Both views from medical and legal perspectives the term abortion refers to different procedures used to voluntarily terminate a pregnancy (“Abortion Law and Legal Definition,” 2018, p. 1). Abortions can be medical or clinical. Medical abortions utilize pharmaceutical methods to terminate the pregnancy; a clinical abortion involves the use of specialized tools and procedures such as suction devices to terminate the pregnancy. The vast majority (more than 91%) of abortions are performed before the 13th week of gestation (“Abortion Fast Facts,” 2018). There has been some additional controversy over late-term and “partial birth” abortions (“Historical Attitudes To Abortion,” n.d., p. 1).
As long as women have been getting pregnant, they have been having abortions. Contrary to popular belief, abortion is not mentioned at all in either the Old Testament or the New, and was until recently an “accepted” practice that was certainly not criminalized (“Historical Attitudes to Abortion,” n.d., p. 1).
In fact, abortion was not always a political issue in the United States. “There was a time when abortion was simply part of life in the United States. People didn’t scream about it in protest, and services were marketed openly,” (Ravitz, 2016, p. 1). Historians believe abortion to have been “common in colonial America,” albeit hidden from view (“Historical Attitudes to Abortion,” n.d., p. 1). Due to a combination of factors, including changes to the medical profession itself, abortion gradually became stigmatized. By the middle to the late nineteenth century in both England and the United States, abortion laws started to become more strident, and eventually, abortion became criminalized in American law around 1900 (“Historical Attitudes to Abortion,” n.d.). Abortion remained illegal until the 1973 case Roe v. Wade was brought before the Supreme Court. In a 7-2 decision, the Court ruled that women have the right to legal abortion based on the provisions in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution such as the citizen’s right to privacy. Since Roe v. Wade, anti-choice activists have continued to press for the re-criminalization of abortion either at the state or federal level with varying degrees of success in restricting access to abortion services.
The abortion debate became tied up with factors like religiosity and ethics, often in distorted and illogical ways. Both Catholic and Protestant traditions have fluctuated between condoning abortion and banning it (Ravitz, 2016). Current anti-abortion rhetoric is frequently cloaked in religious terminology, primarily from the Christian tradition, even though the Bible does not expressly outlaw abortion (“Historical Attitudes to Abortion,” n.d.). The view that life is sacred does permeate most religious and ethical traditions, but this precept can also be applied to women—fully-fledged human beings whose life is also sacred. Abortion debates should, therefore, always be framed in terms of gender norms. To ban abortion effectively means to legally strip a woman of her personal rights and freedoms, such as the right to self-determination. Banning abortion means forcing a woman to carry an unwanted child to term, and therefore also presents an ethical conundrum. Those who do not believe abortion is an ethical choice need not take part in the practice, rather than demand that those who hold different worldviews conform to their ethical standards.
Abortion does not need to be the contentious issue that it has become. Being realistic about abortion provides the most sensible approach to resolving the social and political problems surrounding the debate. As Alvargonzález (2017) points out, “the complete elimination of abortion is not possible,” (p. e39). When abortion was still illegal in the United States, even clergy groups were helping women locate safe abortion services as a public service (Ravitz, 2016). Women may seek a termination of their pregnancy for any number of reasons; abortion remains a deeply personal choice. Abortion cannot be framed as murder, given the fact that an embryo is not a fully formed human being. Likewise, abortion is no replacement for birth control, but birth control methods frequently fail. Women who have been raped obviously should not be made to carry their rapist’s child to term.
Therefore, the law needs to allow access to safe abortions. People who support the rights of women to have an abortion also do not necessarily believe that abortion itself is desirable. “Nobody doubts that, regarding the methods of birth control, contraception is better than abortion, abortion is better than infanticide and abortion is worse the later and the less safe it is performed,” (Alvargonzález, 2017, e39). If anti-choice activists would realize that pro-choice attitudes are not unethical but merely logical and sensible, then it might be possible to reach a consensus. Abortion is not something that would ever be made mandatory, and nor should carrying a child to term unnecessarily be made mandatory. In countries where abortion is patently illegal, women suffer from grave health consequences when they resort to illegal means of terminating the pregnancy (Faúndes & Miranda, 2017). Therefore, the legality of abortion can be viewed as a pressing moral imperative. Women have the right to access safe abortions on demand, no matter what their purpose or their need. It serves no real purpose to restrict women’s right to safe abortions.
The best possible solution is to retain the Roe v. Wade decision, based on pure Constitutional law while opening the forum for debate to encourage people to participate in healthy dialogue. One possible solution would be to promote more open communication between anti-abortion groups, those who believe that abortion should be illegal, and those who believe that it should be legal. Many people who believe that abortion should be banned for everyone might not have considered that their views hold no real footing in the realm of logic, reason, and law.
A second solution would be for pro-choice activists to invite those from the anti-choice camp to express their opinions openly and without judgment. Understanding that anti-choice individuals do not necessarily base their beliefs on the Bible, it may be helpful to hear alternative opinions related to why abortion is akin to the murder of a human being, and why a woman’s right to self-determination is subordinate to the right of a cluster of cells to gestate for nine months. Dialogue might offer the opportunity to bridge the gap between disparate groups and allow for sensible solutions.
The abortion issue has been discussed ad nauseam, framed from many different points of view. Neither side seems able to recognize the validity of the other’s, which highlights the social and political rifts in American society. Further research may reveal the best ways of demonstrating the need for a more logical analysis of the issue based on the fact that abortion is an unfortunate, but inevitable, reality.