There are few issues that have divided opinions in America as much as abortion. There has been a continual debate both for and against it dating back to well before the U. S. Supreme Court’s seven to two decision on Roe v. Wade which declared that abortion is a “fundamental right” on January 22, 1973 (procon.org). This has been one of the most controversial topics, most likely because it involves what some people see as the “right to choose” while others see it as the “right to life”. This topic touches on the most basic of moral and religious principles, the right of anyone to live without being harmed by another human being, and the rights of women to make choices about their own health. This issue is best looked at from an independent perspective, allowing the views of both sides to be considered independently from each other and comparatively to each other. The goal is to do determine if there is any common ground between the two sides that would make mediation possible. The information will provide a glimpse into the relationship of the Supreme Court’s decision on the topic to the U.S. Constitution to see how, if at all, the decision relates to fundamental rights provided to United States citizens by the Constitution.
The History of Abortion
Most people likely are not aware of the history of abortion. Britain passed their first abortion laws all the way back in 1803, which gradually became stricter throughout the remainder of the 19th century. The United States soon followed the British example with most abortions becoming illegal by 1880, with the exception of those which were deemed as “necessary to save the life of the mother”. It has historically been reported however, that the early United States abortion laws were not really enforced and that many practitioners openly performed abortions without any fear of being prosecuted for doing so. (feminist.com)
The pro-choice activists insist that male doctors during the 19th century were trying to get better control over the medical profession by pushing for abortions to be illegal as a means of restricting the practice of midwives, which reportedly was seen as a threat the economic power of the male doctors. In the 1890’s, it is estimated that there were two million abortions performed annually in the United States, compared to the roughly one and one half million that are performed annually in recent years. (feminist.com)
The pro-choice activists insist that safe abortions were unavailable to poor or minority women prior to Roe v. Wade, and that in the 1960’s the practitioners who performed abortions would turn away women who could not pay $1,000 or more in cash, and that some male abortion practitioners would even insist on having sexual relations with their clients before performing their abortions. It has been reported that in the 1950’s, there were approximately one million illegal abortions performed in the United States with over one thousand women dying each year as a result of these illegal abortions. In 1969, it is reported that an astounding 75% of the women who died from illegal abortions were women of color, and that approximately 90% of legal abortions were performed on white patients. (feminist.com)
At least in part due to the controversial nature of this topic, there is a lot of statistical information available, which is used by both the pro-life and pro-choice groups. Some of the most notable statistics are as follows.
There has been 53 million legal abortions since Roe v. Wade was decided by the Supreme Court in 1973, Both Catholic and Lutheran churches oppose abortion, both groups have a substantial number of members who think abortion should be illegal, as opposed to those who do don’t think it should be illegal, The risk of a woman dying form an abortion is only 0.6 in 100,000, which is surprising whereas, the chances of a woman dying as a result of giving birth has been reported 14 times more likely, The risk of dying for a colonoscopy is forty times greater than the risk of dying from abortion, According to the Centers for Disease Control estimated 9.3% of abortions reported in 2011 were undergone by women who had three or more previous abortions, and There were more state enacted abortion restrictions in place between 2011 and 2013 (205) than were enacted in the entire previous decade (189). (procon.org)
Gallup polls have shown that 46% of Americans identify themselves as prolife while 47% identify themselves as prochoice, in 1972 the maternal mortality rate dropped forty five present in New York State due to decriminalization of abortion.
• According to USA Today in a report dated February 2, 2014, the abortion rate in the United States has dropped steadily to its lowest levels since becoming legal in 1973. They cited new data showing that there had been a 13% decline in the number of abortions from 2008 until 2011.(Jayson 1)
• Almost half of American women have terminated at least one pregnancy.
• Over 80% of counties in the United States do not have any abortion providers, with some states having as few as one or two.(theatlantic.com)
• Only 12% of medical schools actually teach first-trimester abortion techniques as part of their gynecological curriculum.(theatlantic.com)
• As many as 94% of women who have had abortions have said they regret their decision to abort.(prolifeacrossamerica.org)
• A babies heart begins to beat at approximately 18 days after conception, pumping the babies own blood.(prolifeacrossamerica.org)
Side by Side Comparison
As you can see, there is a lot of information available that can be used to make the case for either side of this debate. Let’s take a look at how each side sees some of the key issues involved in the abortion debate.
