abortions are performed globally each year, with 20 million of those performed unsafely. The incidence of abortion has declined worldwide as access to family planning education and contraceptive services has increased. Forty percent of the world’s women have access to induced abortions (within gestational limits).

Induced abortion has a long history and has been facilitated by various methods including herbal abortifacients, the use of sharpened tools, physical trauma, and other traditional methods. Contemporary medicine utilizes medications and surgical procedures to induce abortion. The legality, prevalence, cultural and religious status of abortion vary substantially around the world. In many parts of the world there is prominent and divisive public controversy over the ethical and legal issues of abortion. Abortion and abortion-related issues feature prominently in the national politics in many nations, often involving the opposing pro-life and pro-choice movements (both self-named).

 

Types


Induced

Approximately 205 million pregnancies occur each year worldwide. Over a third are unintended and about a fifth end in induced abortion. Most abortions result from unintended pregnancies. A pregnancy can be intentionally aborted in several ways. The manner selected often depends upon the gestational age of the embryo or fetus, which increases in size as the pregnancy progresses. Specific procedures may also be selected due to legality, regional availability, and doctor or patient preference.

Reasons for procuring induced abortions are typically characterized as either therapeutic or elective. An abortion is medically referred to as a therapeutic abortion when it is performed to save the life of the pregnant woman; prevent harm to the woman’s physical or mental health; terminate a pregnancy where indications are that the child will have a significantly increased chance of premature morbidity or mortality or be otherwise disabled; or to selectively reduce the number of fetuses to lessen health risks associated with multiple pregnancy. An abortion is referred to as an elective or voluntary abortion when it is performed at the request of the woman for non-medical reasons.

Spontaneous
Main article: Miscarriage

Spontaneous abortion, also known as miscarriage, is the unintentional expulsion of an embryo or fetus before the 20th to 22nd week of gestation. A pregnancy that ends before 37 weeks of gestation resulting in a live-born infant is known as a “premature birth” or a “preterm birth”. When a fetus dies in utero after viability, or during delivery, it is usually termed “stillborn”. Premature births and stillbirths are generally not considered to be miscarriages although usage of these terms can sometimes overlap.

Only 30 to 50% of conceptions progress past the first trimester. The vast majority of those that do not progress are lost before the woman is aware of the conception, and many pregnancies are lost before medical practitioners have the ability to detect the presence of an embryo. Between 15% and 30% of known pregnancies end in clinically apparent miscarriage, depending upon the age and health of the pregnant woman.

The most common cause of spontaneous abortion during the first trimester is chromosomal abnormalities of the embryo/fetus, accounting for at least 50% of sampled early pregnancy losses. Other causes include vascular disease (such as lupus), diabetes, other hormonal problems, infection, and abnormalities of the uterus. Advancing maternal age and a patient history of previous spontaneous abortions are the two leading factors associated with a greater risk of spontaneous abortion. A spontaneous abortion can also be caused by accidental trauma; intentional trauma or stress to cause miscarriage is considered induced abortion or feticide.

 

Induction methods

Medical
Main article: Medical abortion

Medical abortions are those induced with pharmaceuticals, categorically called abortifacients. In 2005, medical abortions constituted 13% of all abortions in the United States; in 2010 the figure increased to 17%. Combined regimens include methotrexate or mifepristone, followed by a prostaglandin (either misoprostol or gemeprost: misoprostol is used in the U.S.; gemeprost is used in the UK and Sweden.) When used within 49 days gestation, approximately 92% of women undergoing medical abortion with a combined regimen completed it without surgical intervention. Misoprostol can be used alone, but has a lower efficacy rate than combined regimens. In cases of failure of medical abortion, surgical abortion must be used to complete the procedure.

Surgical

 A vacuum aspiration abortion at eight weeks gestational age (six weeks after fertilization).
1: Amniotic sac
2: Embryo
3: Uterine lining
4: Speculum
5: Vacurette
6: Attached to a suction pump

In the first 15 weeks, suction-aspiration or vacuum abortion is the most common method. Manual vacuum aspiration (MVA) abortion consists of removing the fetus or embryo, placenta and membranes by suction using a manual syringe, while electric vacuum aspiration (EVA) abortion uses an electric pump. These techniques are comparable, and differ in the mechanism used to apply suction, how early in pregnancy they can be used, and whether cervical dilation is necessary. MVA, also known as “mini-suction” and “menstrual extraction”, can be used in very early pregnancy, and does not require cervical dilation. Dilation and curettage (D&C), the second most common method of surgical abortion, is a standard gynecological procedure performed for a variety of reasons, including examination of the uterine lining for possible malignancy, investigation of abnormal bleeding, and abortion. Curettage refers to cleaning the walls of the uterus with a curette. The World Health Organization recommends this procedure, also called sharp curettage, only when MVA is unavailable.

