We have all heard the scary stories about abortion, the hushed whispers about a taboo and sensitive subject. But times have changed and the word is not as scary or scandalous as it once was. Well, for the most part anyway. There is still plenty of controversy surrounding abortion, especially since the majority of abortions today are voluntary and elective rather than necessary, which has the politicians and the religious fanatics up in arms. But that’s a topic for another day. For now, here’s an overview of abortion and just a few of its wide-ranging aspects.
So What Is Abortion Exactly?
The word “abortion” can be traced to its Latin origins – abortio – which means to abort or deliver before full term or miscarry.
Before we get into further details of abortion, we must get our basics straight. An abortion, simply put, is the termination of a pregnancy. Abortion itself falls into two categories, induced and spontaneous.
An induced abortion is an abortion that must be carried out if the pregnancy is hampering the mother’s health in any way or if the pregnancy is in some kind of trouble. This is called a therapeutic abortion. If an abortion is carried out for any other reason apart from it saving the mother’s life or putting an end to a pregnancy that is not viable in the first place, it is termed an elective abortion. This means that the mother chooses to abort the pregnancy for reasons of her own even though there are no health concerns for either her or the baby.
On the other hand a spontaneous abortion, as you can guess from the name, occurs on its own or spontaneously when a pregnancy is threatened by a pregnancy complication and the body chooses to abort the foetus as it knows that the baby will not survive. A spontaneous abortion may also happen as a result of an accident or a bad fall. A spontaneous abortion is better known as a miscarriage.
The method and reasons for abortion may differ. But the gist is the same – an abortion involves removing the embryo and the placenta from the womb so that the pregnancy cannot continue. This may be achieved either with surgery or via medication. Following are the two main methods of abortion that are used throughout the world today.
Abortion can be achieved by surgical procedures such as dilatation and curettage (D&C) or manual vacuum aspiration (MVA). Both these procedures require a visit to a clinic or hospital and the procedure needs to be performed by a qualified doctor.
Medical or Non-surgical Abortion
When medication is used to induce an abortion, it is termed a medical or non-surgical abortion. This method of abortion can only be used in the pregnancy first trimester. You do not need to do a medical abortion at a clinic. The doctor you are consulting will prescribe the abortion pill which you can take when you get home. But you will have to keep in touch with the doctor and report your condition periodically.
Most abortions are conducted in the pregnancy first trimester as this is safest for the mother. Plus, for ethical reasons, some doctors do not like to perform an abortion after the pregnancy first trimester as they consider the foetus to be an actual baby by then and there are several issues about taking the baby’s life through the abortion.
But, of course, an exception is made and an abortion may be conducted in the later stages of pregnancy as well if the mother’s life is in jeopardy or if tests indicate that the pregnancy will not come to full term or that the baby will be born with life-threatening complications. Let’s look into some of the reasons that an abortion is considered.
Reasons for Therapeutic Abortion
- Pregnancy complications which will affect the health of the mother or cause the mother’s death are usually a pretty strong argument for a therapeutic abortion. In some countries where abortion is illegal for whatever reason, long-term studies proved that the lives of several women who died during pregnancy could have been saved simply by allowing an abortion.
- If prenatal testing shows that the baby will be born with severe abnormalities, the doctor will recommend a therapeutic abortion. In some cases, the abnormalities may allow the child to live but only with great difficulty and with a lot of medical and personal care and attention from the parents. This is then more of a personal call than a medical call, although most doctors will still suggest an abortion.
- Women who have existing medical conditions such as heart problems, very high blood pressure or cancer are generally in no condition to have a normal pregnancy or go through the rigors of childbirth. Even if the mother feels she is up to it, she may have to stop taking certain medications during her pregnancy in order to protect the baby, in which case her own health would deteriorate. And an unhealthy mother leads to an unhealthy pregnancy that is wrought with complications. This is a nobody-wins situation and it is very difficult to come to the decision to have a therapeutic abortion, but it must be done to save the mother’s life and prevent a difficult pregnancy.
