Abortion can be categorized in a number of ways, only some of which are useful to the normal sense of “abortion” at issue in current U.S. politics, culture and medicine. We are, of course, talking about human abortion and not feline, equine, or canine abortion. Also, we are primarily talking about the intentional ending of a pregnancy where a unborn human entity is killed, be it passively (making the uterus too hostile to sustain life) or actively (directly ending the life of the child-in-utero). It will be useful, later, to refer to natural abortion (miscarriage) as these can sometimes overlap with the mothers behavior (knowingly or unknowingly, intentional or unintentional) wherein her body becomes inhospitable to the child-in-utero.
Every abortion terminates the pregnancy by killing the unborn human entity. It does not merely terminate the pregnancy–normal childbirth “terminates” a pregnancy without any abortion involved. Abortion thus is distinguished from child-birth not by the termination of pregnancy but by mannter of its termination.
Several kinds of abortion are currently legal in the United States.
1) The Morning-After Pill/Emergency Contraception:
The Mayo Clinic explains, “The morning-after pill is a type of emergency birth control (contraception). The purpose of emergency contraception is to prevent pregnancy after a woman has had unprotected sex. Morning-after pills contain either levonorgestrel (Plan B One-Step, Next Choice) or ulipristal (Ella).” Different FDA approved forms of the Morning-After Pill include, Plan B One-Step, Next Choice and Ella, but other non-FDA approved forms are in use in other countries. The Plan B One-Step has been recently made available (April 2013) over the counter, without a prescription, to women as young as 15–provided they can provide legal identification. Next Choice is available over the counter for women 17 and older. And Ella is prescription only. The chemical ingredients Levonorgestrel and Uliprista primarily works by preventing fertilization, but has been alleged to prevent implantation (here and here). If it prevented implantation, that would constitute a kind of abortion rather than contraception. The implantation objection has not been accepted or otherwise admitted as a “disputed subject” among many in the medical field. Strictly speaking, the Morning-after pill is not supposed to abort anything but rather is an after-the-fact contraceptive method. As such, it is included here on the allegations that Levonorgestrel and Uliprista, in some cases, prevent implantation (see page 5 here).
2) Intra-Uterine Devices
Intra-uterine devices, such as the Copper-T IUD, are t-shaped contraceptive implants which inhibit or destroy incoming sperm by generating excess mucus in the cervix thus lowing chances of fertilization. IUD’s also keep the lining of the endometrium from getting a thick enough layer of mucus to achieve implantation. Both of these elements inhibit pregnancy, since lowered chances of fertilization decrease risk of pregnancy (for each instance of intercourse), and reduced mucosal lining in the endometrium means the zygote (conceptus/fertlized “egg”) has less chance of implantation and thus is aborted at the earliest stage. In terms of abortions, blocked implantation is the earliest, and safest, means. IUD’s should not be used as Emergency Contraceptives however since they are abortifacients. They are designed to be used in terminating terminating, not preventing pregnancy.
3) Suction Aspiration
This method of abortion dilates the cervix with a speculum and medications such as misorprostol. Then a medical vacuum is inserted into the uterus. Using it, the fetus and placenta are suctioned from the womb. In the course of the suction, the fetus is killed. This procedure is typically used between the 6th and 12th weeks of pregnancy. The procedure lasts 10 to 15 minutes, but recovery time for the patient can span several hours.
4) Dilation and Curettage (D&C)
Similar to Suction Aspiration, this method includes dilation and suction-aspiration but adds an additional element: curettage. This method begins by dilating the cervix with a speculum and medications such as misorprostol. A loop-shaped knife (curette) is used to scrape the inner linings of the uterus, cutting the placenta and fetus away from the uterus. The remains are then suctioned, aspirating it from the womb. This method is used for pregnancies in the 12th to 15th weeks, as the fetus is large enough to be difficult to suction without curettage.
For later term abortions, 21st week or further, a partial delivery is induced–exposing the fetus’ head before commencing with the abortion. This partial birth is induced with a synthetic dilator, opening the cervix. The patient usually returns home at this time till the water breaks third days later. The patient returns to the doctor’s office wherein the fetus is partially birthed exposing the head. The doctor then makes a small incision in the base of the fetal skull and inserts a suction catheter to remove the brain matter. This collapses the skull killing the fetus. Forceps are used to remove the rest of the fetus.