Therapeutic abortion

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Therapeutic abortion is abortion induced following a diagnosis of medical necessity.[1] Such abortions are carried out in order to avoid the risk of substantial harm to the mother. In many countries therapeutical abortion is legal, including some where induced abortion is illegal.


According to Robert E. Cooke, the word therapeutic means “pertaining to treatment or healing.”[2] The word "abortion" in biology means "the arrested development of an embryo or an organ at a more or less early stage."[3]


Many therapeutic abortions are performed today, with some degree of controversy regarding the quality of life, if there is a genetic condition in the embryo or fetus which is incompatible with life (among those would be: severe cases of certain genetic conditions, conditions which entail the inability of certain vital organs such as the heart or liver to function without sustained support which are not amenable to surgical repair or transplantation, severe cases of profound mental impairment, the lack of portions of the brainstem or the higher brain, such as the cerebral hemispheres, or anencephaly, among others). In developed countries in the West (i.e., most European countries and the United States, among others), the state of medical care for those pregnant women or those women who could become pregnant (who can get access to affordable contemporary care and are given it in a timely manner) is such that many cases that would pose an indisputable threat to the mother's life (e.g., most cases of ectopic pregnancy, uterine cancer, and certain other causes) can be diagnosed in a timely enough manner that a medical or surgical therapeutic abortion is performed before the situation becomes medically unstable. That is decidedly not the case in remote areas of the Third World (many areas of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa) with little access to advanced medical care, or in areas (or social, relational, and familial situations) where a woman's right to emergency medical care is violated. Many secular and religious ethical codes- even those that consider other abortions to be extremely immoral- will usually allow for an abortion, under the principle of double effect, where the medical crisis is the result of a natural biological phenomenon and is absolutely necessary to save the woman's life; disagreement persists, however, about what does or does not constitute an ethical justification for a non-elective therapeutic abortion, particularly regarding genetic disorders or mental impairment.[4] There are many situations in which therapeutic abortions are performed that do not involve a grave threat to the pregnant woman's life, mobility, or physical health, and there are many cases where therapeutic abortions are performed in situations where the embryo or fetus is capable of surviving outside the mother's body, with or without assistance or significant impairments. In some developed societies, merely a pregnant woman's stated desire to terminate her pregnancy is the only criterion necessary for an abortion to be deemed "therapeutic", though this should not be confused with a therapeutic abortion performed because of a medical emergency.[5]

Historical background[edit]

In many societies, a woman could only have as many children as she and her husband could provide for. Since contraceptives first had their commercial boom in the 20th century, it was difficult for women to take preventative actions against getting pregnant. In the present day, it is still difficult for many women to obtain proper contraceptives because of the economic situation of themselves or their country. In cases where a woman is pregnant but could not provide for the child, it would often be considered necessary to abort the baby to save the other children from starvation. For example, a study was done in Tuscany, Italy in 1427 that showed that the number of children per family had a direct correlation to the “economic curve and survival conditions.[6]

Even in the 21st century there are still areas of the world that are in this situation. The nomadic hunter/gatherer people of the Kalahari Desert in Africa, called the Bushmen, can’t have another child until their next oldest one is weaned from its mother’s breast milk, which can be up to the age of 3 or 4. If a woman does get pregnant she “must think of the child she has already and act quickly," before her love of her baby renders her incapable of killing it and forces her to “wait and watch both of her children die.”[7]

Paris said that “the universal desire among women to control births expresses today, as it always has, the knowledge that survival depends on the ability to give each child what it needs for its full development, whether it be the survival of a mother, a family, or a community.”[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ [1][2] American Heritage Dictionary
  2. ^ Cooke, Robert E., et al. The Terrible Choice: The Abortion Dilemma. New York: Bantam Books inc., 1968. Print.
  3. ^ "Abortion." Random House, Inc., 04 Mar 2010. Web. 13 Dec 2010. <>.
  4. ^ [3] Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine
  5. ^ [4] Suzanne R Trupin, MD, Clinical Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Illinois College of Medicine-Champaign; CEO and Owner, Women's Health Practice; CEO and Owner, Hada Cosmetic Medicine and Midwest Surgical Center
  6. ^ Paris, Ginette. The Psychology of Abortion. Trans. Joanna Mott. Putnam: Spring Publications, inc., 1992. Print. pp. 11
  7. ^ Marshall, Elizabeth Thomas. The Harmless People. New York: Vintage Books, 1989. Print. pp. 160
  8. ^ Paris, Ginette. The Psychology of Abortion. Trans. Joanna Mott. Putnam: Spring Publications, inc., 1992. Print. pp. 17

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