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abortion, expulsion of the products of conception before the embryo or fetus is viable. Any interruption of human pregnancy prior to the 28th week is known as abortion. The term spontaneous abortion, or miscarriage, is used to signify delivery of a nonviable embryo or fetus due to fetal or maternal factors, as opposed to purposely induced abortion. Therapeutic abortion is an induced abortion performed to preserve the health or life of the mother.

Spontaneous Abortion (Miscarriage)

Early spontaneous abortion (the most prevalent) is usually due to fetal malformations or chromosomal abnormalities. Spontaneous abortion during the last two thirds of pregnancy is more likely to be due to maternal factors, for example abnormalities of the cervix or uterus, insufficient progesterone, sexually transmitted diseases that affect the genital tract, endocrine dysfunction (as in hypothyroidism and diabetes mellitus), or severe emotional trauma. Immunological reactions, in which maternal antibodies mistake the fetus for foreign tissue, have been implicated in recurrent, or habitual spontaneous abortions. It is estimated that at least 20% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage (estimates range from 15% to 75%). Most occur in the first two weeks after conception, and in many cases the mother is not aware of the pregnancy.

Induced Abortion

Abortion can be induced for medical reasons or because of an elective decision to end the pregnancy. Procedures for inducing abortion include vacuum suction (the most common, used in the early stages of pregnancy), dilatation and evacuation (D and E), induction (injection of abortifacients such as prostaglandins into the uterus), and hysterotomy (a surgical procedure similar to a cesarean section, used later in pregnancy, especially when the woman's life is in danger). The “abortion pill,” the drug RU-486 (mifepristone), was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in the United States in 2000. It is used within the first seven weeks of pregnancy. A second drug is taken two days later to start uterine contractions and complete the abortion. The drugs methotrexate and misoprostol have also been used experimentally to end early pregnancies.

History of Abortion

Abortion induced by herbs or manipulation was used as a form of birth control in ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome and probably earlier. In the Middle Ages in Western Europe it was generally accepted in the early months of pregnancy. However, in the 19th cent. opinion about abortion changed. In 1869 the Roman Catholic Church prohibited abortion under any circumstances. In England and in the United States in the 19th cent. stringent antiabortion laws were passed.

Attitudes toward abortion became more liberal in the 20th cent. By the 1970s, abortion had been legalized in most European countries and Japan; in the United States, under a 1973 Supreme Court ruling (see Roe v. Wade), abortions are permitted during the first six months of pregnancy. Abortion remains a controversial issue in the United States, however, and in 1977 Congress barred the use of Medicaid funds for abortion except for therapeutic reasons and in certain other specified instances. Several state legislatures passed restrictive abortion laws in hope that the Supreme Court would overturn Roe v. Wade, but in 1992 the court reaffirmed the basic principles of the 1973 decision. A number of states have continued to enact restrictions on abortion or abortion clinics in attempts to end abortions, but in 2016 the Supreme Court struck down a Texas law for placing medically unjustifiable restrictions on abortion clinics.

From 1995 to 2000 the U.S. Congress repeatedly passed, but President Bill Clinton vetoed, a bill that would ban a rare late-term method of abortion called by its critics “partial-birth abortion.” Subsequent attempts by many U.S. states to ban this method were contested in the courts, and in 2000 the Supreme Court voided such laws that do not include an exception when the health of the mother is endangered. A federal bill banning the procedure was passed again in 2003 and signed into law by President George W. Bush. The law was quickly challenged in the courts, and a federal judge declared it unconstitutional in 2004 in part because of its lack of a health exception, but the Supreme Court, with two new conservative members appointed by President Bush, upheld the law in 2007. U.S. opponents of abortion have used more militant tactics at times in attempts to disrupt the operations of facilities that perform abortions, and a few extremists have resorted to bombings and assassination. Over the last decade, individual states have continued to test the limits of restrictions on abortion, with challenges to two laws--one from Mississippi and one from Texas--expected to reach the Supreme Court during its 2021-22 term.