From the 15th week until approximately the 26th, other techniques must be used. Dilation and evacuation (D&E) consists of opening the cervix of the uterus and emptying it using surgical instruments and suction. Premature labor and delivery can be induced with prostaglandin; this can be coupled with injecting the amniotic fluid with hypertonic solutions containing saline or urea. After the 16th week of gestation, abortions can also be induced by intact dilation and extraction (IDX) (also called intrauterine cranial decompression), which requires surgical decompression of the fetus’s head before evacuation. IDX is sometimes called “partial-birth abortion,” which has been federally banned in the United States.

In the third trimester of pregnancy, abortion may be performed by IDX as described above, induction of labor, or by hysterotomy. Hysterotomy abortion is a procedure similar to a caesarean section and is performed under general anesthesia. It requires a smaller incision than a caesarean section and is used during later stages of pregnancy.

Other methods
Historically, a number of herbs reputed to possess abortifacient properties have been used in folk medicine: tansy, pennyroyal, black cohosh, and the now-extinct silphium (see history of abortion). The use of herbs in such a manner can cause serious—even lethal—side effects, such as multiple organ failure, and is not recommended by physicians.

 Bas-relief at Angkor Wat, 
Cambodia, c. 1150, depicting a demon inducing
an abortion by pounding the abdomen 
of a pregnant woman with a pestle.

Abortion is sometimes attempted by causing trauma to the abdomen. The degree of force, if severe, can cause serious internal injuries without necessarily succeeding in inducing miscarriage. In Southeast Asia, there is an ancient tradition of attempting abortion through forceful abdominal massage. One of the bas reliefs decorating the temple of Angkor Wat in Cambodia depicts a demon performing such an abortion upon a woman who has been sent to the underworld.

Reported methods of unsafe, self-induced abortion include misuse of misoprostol, and insertion of non-surgical implements such as knitting needles and clothes hangers into the uterus. These methods are rarely seen in developed countries where surgical abortion is legal and available.

 

Safety

The health risks of abortion depend on whether the procedure is performed safely or unsafely. The World Health Organization defines unsafe abortions as those performed by unskilled individuals, with hazardous equipment, or in unsanitary facilities. Abortion, when performed in the developed world in accordance with local law, is among the safest procedures in medicine. In the US, the risk of maternal death from abortion in 1999 was 0.567 per 100,000 procedures, making abortion approximately 12.5 times safer than childbirth (7.06 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births). The risk of abortion-related mortality increases with increasing gestational age, but remains lower than that of childbirth through at least 21 weeks’ gestation.

Vacuum aspiration in the first trimester is the safest method of surgical abortion, and can be performed in a primary care office, abortion clinic, or hospital. Complications are rare and can include uterine perforation, pelvic infection, and retained products of conception requiring a second procedure to evacuate. Preventive antibiotics (such as doxycycline or metronidazole) are typically given before elective abortion, as they are believed to substantially reduce the risk of postoperative uterine infection. Complications after second-trimester abortion are similar to those after first-trimester abortion, and depend somewhat on the method chosen. A 2008 Cochrane Library review found that dilation and evacuation was safer than other means of second-trimester abortion.

Medical abortion with mifepristone and misoprostol is effective through 49 days of gestational age. It has been used in women up to 63 days of gestational age, albeit with an increased risk of failure (requiring surgical abortion). Medical abortion is generally considered as safe as surgical abortion in the first trimester, but is associated with more pain and a lower success rate (requiring surgical abortion). Overall, the risk of uterine infection is lower with medical than with surgical abortion

Unsafe abortion
Main article: Unsafe abortion

In contrast, unsafe abortion is a major cause of injury and death among women worldwide. Although data are imprecise, it is estimated that approximately 20 million unsafe abortions are performed annually, with 97% taking place in developing countries. Unsafe abortion is believed to result in approximately 68,000 deaths and millions of injuries annually. Groups such as the World Health Organization have advocated a public-health approach to addressing unsafe abortion, emphasizing the legalization of abortion, the training of medical personnel, and ensuring access to reproductive-health services.

