Abortions for Medical Reasons

Introduction

In certain medical situations, abortion of an unborn child is necessary; but some people deem it wrong if the life of an unborn child is unnecessarily terminated; given certain situations, abortion of an unborn child should be admissible.

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Abortion refers to the termination of a pregnancy resulting in the removal of fetus and has been legalized in all the fifty states by the Supreme Court of America in 1973, for medical or social reasons (Roe v. Wade, 1973 and Doe v. Bolton, 1973). Whether morally accepted or not, abortion today is a large part of society and provides an alternative and a choice to women whether they want to have a baby or not. The reasons may be numerous, ranging from personal to societal to medical.

It is of course the responsibility of couples or partners to ascertain that appropriate contraceptive measures are taken to prevent unwanted pregnancies. However, in some cases of rape or incest, this is not possible, and abortion seems the only practical option to avoid further complications related to health and society.

The occurrence and debate regarding the morality or immorality of abortion is a historically ancient subject, and women have been involved in the practice of abortion since times immemorial (Devereux, G., 1955). Today, abortion is performed at the hands of qualified professionals, but in the early days it was not so. Horrible and primitive methods were used to terminate pregnancies, and these methods varied from society to society and culture to culture. According to Devereux George (1955), there is evidence to prove that more than three hundred currently existing societies, practice abortion in non-industrial settings.

Methods of abortion

Early and Peters (1990) state that the women of the Yanomami tribe of the Amazon would jump on the stomach of a pregnant woman to abort the child. Similar methods have been described as being used by the African and south Asian tribes to terminate unwanted pregnancies.

Shepherd (1995) elucidates a method used by the Surayas of Taiwan sometime in the 17th century, where abortion was carried out by powerful massages of the stomach with special force applied to the uterine region.

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It is evident from the above examples above, that women have been following the practice of abortion in primitive times and societies, with inhumane methods that could prove fatal to their lives.

Potts et al. (1977) also confirm that abortions have been carried out either by the women themselves or other women, for ages. As such, to deem abortion as illegal would be highly risky, since those who desire to undergo abortion, either for medical or personal reasons, would be at an elevated risk of undergoing the procedures at the hands of unprofessional individuals. The practices of abortion in the modern world are more sophisticated and pose a reduced threat to the life of the pregnant mother.

Abortions have been the topic of regular debate in societies, especially the current modern ones, concerning the right of the fetus to live. Opponents of abortion state many religious, moral, and ethical reasons for banning the practice of abortion. What they do however tend to forget most of the time, is that abortion is the matter of personal choice of the mother who has the entire right to decide whether she wants to continue with the pregnancy or terminate it, since it is the mother who knows the situation in which the child is likely to be born.

The opponents should also bear in mind that the mother plays a very crucial role in rearing the child and that her physical and mental health, along with her medical status will have a very strong impact on the development of the child.

Opponents of abortion argue that by the time the mother realizes she is pregnant, the fetus’s heart has already begun to beat, and as such, abortion is the destruction of a living child (Moore K., 1988). They state that the practice of abortion is like murdering a living entity, who is in no position to defend itself.

Opponents also debate the negative effects of abortion on the body of a woman (Martin D., 1993). The harmful effects that abortion has on the health of a woman, physically and in some cases psychologically is a matter of great concern to them

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They state that the pain and suffering that women undergo during an abortion is highly intense and is very similar to a fracture of a bone or even the pain experienced when one is afflicted with cancer (Wells N., 1991; Bélanger E., Melzak R. & Lauzon P., 1989). Women do not know about this pain until they experience it, and are very often not informed by the performing doctors regarding this aspect.

Apart from this, there is the possibility of several complications including hemorrhage (Schulz, et al., 1983), infection, (Danforth D., 1986), disturbances in the menstrual cycle (Stubblefield P., 1993), inflammation (Roht L.H., et al, 1977) and in some cases increased risks of future miscarriages (Tzonou A., et al, 1993) and even breast cancer (Janet Daling, et al, 1994). In cases where abortions have been carried out, there have been cases of miscarriages and delay or failure in conceiving.

Factors, that may lead to abortion

The risks involved with abortion may be many but one cannot rule out the reasons why females prefer to undergo an abortion. Some pregnancies may be a result of rape which may cause negative societal implications and problems for women, especially young girls (Bankole et al. 1998). No matter how modern the society may become, there is always a questioning look towards unwed or teen mothers. Of course, this may not be the case in every society, but in a majority of societies, even today.