In India, the abortion of female fetuses by couples desiring a male child led (1994) to criminal penalties for prenatal testing when done solely to determine the sex of the fetus; such tests have been banned in parts of China for the same reason. Differences in the number of boys and girls born suggest that the use of abortion to select for a male child may be more common in parts of E and S Asia, the Caucasus, and SE Europe.


See M. Muldoon, The Abortion Debate in the United States and Canada: A Source Book (1991); J. M. Riddle, Contraception and Abortion from the Ancient World to the Renaissance (1994); Boston Women's Health Book Collective, Our Bodies, Ourselves for the New Century (1998); J. Risen and J. L. Thomas, Wrath of Angels (1998).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2022, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.


miscarriage of birth; the artificially induced termination of pregnancy leading to the destruction of the foetus. While abortion is officially prohibited in some societies, in many societies, including most modern societies, it is recognized as a legitimate way of terminating unwanted pregnancies. In some modern societies the incidence of recorded abortions approaches that for live births. In recent years, debates about abortion have centred on the rights of mothers as well as the rights of the unborn child. In this way the debate about abortion is also bound up with wider political struggles in modern societies, e.g. ideologies of the NEW RIGHT, as well as the WOMEN'S LIBERATION MOVEMENT. See also REPRODUCTIVE TECHNOLOGIES.
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000


(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Heartfelt feelings about abortion have both galvanized and polarized the religious community. Fundamentalist Protestants and traditional Roman Catholics, people who normally would have little in common theologically, find themselves marching together in picket lines across the street from pro-choice rallies. Conservative Jews join hands with evangelical Christians to sponsor local chapters of Operation Rescue in an attempt to shut down neighborhood abortion clinics. In many communities, women who have had abortions are either ostracized by their religious family or live lives consumed by guilt and feelings of hypocrisy when they attempt to keep their secret hidden.

At issue is the religious definition of when life begins. People who believe that life begins at conception, and that this life is morally and legally independent from the mother, generally label themselves pro-life. Others believe that life begins at a later point—for many, that point is reached when the fetus becomes viable, meaning that it could survive outside the mother's body. Many people try to take into account concerns such as the health, survival, and quality of life for both mother and fetus. Those who believe that abortion is an issue best decided by the pregnant woman label themselves pro-choice.

Religious people on both sides of the issue consider life sacred and a gift from God. As always, there are those who use religious arguments to buttress emotional positions. From the political/religious right comes the argument that the miracle of life is in God's hands and God's hands alone. From the political/religious left comes the argument that with the gift of life comes the God-given responsibility to care for that life, a responsibility that can only belong to the woman who carries the life within her own body.

Both the Washington Times and Christianity Today magazine credit the Republican stand on "abortion and family values" with the party's political victories in the 2002 elections. But FoxNews exit polls revealed that only 16 percent of voters polled were active in the "Conservative Christian political movement."

Some have attempted compromises, suggesting that abortion is wrong except in certain cases, such as when the woman has become pregnant as a result of rape or incest, or when carrying a child to term will endanger the health of the mother. Many opponents of abortion urge women with unwanted pregnancies to consider adoption rather than abortion.

One of the major problems confronting people who want to know what various religions say about the issue is that in almost every case, the "rank and file" disagree among themselves. The "official" Roman Catholic position concerning birth control, for instance, is that artificial birth control is forbidden by the church. But unofficial polls repeatedly show that the overwhelming opinion of American Catholics is at odds with church doctrine. Even many priests, asked for their opinion "off the record," testify that they are in disagreement with the Vatican. In other words, it can be said that the Catholic Church says artificial birth control is a sin, but Catholics do not. Likewise, the official positions held by various religions concerning abortion may not reflect the views of a number of their adherents.

Below are some of the positions held by various religions.

In Strict Opposition

"Abortion is wrong under any circumstance." This position is held by Buddhist and Hindu sects that have chosen to commit themselves on the question. Their feeling is that all life is sacred. Many Buddhists and Hindus will not destroy any life, even going to the trouble of sweeping the streets before them to prevent stepping on insects. Destroying life builds bad Karma for the next life (see Buddhism; Hinduism; Jainism). According to these beliefs, abortion at any stage of development is wrong.

