An Overview of Abortion
Abortion refers to the termination of a pregnancy by removing or expelling the fetus or embryo from the uterus before it is ready for birth. There are two major forms of abortion: spontaneous, which is often referred to as a miscarriage or the purposeful abortion, which is often induced abortion. The term abortion is commonly used to refer to the induced abortion, and this is the abortion, which has been filled with controversy. In the developed nations, induced abortions are the safest form of medical procedures in medicine if it is conducted under the local law. Thus, abortions are arguably the most common medical procedures in the United States annually. More than 40 percent of women confirm that they have terminated a pregnancy at least once in their reproductive life. Abortions are conducted by women from all forms of life; however, the typical woman who terminates her pregnancy may either be white, young, poor, unmarried, or over the age of 40 years (Berer, 2004). Therefore, citing the grounds on which abortions are conducted, there are numerous instances of unsafe abortions, which are conducted either by untrained persons or outside the medical profession.
In the United States and the world in general, abortion remains widespread. The United States Supreme Court ratified the legalization of abortion in an effort to make the procedure safer; this was done through the Roe v Wade decision of 1973. However, abortions are the most risky procedures and are responsible for over 75 thousand maternal deaths and over 5 million disabilities annually. In the United States alone, between 20 and 30 million abortions are conducted annually, and out of this number, between 10 and 20 million abortions are performed in an unsafe manner (Berer, 2004). These illegal abortions are conducted in an unsafe manner; therefore, they contribute to 14 percent of all deaths or women; this arises mainly due to severe complications. This has led to increasing controversy citing the large numbers of abortions that are conducted annually. However, there is a hope since the improvement in the access and quality of medical services has reduced the incidence of abortion because of easier access of family planning education and the use of contraceptives (Jones, Darroch, Henshaw, 2002). However, the large numbers of abortions, more so, the illegal abortions continue to be alarming. Despite the introduction of more effective contraceptives, and their widespread availability, more than half of the pregnancies conceived in the United States are considered unplanned. Out of these pregnancies, half are aborted. Thus, abortion remains an issue in the society.
Is abortion a social issue?
Conflict theorists emphasize that coercion, change, domination, and conflict in society are inevitable. The conflict standpoint is based on the notion that the society is comprised of different groups who are in a constant struggle with one another for the access of scarce and valuable resources; these may either be money, prestige, power, or the authority to enforce one’s value on the society. The conflict theorists argue that a conflict exists in the society when a group of people who on believing that their interests are not being met, or that they are not receiving a fair share of the society’s resources, works to counter what they perceive as a disadvantage.
Prior to 1973, abortion was illegal in the United States, unless in situations where a woman’s health was at stake. If the doctor indicated, a woman had the option of choosing to terminate her pregnancy, and the doctor would carry out the abortion without any of them violating the law. However, in March 1970, Jane Roe, an unmarried woman from Dallas County, Texas, initiated a federal action against the county’s District Attorney. Roe sought a judgment that would declare the Texas criminal abortion legislation unconstitutional on their face, and seek an injunction, which would prevent the defendant from implementing the statutes.
Joe asserted that she was an unmarried, but pregnant lady; she wished to terminate her pregnancy by seeking the services of a professional and licensed practitioner under safe clinical environment. However, she noted that she was unable to contract the service since she was not able to get access to a legal abortion in Texas since her life was not under any form of threat from the pregnancy. Furthermore, Joe stated that she was not in a financial position to travel to another state to secure a safe abortion. She argued that the Texas statute was unconstitutional and vague, and was in contravention of her right of her right to privacy, which was guaranteed by the First, Fourth, Fifth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments. Joe purported to sue on her behalf and on behalf of all other women who were in a similar situation to hers.
There are critical observations from Joe’s arguments; women who do not to have a baby should not be forced to have one. A pregnancy is a blessing if it is planned; however, a forced pregnancy is similar to any form of bodily invasion, and is abhorrence to the American values and traditions (Schwarz, 1990). Therefore, the United States constitution protects women from a forced pregnancy in a similar way that the constitution cannot force an American citizen to donate his or her bone marrow or to contribute a kidney to another. The Supreme Court looked into the facts and evidence of the case, and ruled that Roe was right, and her rights to privacy were violated; therefore, the Court decreed that all women had a right to a legal and safe abortion on demand. There was joy throughout America from the modern women; the ruling was seen as a massive step towards women rights. However, many years have passed since the Roe vs. Wade, and abortion has remained one of the most contentious issues in the United States and the world. The ruling was of similar magnitude to the women suffrage, and almost as controversial. It has freed women from dependency, fear, threat of injury, and ill health; it has given women the power to shape their lives.