Women are sometimes forced to consider factors like monetary problems and economic restrictions. Finances do play an important role in the physical development of the child and the nutritional needs of the child are directly related to the economic conditions of the family or mother to which it is born.

In some cases, women have the notion that abortion is relatively safer than contraceptive measures to control pregnancies (Otoide et al. 2001). Women fear that contraceptives may have negative effects on their health and as such consider abortion a safer practice.

Abortion, like any other medical procedure, involves certain risks. Nut this is also true for pregnancies. Any medical procedure has certain risks attached to it, and abortion is no exception. Although the risks associated with abortion may be plenty, one cannot rule out the risks associated with some high-risk pregnancies, which if continued may result in grave dangers and sometimes even death of the pregnant woman.

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Apart from the societal reasons why women and females prefer to undergo abortion, there are several medical factors due to which many women choose abortion as an alternative to giving birth. Lerner and Anderson (1963) state that the ‘maternal mortality rate’ in America in the year 1920 was to the tune of six-hundred-and-eighty deaths for all- hundred-thousand children born alive. In cases where women conceive relatively late in their lives when they are between thirty-five to forty-five years of age, there are chances of a defective fetus. In such cases of a faulty fetus, the woman may face not only physical but also psychological problems following the birth of an abnormal child. Not only would this negatively impact the child but more importantly the mother who has to look after an abnormal offspring. The retarded or defected child will have to bear innumerable problems in the world.

Further, if the child is only physically disabled, there will be tremendous mental stress and pressure on the child concerning his relative disability in coping with the challenges of the world. The child will also suffer from depression and low self-esteem. All this is bound to affect the parents and the mother in particular. In case of a mental abnormality, the pressures on the mother are numerous. It is not only difficult to physically handle such children but the trauma of having a mentally retarded child is also immense. Thus, in cases where there is knowledge of disabled fetuses, which is a strong medical reason, abortion should be used effectively to not only reduce the burden on the mother but also the mental and physical stress the children may have to bear if they come into the world. In such cases, couples do generally opt for abortion to terminate the pregnancy (Kolata 1992).

There are also other cases when the life of a woman is in grave danger, and abortion is the only way to then save her life. Such cases are common among diabetic women who experience incessant nausea, putting them at an elevated risk of heart failure. Diabetes also increases the risk of being genetically transferred to the child from the mother.

Moreover, if the health of the woman is already unstable and the pregnancy is likely to put her at an elevated risk, it is most prudent to undergo an abortion. For, if the mother is in a bad shape about medical health, then the advanced years of pregnancy increase her risks to further complications and sometimes may even prove fatal, for her as well as the child.

Abortions are also necessary to be carried out in the case of women with other diseases such as hypertension, renal diseases, and the above-mentioned heart diseases, when it is more sensible to abort the fetus, rather than put the life of the mother in danger and risk the future of the unborn child who may have no mother or may have an ailing mother who is unable to look after the wellbeing of her child due to the complications, resulting from her pregnancy.

The opponent opinion

Opponents of abortion have time and again argued that abortion puts the mother at risk not only when she is undergoing the abortion but also in the future when she may want to have a baby, and as a result of her previous abortion and complications, may not be able to do so or which will result in potential risks to her pregnancies, later in life (Hern 1982; Hogue, Cates, and Tietze 1982). However, the proponents debate that an abortion that has taken place in time will have few health problems for the mother. Further, it has been proved that healthy women can adjust and adapt themselves reasonably well to all the problems related to pregnancies, whether it is pre-term delivery of the child, a miscarriage, or an induced abortion (Adler et al. 1990).

Abortion is not such a serious hazard, which puts the life of the mother in grave danger. In fact in most cases when it is performed by choice, it is known to solve the numerous problems which would otherwise have to be faced by the mother as well as the child. If it is performed at the hands of qualified professionals, abortion has few side effects on the health of the mother, who with appropriate medication, recovers soon. Proponents of abortion also argue that when women decide not to have a child, it is better to terminate the unwanted fetus rather than having an unwanted pregnancy to proceed further as this is most likely to have a psychological effect on the mother in rearing the child as well as the child who has the potential to undergo several difficulties in the physical and mental development, during his lifetime (David et al. 1988).

Mothers who do not want the child might have medical reasons to do so. They may not be prepared mentally as well as physically to rear up a child successfully. In cases when the mother has physical problems such as diseases and poor health, the child will likely be neglected and development from the physical as well as mental aspects is then bound to suffer. Even if the mother is physically fit but wants to terminate the fetus due to economic factors, the mental health of the mother will be affected due to the dissatisfaction of not being able to rear up a child or inability to provide him a regular healthy diet. For it is a known fact that during the initial years of the infant, when the infant is feeding on the mother must be in a physically healthy state so that the effects on the child can also be positive, physically as well as mentally.

