Since the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision that did away with all laws regulating abortion, it has become one of our nation’s most controversial issues. Outlawing abortion would have the effect of imposing one person’s moral values upon another. Can I prevent someone from drinking because I think it’s wrong? Can I insist that two people stay married because I’m against divorce? The answer to these questions is no. Not only is it unconstitutional, but it’s unrealistic to believe that we can control the lives of others simply because their beliefs differ from ours. Abortion is a personal issue and should be dealt with by the individual, not the courts.
To more clearly understand this debate, consider a hypothetical situation. An 18-year-old single female is struggling to get her education so that one day she can be financially secure. She’s working to put herself through school, but there is no extra money and no extra time. One day, she hopes to marry and have children, but neither one of these events fit into her short-term plans. In fact, pregnancy right now could knock her totally off course and potentially ruin her life, as she now has it planned. So she takes the necessary precautions to prevent this from happening. But let’s assume Mother Nature pulls a fast one on her. No type of birth control is 100% effective, and she happens to fall into that small percentage that isn’t so lucky. She’s got quite a dilemma. She wants children, but not right now.
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To choose to have a child is a commitment and carries all sorts of responsibilities that she’s not ready to fulfill. Her chances of achieving her goals are significantly reduced with a child. She wants to provide her children with all the advantages she didn’t have, but that doesn’t look possible now. Not only does the quality of her own life seem bleak, but so does the life of the child. She struggles with her situation, carefully weighing all the factors, and in the end, she decides not to continue the pregnancy. But now she’s faced with a new problem. People she doesn’t even know are trying to override her decision. Who are they, and why should they have any say in her life? Are they willing to support her and this child? Are they willing to guarantee her the same life she could have had if they had not interfered?
She played by the rules, she took preventative measures, but they didn’t work. Now it looks as if she’s being held responsible and penalized for something that she had no control over. While her situation seems hopeless to her, what about the teenagers who marry hastily, drop out of school, take a low-paying job if they can get one, and give up on their lives before turning twenty? Women must be given the right to choose a life above mere physical survival.
We all know, however, that recent court decisions and legislative efforts indicate an increasing tendency to impose legal penalties and restrictions on women in the name of “fetal rights.” How can we protect a fetus, and at the same time disregard the life of the women carrying it? Are pregnant women merely carriers of children? Yes, we have a moral obligation to all living things, but if their survival depends on the needs of an actual person, we have to give priority to human beings. We can’t protect a fetus and consider the mother expendable (Planned Parenthood 1).
Another implication that goes along with an amendment to outlaw abortion, is its potential effect on the right to use birth control devices. Birth control pills don’t prevent fertilization, but instead, prevent the implantation of an already fertilized egg. The Human Life Amendment declares that fetuses, from the moment of fertilization, are “persons” (Thompson 4). This means that birth control pills could be made illegal. Birth control pills are not only one of the most popular, but one of the most effective as well. If these were outlawed, women would be forced to use less reliable forms of birth control, and the need for abortion would be even greater.
Probably the most important factor to be considered is that outlawing abortion is not going to stop it from happening. Years ago, most states had laws that prohibited abortions. But, in the absence of legal abortions by qualified physicians, many women disobeyed the law and submitted themselves to quacks, which performed the procedures often under appalling conditions. Instead of operating in sterile facilities, the abortion quacks operated wherever they could find space, often in dusty, bare rooms off back alleys (Planned Parenthood). Often the women who had undergone abortions hemorrhaged and bled to death, or suffered severe infections.
It was to stop these back-alley abortion mills that laws were liberalized to permit legal abortions under safe and accepted medical practices and standards. Where abortions are legal, a woman doesn’t have to submit to the high risk of her life or her health to terminate the pregnancy. The risk of death from illegal abortion is 30 times greater than from a legal one. Coat hangers, turpentine, and other painful and risky methods of abortion are clear indicators of the desperation women feel when faced with unwanted pregnancies (Planned Parenthood 1).
Opponents of abortion suggest other alternatives, but there are no acceptable alternatives. The availability of birth control devices is not going to help the woman who is already pregnant, and there are already too many unwanted children going unadopted.
Those who oppose abortion, no doubt, will find cause to justify it under certain conditions, such as rape or endangerment of the mother’s life. But who draws the boundaries on when it’s right and when it’s wrong? Abortion is abortion, no matter what the circumstances may be. If it’s outlawed, there can’t be any exceptions.
I am neither condoning nor condemning abortion; I am merely defending each woman’s right to be in charge of the decisions that will affect her life. If we relinquish our rights in the abortion controversy, how many of our other individual decisions might we have to surrender in the future? It is for this reason, for this principle, that I stand with those who are fighting to keep the responsibility for abortion where it belongs, with each individual woman. It’s her body, it’s her future, and it’s her decision.
Planned Parenthood. “Nine Reasons Why Abortions Are
Legal.” 22 Nov. 1999 <http:www.planned
Thompson, Judith Jarvis. A Defense of Abortion. Vol. 1.
New York: Random, 1971
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