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Studies show that about “40% of the one million pregnant women who become pregnant annually choose abortion.” (Boston Women’s Health Book Collective) This could happen either because the married couple is not financially and emotionally ready for parenting or because the expecting mother is a victim of rape or incest. (James C. Mohr, p.86) It could also be due to health reasons when the pregnant mother is advised by her doctor that she will only be placing her life in danger if she continues with the pregnancy.
Another reason is when the fetus was discovered to be suffering from certain defects.
Considering the number of women who undergo abortion nowadays, one major concern is the availability and accessibility of abortion services. Studies conducted by World Health Organization and Family Health International reveal that “20 Million unsafe abortions are being performed annually” and that “there is one unsafe abortion for every ten pregnancies” (The Boston Women’s Health Book Collective) Also, it is estimated that “the number of women who die worldwide from unsafe abortions each year range from 70,000 to 200,000. This means that between 13 and 20% of all maternal deaths are due to unsafe abortion--in some areas of the world, half of all maternal deaths. Of these deaths, 99% are in the developing world, and most are preventable.” (Boston Women’s Health Book Collective)
As early as 1973, the US Supreme Court, has spoken clearly and eloquently on the legality of abortion. In Roe v Wade (410 US 113), the Supreme Court ruled that abortion is a matter of right and is within the scope of the Right to Privacy. Despite the recognition that the decision to terminate one’s pregnancy is a matter of choice, it would seem that the individual states are not ready to accept the Roe v. Wade decision.
Because of our federalist system of government, several states have enacted statutes that had the effect of restricting access to abortion. (Barbara Hinkson Craig p.73) One of them is the Hyde Amendment which banned Medical Aid assistance for cases of abortion unless the woman’s life is in danger is a clear denial of the right to privacy. The enactment of Hyde Amendment is a proof that abortion is still not widely and totally accepted in United States. Further, research shows that only “17 states grant funding to abortions.” Boston Women’s Health Book Collective) The consequence of this is that despite the legality of abortion in the United States, safer and better quality of abortion services remains inaccessible to many women.
Some of these state laws provide that before a girl could undergo abortion she must seek parental consent from either or both parents. Research shows that “44 states have laws on the books requiring parental consent or notification prior to a minor’s abortion. More than 20 states enforce parental consent laws requiring consent from a parent before a minor may obtain a legal abortion—in 3 cases the laws require consent from both parents. Further, more than 10 states have laws requiring that a parent be informed of a minor’s intent to have an abortion, and 2 states require that both parents be informed.” (Abortion: United States p.1)
It must be stressed that this is in effect a denial of the woman’s right to privacy, especially for some women who have no contact with either or both parents. Further this state law negates the right of the woman to make a private decision about her pregnancy.
In some states, a law was passed called the Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act which imposed criminal liability on medical doctors who perform abortions on minor patients that failed to secure parental consent prior to abortions. These laws discourage the doctors from giving assistance to the pregnant women. In addition, some states require that women seeking abortion must first undergo mandatory counseling. During these counseling sessions the patients are informed about the dangers of abortion and the link between breast cancer and abortion. Clearly, these statutes have one objective which is to discourage women from proceeding with the pregnancy. Instead of the legislators giving these women the accurate information and the basic services they deserve they only make the lives of these women more difficult. Thus, most women resort to illegal abortions.
The Dangers of Illegal Abortion
Abortion is a practice that has been allowed for so many centuries. Several centuries ago, pregnancies were terminated by the administration of abortive herbs, use of sharpened instruments, engaging in violent exercises, lifting of heavy objects and even riding of animals. In the19th Century, abortion was prohibited during the fourth month of pregnancy in countries like United States and United Kingdom because it places in danger the life and health of the pregnant women. (Dorothy McBride Stetson p.247) During this time, abortion was allowed only if the continuation of pregnancy will endanger the life of the mother.
However some pregnant women still underwent abortion. Women who were determined to discontinue unwanted pregnancy had no choice but to resort to illegal abortionists. Most of the time these people are not even licensed physicians and the patients are not aware of this. On the other hand, some licensed physicians who are practicing it had to perform these operations in secluded places for fear of harassment and losing their patients and clients.
Those who have the means were lucky because they could afford to go to another country where abortion was allowed. Those who lacked financial resources to go other countries were often victimized by doctors practicing illegal abortion. Most of these illegal abortionists either charged very high or were rough and sadistic in their operations. Other women also suffered severe infections and hemorrhage under doctors who practiced unsanitary abortions leading to their deaths. In these cases, the women can have no other recourse but to suffer.
