The topic of abortion is one of the most controversial of our times. It has caused countless deaths and several violent confrontations between the two separate parties of opinion. The fight between pro-life and pro-choice supporters has been long and brutal. This is because, despite what several people may believe, abortion is neither right nor wrong. It is a matter of personal opinion. In this way, each side can say with certainty that the other is wrong.
Therefore the question remains; should abortion be legal? Though some may disagree on this point, the fact is that legalized abortion is the only option that will protect the lives of American citizens. One only needs to look into American history to see the results of prohibiting abortions for women. The violence which occurs today because of pro-choice/pro-life conflicts is minimal in comparison to the thousands of homeless women who turn to illegal abortions — either self-inflicted or performed by the backroom “professionals”– which result in infection, massive blood loss, and death.
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It is better now that they have a place to go where abortions can be performed cleanly and with minimal risk. The legalization of abortion is the only choice no matter what side one takes in the debate. Women will try to do what they think is necessary to live as they wish, no matter what the risk. In order to live as she chooses a woman may give up her freedom, her morals, her beliefs, her family, or even her life.
Abortion has been around for thousands of years in every inhabited corner of the globe. It has always been accepted as a means to prevent the suffering of both women and potential children. It has been practiced widely in every society for many reasons including famine, war, poverty, overpopulation, or simply because a woman felt she was not ready for a child (Whitney 40). No one ever questioned a woman’s right to this procedure.
After all, who but God has the right to judge what a woman does with her own body? This thought process lasted till the 1800s. During this era of change, people began to turn their attention in a new direction, the fetus. They began to protest abortion as cruel, inhumane, and murderous. Filled with a new sense of purpose and the glory of a fresh, righteous cause to uphold this new morality swept the countryside enveloping everyone in its wake.
Abortionists who were once revered and depended upon were now scorned and threatened. Though abortions still happened with regularity, they were kept silent and seen as a matter of shame. “Over the next hundred years, public sentiment for the fetus continued to rise until the inevitable happened in America during the early ’40s; Abortion was made illegal” (Cohen 17). There were much back-patting and congratulations among the pro-life supporters. And why not?
They had succeeded in saving the lives of the hundreds of innocent babies who would have been senselessly slaughtered for the convenience of selfish, ignorant, and irresponsible women. Because of this new law, women would settle down and raise families or give these beautiful children over into the hands of the hundreds of loving couples who were just waiting for a baby to call their own. It seemed that the perfect law had just been passed. Or had it?
It has been proven time and time again throughout history that the human spirit will not allow prohibition.
Something inside us feels the need to strike out at that which restrains us and holds us from the life we want. Just as prohibition of alcohol made a black market for liquor (a virtual underworld was immediately erected to fulfill the new need for abortions). The government, through regulation, had once again created a need that would be fulfilled by the lawless. Most doctors, fearing incarceration, refused to treat the women who so desperately wanted abortions. Women, seeing no other solution to their problems, were often desperate enough to turn to these “Back Room” clinics.
These clinics were located in poverty-ridden sections of the city and their conditions were deplorable. The places themselves were layered in filth and disease. Inexperienced butchers using dirty and crude equipment treated the girls. As if these backroom clinics were not bad enough, there was an even more appalling decision a woman might face. If she were unable to pay the exorbitant price for the illegal surgery, she would often perform the act herself. “Knitting needles, coat hangers, antiseptic douches and poisons were used most often” (Welton 123).
Emergency rooms primarily in the more urban areas were reporting higher numbers of intractable bleeding to the point of death. Pelvic inflammatory disease and other forms of life-threatening sepsis were on the rise. Self-induced poisoning was another complication. (Boyer, 98). Partial abortions were also commonplace. One thing most people do not think about is the fetus. If, as some say, life and the sense of self begins at conception, how many atrocities have been caused by the incompetence shown during this time? Some may wonder what drove these women to such extremes just to have an abortion. Why didn’t they just have the baby?
The answer lies in our most basic human instinct: to survive as best we can. These women want to live their lives as they choose, not as it is chosen that they live it. Being forced to bear a child could mean having to support and give up dreams of a better life. Also, they might be pressured into a “shotgun wedding” to save their reputations. In the book Back Rooms, by Ellen Messer, a woman named Liz explains her reasons for receiving an abortion. “People have said to me, ‘How can you be in favor of abortion? If you’d had one, you wouldn’t have these beautiful children.’ But I would have had them. It just would have been later when I was better prepared to care for them. And maybe they would have a nicer man for their father. I would have been more prepared and all our lives would have been so much easier. Even though I love my children dearly, I regret that I did not have an abortion when I was given the option. I should never have let others influence my decision(29).
For other women, being forced to bear a child would mean placing it into the system. It is commonly thought that every orphan is just temporary. That there is a family out there just waiting for it with open arms. The truth of the matter is that many families did not want children unless they were white and healthy. Most of the others were either shifted through the system until they were 18 or sent to live with foster families who were sometimes uncaring or even abusive (187). Women were aware of these realities and many refused to bring a child into the world and have it live in such a manner.
Also was the fact that many women wanted to hide their present state from families or employers. They knew that they could be disowned or fired for their “shameful state”. They were desperate to keep their secrets, so desperate in fact that they were willing to risk their lives. This was a risk they should not have had to take. In the book Abortion: A Positive Decision, Mrs. Lunneborg states that “The desire not to have a child is by far the best reason for an abortion. There are enough unwanted children in the world already.” (18) And so these women risked and often lost, their lives in these illegal abortions. If they were caught afterward, they were charged with murder. But is abortion murder?
