Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Physical Effects of Abortion

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Catholic Encyclopedia (1913), Volume 1
The Physical Effects of Abortion

by James Nicholas Butler


Definition. The expulsion of the human ovum occurring during the first three months of pregnancy, and occurring from any cause whatsoever, is called abortion. In the fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh months — i.e., from the formation of the placenta to the period of viability — the occurrence is called immature delivery, or miscarriage, and a delivery occurring from the twenty-eighth week (the earliest period of viability) to the thirty-eighth week is called premature.

Causes of abortion. To understand the physical effects of abortion we must know something of the causes, which are in the main the same as the causes of miscarriage and premature delivery. Abortion may be due to pathological changes in the ovum, the uterus, or its adnexa one or both — to the physical or nervous condition of the woman, to diseases either inherited or acquired (syphilis, tuberculosis, rheumatism); to any infectious, contagious, or inflammatory disease; to shock, injury, or accident. It may be induced knowingly, willingly, and criminally by the pregnant person herself, or by someone else, with the aid of drugs, or instruments, or both.

Physical effects of abortion. Naturally, therefore, the physical effects of abortion will depend in direct ratio on the causation thereof, and the comparative malignity or benignity of such causation. In any case, abortion is fraught with serious consequences, direct and indirect — and is a sad miscarriage of nature's plan, greatly to be deplored, and earnestly, strenuously, and conscientiously to be avoided. Of course, when brought about with criminal intent, abortion is nothing less than murder in the first degree; and if the law of the land does not discover and punish the criminal, the higher law of the God of Nature and of Nature's inexorable reprisals for interference with, or destruction of her beneficent designs, will sooner or later most certainly do so.

When abortion is due to pathological causes it is usually preceded by the death of the fetus; so that the causes of abortion are really the causes producing the death of the fetus. The abortion may be complete or partial. If complete, the danger is principally from shock and haemorrhage; if incomplete and any debris remains, there is danger of septicaemia, uraemia, endometritis, perimetritis, diseases of the tubes, ovaries, bladder, cervix uteri, vaginal canal, and rectum; together with catarrhal discharges from one or more of these parts, displacements, impoverished blood supply, various neuroses, and usually a long and expensive convalescence.

The retention of the dead fetus is not always so dangerous. Even if decomposition or putrefaction occur, Nature frequently — possibly more often than we are willing to give her credit for — eliminates the offending foreign mass without the aid of the obstetrician. But it is not wise to advocate the waiting for such happy and spontaneous events. However while it is true that with proper medical care and attention most cases of abortion (excluding criminal cases and those complicated with other morbid conditions) present a modicum of danger, yet we must not forget that reports and statistics on this subject are very unreliable. First, there may be a false diagnosis; and secondly, concealment on the part of the patient, attendants, and all concerned is exceedingly common today.

Obstetrical science has made many and important advances; but abortions from one cause or another (especially criminal abortion) continue in abundance; and their results have been and are still crowding the medical offices. To tear out the living products of conception by the roots is, in most cases, to give the pregnant woman gratuitous transportation for eternity. Even in spontaneous cases, as we have seen, death may occur from various causes. How much greater the danger, then, when the vandal hand of the professional abortionist adds wounds and injuries to complete his diabolical work.

Conclusion. Since so many people today have ceased to look on abortion as a calamity at all times, and as a moral monstrosity in its criminal aspect, they should be deterred from committing it by the fear of physical consequences, if they are not moved by the love of morality and righteousness.

J.N. BUTLER