With the advancement of science and technology, doctors can conduct several screening tests to determine some of the major defects in the fetus. Some of the conditions including the ‘Down Syndrome’ and even ‘tube defects’ in the unborn child are detectable while the fetus is in the initial formative years, which enable the parents to determine whether the pregnancy must be continued or not. Abortion is the sensible option in such cases, as children diagnosed with these conditions are highly prone to having developmental disabilities, mental or physical. Prenatal screening tests also enable to gauge of other probabilities of the survival rate of the infant. It is these medically-based interventions that result in abortion, thereby reducing the future pressures and challenges not only to the parents concerned but the children as well.

Conclusion

A majority of women in today’s world have to play multiple roles in their homes as well as in society, as wives, mothers, home-makers and sometimes even working mothers. With the immense pressures and challenges in the modern world, a woman must have the choice to decide if and when she is prepared to have a child. Raising a child is no joke. There are several demands that the child asserts, mostly on the mother in the process of his development from a child to an adult. Right from birth, the mother has to look after her infant. In any society of the world, ancient or modern, the role of the mother in the development of the child is highly pronounced. Even while the mother is recuperating with her health following childbirth, she has to make many sacrifices, to adapt herself to the newborn, while the infant is adjusting itself to the new world. It is indeed a daunting task; nevertheless, motherhood remains one of the most celebrated moments in the life of a woman. It should then be the sole choice of the mother-to-be to decide whether or not she is mentally and physically fit to take on the challenges of rearing up the child.

References

Adler E., David P., Major N., Roth H., Russo F., & Wyatt E., 1990. “Psychological Responses after Abortion.” Science 248:41–44.

Bankole A., Singh S., and Haas T., 1998. “Reasons Why Women Have Induced Abortions: Evidence from 27 Countries.” International Family Planning Perspectives.

Bélanger E., Melzak R., & Lauzon P., 1989, “Pain of first-trimester abortion: a study of psychosocial and medical predictors,” Pain, Vol. 36.

Daling J., et al, 1994, “Risk of Breast Cancer Among Young Women: Relationship to Induced Abortion,” Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Vol. 86, No. 21.

Danforth D., 1986, Obstetrics and Gynecology, 5th ed. Philadelphia: J.B. Lipincott.

David P., Dytrych Z., Matejcek Z., & Schuller V., 1988. Born Unwanted: Developmental Effects of Denied Abortion. New York: Springer.

Devereux G., 1955. A Study of Abortion in Primitive Society. New York: Julian Press.

Early D., & Peters, J. F., 1990. The Population Dynamics of the Mucajai Yanomama. San Diego: Academic Press.

Hern M., 1982. “Long-term Risks of Induced Abortion.” In Gynecology and Obstetrics, ed. J. J. Sciarra.

Hogue R., Cates W. & Tietze C., 1982. “The Effects of Induced abortion on Subsequent Reproduction.” Epidemiologic Reviews 4:66.

Kolata G., 1992. “In Late Abortions, Decisions Are Painful and Options Few.” New York Times.

Moore K., 1988, ‘The Developing Human,’ 4th ed., Philadelphia, W.B. Saunders Co.

Otoide O., Oronsaye F., & Okonofua E., 2001. “Why Nigerian Adolescents Seek Abortion Rather Than Contraception: Evidence From Focus-Group Discussions.” International Family Planning Perspectives.

Potts M., Diggory P., & Peel J., 1977. Abortion. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S.; 113, 163-164 (1973) and Doe v. Bolton, 410 U.S. 179, 191-192 (1973).

Roht H., et al, 1977, “Increased Reporting of Menstrual Symptoms Among Women Who Used Induced Abortion,” American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Vol. 127.

Schulz K., Grimes D., Cates W., Jr., 1983, “Measures to Prevent Cervical Injury During Suction Curettage Abortion,” The Lancet.

Shepherd R., 1995. Marriage and Mandatory Abortion Among the 17th Century Suraya. Arlington, VA: American.

Stubblefield P., 1993. “First and Second Trimester Abortion,” in Gynecologic and Obstetric Surgery, ed. David H. Nichols.

Tzonou A., et al, 1993, “Induced abortions, miscarriages, and tobacco smoking as risk factors for secondary infertility,” Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, Vol. 47.

Wells N., 1991, “Pain and Distress During Abortion,” Health Care for Women International, Vol 12.

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