This position is also held by the Roman Catholic Church and the Jehovah's Witnesses, along with some Baptist denominations (see entries under each). They don't use the same justification as the Buddhists and Hindus, because they don't believe in reincarnation. But their official statements indicate the belief that all life is sacred and that the taking of any human life, at any stage of development, is a sin.

Some Exceptions

"Abortion is wrong unless the mother's life is threatened." This position has been, since 1989, the official stance of the Anglican Church. It is also the stand taken by most Presbyterian churches, the United Church of Christ, and most Lutheran churches. Some add that the rape of the mother justifies abortion.

A Middle Ground

"Abortion is allowed up to a certain point of fetal development." This position is held by Sikhs and some Muslims, as well as by the Supreme Court of the United States. The problem becomes trying to determine when that point is reached. Some Muslims, for instance, place it at 40 days, others at 120 days. This is when the fetus is said to be "ensouled." After the soul is melded with the body, abortion is considered to be murder. Sikhs don't go so far as to set a date. They just allow abortion at any time up to a "medically safe" point.

A Pro-choice Position

"Abortion is a decision best left up to the mother." This position is held by the Unitarian Universalist Society and the Reform branch of Judaism. It is probably safe to say that, at least in America, it is also the quiet position held by the majority of women in the religions discussed so far. The feeling in these groups is that abortion is simply too important and personal a choice for anyone to make for anyone else.

Some religious groups have simply refused to go on record with an opinion. Conservative Jews, for instance, are divided on the subject. Orthodox Jews advise women to consult with their rabbi before coming to a decision.

The traditional American Indian and Eskimo belief is that abortion is wrong, but the infant can and should be adopted by members of the tribe if, for any reason, the mother cannot or will not raise the child.

A variety of websites are listed below for more in-depth study concerning religious positions on this very personal and controversial subject.

The Religion Book: Places, Prophets, Saints, and Seers © 2004 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



termination of pregnancy as a result of the expulsion of the fetus before the expiration of 28 weeks, at which time the human fetus is not yet viable. According to the official medical terminology used in the Soviet Union, abortion refers to pregnancies interrupted within the first 15 weeks, before the complete formation of the placenta. Interruption of pregnancy from the 16th through the 28th week is considered premature birth, the birth of an immature fetus, if the fetus survives until the mother’s discharge from the medical facility; otherwise it is also considered abortion.

Abortion may occur spontaneously or be induced artificially.

Spontaneous abortion. Spontaneous abortion, the interruption of pregnancy without any interference by the woman herself or by any other person, is encountered in 5 to 15 percent of all pregnancies. Illnesses in the mother or the fetus may cause the abortion; however, an exact demarcation between these causes is not always possible in practice. The illnesses in the mother that most often result in abortion include severe contagious diseases (for example, typhus and typhoid, malaria, erysipelas, lobar pneumonia, and influenza); chronic diseases (for example, syphilis, tuberculosis, and toxoplasmosis); hypertension, kidney diseases, serious heart trouble, endocrine disorders, psychic trauma, and so forth; chronic poisoning (by such substances as mercury, benzine, nicotine, alcohol, and manganese); incompatibility between the blood of the mother and that of the fetus primarily as a result of the Rh factor; disorders of the female sex organs (for example, swelling or active inflammation of the sexual organs, or infantilism); and reduced vitamin content, especially of vitamins A and E, in the pregnant woman’s diet. Abortion may also be connected with chromosome damage.

Prophylaxis consists of curing the basic illness that may give rise to abortion.

An abortion begins with protracted pains in the lower abdomen and small of the back. Hospitalization is required if there is bloody emission. At this stage the proper treatment—complete physical and psychological rest, abstention from sex, hormonal preparations, or doses of vitamins A and E, as indicated—may make it possible to save the pregnancy. If bleeding becomes excessive, the pregnancy usually cannot be saved; complications may develop that threaten the mother’s life (heavy bleeding, spread of infection, and so forth), requiring surgical intervention.

Induced abortion. Induced abortion is the interruption of pregnancy as a direct result of action affecting the fetus or the organism of the pregnant woman.

