Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Controversial Legal Subject: Abortion

Political Science 20
Controversial Legal Issues

Controversial Legal Subject: Abortion

On January 23, 1973, the Supreme Court handed down a landmark decision that gave women the constitutional right to perform an abortion to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. Since the decision of Roe v. Wade, the issue of abortion has been constantly challenged and debated in the courts and in American society. Abortion is not a simple abstract issue. Abortion is complex issue which delves into the perspectives of morals, ethics, religion, sex, discrimination, privacy—perspectives that are challenged and swayed not through the cold logic of reasoning, but rather the hot fires of emotion.


Should abortion be protected by the Constitution?


A. Argument One:

Abortion is a symptom and not the defining cause for the social problems in United States society.

1. With the rise of the Religious Right in the 1980s, conservatives attempted to politically link abortion with societal problems. No evidence exists which suggests a casual relationship linking abortion with other domestic problems such as domestic violence, birth control or welfare. However, there is a political linkage created by the conservative movement blaming abortion as the cause of societal problems. With this political linkage, conservatives can attack domestic programs on welfare, family planning and birth control. Between 1980 and 1990, the number of federally supported family planning clinics dropped from 5,000 to 4,000 clinics. In addition, federal funding to family planning clinics dropped from $162 million to 144 million (Joffe, 1997).

2. A total of 84 percent of U.S. counties lack abortion facilities. However, 70 percent of women of childbearing age live in counties with abortion facilities and 30 percent of women live in rural counties (Whitman, 1998).

3. The state of New Jersey passed a welfare reform bill, which included a “family cap.” If a woman on welfare became pregnant and chose to carry the child to term, she would not receive additional state money for that child. Abortion rates in New Jersey among welfare women increased by 6 percent from 27.1 abortions per 1,000 in 1990 to about 28.8 abortions per 1,000 in 1996. This contradicted New Jersey’s overall abortion rate, which declined since 1990 by 24.4 percent from 4.5 abortions per 1,000 to 3.4 abortions (Kelly, 1999). This welfare reform bill was challenged by pro-life groups such as the New Jersey Right To Life, New Jersey Citizens for Life, and New Jersey State Catholic Conference and pro-choice groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union, the New Jersey Civil Liberties Union, and the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund, creating an unusual coalition between pro-life and pro-choice groups against the family cap (Kelly, 1999).

B. Argument Two:

If abortion is outlawed, abortions will continue to be performed in illegal “back street” operations that may cause dangers to a women’s health.

1. While abortion is outlawed in much of Latin America, about 4 million abortions were performed in Latin America in appalling circumstances in 1990 (Rayas, 1998). In Chile, where abortion is illegal, an estimated 160,000 to 300,000 Chilean women undergo abortions each year (Rayas, 1998).

2. Around 1 million to 4.4 million abortions are performed among women under the age of 20 in developing countries in the Third World (Unsafe Abortion Increasing Among Young Women, 1998).

3. Between 50-60 percent of women in Latin America who try to induce abortions themselves or with the assistance of non-medical personnel, experience complications, causing 800,000 Latin American women to be admitted into hospitals each year as a result of these complications. In Chile, 36% of maternal deaths are a result of illegal abortions (Rayas, 1998).

C. Argument Three:

While anti-abortionists regard humans as being human in a biological sense, other societies in the world regard a human as being a human in a socialization sense.

1. Sociologist George Herbert Meade contended that an individual was not born human, but rather the individual’s self-awareness was learned through interaction and socialization in human society.

2. The Ashanti of West Africa name a newborn only after seven days at which the child becomes part of the social group. The Todas in southern India regard an individual to be human after 3 months where they will then give a name to the child (Smith, 1996). Both societies regard social development as a criterion for a child to become human and before the child is established into the social group, the child is considered a non-person.


A. Argument One:

Abortion is the killing of human life.

1. Between 1973 to 1999, approximately one child was aborted for every three children born (Mathewes-Green, 1998).

2. Since 1973, there has been an accumulation of over 30 million abortions in the United States (Chapat, 1999).

3. The names of each child aborted would fill the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial Wall around 700 times (Mathewes-Green, 1998).

B. Argument Two:

Continued legalization of abortion would cause the United States to descend the slippery slope of state-sanctioned killing and genocide.

1. Novak (1997) claims, “Any principle accepted for the beginning of life will logically be applied by the Courts to the end of life. If private citizens can terminate the life of one human being at the beginning, some will claim the same right to terminate the life of another at the end.” Novak links the controversy of abortion with the new controversy of physician-assisted suicide. Not only would doctors have the right to terminate the human life of an unborn child, but also Novak fears that doctors could have the legal right to terminate the human life of an elderly individual.

