In 1973 the Supreme Court announced its decision in what is now the landmark case of Roe v. Wade. On January 22, "the Court recognized for the first time that the constitutional right to privacy 'is broad enough to encompass a woman's decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.'" (3) This decision legalized abortion nationwide, overruling the legislation that had previously banned abortion in almost two-thirds of the states. (3) However, the Roe v. Wade decision also further defined the rules of abortion. At the point in pregnancy at which the fetus could feasibly sustain life outside of the womb, a state may prohibit abortion. (3) This aspect of the ruling allowed for science to step in - to determine when the decision is no longer that of the woman but of the state.
When does an embryo become a fetus and when is a fetus a person? Before 1973 this question lacked importance in the political field. But with the announcement of Roe v. Wade it took on a greater value. Now doctors, aided by new technology, are constantly redefining when it is an embryo becomes a living thing - saving babies as young as just 23 weeks old. Acts like these make science look as though it is often siding with the pro-life activists. (4)
A human gestation period is divided into three trimesters of approximately three months each for nine months total. In the first trimester the pregnancy starts with a fertilized egg that divides to become tissue and cleavage, which become an embryo. In these first three months the embryo goes through organogenesis and develops body organs, its heart beats after the fourth week, brain waves can be monitored after six weeks, and by the eighth week all major body parts are present. (4) At the end of the trimester the embryo has matured into a fetus. During the second trimester the fetus grows from the approximately 5cm it was at the end of the first trimester to about 30cm long. It also begins to move as it is continuing to mature. By the third trimester it becomes fully-grown, completely fills the capacity of the womb, and fully matured at about 50cm long. (5) Since the heart has been beating since the beginning of the first trimester, a fetus in the stages of the second and third trimesters are almost always considered alive and, therefore, state property to some extent unless there are extenuating circumstances. This means almost all abortions are received in the first trimester.
There are two types of abortion, surgical and medical. Three types of surgical abortion procedures are currently practiced in the United States today. The first is known as the manual vacuum aspiration. In this procedure the uterus is emptied with the use of a manual syringe. This is for the first trimester only - from the time that a woman knows she is pregnant to just before ten weeks of pregnancy. The second, known as dilation and suction curettage, may be preformed as late as fourteen weeks into the pregnancy. This procedure involves the emptying of the uterus with