- But pregnancy is not just about the physical hardships, as any mother will tell you. A woman has to be emotionally equipped to bring up a child. So if a doctor deems a woman psychologically unstable and knows that a woman is incapable of taking care of a child because she can barely take care of herself, a therapeutic abortion will generally be performed.
- Pregnancies with multiple embryos are usually at risk for complications since multiple embryos means that they all have to fight for the limited amounts of blood, nutrition and oxygen. A doctor will sometimes recommend aborting a few of the embryos so that the others have a better chance of surviving.
Reasons for Elective Abortion
This is one of the abortion reasons that have all the pro-life advocates up in arms. Most pregnancies are terminated because the baby is not wanted at that particular time for a variety of reasons. Following are some of the reasons that a pregnancy may be undesired or unwanted.
Already Have Children: Some women who get pregnant already have as many children as they want or can afford. This is especially true in third world countries. In such cases, the better option for the health and economic viability of the mother and her existing children is to get an abortion.
Unplanned Pregnancy: Then there are women who do not have a family and are economically stable but had no plans on getting pregnant and do not wish to have a baby as they are not ready or a baby will interfere with their own plans. An elective abortion is usually planned in such cases.
Teen Pregnancy: As the rates of teenage pregnancy soar, it comes as no surprise that this is one of the main reasons for abortion. Teens having babies can lead to lots of pregnancy complications, not to mention life complications. Even experts suggest either an abortion or giving the baby up for adoption since research has shown that women who have babies in their teens tend to quit school and take up low-paying jobs to support the baby, thus spending time away from their babies who are very likely (because of the lack of attention and their existence in a low-income environment) to get pregnant in their teens as well. Study after study has proven that this is the case in most teen pregnancies, which is why an abortion usually seems like the best option.
Female Foeticide: Sad but true. In many countries, a female child is still considered a bane. So when the ultrasound shows a girl child, the family will want an abortion. Very often, the mother is forced to undergo an abortion even if she wants to keep the baby.
Rape: Most rapists are not really bothered with protection. So unless the victim reports the rape and is prescribed an emergency contraceptive pill, there is a chance that she will get pregnant. And who would want to keep a baby that stemmed from such a horrific act of violence and degradation? While this is considered an elective abortion, there is a very thin line between elective and therapeutic in this scenario since the mother is psychologically traumatized by the very act of conception.
Is An Abortion Painful?
An abortion is not painful unless the surgical procedure is performed incorrectly or there is a reaction from the medication. Most women do not even feel the difference after they have had an abortion. Even in the case of spontaneous abortion, some women do not even know that the abortion has occurred unless they experience some spotting or bleeding, or when a routine test shows that the foetus is missing. (However, this is only the case in the pregnancy first trimester when the foetus is small enough to be ejected from the body with no apparent indications.)
If an abortion is performed in the later stages of pregnancy, there is very likely to be some physical pain or at least discomfort, depending on the procedure employed. A medical or non-surgical abortion can only be employed in the pregnancy first trimester. So any abortion in the pregnancy second trimester or pregnancy third trimester may involve some pain after the procedure. Since both general and local anesthesia are usually used, it is very unlikely that you will feel any pain while the procedure is actually being performed. After the surgery though, you may feel some period-like cramping which can be overcome with a combination of bed rest and painkillers.
But abortion is not just about the physical pain. The emotional and psychological repercussions of abortion are more strongly experienced than the abortion itself. Many women who have an abortion feel fine on the physical front, but they suffer from massive amounts of guilt, sorrow, anger, and emotional pain which they feel unable to share with loved ones since they hold themselves responsible. While this is not always the case, it is nevertheless recommended that all women who are thinking of getting an abortion or who have no choice in the matter undergo counseling before and after the procedure. Group therapy can be extremely helpful as it gives you the chance to speak to people who are actually in the same position as you, always a plus.
The experience of an abortion will differ from woman to woman based on her physical and emotional health, as well as the doctor she is seeing and the procedure she opts for. The best way to determine whether abortion is the right option for you and what kind of abortion procedure you should undertake is to meet a qualified doctor who can counsel and help you to reach an educated decision.