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Abortion- terminology, ethical debate and social implications


The objective behind the present essay is to procure a brief panoramic view around the
concept of induced abortion through the exploration of the terminology behind such
concept. In addition, there will be a deepening in the reasons behind the practice of
abortion. This will also be accompanied by a summary of the ethical debate surrounding
the legalization of abortion, followed by the descriptions of some of the legal variations
amongst a number of nations in this matter. The issues of therapeutic abortion or
miscarriage will not be broadly addressed through this essay.


The last few decades have been marked by the constant debate amongst individuals
regarding the ethical and social implications of a practice such as the interruption of
pregnancy, or abortion. The term abortion can be defined, -like previously stated- as

the interruption of pregnancy before an acceptable development of the fetus, causing it

to simply cease all of its biological functions, and thus, die once outside of the uterus.

There are two main types of abortion: what is commonly referred to as a miscarriage ,
which implies that the product is naturally (and unintentionally) expelled from the
uterus causing it to die. The second type of abortion is the induced interruption of the

pregnancy via surgical procedure or abortifacient pharmaceuticals, as well as induced

labor. (1) It is the second type of abortion the present essay will be addressing.

Reasons to perform an abortion throughout history

A medical abortion is commonly carried out within the first nine weeks of the

pregnancy, although it is possible to proceed in more advanced stages if the consulted

physician considers the product to be unviable or if the further development of the

fetus would put the mothers life at stake. This is known as therapeutic abortion.

However, throughout history there have been a greater number of reasons because of

which a mother-to-be would choose to terminate her pregnancy.

For example, in times when the virginity of a woman would be one of the main

criteria in the definition of her value, an unwanted or premature pregnancy would, of

course, raise a number of eyebrows and diminish her possibility of having an adequate

place within society itself. Because of this, clandestine abortions would be carried out

by the women themselves, often helped secretly by a trusted midwife. The conditions

in which such procedures were accomplished would be unhygienic at the very least ,
and the death of the mother or severe injuries to her reproductive system (such as

infertility) were some of the main concerns this practice implied.

Another common cause for abortion was (and still is) when the hypothetical fetus

would be the product of sexual abuse. For all people, the psychological and social

implications of rape have tremendous repercussions, and in cases in which such a

traumatic experience would bring along an unwanted pregnancy , a great number of

victims would choose to terminate said pregnancy over the burden of raising a child

that would represent an overly constant reminder of a violation.

More recently, and accompanied by the birth of womens rights, abortion has also

been carried through in cases in which the mother-to-be is reluctant of raising a child,

or when she is incapable (either economically or mentally) of supporting a child.

Ethical debate

In most developed countries, the legal practice of abortion has been widely spread in

order to eradicate clandestine clinics and, by doing so, preventing accidental deaths

caused by inexperienced action- doers. The topic of legal abortion has been largely

discussed both in international and private forums, and legislations have been changed

around the subject making abortion legal in sixteen countries since 1998. (2)

However, although the overall cost of a state to procure secure abortions to its citizens

is dramatically less than for it to maintain those children in the long run, or to procure
treatment to the victims of clandestine practice (which would by definition represent a

major health issue) a number of ethical and moral arguments have been made, both for

and against the practice both within governments and citizens.

For instance, institutions such as the Catholic church argue that, even in stages in

which a fetus is not yet a sentient being, but merely a bundle of cells and tissues, the

act of putting an end to its development would directly imply the murdering of a child.

The overall hype built around the legalization of the practice has raised the
philosophical debate surrounding the exact moment a fetus can be considered as
human. In an article titled Abortion: Murder, or Medical Procedure? journalist Dale
Hansen is able to briefly summarize the variety of points of view surrounding the
subject as follows: (3)

The pro-life camp tends to believe life begins at conception. So every abortion is

The pro-choice camp tends to think personhood isnt achieved till much later so
an abortion is a medical procedure to remove unwanted cells. Neither side is

willing to back down from their stance, but the highest court in the land has thus
far sided with those in the pro-choice camp.

There are, of course, many people who fall somewhere in between. Some are
against abortion but OK in the case or rape or incest. Some feel an abortion is
justified if the life of the mother is in danger. Others believe an abortion is
justified if the fetus has defects that would affect its quality of life.

Then there are also those that feel that the legality of an abortion corresponds to a
certain time frame once theres a heartbeat, once there are brain waves, or no
later than 20 weeks. If you take all of these variations into account, only 20
percent of the population believes an abortion is murder starting at conception . It
should also be noted that if 20 weeks is an acceptable cut off only 1 percent of all
abortions occur after 20 weeks.

Because of the vast variety of opinions regarding the subject, the debate built around

the topic of legal abortion has not ceased by any means, even after major international
institutions such as the World Health Organization have published statements in which

the correct proceeding of the practice is established. (4)

In addition, the same organization also published an article surrounding the imminent

peril to generalized social health caused by the practice of unsafe abortion. By the

disclosure of both of these statements, it is possible to infer that a modernization of

legal documents around the globe regarding the conditions in which abortions should

be carried through is a pressing matter, not necessarily because of the social

movements that speak for the legalization of the practice; but because whether or not it

is legal, it is certainly being practiced in alarmingly dangerous conditions.

Social implications

Legislation surrounding abortion varies dramatically amongst nations. In the most part
of the northern hemisphere abortion is legal on request, and in some countries (such as
the United States or Finland), its execution is covered by the government.

However, the rest of the world falls within a much greater spectrum. For instance, in
countries like Mexico abortion is only legal in certain states and a series of
requirements must be met in order to be able to carry it out. The main obstacle a
woman in Mexico faces in the need of abortion is economic: only private clinics can
procure abortion on request. On the other hand, therapeutic abortion is in fact legal in
our country.

Nations such as Nicaragua and Bangladesh have banned abortion altogether, resulting
in a vast amount of maternal deaths, and illegal clinics have also made themselves
popular. On the other side of the spectrum lies China, country in which the legal
practice of abortion had an incredibly high demand up until 2015, because of the one
child policy that had been implemented as an effort to decrease the excessive
demographic growth from the last few generations.

In conclusion, abortion has been a worldwide spread practice throughout human

history. However, it hadnt been an ethical issue (mostly because it was vastly
condemned in most of the world) up until the twentieth century, with the
popularization and legislation surrounding womens rights. Said practice is still under
the scrutiny of many governments, resulting in the prolongation of the illegal
execution of the procedure.


1. World Health Organization (Internet). Geneva: WHO; 2006. Unsafe abortion: the
preventable pandemic. (Revisited on 11/27/2016). Available at
2. Guttmacher Institute (Internet): GUTTMACHER; 2008. Developments in law on
induced abortion: 1998-2007. (Revisited on 11/27/2016). Available at
3. Hansen, Dale. (Internet). HUFFINGTONPOST: 2014. Abortion : murder, or
medical procedure ? (Revisited on 11/27/2016) Available at
4. World Health Organization (Internet). Geneva: WHO; c.2014. Safe abortion:
technical and policy guidance for health systems: second edition. (Revisited on
11/27/2016) Available at