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It was only in the mid-part of the 20th Century that the efforts of pro-abortion movements and other women movements were recognized. A number of reforms were made and these include: some states liberalizing their own abortion laws by allowing abortion in cases of pregnancy arising from rape, incest or when the child is below 15 yrs of age; in some states like New York abortion during the 24th week from the last menstrual period was allowed. Despite all these reforms, very few women still were benefited as only a very limited number had the financial resources to go to New York. Thus illegal abortion was still rampant in some states especially to those economically disadvantaged.
On January 22, 1973, in the landmark case of Roe v Wade decision the US Supreme Court upheld the constitutional right to abortion when it declared that “the right to 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 the pregnancy” (Roe v. Wade)
The United States Supreme Court decision was considered a victory by the pro-abortion movements. (Eva R. Rubin. Ch 4) As a result, affordable abortion services and sanitary abortion practices became accessible to majority of the women. Licensed physicians can now openly practice it in other states without fear of being subjected to harassments and criticisms by the people. The women benefited by these reforms were mostly those who were financially disadvantaged as better, cheaper and safer abortion services became available in their own states.
In July 1976, however, as a result of the lobbying and pressures coming from the anti-abortion groups headed by the Catholic Church, Congress passed the Hyde Amendment which banned Medicaid funding for abortion unless the woman’s life is in danger. The effect of this is that many states stopped their funding on abortions which they consider as ‘unnecessary.’ Their primary reason was that funding the hospital bills of women who have undergone unnecessary abortions involve wastage of public money which should instead be utilized for the basic needs of the people.
This resulted in the discrimination against the women who lacked the financial resources as they were the ones who were in need of the government assistance for their unwanted pregnancies. Consequently, pregnant women were forced to look for abortionists who charged relatively small amount for their services. This resulted in the increase of number of unsafe abortions.
It is clear that the legalization of abortion by the Supreme Court is not enough to provide economically disadvantaged women with safe and affordable abortion services. Adequate health care services in terms of government assistance must be allocated to assist women having unwanted pregnancies. Restrictions such as requiring a patient to secure parental consent from both parents and imposing criminal liability to doctors who practice abortion must also be removed.
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However this cannot be done if the society still considers abortion as immoral. The public must realize that pregnant women who are not ready for the responsibilities of a parenthood will always have abortion as one of their adoptions. This will not stop even if we condemn women or if we ostracize doctors who are practicing it. Unless we fully embrace the fact of abortion and instead give adequate basic services to pregnant women who want to undergo abortion we will continue to receive reports of women dying from undergoing illegal abortions.
The Arguments in Favor of Abortion
There are several arguments in favor of Abortion. One of them is the right to privacy. A woman’s decision to become pregnant and to terminate it is included within the zones of privacy. It is a personal issue of which the pregnant woman should be left alone to decide. This right of the pregnant women was confirmed in the landmark case of Roe v. Wade.
Since it is included in the right to privacy, it is therefore protected by the United States Constitution. A mother has the right to make important decisions about her life. (Lawrence H. Tribe) The government therefore has no right to limit or even interfere with that freedom. Neither can they pass laws restricting this right as the Supreme Court of the United States had already spoken on this issue.
The continued refusal by the United States government to provide adequate social services to women, such as government financial assistance to those who have undergone abortion, will only place more women’s lives in danger. Abortion is a reality that we must all accept regardless on how the government looks at the issue of abortion. It is also immaterial whether the public perceives it as immoral. Even if social services will be denied to these women it does not follow that they will have no choice and instead continue with the pregnancy. This will also not prevent the doctors from performing it.
The fact is that so many women have undergone abortion in the past decade and many more will undergo it. The government’s stubborn refusal to grant adequate social services by denying these women access to Medical Aid Assistance will only make matters worse for them. In the desire of these pregnant women to terminate their pregnancy they will only be forced to seek assistance from doctors who either charge very high or are very sadistic or practice unsafe abortion. The statistics on the number of unsafe abortions as revealed by the WHO are glaring.
Further, if the government will remove the restrictions on abortion then safer abortion practices will be made more available and more accessible to pregnant women. Also, if the public will accept abortion as an ordinary medical procedure then licensed physicians can openly perform this procedure without fear of being judged by the public.
