ABORTION: PRO AND CON ISSUES AND IMPLICATIONS
The objective of this analysis is to present social, political, moral and religious issues and to discuss these in the context of the assumptions on which supporters and dissenters of abortion arguments rely.
According to Black’s Law Dictionary (Black, 1979, p. 20), “abortion” is defined as “the expulsion of the fetus at a period of utero-gestation so early that it has not acquired the power of sustaining an independent life.”
The Fourteenth Amendment, fundamental privacy right, involves the liberty that a woman has, to choose to terminate her pregnancy. Although the rights to abortion are not specifically identified in the Constitution, the due process clause is broad enough to include and protect a woman’s personal choice whether or not to have an abortion.
The Court has ruled that central among these protected liberties (not found in the Constitution) is an individual’s “freedom of personal choice in matters of marriage and family life” (Roe v. Wade, 1973).
Roe v. Wade
Roe v. Wade (1973) was an attack on the Texas abortion laws making it a crime to “procure an abortion” except by “medical advice for the purpose of saving the life of the mother” (Doe v. Bolton, 1973). The challengers were a pregnant single woman (Jane Roe), a childless couple (John and Mary Doe), and a licensed physician (Dr. Hallford). The suits of the Roes and the Does were class actions. The three-judge District Court ruled the Does’ complaint non-justicable, and granted relief to Roe and Dr. Hallford, holding the law unconstitutional under the Ninth Amendment.
The primary ruling in Roe v. Wade was that the “right of privacy, grounded in the concept of personal liberty guaranteed by the Constitution, includes a woman’s right to decide to terminate her pregnancy” (Young, 1983, p. 1290). The ruling legalized abortion in the 46 states in which it was illegal.
Definitions of morality in this society derive from a historical foundation based on the normative expectations of members of the dominant society. Morality concerns the conscience, character, conduct, intentions, social relations, or general principles of right conduct.
The dominant society has established a system of rules and regulations and principles by which to govern specific situations. There are minimum and maximum expectations, so that nonconformity to and/or deviation or violation of these expectations becomes a serious problem. Nonconformist actions usually produce a reaction from other groups, individuals, and/or control agencies.
The support for and against the answer “life begins at conception” is found throughout the society and is manifested in various movements such as “The Right to Life” or “Pro-Choice.”
Some medical experts contend that conception occurs within 12 hours of the merger of sperm and egg, and that at this point, the “zygote” contains the full set of 46 chromosomes required to create new life (Shettles & Rorvik, 1986).
Opposing medical experts contend that it takes 10 days after fertilization for the “clonceptus” to become more than a ball of cells at the stage of development. At the fourth week, a heart begins to beat. At the end of the fifth week there is evidence of the formation of the cerebral hemispheres, and they are hollow bubbles of cells. Hemisphere development reaches reptile-grade during the fourth month, and primitive mammal-grade during the sixth month (Zindler, 1986).
The religious implications depend on which perspective is considered. For example, among the Stoics, there is strong support for the view that life does not begin until live birth. This contention is also held by those of the Jewish faith and a segment of the Protestant community shares this attitude. The Roman Catholic dogma, and official belief of the Catholic Church, recognizes the existence of life from the moment of conception (Gunther, 1980, p. 594).
Perspectives on Abortion Issues
Abortion issues are a mixture of inconsistency, controversy, and noncommitment. It appears that changes in abortion laws can occur quickly – sometimes restrictive, other times liberalized. Or, medical advancements can make changes in definitions obsolete.
It is easy to find opposing viewpoints on the abortion issue, as noted above. However, it is often difficult to present balanced opposing views on this complex and sensitive issue. Critical assessments require special skills in evaluating sources of information, separating fact from opinion, identifying stereotypes, and recognizing ethnocentrism.
Participants in the abortion issue have self-designated identities – pro-choice and pro-life. Pro-choice proponents argue that the individual is central to the abortion debate. A woman should be able to terminate an unwanted pregnancy because the condition affects her body and her life. These proponents believe that the life of the fetus and the life of the mother are not equal and that the life of the woman is given more importance.
Pro-life proponents argue that the fetus is human and is empowered with the same human rights as the mother. Abortion, they argue, is tantamount to murder. They contend that when a society legalizes abortion, it sanctions murder (Szumski, 1986).
States have rights in two instances. First, a state has a legitimate interest in protecting the “potentiality” of human life. The Court determined that this right becomes compelling at viability (when the fetus is capable of life outside the mother’s womb).
Second, a state has an interest in the health of women who obtain abortions. The Court ruled that this interest is not compelling until approximately the end of the first trimester of pregnancy. It is important to point out that the Court has used the inexact “approximately the end” (Roe v. Wade, 1973) because it is not possible to determine the precise periods of trimesters.
The arguments for and against abortions in these opinions give little consideration to the medical issues and technologies that are making it possible to sustain life outside the mother’s womb at earlier and earlier periods of the fetus’ existence.
After surveying the issues, this writer’s position is that abortion should be the decision of the woman and her physician. The laws governing a woman’s rights to privacy have rightly been upheld by the Courts. There may be compelling reasons behind a woman’s abortion decision. Therefore, states that treat all women and all abortions as falling within the same guidelines fail to recognize individual differences among cases.
However, proponents on both sides of the abortion issue have valid arguments. There are instances wherein abortion is a clear alternative to birth. These instances might include rape and incest, fetal abnormality and psychological consequences for the woman, the health of the woman is endangered through pregnancy, among others. Yet, abortion should not be utilized as a method of contraception.
However, the extremist tactics employed by some are not justified. The bombings, arson, and other violent attacks against reproductive health clinics represent a violation of human rights that extremists propose to protect. This issue is far from resolution, as those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology are unable to arrive at a consensus.