The abortion operation consists either of removing the fetal embryo and scraping the uterine walls with a special obstetric spoon or scraper, or of using suction by means of devices that create a negative pressure (vacuum method).

Administering certain medicinal substances in order to induce abortion is not only unproductive but even harmful, for it may poison the woman’s body. The use of hot baths, syringes, and the like with the same aim may complicate the performance of a subsequent abortion operation.

The frequency of complications varies from 2 to 30 percent; they usually result from nonhospital abortions. During an operation, bleeding or injury to the cervix or uterine walls may occur, and in the postoperative period there may be inflammation of the uterus and the adjoining tissues and organs. The long-term consequence of abortion is basically the disturbance of the hormonal and menstrual functions (2 to 28 percent of cases), often leading to infertility; about 30 percent of female infertility cases have this cause. Chronic inflammation of the internal sex organs may also occur. Weakness during labor and asphyxiation of the fetus at time of birth are found more often among women who have had abortions. Bleeding in the postnatal period is five times more frequent and adherence of the placenta is four times more frequent. In light of the harm done by abortion to women who do not wish to have children, recourse to contraception is recommended.

In all capitalist countries except Japan, abortion is permitted only for medical reasons, although in Sweden it is also allowed for social reasons. Abortion was forbidden in prerevolutionary Russia. After the establishment of Soviet power, in view of the economic ruin of the country and the precarious material circumstances of the population, the government made abortion legal on November 18, 1920. As a result, the mortality rate from abortions fell from 4 percent to 0.28 percent. On June 27, 1936, a decree of the Central Executive Committee and the Council of People’s Commissars of the USSR was published, titled “On the prohibition of abortions, the increase of material aid to prospective mothers, the establishment of government support for large families, the expansion of maternity homes, child-care centers, and nurseries, the strengthening of criminal penalties for nonpayment of alimony, and several changes in the laws on divorce,” which allowed abortions to be performed only for medical reasons. The number of abortions in the country in 1937 as compared with 1935 fell by a factor of more than three, but in subsequent years the number of abortions began to rise again, mainly as a result of nonhospital abortions, which accounted for 80 to 90 percent of the total. Taking into account the higher cultural level of the population, the relatively high birthrate, and the natural growth of the population, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR published a decree on November 23, 1955, entitled “On the annulment of the prohibition against abortions” which allowed women to make their own conscious choice on the question of parenthood. The decree states that in the future the way to ensure a reduction in the number of abortions should be by the further development of explanatory, educational government measures to promote parenthood. In accordance with the decree, abortions may be performed at the wish of the woman, but only at a medical facility, unless there are contraindications regarding her health. Contraindications may be gonorrhea, inflammation of the sexual organs, suppurative processes a lapse of less than six months since the previous abortion, or a pregnancy of more than 12 weeks. If continued pregnancy threatens the health of the woman or the unborn child because of active tuberculosis or certain cardiovascular diseases, blood diseases, and nervous or mental disorders, an abortion may be performed even after 12 weeks of pregnancy. Abortion is considered illegal and criminally punishable if it is performed, even by a doctor, somewhere other than a hospital, maternity home, or other stationary medical institution; if it is performed by a person who does not have a higher education in medicine; or if the operation is performed in a pregnancy of more than 12 weeks. In cases where there are other contraindications regarding artificial termination of pregnancy, abortion is also considered illegal regardless of what actions aimed at terminating pregnancy are used.

The penalty specified for an illegal abortion performed by a doctor is loss of liberty for up to one year, corrective labor for the same period, or abrogation of the right to practice medicine (Criminal Code of the RSFSR, article 116). If the crime is committed by a person who does not have a higher education in medicine, a stricter penalty for illegal abortion is set—loss of liberty for up to two years or corrective labor for a one-year term. A higher penalty—loss of liberty for up to eight years—is fixed in the case of an abortion performed, whether by a doctor or by a person not trained medically, if the crime is committed by the guilty party more than once or if the abortion results in the death of the woman or in other serious consequences.