Women seeking to terminate their pregnancies sometimes resort to unsafe methods, particularly when access to legal abortion is restricted. They may attempt to self-abort or rely on another person who does not have proper medical training or access to proper facilities. This has a tendency to lead to severe complications, such as incomplete abortion, sepsis, hemorrhage, and damage to internal organs.

The legality of abortion is one of the main determinants of its safety. Restrictive abortion laws are associated with a high rate of unsafe abortions. For example, the 1996 legalization of abortion in South Africa had an immediate positive impact on the frequency of abortion-related complications, with abortion-related deaths dropping by more than 90%. In addition, a lack of access to effective contraception contributes to unsafe abortion. It has been estimated that the incidence of unsafe abortion could be reduced by as much as 73% without any change in abortion laws if modern family planning and maternal health services were readily available globally.

Forty percent of the world’s women are able to access therapeutic and elective abortions within gestational limits, while an additional 35 percent have access to legal abortion if they meet certain physical, mental, or socioeconomic criteria. While maternal mortality seldom results from safe abortions, unsafe abortions result in 70,000 deaths and 5 million disabilities per year. Complications of unsafe abortion account for approximately an eighth of maternal mortalities worldwide, though this varies by region. Secondary infertility caused by an unsafe abortion affects an estimated 24 million women. Although the global rate of abortion declined from 45.6 million in 1995 to 41.6 million in 2003, unsafe procedures still accounted for 48% of all abortions performed in 2003. Health education, access to family planning, and improvements in health care during and after abortion have been proposed to address this phenomenon.

Breast cancer hypothesis
Some studies have suggested an association between abortion and breast cancer. Proponents of a causal link between the two suggest that the interruption of normal breast development during pregnancy leaves immature cells that are more cancer-prone in the breasts. However, major medical bodies, including the World Health Organization, the US National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, have all concluded on the basis of existing evidence that abortion does not cause breast cancer. The concept of a causal link between induced abortion and breast cancer is currently promoted primarily by pro-life groups.

Mental health
The current scientific consensus holds that there is no causal relationship between abortion and mental-health problems. Some factors in a woman’s life, such as emotional attachment to the pregnancy, lack of social support, or pre-existing psychiatric illness increase the likelihood of experiencing negative feelings after an abortion. The American Psychological Association has concluded that a single abortion is not a threat to women’s mental health, and that women are no more likely to have mental-health problems after a first-trimester abortion than after carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term. Similarly, abortions performed after the first trimester because of fetal abnormalities are not thought to cause mental-health problems.

Some studies have disagreed with above conclusions; other researchers and professional organizations have noted that such studies typically fail to use appropriate comparison groups, do not adequately account for confounding variables, improperly account for pre-existing mental health complications or and their degree of severity. Some proposed negative psychological effects of abortion have been referred to by pro-life advocates as a separate condition called “post-abortion syndrome”, which is not recognized by any medical or psychological organization.

 

Incidence

There are two commonly used methods of measuring the incidence of abortion:

  • Abortion rate – number of abortions per 1000 women between 15 and 44 years of age
  • Abortion ratio – number of abortions out of 100 known pregnancies (excluding miscarriages and stillbirths)

The number of abortions performed worldwide has decreased between 1995 and 2003 from 45.6 million to 41.6 million, which means a decrease in abortion rate per annum from 35 to 29 per 1000 women. The greatest decrease has occurred in the developed world with a drop from 39 to 26 per 1000 women in comparison to the developing world, which had a decrease from 34 to 29 per 1000 women. In 2003, the estimated global abortion ratio was 31.

On average, the incidence of abortion is similar in countries with restrictive abortion laws and those with more liberal access to abortion. However, restrictive abortion laws are associated with increases in the percentage of abortions which are performed unsafely. The unsafe abortion rate in developing countries is partly attributable to lack of access to modern contraceptives; according to the Guttmacher Institute, providing access to contraceptives would result in about 14.5 million fewer unsafe abortions and 38,000 fewer deaths from unsafe abortion annually worldwide.

The incidence of induced abortion varies extensively worldwide. The ratio of induced abortion ranges from ten to thirty percent; figures in the developing world vary widely and are often incomplete.

