Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Physical Effects of Abortion

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Abortion, The Physical Effects of.—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. 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.

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 fœtus; so that the causes of abortion are really the causes producing the death of the fœtus. The causes may be grouped as follows:—direct violence (blows, falls, kicks, etc.); diseases of the fœtal appendages (cord, amnion, chorion, placenta); hæmorrhage and other diseases of the decidua before the complete formation of the placenta; febrile affections, excessive anæmia, starvation, corpulency, atrophy or hypertrophy of the uterine mucous mebrane, hyperæmia of the gravid uterus, excessive head or cold, diseases of the heart, liver, or lungs, long journeys, shock, excessive coitus, nervous influences, uterine anti-displacements, and the like. 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 septicæmia, uræmia, 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.

From 1867 to 1875 the Bureau of Vital Statistics of New York reported 197 deaths from abortion, but admitted that the Department believed that number to fall far short of the truth. In the thirty years since then, obstetrical science has made many and important advances in ætiology, pathology and treatment; but abortions from one cause or another continue in abundance; and their results have been and are still crowding the offices and sanatoria of the female specialists. Hegar reckoned one abortion to every eight full-term deliveries. Lusk, Marsais, Siebold, Gallard, and other equally prominent but more modern obstetricians and gynæcologists present about the same testimony. From criminal abortion death is very frequent. To tear out the living products of conception by the roots is, in most cases, to give the pregnant woman gratuitous transportation for eternity. Tardieu alone records seventy women who died out of one hundred cases. Even in spontaneous cases, as we have seen, death may occur from hæmorrhage, shock, peritonitis, septicæmia, etc. How much greater the danger, then, when the vandal hand of the professional abortionist adds wounds and injuries to complete his diabolical work. After a careful perusal of this subject the conclusions are:—

When nature, from what cause soever, produces the abortion, some women die, and most have troubles of greater or less gravity left over; when abortion results from criminal interference, a large proportion of women dies, and all are more or less maimed for life. Both the these results increase in number and gravity in direct proportion to the number of times the fatality occurs in each individual case.

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.

Marbais, Des blessures de la matrice dans les manœuvres criminelles abortives (Bibl. d'anthr. crim. et des sciences pénales) (1870); Siebold, Zur Lehre von der künstlichen Frühqeburt; Lusk, Nature, Origin, and Prevention of Puerperal Fever; Transactions, International Medical Congress (Philadelphia), 830; Hegar, Beiträge zur Pathotogie des Eies, Monatsschr. f. Geburtsk., XXI, 34; Gallard, De l'avortement au point de vue medico-légal (Paris, 1878), 45.