Arguments against Abortion
One of the reasons why states should continue to pass laws that will restrict access to abortion is that the expulsion of a fetus from the mother’s womb, regardless of the stage of the fetus, is tantamount to murder. Respected philosophers and scientists have already spoken against abortion. Scientists argue that conception marks the beginning of human life. There is a general consensus on this matter within the scientific and medical community. From the perspective of science and medicine, the unborn has a life of its own which is distinct and separate from the mother’s. It has a heart which starts to beat after a few weeks, electrical brain waves which become manifest and an embryo which is different from the mother’s (Anderson). Science therefore supports the argument that abortion is tantamount to murder.
From the standpoint of philosophy, for the unborn to be endowed with human personality, it is not necessary for it to attain complete state of its development. It is not necessary that the unborn has limbs or that there is an active brain activity. To say so would mean giving consent to the murder of an innocent human being. In the article “Arguments against Abortion”, it states that: “Personhood is not a matter of size, skill, or degree of intelligence. An NBA player is not twice as human as someone half his size; nor does an unconscious or sick person cease to be human because they are displaying their intellect or other skills. Age, size, IQ, or stage of development is simply a difference of degree, not in kind. Our kind is humanity. (“Arguments Against Abortion”)
Also, granting pregnant women free and unrestricted access to abortion without any regulation by the state will only destroy the sanctity and sacredness of human life. The Supreme Court in Roe v Wade made a serious blunder as it neglected the effect of such declaration to how the society views human life. Life is God’s gift to us for us to cherish and enjoy. Life is protected not only by the laws of God but by the laws of man. Nobody has an absolute right to life. Nobody is given the prerogative to dictate who should live and who should not, not even the mother of the unborn. No matter what the mother’s reason is for wanting to terminate her pregnancy it is not serious enough to take away a human life. Neither should we use poverty as a reason why people should resort to abortion.
It bears stressing that even the right to privacy as protected by the US Constitution is not without its limitations. If an act affects and has serious implications on the welfare of the greater number of people then the State not only has the right but the solemn duty to prohibit such an act. The same is true in abortion. Abortion destroys the sanctity of human life as such it must be regulated by the state under its police power.
Abortion is not a safe procedure. It is not a safe procedure because despite the advances in technology, scientists cannot absolutely guarantee that the woman will survive the procedure or will not suffer complications. Research shows that it is very much possible for the mother to “suffer Ectopic Pregnancies, Pelvic Inflammatory Disease, subsequent infertility and miscarriages, future premature births, small-for-dates babies and placenta praevia, which is 7-15 times more common among women who have had abortions than among those who have not” (“Prolife 10 Arguments Against Abortion”). Further, even if abortion is legalized it is still possible that complications may occur while it is being performed. Abortion is an unsafe procedure by its very nature. Granting pregnant women unrestricted access to it will not make it safer. The fact that more doctors are able to practice abortion because of its legalization does not mean that complications and death will not occur. It will in fact open the doors for unlicensed doctors to practice abortion. This will have the negative effect of the increase in the number of deaths and injuries related to abortion.
I conclude that public acceptance of abortion and removal of all restrictions to abortion will have the effect of making it a better, safer and cheaper medical procedure. If we will continue to restrict access to abortion clinics and deprive the women of government funding that they deserve, the problem will only be compounded and more deaths will result because pregnant women will be forced to avail of this procedure from doctors who practice abortion illegally. Restricting them will therefore not prevent them from having abortion.
There is no reason for the individual states not to provide these women access to safer and cheaper abortion services. It is not murder. It is not immoral. It helps in making available better, cheaper; and safer abortion procedure for pregnant women. Likewise, laws restricting access to abortion are discriminatory since against women who have no means of going to other countries to have an abortion.
Contrary to those who argue against abortion, a fetus is a mere tissue and its expulsion from the mother’s womb should not be given any significance other than the removal of any part of a person’s skin. It has neither the mind of its own nor an existence independent from the mother. It cannot even survive without the nourishment and sustenance of the mother. It has no knowledge of what is good or bad. It is still not capable of feeling anything. Though the fetus has a potential to become a living individual, the fact remains that it is not a living individual unless it is completely delivered from the mother’s womb. There is no point in giving priority to the needs of an unborn child when the life and welfare of the mother is more paramount.
It may be true that despite the advances in science and technology there is still no assurance that the pregnant women will not die or suffer complications after the undergoing this procedure. However, it cannot be denied that seeking assistance from unlicensed physicians to terminate pregnancies in secret places will expose these women to even greater danger. The point is that if we will remove these restrictions licensed physicians may now practice this procedure without fear of being judged by the public and so the risks of complications will be reduced. The patients will be able to avail of abortion services even in the hospitals where experienced and licensed doctors can practice it without fear of being prosecuted by the state and persecuted by the people.
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