CONCEPTS IN BIOLOGY

PART VI. PHYSIOLOGICAL PROCESSES

 

27. Human Reproduction, Sex, and Sexuality

 

27.11. Termination of Pregnancy—Abortion

 

Another medical procedure often associated with birth control is abortion, which has been used throughout history. Abortion is the death and removal of a developing embryo through various medical procedures. Abortion is not a method of conception control; rather, it prevents the normal development of the embryo. Abortion is a highly charged subject: Some people believe that abortion should be prohibited by law in all cases; others think that abortion should be allowed in certain situations, such as in pregnancies that endanger the mother’s life or in pregnancies that are the result of rape or incest. Still others think that abortion should be available to any woman under any circumstances. Regardless of the moral and ethical issues that surround abortion, it is still a common method of terminating unwanted pregnancies.

The three most common techniques performed early in pregnancy are scraping the inside of the uterus with instruments (called dilation and curettage, or D and C), injecting a saline solution into the uterine cavity, and using a suction device to remove the embryo from the uterus. RU-486 is a drug that causes abortion and must be used under a doctor’s supervision. The medication is administered orally and several days later, a hormone is administered. This usually results in the onset of contractions, which expel the fetus. A followup examination of the woman is made after several weeks to ensure that there are no serious side effects.

Late-term abortions are done after the 20th week of gestation. Late-term abortion is not a medical term, and the exact point when a pregnancy becomes late term has not been defined. Nor is there exact data for the number performed. Late-term abortions performed for fetal abnormality are involved procedures called intact dilation and extraction (IDX or D&X), also known as partial-birth abortion.

 

27.11. CONCEPT REVIEW

23. What is dilation and curettage?

24. How does RU-486 work?