What is Abortion?

Legal Definition
Abortion is the ending of pregnancy by removing a fetus or embryo before it can survive outside the uterus. An abortion which occurs spontaneously is also known as a miscarriage. An abortion may be caused purposely and is then called an induced abortion, or less frequently, "induced miscarriage". The word abortion is often used to mean only induced abortions. A similar procedure after the fetus could potentially survive outside the womb is known as a "late termination of pregnancy".

When allowed by local law, abortion in the developed world is one of the safest procedures in medicine. Modern methods use medication or surgery for abortions. The drug mifepristone in combination with prostaglandin appears to be as safe and effective as surgery during the first and second trimester of pregnancy. Birth control, such as the pill or intrauterine devices, can be used immediately following abortion. When performed legally and safely, induced abortions do not increase the risk of long-term mental or physical problems. In contrast, unsafe abortions cause 47,000 deaths and 5 million hospital admissions each year. The World Health Organization recommends safe and legal abortions be available to all women.

Around 56 million abortions occur each year in the world, with a little under half done unsafely. Abortion rates changed little between 2003 and 2008, before which they decreased for at least two decades as access to family planning and birth control increased. As of 2008, 40% of the world's women had access to legal abortions without limits as to reason. Countries that permit abortions have different limits on how late in pregnancy abortion is allowed.

Since ancient times, abortions have been done using herbal medicines, sharp tools, with force, or through other traditional methods. Abortion laws and cultural or religious views of abortions are different around the world. In some areas abortion is legal only in specific cases such as rape, problems with the fetus, poverty, risk to a woman's health, or incest. In many places there is much debate over the moral, ethical, and legal issues of abortion. Those who oppose abortion often maintain that an embryo or fetus is a human with a right to life and may compare abortion to murder. Those who favor the legality of abortion often hold that a woman has a right to make decisions about her own body.
-- Wikipedia
Legal Definition
In 1973, Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113, changed the legal status of abortion by striking down a Texas law that criminalized abortion except as a means of saving the mother’s life. The case pitted individual privacy rights against States’ interest in regulating the life of the fetus. Interpreting the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Right of Privacy maintained by the Ninth Amendment, the Court ruled that a woman’s personal autonomy and reproductive rights extend to her decision to terminate her pregnancy. The Court determined that States’ interest in the fetus became relevant only at “viability,” the point at which the fetus could survive independently from its mother. Government bans on abortion became limited to post-viability interventions, while at no point could the State privilege the life of the fetus over that of the mother. Pre-viability regulation of abortion by States was limited by a woman’s right to choose to end her pregnancy. Justice Blackmun’s “trimester formula” anchored the concept of viability and established a timetable according to which States could legally regulate abortion. Roe never permitted abortion in every instance but balanced States’ interest in the life of the fetus with women’s privacy rights.

Doe v. Bolton, 410 U.S. 179, decided by the Court on the same day as Roe, established the concept of health within the purview of physicians. The judicial question addressed by the Court concerned a Georgia law that proscribed medical abortion except as a measure performed by a licensed physician using his best judgment and aiming to save the mother’s life. The Court ruled that physicians maintain a privileged knowledge of life and health that qualifies them to judge the particular risks posed by abortion procedures. Doe signaled the Court’s best effort to diminish the political nature of abortion by insisting that scientific knowledge and practical experience, not legislative acts, best served women, fetuses, and States’ interests in the abortion debate. Subsequently, Doe asserted protection of privacy to the confidential patient-physician relationship. In 1976, physicians’ expertise was again upheld in the case of Planned Parenthood of Central Missouri, v. Danforth 428 U.S. 52, which determined “viability” to be a concept properly defined by the medical establishment rather than state legislatures.

In 1989, the Supreme Court again addressed the question of the medical establishment’s role in abortion. Webster v. Reproductive Health Services, 420 U.S. 490 (1989) specifically tackled the constitutionality of a Missouri state law that denied public funds, practitioners, and facilities for use in abortion. The majority decision, which was internally contentious, upheld abortion as a right possessed by women, yet also upheld the actions of the state in denying public resources to support abortion. The majority opinion found no law compelling states to allocate moneys for counseling women about or for performing abortions. It deemed the statute’s preamble, which defined when life begins, wholly constitutional. By upholding a state’s right to design legislative measures limiting access to abortion services, Webster represented a significant deviation from the Court’s approach in Roe.

