1. News & Issues
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

What is abortion?

By

Doctor talking with female patient
Jose Luis Palaez/Iconica/Getty Images
Question: What is abortion?
Answer: Abortion is the intentional termination of a pregnancy after conception. It allows women to put an end to their pregnancies, but involves killing the undeveloped embryo or fetus. For this reason, it is a very controversial subject in American politics.

Supporters of abortion rights argue that the embryo or fetus is not a person, or at least that the government has no right to ban abortion unless it can prove that an embryo or fetus is a person.

Opponents of abortion rights argue that the embryo or fetus is a person, or at least that the government has a responsibility to ban abortion until it can prove that an embryo or fetus is not a person. Although opponents of abortion often frame their objections in religious terms, abortion is never mentioned in the Bible.

Abortion has been legal in every U.S. state since 1973, when the Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade (1973) that women have the right to make medical decisions about their own bodies. Fetuses also have rights, but only after the pregnancy has progressed to the point where the fetus can be viewed as an independent person. In medical terms, this is defined as the viability threshold--the point at which a fetus can survive outside of the womb--which is currently 22 to 24 weeks.

Abortions have been performed for at least 3,500 years, as evidenced by their mention in the Ebers Papyrus (ca. 1550 BCE).

The word "abortion" comes from the Latin root aboriri (ab = "off the mark," oriri = "to be born or rise"). Until the 19th century, both miscarriages and intentional terminations of pregnancies were referred to as abortions.
  1. About.com
  2. News & Issues
  3. Civil Liberties
  4. Issues and Causes
  5. Equal Rights
  6. Gender & Sexuality
  7. Abortion
  8. What Is Abortion? - Overview and History

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.