The social ramifications of the case and the social and moral ones have continued to affect the two sides of the abortion debate. The people who thought that the 7-2 majority ruling in favor of abortion were overly optimistic; abortion has become one of the most emotional, and controversial political debate. Prior to Roe vs wade ruling, women who had abortions risked suffering from pain, death, serious injury, prosecution, and sterility. Presently, abortion is safer, cheaper, and a more common phenomenon. The legalization of abortion has created other reasons for securing abortions; women are being coerced by their boyfriends and husbands who are unwilling to become fathers due to financial pressures, the panic of losing a job, quitting school, becoming homeless, or out of fear of being kicked out into the street (Schwarz, 1990). Abortion, which is based on this reasons often leads to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; this occurs when a woman is not able to work through her emotional imbalances resulting from the trauma of an abortion. This can have severe results such as depression, eating disorders, and in severe cases, it can result in suicide. Women who secure an abortion out of their free will have no remorse and are happy that they made the choice; however, a number of women state that abortion affected them negatively.
Thus, it can be argued that abortion is a social issue. Based on the sociological imagination, people’s behaviors and attitudes should be perceived in the context of the social forces that shape the actions. Wright Mills developed the theory, and he emphasized that the changes in the society have a massive effect on our lives. Prior to 1970, legal abortions were unheard in the United States and people perceived abortion as a despicable act. However, once the law changed allowing doctors to conduct legal abortions, the people’s attitudes changed. To prove the fact that abortion is a social issue, we have to look at the components of a social issue. A social issue is an aspect of the society that concerns the people and would like it changed. It is comprised of two components: the objective condition, which is an aspect of the society that can be measured. The objective condition in the case of abortion entails the question whether abortions are legal, who obtains an abortion, and under what circumstances is an abortion secured (Henslin, 2008). The second component is the subjective condition; this is the concern that a significant number of people have about the objective condition. In the case of abortion, the subjective condition entails some people’s distress that a pregnant woman must carry the unwanted baby to full term (Henslin, 2008). It also includes the distress that a woman can terminate her pregnancy on demand. Thus, abortion is a social issue.
Controversy Surrounding Abortion
Abortion, human cloning, and evolution are all human issues that are very controversial. Christians’ believe in life after death. They also believe that life begins immediately at conception. Buddhists believe in reincarnation while atheists do not believe in God tend to be supporters of the right to choose. This means that perception and focus are the key issues when people from any faith choose to be supporters or opponents of any controversial issue like abortion. If an individual decides to focus on one part of the story, then definitely there will be a distorted representation of what they support. The result is that there will be people who are neutral or ignorant on abortion while others choose to support abortions as others oppose the act.
Groups’ strongly opposing or supporting abortions have completely varying opinions on the subject. It is vital to note that an individual may either be a strong supporter or oppose the act since any compromise means a choice of life over death and vice versa. This strange facet of abortion makes it a very controversial act and subject because both supporters and opponents meet nowhere. Personal faiths through religion make them view the subject differently. Some believe that a woman has the right to make an absolute choice, thus; the right to choice is more prevalent to those supporting abortion. However, for the opponents, they support the constitutional and human right to life. It is vital to note that both pro-choice and pro-life groups rely on the constitution like the Fourteenth Amendment, human rights, and scientific facts (Knapp, 2001).
In the 1973 case of Roe v. Wade, the U.S Supreme court ruled that the woman has the right to make a choice giving support to the pro-choice groups that support abortion. This meant that, the fetus has no rights and is at the indispensable mercy of the mother. The rights of the state and the fetus cannot overrule the choice that the mother has made. In another case in 1992, Roe in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the US Supreme Court maintained that a woman has the power and the right to commit an abortion (Knapp, 2001).
Pro-choice supporters argue that those campaigning against abortion consume a lot of resources and effort. They feel that there are so many women who are living in total paucity and misery because they were coerced to deliver children who are unwanted. The resources spent by the anti-abortion campaigns can be used to support the social welfare of those women and relive them out of their misery. According to Knapp (2001), every day, almost 50,000 children die because of lack of food, medicine, shelter, and clothing. Today, the population stands at 7 billion meaning that there is an impending disaster because the resource of are continually being depleted. Any unwanted baby may adversely affect the natural balance of resources to persons. It is estimated that, the development around the globe will have to slow down because there will be more mouths to feed than before.
