Abortion is the interruption of a pregnancy through the extraction or expulsion of the embryo/fetus from the uterus. This process may be spontaneous (known as miscarriage) or can be induced. The induced abortion is one of the safest procedures in medicine, as long as it’s performed in a safe and proper way.
Each year, however, unsafe abortions cause approximately 70 000 maternal deaths and more than five million hospitalizations worldwide. It is estimated that, every year, more than 44 million abortions are performed around the the world, but only more that a half were properly performed in a safe way.
The incidence of abortion has stabilized in recent years since they spent decades in decline due to access to contraceptives, education and family planning methods.
The abortion and its role in History
The history of induced abortions has thousands of years and has already happened in different civilizations, such as the chinese one with Shennong (c. 2700 BC), in Ancient Egypt with its Ebers Papyrus (c. 1550 BC) and in the Roman Empire with Juvenal (c. 200 BC).
There are evidences that suggests pregnancies used to be terminated through some methods that included the herbal abortion, by using sharp objects, applying abdominal pressure, among some other techniques.
Some medical experts have suggested that the Hippocratic Oath forbade ancient greek physicians to perform abortions, while other disagree with this interpretation, having even observed that the Hippocrates’ medical texts contained descriptions of abortion techniques.
In his Treaty on government policy (350 BC), Aristotle condemns the infanticide as a population management method. He stablished that abortion should be performed “before sensations and life start to develop”, since the line that set appart a legal abortion from an illegal one would be drawn by the fact that the fetus is alive and already has human sensations.
In Christianity, the Pope Sixtus V (1585-1590) became known as the first Pope to declare abortion as an homicide, regardless of the stage of pregnancy. By this time, the Catholic Church was divided between the idea of whether or not an abortion should be considered murder, and began to oppose abortion until the 19th century.
The Islamic culture has traditionally allowed abortion until a time when Muslims believe the soul goes into the fetus. Many theologians believe this happens between 40 and 120 days after conception. Nevertheless, the process is restricted in areas where there are highest of levels of Islamic faith, such as the Middle East and North Africa.
In Europe and North America, the techniques started do progress since the 17th century. However, the conservatism of most physicians regarding sexual matters prevented the vast expansion of safe abortion techniques.
In the U.S., the abortion process was more dangerous than giving birth until roughly the year of 1930, when gradual improvements concerning childbirth have made possible to achieve the safe abortion.
The Soviet Union (1919), Iceland (1935) and Sweden (1938) were among the first countries to legalize some or all forms of abortion. In Nazi Germany, a law that permited those who were considered “hereditarily ill” to have an abortion was approved in 1935, while german women considered “valuable” were specifically prohibited from having abortions.
From the second half of the 20th century, abortion was legalized in a larger number of countries.