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abortion 2

ABORTION. The loss of a fetus before it is able to live outside the womb is called abortion. When abortion occurs spontaneously, it is often called a miscarriage. Abortion can also be intentionally caused, or induced. Induced abortion is regarded as a moral issue in some cultures. In others it is seen as an acceptable way to end unplanned pregnancy. Abortion is a relatively simple and safe procedure when done by trained medical workers during the first three months (first trimester) of pregnancy. Abortion is less safe when performed after the 13th week of pregnancy. Before the right of a woman to obtain an abortion was affirmed by the United States Supreme Court in the 1973 ruling on Roe vs. Wade, many abortions were performed illegally and in unskilled ways. This caused the deaths of many women from infection and bleeding. It also caused much sterility, or the permanent inability to have a child. The usual surgical technique of abortion during the first trimester is to insert a metal or plastic tube into the uterus through its opening, the cervix. A spoonlike instrument at the end of the tube is used to gently scrape the walls of the uterus. A suction machine at the other end of the tube removes the contents from the uterus. This procedure is called vacuum aspiration and is done primarily in a medical clinic or doctor's office using a local anesthetic for the cervix. During the second trimester, abortions are usually done by means of dilation and evacuation. This procedure uses forceps, curette, and vacuum aspiration. Although rarely sought, third-trimester abortions may be performed when the fetus has severe genetic defects or because continuing the pregnancy would be a threat to the woman's health. A controversy began in 1988 over a drug, developed in France, called RU 486, which, when taken during the first 7 weeks of pregnancy, causes the embryo to become detached from the uterus. The drug was reported to be safer and less expensive than surgical abortion. Antiabortion groups in France succeeded in temporarily halting the sale of the drug, although the government later ordered it to be made available. The use of RU 486 was supported by family-planning agencies in the United States, France, and elsewhere and by the World Health Organization and the World Congress of Gynecology and Obstetrics. The long-term effects of RU 486 on women's health were unknown. Abortion as a way to end unplanned pregnancy is practiced in many countries. In Europe by 1992 only Ireland had a complete ban on abortion. In the United States the legality of abortion was affirmed with Roe vs. Wade in 1973 over the objections of some groups, the Roman Catholic church in particular. Many opposed to abortion believe it is the taking of a human life. Those who favor the legal availability of abortion cite the right of women to control their reproduction and of physicians to perform abortions without fear of criminal charges. Other arguments in favor of abortion include population control, the social problems caused by unwanted children, and the dangers of illegal abortion. In 1989 and in 1992 the United States Supreme Court in 5-4 rulings upheld provisions of a 1986 Missouri law and a 1989 Pennsylvania law restricting abortion. In Webster vs. Reproductive Health Services and Planned Parenthood vs. Casey the court stopped short of overturning the landmark Roe vs. Wade ruling, but it upheld the power of individual states to impose restrictions. The battle over abortion rights moved to the state legislatures and to the streets as massive demonstrations for and against legalized abortion continued into the 1990s. Missouri's and Pennsylvania's laws to impose severe restrictions on abortion were partially upheld, but similar attempts in Illinois and Florida were rejected. In 1989 the United States Congress approved the use of Medicaid funds to finance abortions for poor women in cases of rape or incest, but President George Bush vetoed it. The most restrictive law in any state was passed in Idaho in 1990, but the governor vetoed the bill. A related controversy arose in the late 1980s centering on the use of tissues from aborted fetuses for medical research and treatment. Experiments using cells from aborted fetuses showed that these cells were uniquely capable of alleviating certain conditions, such as Parkinson's disease, when transplanted into the diseased tissues of a host. The debate over the ethics of using tissues from miscarried fetuses did not halt research or the application of these discoveries.
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