ABORTION, the premature separation and expulsion of the contents of the pregnant uterus. It is usual to call premature la bour of an accident type a "miscarriage," in order to distinguish "abortion" as a deliberately induced act, whether as a medical necessity by the accoucheur, or as a criminal proceeding (see MEDICAL JURISPRUDENCE) ; otherwise the term "abortion" would ordinarily be used when occurring before the eighth month of gestation, and "premature labour" subsequently. As an accident of pregnancy, it is not uncommon, although its relative frequency, compared with that of completed gestation, has been very differ ently estimated by accoucheurs. It is more liable to occur in the earlier than in the later months of pregnancy, and probably occurs more readily at times corresponding to those of the menstrual discharge. It may be induced by numerous causes, both of a local and general nature. Malformations of the pelvis, accidental in juries and the diseases and displacements to which the uterus is liable, on the one hand; and, on the other, various morbid condi tions of the ovum or placenta leading to the death of the foetus, are among the direct local causes. The general causes embrace certain states of the system which are apt to exercise a more or less direct influence upon the progress of utero-gestation. The tendency to recurrence in persons who have previously miscarried is well known, and should be borne in mind with the view of avoiding any cause likely to lead to a repetition of the accident. Abortion resembles ordinary labour in its general phenomena, excepting that in the former haemorrhage, often to a large extent, forms one of the leading symptoms. Treatment consists in rest, astringents and sedatives, to prevent the occurrence when it merely threat ens; when abortion is inevitable, it is directed towards speedy and complete removal of the entire contents of the uterus.
Among primitive savage races abortion is practised to a far less extent than infanticide (q.v.), which offers a simpler way of getting rid of inconvenient progeny. But it is common among the American Indians, as well as in China, Cambodia and India, although throughout Asia it is generally contrary both to law and religion. How far it was considered a crime among the civilized nations of antiquity is uncertain.
The English law on the subject is now governed by the Offences against the Person Act, 1861, which makes the attempting to cause miscarriage by administering poison or other noxious thing, or unlawfully using any instrument, equally a felony, whether the woman be or be not with child. No distinction is now made as to whether the foetus is or is not alive, legislation appearing to make the offence statutory with the object of prohibiting any risk to the life of the mother. If a woman administers to herself any poison or other noxious thing, or unlawfully uses any instrument or other means to procure her own miscarriage, she is guilty of felony. The punishment for the offence is penal servitude for life or not less than three years, or ordinary imprisonment for not more than two years. If a child is born alive, but in consequence of its pre mature birth, or of the means employed, afterwards dies, the offence is murder ; the general law as to accessories applies to the offence.
In all the countries of Europe the causing of abortion is now punishable with more or less lengthy terms of imprisonment. Indeed, the tendency in continental Europe is to regard the abor tion as a crime against the unborn child. In the United States it is a statutory offence in all states of the Union, but the woman must be actually pregnant. In most states not, only is the person who causes the abortion punishable, but also anyone who supplies any drug or instrument for the purpose.