What Is the Definition of Abortion?

Doctor talking with female patient
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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.

More About Abortion and Reproductive Rights

  • Reproductive Rights in the United States
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Head, Tom. "What Is the Definition of Abortion?" ThoughtCo, Feb. 19, 2017, thoughtco.com/what-is-abortion-721095. Head, Tom. (2017, February 19). What Is the Definition of Abortion? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-abortion-721095 Head, Tom. "What Is the Definition of Abortion?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-abortion-721095 (accessed December 12, 2017).