[uh-bawr-shuh n]
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  1. Also called voluntary abortion. the removal of an embryo or fetus from the uterus in order to end a pregnancy.
  2. any of various surgical methods for terminating a pregnancy, especially during the first six months.
  3. Also called spontaneous abortion. miscarriage(def 1).
  4. an immature and nonviable fetus.
  5. abortus(def 2).
  6. any malformed or monstrous person, thing, etc.
  7. Biology. the arrested development of an embryo or an organ at a more or less early stage.
  8. the stopping of an illness, infection, etc., at a very early stage.
  9. Informal.
    1. shambles; mess.
    2. anything that fails to develop, progress, or mature, as a design or project.

Origin of abortion

First recorded in 1540–50, abortion is from the Latin word abortiōn- (stem of abortiō). See abort, -ion
Related formspost·a·bor·tion, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

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British Dictionary definitions for abortion


  1. an operation or other procedure to terminate pregnancy before the fetus is viable
  2. the premature termination of pregnancy by spontaneous or induced expulsion of a nonviable fetus from the uterus
  3. the products of abortion; an aborted fetus
  4. the arrest of development of an organ
  5. a failure to develop to completion or maturitythe project proved an abortion
  6. a person or thing that is deformed
Derived Formsabortional, adjective
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for abortion

1540s, from Latin abortionem (nominative abortio) "miscarriage, abortion," noun of action from past participle stem of aboriri (see abortive).

Earlier noun in English was simple abort (early 15c.). Originally of both deliberate and unintended miscarriages; in 19c. some effort was made to distinguish abortion "expulsion of the fetus between 6 weeks and 6 months" from miscarriage (the same within 6 weeks of conception) and premature labor (delivery after 6 months but before due time). This broke down as abortion came to be used principally for intentional miscarriages. Foeticide (v.) appears 1823 as a forensic medical term for deliberate premature fatal expulsion of the fetus; also cf. prolicide. Abortion was a taboo word for much of early 20c., disguised in print as criminal operation (U.S.) or illegal operation (U.K.), and replaced by miscarriage in film versions of novels.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

abortion in Medicine


  1. Induced termination of a pregnancy with destruction of the fetus or embryo; therapeutic abortion.
  2. Any of various procedures that result in such a termination of pregnancy.
  3. Spontaneous abortion.
  4. Cessation of a normal or abnormal process before completion.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

abortion in Science


  1. Induced termination of pregnancy, involving destruction of the embryo or fetus.
  2. Any of various procedures that result in such termination.
  3. Spontaneous abortion; miscarriage.
  4. Cessation of a normal or abnormal process before completion.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

abortion in Culture


The deliberate termination of a pregnancy, usually before the embryo or fetus is capable of independent life. In medical contexts, this procedure is called an induced abortion and is distinguished from a spontaneous abortion (miscarriage) or stillbirth.


Abortion laws are extremely controversial. Those who describe themselves as “pro-choice” believe that the decision to have an abortion should be left to the mother. In contrast, the “pro-life” faction, arguing that abortion is killing, holds that the state should prohibit abortion in most cases. Feminists (see feminism) (see also feminism) and liberals generally support the pro-choice side; Roman Catholics and Protestant fundamentalists generally back the pro-life side. (See Roe versus Wade.)


The ending of pregnancy and expulsion of the embryo or fetus, generally before the embryo or fetus is capable of surviving on its own. Abortion may be brought on intentionally by artificial means (induced abortion) or may occur naturally (spontaneous abortion, which is commonly referred to as a miscarriage). (Compare stillbirth; see also family planning and population control.)

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.