Pro-choice supporters believe that every human being has the right to political, sexual, and reproductive freedom. Pro-life supporters should note that, they are supporting and protecting their religious freedoms. It is important to note that, the church and the state have to separated. This implies that any anti-abortion law should be critically re-examined since it may merge the church and state. This is not legal because people make a personal choice as to the faith of affiliation while the state is supposed to respect everyone irrespective of faith.
In the Roe v. Casey ruling of 1992, the woman has the absolute choice to dictate what she wants to do with her body. Pro-choice supporters argue that this makes a woman to be a lesser being than the fetus she is carrying. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), “forcing a woman to carry an unwanted fetus is like forcing a person to be cloned in order to save another life with the extra organs.” This is completely wrong considering that one’s body will be used without her consent to aid the prosperity of another life. The rights of a woman exceed those of the fetus she is carrying because the woman is independent and is a social entity, unlike the fetus. For many centuries, many women have been rated as having unequal rights to men. Abortion is the only avenue that can make them regain a socio-economic status equal to that of men. Women can access better education, housing, and jobs only if they are in a position of controlling the sexual and reproductive rights.
Debate Surrounding Abortion
Pro-choice advocates argue that abortion should be legalized to reduce the chances of unsafe abortions. A study carried out by the World Health Organization showed that most of the unsafe abortions occur in countries where abortion is illegal (Knapp, 2001). In countries like the Republic of Ireland, abortion is illegal, in the United States of America; abortion is legal while, in Canada, it can be performed upon demand, or consent.
An ethical analysis on abortion seeks to establish what is right or wrong about abortion. This ethical debate sheds light over the validity of the rights of the fetus versus those of the mother. In terms of personhood, a fetus is not aware of self, does not think, and is therefore, dependent on the mother. This means that the mother has an absolute right on choice over what to with the fetus. At certain epochs, pro-life supporters have supported selective abortion. This means that they support abortion if a fetus poses a danger to the mother, if the baby was conceived without the mother’s consent like in cases of rape, contraceptive failure, or incest. The other case is where the fetus may be having severe deformities due to diseases, mental of physical defects. Other cases happen when a mother involuntarily aborts because of starvation or malnutrition. This sparks a debate within the pro-life supporters who are assumed the “undecided lot.”
On the contrary, pro-life supporters assume that fetuses are human, and they are subjected to a lot of pain in the event of an abortion. It is wrong to assume that a fetus is not a human being since it does not talk, or is not a social entity. Pro-life supporters also argue that a fetus is a potential life and any threat to it is breaking a fundamental right to life that is entrenched in almost all constitutions across the world. Pro-choice supporters posit that abortion is an act of unjust discrimination to the unborn and that this acts deprives them to the access to a valuable future.
In conclusion, prior to 1973, abortion was illegal and was only applicable legally as an option only when the mother’s life was in danger. However, the Supreme Court’s ruling on Roe vs. Wade case changed all this; women perceived the ruling as a liberating to them. However, the legalization of abortion came with its own controversies, and it has even been labeled a social problem in the United States and the world over. However, it is critical to note that abortion or no abortion, persons have to take a keen look at the problems facing the society today and make a responsible choice. Today, we are 7 billion people, resources are overstretched, the world economy is weakening, and nations are growing unstable. Any person who thinks of bringing an unwanted child into the world without careful consideration should be aware of the consequences of the hard life. Every nation has a national budget in order to account and cater for everyone. On the same note, every parent or teenager should have a responsible plan for life. If every act is unaccounted for, then the number of children losing their lives due to paucity is set to increase tremendously. It is good to care for what we can see instead of spending valuable resources campaigning for fetuses that are yet to claim an entity in the social arena.
Berer, M. (2004). National laws and unsafe abortion: the parameters of change. Reproductive Health Matters, 12(24): 1–8.
Henslin, J. M. (2008). Social Problems: A Down-To-Earth Approach. (8 ed.). New York, NY: Longman Publishers.
Jones, R. K., Darroch, J. E., Henshaw, S. K. (2002). Contraceptive Use among U.S. Women Having Abortions in 2000-2001. Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health,34(6): 294–303.
Knapp, L. (2001). Controversy: The Abortion Controversy. Michigan: Greenhaven Press.
Schwarz, S. D. (1990). The Moral Question of Abortion. Chicago: Loyola University Press.
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To some degree, the issue is already settled: in law, in medicine, in ethics, even in public opinion, abortion is not murder. The debate has already been won, so why argue the petty and abstract details? Because the price of liberty is eternal vigilance.