2. In the Netherlands, of the 3,600 cases of physician-assisted suicide in 1996, approximately 1,000 cases were non-voluntary suicides. In addition, a study of nursing home patients’ show that 41 percent of doctors did not adhere to the strict guidelines for physician assisted suicides in the Netherlands (Emanuel, 1997).

3. In addition, Chaput (1999) argues that while compromise is important in a democracy, such compromise can never be seceded from the core values and principles, which a democracy cherishes. A compromise, which diminishes the core values of a democratic society, will end up fracturing the society and in the end, destroy the values and principles that the democratic society cherishes.

C. Argument Three:

Abortion violates John Locke’s theory of the social contract.

1. John Locke’s social contract theorizes that humans are animalistic in a state of nature. Humans enter into a civil society by removing all acts of violence out of the private hands and entrusting the acts of violence to public authorities. This protects all members of a civil society. Novak (1997) argues that abortion allows the woman to legally kill a human fetus through an act of violence in private hands, thus violating the social contract.

2. Novak finally concludes that abortion allows the individual and society to treat the human fetus as a thing or object rather than as a human individual. By treating the human fetus as a “thing” rather than as an individual, American society is also violating the unborn child’s basic constitutional rights, reiterating the slippery slope argument of abortion killing off unborn children and euthanasia killing off the elderly (1997).


The abortion debate between the pro-life and pro-choice groups clearly shows a lack of understanding which each group has over the opposing group’s viewpoint and their concerns over abortion. A yawning chasm has cracked between both groups, making it difficult for either side to accept compromise. What is ironic is that American’s view the subject with contradictory opinions. According to Hunt (1998), American’s consider abortion as “murder,” yet they feel that abortion is a private, moral decision for the woman and it is a legal “right” which the government should not criminalize. This constitutes a middle ground in the opinion of abortion. Abortion should be used as a last resort effort in birth control with certain restrictions place on it. These restrictions can be practical in that they allow the woman to fully comprehend the significance of the act—such restrictions could be a family counseling session, a 24-hour waiting period, and minors must have parental consent before undergoing an abortion. Abortion should be just one option in the family planning decisions that is confronted between a man and woman. It is a private matter for the man and woman to decide. At the same time, with 1.5 million abortions being performed in a year, abortion has become a callous form of birth control for which it was not meant to be. The sheer number of abortions is also causing a concern among Americans, allowing support for restrictions on abortion. That is the problem of abortion. It was meant as a last resort to terminate an unwanted pregnancy if other methods of birth control had failed. However, since Roe v. Wade, abortion became one of the prime methods of birth control. Its continued existence—whether legally entitled or restricted—is the prime reason why both the pro-life and pro-choice sides cannot reach an agreement with each other. As long as abortion remains in the forefront of American social and political debate, the issue will never be resolved.

Works Cited

Chaput, C. (1999). Sanctity of Life Demands No Compromise. National Catholic Reporter. Vol. 35, pg. 21.

Emanuel, E. (1997). Whose Right to Die? The Atlantic Monthly. Vol. 279, pg. 73-79.

Hunt, G.W. (1998). Of Many Things. America. Vol. 178, pg. 2

Joffe, C. (1997). Abortion as Single Issue Politics. Society. Vol. 34, pg. 25.

Kelly, J. R. (1999). Common Ground for Pro-Life and Pro-Choice. America. Vol. 180, pg. 8.

Mathewes-Green, F. (1998). Wanted: A New Pro-Life Strategy: Twenty-five Years After Roe, and 37 Million Abortions Later, We Have to Admit We are Losing the Fight. Christianity Today. Vol. 42, pg. 26.

Novak, M. (1997). Personally Opposed: When Politicians Profess a Personal Opposition to Abortion, The Appropriate Answer is a Question. National Review. Vol. 49, pg. 4.

Rayas, L. (1998). Criminalizing Abortions: A Crime Against Women. NACLAA Report on the Americas. Vol. 31, pg. 22.

Smith, N. W. (1996). The Abortion Issue and Selecting a Criterion of “Life.” Free Inquiry. Vol. 16, pg. 29.

Unsafe Abortions Increasing Among Young Women. (1998). Win News. Vol. 24, pg. 4.

Whitman, D. (1998). Abortion: The Untold Story. U.S. News And World Report. Pg. 20.

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