Since Roe, many states drafted abortion laws that stipulated conditions under which a woman could get an abortion. State abortion laws designed to narrow the practices permissible under Roe’s broad legal mantle increased the heat on an already sizzling debate. Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992), for which there was no majority opinion, brought the conflict over Roe into high relief. The question raised by Casey is whether or not five separate conditions placed upon a woman’s right to abortion by Pennsylvania state law are constitutional. In the plurality opinion written by Justices O’Connor, Kennedy, and Souter, the Court ruled three of five stipulations – parental consent, informed consent and a 24-hour waiting period – constitutionally valid, because they did not unduly burden a woman seeking an abortion. Spousal notification was deemed an “undue burden” and was therefore rejected as unconstitutional. These decisions were in keeping with a new legal standard – undue burden – designed by Justice O’Connor in Akron v. Akron Center for Reproductive Health, Inc., 462 U.S. 416 (1983) as a means of upholding Roe’s principal argument while simultaneously narrowing its scope without creating hardship for women. Casey, which overturned the trimester model conferred by Roe, brokered the relationship between States’ interests and women’s right to privacy via the concept of viability. As with Roe, States could entirely ban abortion at the point where a fetus achieved viability. Casey declared medical science, particularly the language and information used by doctors and hospitals in elaborating abortion procedures for patients, subject to State regulations and mandates.

Although Casey proved a significant victory for anti-abortion groups, many states continued passing statutes that whittled away at Roe’s chief entitlement. In Stenberg v. Carhart, 530 U. S. 914 (2000), the Court addressed a Nebraska law that criminalized performance of a class of procedures collectively known as “partial birth abortion.” The Court ruled the statute, which excepted no circumstances – not even preserving the health of the mother – a violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution.

The debate over so-called partial birth abortion merely shifted to the legislative branch when Congress passed the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003. Carhart, one of only a handful of physicians nationwide performing third trimester abortions, brought suit which claimed that the Act violated the personal liberty protections of the Fifth Amendment by banning partial birth abortions without exception.

In Gonzales v. Carhart, 550 U.S. 124 (2007), the Court ruled that on its face the act banning abortions described in terms of their method – intact dilation and extraction – did not unduly burden women, create hardship or otherwise fail to protect their health by effectively preventing access to abortion, because such proceedings are never medically necessary.
Legal Definition
The artificial or spontaneous termination of a pregnancy before the embryo or foetus can survive on its own outside a woman's uterus.
Legal Definition
Med jur. and criminal law. The expulsion of the foetus before the seventh mouth of utero-gestation, or before it is viable. q. v.

2. The causes of this accident are referable either to the mother, or to the foetus and its dependencies. The causes in the mother may be: extreme nervous susceptibility, great debility, plethora, faulty conformation, and the like; and it is frequently induced immediately by intense mental emotion. The causes seated in the foetus are its death, rupture of the membranes, &c.

3. It most frequently occurs between the 8th and 12th weeks of gestation. When abortion is produced with a malicious design, it becomes a misdemeanor, at common law, 1 Russell, 553; and the party causing it may be indicted and punished.

4. The crimjnal means resorted to for the purpose of destroying the foetus, may be divided into general and local. To the first belong venesection, emetics, cathartics diuretics, emmenagogues &c. The second embraces all kinds of violence directly applied.

5. When, in consequence of the means used to produce abortion, the death of the woman ensues, the crime is murder.

6. By statute a distinction is made between a woman quick with child, (q. v.) and one who, though pregnant, is not so, 1 Bl. Com. 129. Physiologists, perhaps with reason, think that the child is a living being from the moment of conception. 1 Beck. Med. Jur. 291. General References. 1 Beck, 288 to 331; and 429 to 435; where will be found an abstract of the laws of different countries, and some of the states punishing criminal abortion; Roscoe, Cr. Ev. 190; 1 Russ. 553; vilanova y Manes, Materia Criminal Forense, Obs. 11, c. 7 n. 15-18. See also 1 Briand, Med. Leg. 1 ere partie, c. 4, where the question is considered, how far abortion is justifiable, and is neither a crime nor a misdemeanor. See Alis. Cr. L. of Scot. 628.
-- Bouviers Law Dictionary