What Is Abortion According to WHO?

Reviewed on 8/27/2021

Abortion definitions can vary. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), abortion is defined as a pregnancy termination prior to 20 weeks' gestation.
Abortion definitions can vary. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), abortion is defined as a pregnancy termination prior to 20 weeks' gestation.

Definitions of abortion can vary and there is often controversy defining what abortion means. The definitions of abortion often reflect not just scientific knowledge, but social and political opinions. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines abortion as pregnancy termination prior to 20 weeks' gestation.

Generally, abortion is a term that refers to the termination of a pregnancy, whether it occurs with medical intervention such as medications or surgical procedures or whether it occurs on its own, such as a miscarriage

Spontaneous abortion is another term for miscarriage, which refers to a pregnancy loss that occurs before the 20th week of gestation or the expulsion an embryo or fetus weighing 500 g or less.

  • The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) defines a legally induced abortion “as an intervention performed by a licensed clinician (e.g., a physician, nurse-midwife, nurse practitioner, physician assistant) within the limits of state regulations that is intended to terminate a suspected or known ongoing intrauterine pregnancy and that does not result in a live birth.”
  • The U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion in the Roe vs. Wade decision in 1973. Since that decision, numerous Federal and state laws have been proposed or passed. Abortion remains a controversial area in the field of medicine.
  • In the U.S., lawmakers throughout the country often debate back and forth on abortion rules and restrictions, and so access to abortion providers varies from state to state. Because of this, some women may need to research more than others about the family planning options available in their geographic regions.

What Are Methods of Induced Abortion?

The methods used to induce abortion depend on the stage of the pregnancy along with other factors. 

  • Medication-induced abortion method 
    • Can be performed in early pregnancy, up to 7 to 9 weeks gestation
    • “The abortion pill” refers to use of two medicines to end a pregnancy:
  • Suction curettage (aspiration) 
    • Can be performed in early pregnancy, 6 to 14 weeks gestation
    • The cervix is dilated and tube attached to a suction machine is inserted into the uterus to empty it by suction
    • After that, a tool called a “curette” is used to scrape the wall of the uterus to removes any products of pregnancy (fetus and afterbirth) that remain
  • Dilation and evacuation 
    • Can be performed in early pregnancy, 12 to 24 weeks gestation
    • The most common method used after 12 weeks of pregnancy
    • The cervix is slowly stretched and opened over a period of hours
    • Once opened, tools and suction tubes are inserted into the uterus to remove the products of pregnancy
  • Induction of labor 
    • Performed in advanced pregnancy and usually done in a hospital
    • The cervix is slowly stretched and opened over a period of hours
    • Once the cervix is softened, labor is induced, often by injecting medicine through the abdominal and uterine walls into the amniotic sac
    • Most women who are induced deliver in 10 to 20 hours
  • Hysterotomy/cesarean delivery 
    • Performed in advanced pregnancy — after 24 weeks gestation
    • Used in rare cases when induction fails or cannot be used, a surgical method, a hysterotomy is performed to cut open the uterus
    • The procedure is similar to a Cesarean delivery 

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Reviewed on 8/27/2021
References
https://www.uptodate.com/contents/overview-of-pregnancy-termination?search=abortion&source=search_result&selectedTitle=1~150&usage_type=default&display_rank=1

https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/data_stats/abortion.htm

https://scdhec.gov/methods-abortion

https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/abortion/the-abortion-pill

https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/410/113