Legal abortion presupposes the consent of the pregnant woman to the interruption of the pregnancy. If the abortion is done without her consent, the offense is deemed premeditated grave bodily injury. The percentage of nonhospital abortions in the USSR after removal of the ban on abortions fell from 80–84 in 1955 to 15.3 in 1967, and the mortality rate from abortions was reduced by more than ten times.

After World War II a government organization for planned parenthood was created in nearly every country, including the United States, England, Canada, West Germany, and Italy. A similar organization was set up in the UN as well. The activity of these organizations may be summarized as the search for effective and convenient means of contraception and the effort to inform the population of how to use them. However, such methods in the struggle to reduce the number of abortions cannot be considered effective without government measures aimed at raising the material and cultural level of the population and promoting parenthood.


Rusin, Ia. I. Abort. [Yaroslavl,] 1946.
Strumilin, S. G. “K probleme rozhdaemosti v robochei srede.” In Problemy ekonomiki truda. Moscow, 1957.
Nikonchik, O. K. “Problema kontratseptsii i organizatsiia bor’by s abortami v SSSR.” Akusherstvo i ginekologiia, 1959, no. 6.
Sadvokasova, E. A. “Nekotorye sotsial’no-gigienicheskie aspekty izucheniia aborta.” Sovetskoe zdravookhranenie, 1963, no. 3.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


The spontaneous or induced expulsion of the fetus prior to the time of viability, most often during the first 20 weeks of the human gestation period.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


A woman that had this experience is most likely to have many dreams about it. Even though the dream may be disturbing or anxiety-provoking, it is a healing dream. It is possible that in your dream state you are working toward acceptance and are resolving any unconscious (and conscious) feelings. If a man is having this dream, it usually means that he is experiencing guilt feelings and may be anticipating failure of some kind. If a woman who has not had this experience is having this dream, it may be a warning about her health or may indicate that she is feeling significant anxiety about current endeavors.
Bedside Dream Dictionary by Silvana Amar Copyright © 2007 by Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.
References in periodicals archive ?
There was a sig- nificantly higher rate of complete abortion (56.3%) among the women who received the second dose of misoprostol (1600 mcg) comparing with those re- ceiving 800 mcg of the drug (43.7%) (P less than 0.05).
For example, women who have had a missed abortion (embryonic demise or anembryonic gestation) are less likely to complete with expectant management than women with an in complete abortion. Efficacy rates for different types of EPL are shown in TABLE W1, available at jfponline.com.
(14.) An average value for the frequency of complete abortion with RU 486 alone is approx.
98% induced abortions were on social grounds 91.6% had complete abortion. Check curettage was done for 8.3% with incomplete abortion.
Since 1996, more countries have experienced a decline in abortion rates than an increase, among those with complete abortion counts and trend data.
Upon the initial visit and enrollment in the study, women were counseled about the need to return for their follow-up appointments to confirm a complete abortion and also told to return to the facility at any time if they felt extraordinary pain or bleeding.
Among women who took misoprostol at home, the proportion who had a complete abortion ranged from 86% (in India) to 97% (in Albania); the average success rate was 90%.
A previous study in a Latin American country where abortion was illegal documented a similar MA protocol involving two follow-up visits; providers seemed particularly eager to ensure that women had a complete abortion as soon as possible, (19) likely because of the fear that women might seek care at a different clinic if they had prolonged bleeding or other unexpected symptoms.
The measure of "success" was whether use of the drug resulted in a complete abortion, defined by researchers as the "passing of the products of conception without needing vacuum aspiration or dilatation and curettage during the follow up period." If any tissue remained in the uterus, if the child remained, living or dead, the "treatment" was considered a failure and the woman was to undergo a "surgical termination of pregnancy."
ACOG endorsed the intravaginal use of 800 mcg misoprostol as part of the off-label regimen in a Practice Bulletin issued in October 2005, noting that it "decreases the time to expulsion, results in fewer side effects, and improves complete abortion rates when compared with oral administration of a 400-mcg dose of misoprostol." Data for that include a decade-old landmark study (N.
Complete abortion took an average of 18 hours for women in the vaginal misoprostol group, 21 hours for those who received intra-amniotic prostaglandin and 31 hours for those who took oral misoprostol.