• Roe v. Wade: The US Supreme Court in 1973 declared that abortion was legal and was a “fundamental right” protected by the United States Constitution. This is obviously a point in favor of the pro-choice groups.(procon.org)
• Is abortion murder? Pro-life groups believe and teach that abortion is murder because they believe that life begins at conception, while the pro-choice groups believe and teach that life begins at birth, or not long before birth when the baby is nearly full term.(procon.org)
• Women should have a choice? This is at the root of the debate over abortion. Should women have the right to do what they want with their own bodies? The pro-life groups believe that women should not have the choice to end the life of another person in order to satisfy their own personal choice, while the pro-choice groups believe that women should have the right to do what they feel is best for them and for their bodies. This is seen by the pro-choice groups as a basic right for women in order to make them more equal, both socially and economically.(procon.org)
• Can fetuses feel pain? The pro-life groups believe and teach that fetuses can and do feel pain during abortion procedures. Some research suggest that fetuses as young as 8 weeks according to Maureen Condic, PhD, Associate Professor of Neurobiology and Anatomy and Adjunct Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Utah School of Medicine, who has stated that the spinal reflex is developed enough by eight weeks to enable the fetus to feel pain, while at the same time, a 2005 University of California at San Francisco study indicated that fetuses cannot feel pain until the 29th or 30th week of gestation. The mixed results of the studies along with the opinions of many doctor’s, would leave anyone unclear about whether or not the first trimester fetus, in particular, can feel pain.(procon.org)
• Lack of access to legal, professional abortions can increase the maternal mortality rate is the view of the pro-choice groups, while the pro-life groups would argue that the easy access to legal abortions only increases the mortality rate of unborn fetuses.(procon.org)
• The Bible teaches that unborn babies are human beings by recognizing them as such. Jeremiah 1:5 states that “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee….” Virtually every major religion teaches against abortion. The Hindu religion equates abortion with killing ones parents. These views obviously are not shared by the pro-choice groups.(procon.org)
• Abortions are reported to cause psychological damage. Studies have shown that women who have had abortions at more subject to depression and anxiety disorders. This is of course, disputed by the pro-choice groups. They instead cite a 2013 peer reviewed study which compared the mental health of women who had received abortions to those who were denied abortions which found that the women who had been denied abortions “felt more regret and anger” than women who had received abortions.(procon.org)
• Abortion reduces the number of adoptable babies. This is one of those facts that cannot be disputed by either side, as it is a simple truth based on the fact that if a woman aborts a baby, then that baby will never be available for adoption.(procon.org)
• Access to legal abortions helps to keep women from being put at a financial disadvantage. It is reported that 42% of women having abortions are below the poverty level. A 2005 peer reviewed survey published in Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health which asked women why they had an abortion, reported that 73% of those responding said that they had an abortion primarily because they could not afford to have a baby, while 38% of those responding reported that having a baby would have interfered with their education and career goals. The pro-life groups counter this by stating that these women are simply using abortion as a means to avoid their responsibility as adults, and that the women should put the babies up for adoption rather than aborting them.(procon.org)
• Abortion reduces welfare costs to taxpayers? According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which is a supposed nonpartisan federal agency, when evaluating a proposed bill that would have banned all abortions past 20 weeks of pregnancy, reported that doing so would increase the federal deficit by $225 million over a nine year period, because they say a disproportionate number of women who receive abortions are below the federal poverty level.(procon.org)
• Does abortion reduce crime? In an article published in the peer reviewed Quarterly Journal of Economics which was written by Freakonomics co-author Steven D. Levitt, PhD, he stated that “legalized abortion has contributed significantly to recent crime reductions”. He also noted that crime rates dropped abruptly approximately 18 years after the Roe v. Wade ruling. Some on the pro-choice side point out that these reductions are due because many of the women who have abortions are at the most risk to give birth to children who will grow up to commit crimes.(procon.org)
• Does abortion disproportionately affect African Americans? According to the Guttmacher Institute, black women are 3.3 times more likely as white women to have an abortion. In New York City, it is reported that during 2012 there were more black babies aborted (31,328) then there were live births of black babies (24,758) meaning that approximately 56% of black babies were aborted in New York during 2012. In a shocking response to the “war on blacks” argument put forth by many on the pro-life side, the pro-choice groups stress that abortion is justified as a means of population control. They cite a report by the United Nations which reports that the population of the world will increase to 9.3 billion by 2050, which they say will result in more poverty, malnutrition, starvation, lack of medical services and more pollution.(procon.org)
• Abortion does eliminate the potential societal contributions of a those people who are aborted. The pro-life groups cite cases of famous people whose mothers were either advised to have an abortion or considered an abortion. This list includes, among many others, Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow, Celine Dion and Justin Bieber.(procon.org)
Constitutional or Not?
When the U.S. Supreme Court on January 22, 1973 reached the Roe v. Wade decision, they stated that the “right of privacy…..founded in the Fourteenth Amendment’s concept of personal liberty….is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.” The court then held that through the end of the first trimester of pregnancy, only the woman who is pregnant and her doctor have any legal right to make a decision about whether or not she has an abortion. The ruling gave states the freedom to restrict abortions after the first trimester, however the Court has ruled several times since then against the legality of various restrictions put forth by different states. The founding fathers obviously never had any idea that the Fourteenth Amendment would be used to legalize abortion. The legality of the application of this to the abortion question is and most likely will continue to be left up to the discretion of the Court. With the divisive nature of the debate, it is not likely that the Congress and Senate will take action any time in the near future to clarify the legal position or the applicability of the Fourteenth Amendment to the argument. The U.S. Supreme Court will once again hear arguments to decide if the new restrictions on abortions recently enacted in Texas constitute an “undue burden” on women who seek legal abortions there. (wolf 1) Like the abortion debate itself, there is still much debate about the constitutionality of abortion.
As you can see, there are so many arguments that can be made for either side of the abortion debate. The only common ground that seems to exist between the two sides, is that of the belief that life is precious. What makes it so difficult for the two sides to come together on this common ground is that the pro-life side sees the life of the unborn child as equally important as the life of the mother, while the pro-choice side sees the life and ability to make her own choices as superior to the life of the unborn baby. I do not see how the two sides can ever come together in a meaningful way to settle all of their differences on this topic.