Abortion is defined as “The induced termination of a pregnancy before it is capable of survival as an individual” (Frohock 186). Considering this definition, at the time of most abortions, the fetus is not an individual. The definition is far too simplistic. One needs to take into consideration the developmental stages of the fetal life span. Most abortions occur soon after the confirmation of pregnancy, (usually prior to 12 weeks gestation.) The first twelve weeks is known as the first trimester or the embryonic phase. At this time the fetus is about 3-3.5 inches long having a weight of 15-20 grams. The neurological system is primitive at best, demonstrating only vague swimming motions (Rosenblatt 37). The second trimester heralds a time of rapid growth. At about 20 months the mother usually first perceives fetal movement. At 24 weeks the brain resembles that of a mature person. The fetal weight is about 650 grams (39). The third trimester is from 24 weeks to birth (approximately 40 weeks.). At 26 weeks the nervous system begins to regulate somebody’s processes (40).
“When making the conscious decision to terminate the life of the fetus one must take into account the development of the fetus. One approach might be that of assessing neurological development. It is only logical that the more complex the neurological system the more likely you are to induce pain or end a sense of self if, in fact, that sense exists prior to birth” (Frohock 28). In many ways, it is similar to the decision to pull the plug on a comatose person. Here, one must decide whether or not to withdraw that which the person needs to survive. Yet the decision to terminate is not considered murder but an act of the deepest humanity, an opinion that contrasts greatly to the shame and animosity faced by an aborted mother during the time of the mass anti-abortion sentiment.
How long would women suffer this mental anguish? (Haddok 132) Based on this information, presented in the Roe vs. Wade case, the Supreme Court ruled that a woman was allowed by the Constitution’s 14th Amendment to receive an abortion before the first trimester. It now appeared that the pro-choice advocates had won the political tug-o-war at last. However, violence continues between the two groups as the animosity and resentment have grown to new heights. Now, more than ever, research articles are coming out about a woman’s right to privacy vs. a fetus’s right to life. The law may have been passed, but the war goes on. It is difficult to gain valid and subjective information on the topic of abortion. This is because much of the research has been colored by the personal beliefs of the group or individual that collects it. There may not be an intentional or even conscious effort to skew the facts in this manner but it happens nonetheless.
Unfortunately, because of this lapse, many Americans are confused as to the reality of the situation and tend to avoid it as we have a tendency to do with subjects we do not understand. Others simply grab the information they like best and sling it at their opponents in the matter.
The other side looks at this information and sees that it contrasts with their own. Thus they dismiss it as lies. It is a vicious circle and it has caused many deaths and injuries on both sides from riots, bombings, and fights. Carrie, a San Diego nurse in an abortion clinic, tells what it was like when the building was bombed by pro-life supporters. “At the initial explosion, I was knocked to the floor. A wave of heat burst through the room followed closely by the fire. Burning papers fell from my desk and caught on the leg of my scrubs. The pain was unbelievable! I now know what hell must be like. I began to crawl to the door when I heard a cry behind me. One of the young patients was running down the hall with her gown on fire. I grabbed her and made her roll. Then we got out…
I suffered second and third-degree burns on my legs and arms and my lungs were filled with smoke and had to be flushed out. Still, I am lucky to even be alive. Two of my best friends died in that bombing and several of my co-workers. I can not help but think now, that it is a bitter irony that the people who claim they are trying to save lives are killing people to accomplish it.” (Interview with Carrie) According to Jannet Lennelborg, “We must find an uncommon ground on this issue.”(18). It is clear that these two groups will never join in their ways of thinking. There are too much passion and conflict involved in the debate. What we must do is find a compromise and “agree to disagree” (18). If just for a moment, we could just stop the finger-pointing and name-calling, and just listen to what our so-called opponents have to say, we may find that both sides have their points. Only then can we stop the hatred and violence that has so ripped America in the last few decades.
In conclusion, my research leads me to believe that, while abortion must be legal, a woman should also be provided with all the correct information she needs to make a responsible and rational decision. I believe that this is the only solution we can have which will conclude this “private war” once and for all. The misinformation and violence surrounding this issue have turned humans against humans for far too long. Most of the negativity regarding the issue of abortion comes from religious rights who believe that the right to the life of the fetus supersedes all else. Unfortunately, there will always be a disparity between logic and religion.
Boyer, Mark. Abortion: The Straight Facts. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1992.
Cohen, Marshall. The Rights and Wrongs of Abortion. New Jersey: Princeton Press, 1978.
Frohock, Fred. Abortion. Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1989.
Haddock, Martha. Abortion Today. New York: Doubleday, 1992.
Interview- Interview with a former San Diego abortion clinic nurse who was present when it was bombed in 1985.
Lunneborg, Patricia. Abortion: A Positive Decision. New York: Bergin & Garvey, 1992.
Messer, Ellen. Back Rooms. New York: St. Martin’s press, 1989.
Rosenblatt, Rodger. Life Itself. New York: Random House, 1993.
Welton, K.B. Abortion…Is Not A Sin. California: Pandit Press, 1989. 191-95.
Whitney, Catherine. Whose Life? New York: William Morrow and Co., 1992
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