Whether the issue is abortion or gun rights or privacy or drugs, they all boil down to basic beliefs about what is right and what is wrong. The choice is always to think, or avoid thinking, about the fundamental principles of good and bad. That's philosophy. Like it or not, those very abstract ideas about life and humanity will eventually determine whether you have any rights at all.
I won't regurgitate each argument for choice that has been the topic of this debate. The arguments: whether dandruff is human, or abortion bans are slavery, or rights are dispensed by government, all follow from the critical issue of whether people are uniquely people.
The premise that people are unique and special is under assault by "animal rights" and "fetal rights" advocates every day. It's important to understand that they are challenging the basic idea of humanity and the fundamental principles of human existence. Win that debate and you win all the other issues of individual human liberty.
Here's the issue: are human beings - persons - unique?
My opponent suggests that this is merely a biological question: whether human beings are "complete physical organisms" from conception. But, that can't be true ... unless it's also true for every cell with human DNA.
Many of those who support Roe also cling to the purely physical attribute of viability. But the thing that makes homo sapiens unique is sapience: the capacity for reason; the ability to think in abstracts; to reflect with wisdom and apply new knowledge to an uncertain future.
My opponent suggests that "An infant is not yet capable of forming abstract concepts, applying logic, or otherwise using reason." I disagree, and every parent is in awe of the ability of a newborn to understand cause and effect within moments of birth. An infant promptly recognizes that it is a distinct being, independent of all the other things in existence. It develops relationships, expresses glee or anger at pleasure or discomfort, and begins to explore and test its place in the world.
Human birth is a seminal event: everything changes. The potential for distinctly human acts is realized and the fetus gains the independent capacity for rational thought, becoming an individual. Only at birth does a fetus gain the physical capacity for independent survival; it is no longer a "parasitic" part of the mother. The newborn child begins to acquire the raw sensory materials for integration, abstraction and formation of concepts. The manipulation of these concepts -- reason -- is now within its mental capacity. The potential for human personhood only becomes reality at birth.
Mr. Antle is correct, that "the full capacities of these systems are not utilized at birth," but it is not the *utilization* of reason that defines human beings, it's the *capacity* for reason. No person is totally focused on a complete understanding of anything for very long and nearly every human chooses to suspend consciousness nearly every night. But, whether exercised or not, the capacity is still there. Capacity is an on-off switch: it's either there or it isn't. The exercise of a capacity is a matter of quantity, but the capacity itself is a matter of quality.
The same applies to all those who have diminished capacity. Having any capacity is sufficient and the law ought to presume that a person retains some intellectual capacity until it can be proven otherwise. Every day, physicians make that judgment and the law accepts their finding as conclusive. It's called death.
Once we have established a capacity for reason, we can properly classify the being as a person. Only a person has rights -- proper claims -- to its own life. No other living thing, plant or animal, has any capacity -- much less grounds -- for claiming any rights. We may choose to be "humane" in killing an animal, not because the animal is human, but because humans ought not relish the infliction of pain and suffering. We have no such qualms about broccoli.
"Consider what person stands for; which, I think, is a thinking, intelligent being, that has reason and reflection." -- John Locke
Mr. Antle wonders whether a right that isn't exercised actually exists: "Can a newly born infant actually exercise rights to free speech or to keep and bear arms?" Again, the issue is not whether a right is exercised, but whether it can be asserted as a just claim. This is an ethical assertion; it is not a test of physical strength or vocal aptitude. A person who is mute has the right to speech without coercive restraint - in spite of the fact that he cannot actually exercise that right verbally. A right is neither an obligation nor a statement of ability, but only a meritorious claim to exercise self- ownership.
What this all boils down to is a simple assertion: only people have rights because only human beings have the capacity for reason. Not the potential ability, not the physical ability, not in varying degrees, but by the very nature of their being individual, self-sustaining, living human beings.
Flakes of dandruff, sperm cells, fertilized eggs, zygotes, and fetuses are not human beings, they are not persons, they have no justified claim to life, or liberty, or property, or the pursuit of happiness. Those rights belong to every human being and cannot be justly compromised by any other person, animal, plant or thing... including government. Requiring involuntary servitude of one person for the benefit of another is slavery. Coercing a woman into slavery on behalf of a "potential person" is even more repulsive than coercing her into slavery to a real person.
My preference is that every human child be wanted, nurtured, loved and cherished. Birth control and abortion are perfectly ethical and frequently wise choices toward that objective. Those choices belong to the pregnant woman, not to any other person or potential person.
[Bill was a co-founder of the Canadian Libertarian Party, a National Secretary and California Chairman of the U.S. Libertarian Party and is currently an Executive Committee Member of the Republican Liberty Caucus.]
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