By gestational age and method
Abortion rates also vary depending on the stage of pregnancy and the method practiced. In 2003, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 26% of abortions in the United States were known to have been obtained at less than 6 weeks’ gestation, 18% at 7 weeks, 15% at 8 weeks, 4.1% at 16 through 20 weeks and 1.4% at more than 21 weeks. 90.9% of these were classified as having been done by “curettage” (suction-aspiration, Dilation and curettage, Dilation and evacuation), 7.7% by “medical” means (mifepristone), 0.4% by “intrauterine instillation” (saline or prostaglandin), and 1.0% by “other” (including hysterotomy and hysterectomy). According to the CDC, due to data collection difficulties the data must be viewed as tentative and some fetal deaths reported beyond 20 weeks may be natural deaths erroneously classified as abortions if the removal of the fetus is accomplished by the same procedure as an induced abortion.

The Guttmacher Institute estimated there were 2,200 intact dilation and extraction procedures in the US during 2000; this accounts for 0.17% of the total number of abortions performed that year. Similarly, in England and Wales in 2006, 89% of terminations occurred at or under 12 weeks, 9% between 13 to 19 weeks, and 1.5% at or over 20 weeks. 64% of those reported were by vacuum aspiration, 6% by D&E, and 30% were medical. Later abortions are more common in China, India, and other developing countries than in developed countries.


Personal and social factors
A 1998 study from 27 countries on the reasons women seek to terminate their pregnancies concluded that the most common reason women cited for having an abortion was to postpone childbearing to a more suitable time or to focus energies and resources on existing children. The most commonly reported reasons were socioeconomic factors such as being unable to afford a child either in terms of the direct costs of raising a child or the loss of income while she is caring for the child, lack of support from the father, inability to afford additional children, desire to provide schooling for existing children, disruption of education, relationship problems with a husband or partner, the perception that she is too young, and unemployment. A 2004 study in which American women at clinics answered a questionnaire yielded similar results. A 1998 survey found risk to maternal health cited as the main reason by 5-10% in seven countries and by 20-38% in three (Kenya, Bangladesh and India). A 1997 U.S. report cited maternal health the “most important reason” for their decision by 3% of women and another 3% cited concern that the fetus had a health problem. In a 2004 survey-based U.S. study, 1% of women having abortions became pregnant as a result of rape and 0.5% as a result of incest. Another American study in 2002 concluded that 54% of women who had an abortion were using a form of contraception at the time of becoming pregnant while 46% were not. Inconsistent use was reported by 49% of those using condoms and 76% of those using the combined oral contraceptive pill; 42% of those using condoms reported failure through slipping or breakage. The Guttmacher Institute estimated that “most abortions in the United States are obtained by minority women” because minority women “have much higher rates of unintended pregnancy.”

Some abortions are undergone as the result of societal pressures. These might include the stigmatization of disabled people, preference for children of a specific sex, disapproval of single motherhood, insufficient economic support for families, lack of access to or rejection of contraceptive methods, or efforts toward population control (such as China’s one-child policy). These factors can sometimes result in compulsory abortion or sex-selective abortion.

 

History

Main article: History of abortion

Induced abortion has long history, and can be traced back to civilizations as varied as China under Shennong (c. 2700 BCE), Ancient Egypt with its Ebers Papyrus (c. 1550 BCE), and the Roman Empire in the time of Juvenal (c. 200 CE). There is evidence to suggest that 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.

Some medical scholars and abortion opponents have suggested that the Hippocratic Oath forbade Ancient Greek physicians from performing abortions; other scholars disagree with this interpretation, and note the medical texts of Hippocratic Corpus contain descriptions of abortive techniques and notes on the risks they posed to a woman’s health. In Christianity, Pope Sixtus V (1585–90) is noted as the first Pope to declare that abortion is homicide regardless of the stage of pregnancy; the Church had previously been divided on whether if believed that abortion was murder, and did not begin vigorously opposing abortion until the 19th century. Islamic tradition has traditionally permitted abortion up until a point in time when Muslims believe the soul enters the fetus, considered by various theologians to be at conception, 40 days after conception, 120 days after conception, or quickening. However, abortion is largely heavily restricted or forbidden in areas of high Islamic faith such as the Middle East and North Africa.

In Europe and North America, abortion techniques advanced starting in the 17th century. However, conservatism by most physicians with regards to sexual matters prevented the wide expansion of safe abortion techniques. Other medical practitioners in addition to some physicians advertised their services, and they were not widely regulated until the 19th century, when the practice was banned in both the United States and the United Kingdom. Church groups as well as physicians were highly influential in anti-abortion movements. In the US, abortion was more dangerous than childbirth until about 1930 when incremental improvements in abortion procedures relative to childbirth made abortion safer. 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. Beginning in the second half of the twentieth century, abortion was legalized in a greater number of countries.

Source : http://en.wikipedia.org/

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