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Abortion: A Human Right

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Abortion: A Human Right

Abortion is a human right that is constitutional under Roe v. Wade. Limiting abortion by any method, no matter how minuscule, infringes upon a woman’s right to her body. History shows that restricting abortion can lead to serious health consequences; because of this, a government should have no say in what a woman decides to do to her body and it is not their place to decide if the child is born or not.
The procedure of abortion has been performed for thousands of years in every society throughout history. It was legal in the United States from the time the earliest settlers arrived. At the time the Constitution was adopted, abortions before “quickening” (the point in pregnancy where the baby begins to kick) were advertised and commonly performed. However, these were often dangerous for the woman, and had a high chance of being fatal to both mother and child.The mid-1800s marked the beginning of when states began to pass laws that made abortion illegal (the motivations for these laws varied in each state). During this time period, all surgical procedures including abortion had a high chance of risk. Hospitals were not common, hygiene was not practiced, and even those doctors the community would consider the most experienced did not have a very good medical education. Without the rampant access to technology we have today, maternal and infant mortality rates during childbirth were extraordinarily high.
Gradually, as technology began to cement itself in medical practices, medical care on the whole became safer and more effective for the patient and the doctor. The scientific method was incorporated into medical practice, the dangers from bacteria were discovered, and doctors relied on more knowledge than before. Yet still, the majority of woman desiring an abortion had no choice but to receive them from illegal practitioners that did not have the medical advances of the day at their disposal. These “back-alley” abortions remained extremely dangerous, while areas of legal medicine improved drastically.
During this time of all medicine swiftly undergoing a renovation of sorts, doctors attempted to criminalize abortion. The rationale behind this was to establish exclusive rights to practice medicine only if one was a doctor; doctors wished to eliminate the competition for patients from midwives, apothecaries, and homeopaths. Such competition was regarded as untrained. The best way to accomplish this goal was to eliminate the procedure that kept the competitors in business. Rather than admitting to these motivations, the newly formed American Medical Association (AMA) argued that abortion was both immoral and dangerous. The influence of the AMA was heavy; by 1910, all but one state had criminalized abortion, and this state allowed abortion only to save a woman’s life. Thus began the successful incorporation of legal abortion into a procedure for physicians only.
From the 1800s to 1973, the prohibition of abortion fell under the same anti-obscenity or Comstock laws that prohibited the dissemination of birth-control information and services. However, the criminalization of abortion did nothing to reduce the number of women who sought one. Many women died or suffered serious medical problems after attempting to self-induce their abortions or going to untrained practitioners who performed abortions with little knowledge and unsanitary conditions. Hospital emergency room staff treated thousands of women who either died or were suffering terrible effects of abortions provided without adequate skill and care. Some women were able to obtain relatively safer, although still illegal, abortions from private doctors. These doctors often charged an exorbitant amount of fees for the procedure, and, as a result, only those who could afford it received an abortion. This practice remained prevalent for the first half of the 20th century. Soon after this privatization of abortion, the rate of the reported abortions began to decline, mostly due to the fact that doctors faced increased scrutiny from their peers and hospital administration concerned about the legality of their operations.
From 1967 to 1973, a third of the states liberalized or repealed their laws that criminalized abortion. Yet, the right to have an abortion in all states was only made available to the American woman in the landmark case of 1973, when the Supreme Court struck down the remaining restrictive state laws with its ruling in Roe v. Wade. This case is significant; the 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade made it possible for women to get safe, legal abortions from well-trained doctors. After hearing the case, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Roe by the rationale that Americans’ right to privacy included the right of a woman to decide whether to have children, and the right of a woman and her doctor to make that decision without state interference. Thus, history marks the landmark abortion case, decided on Jan. 22, 1973 in favor of abortion rights, as the law of the land, i.e. constitutional. The 72 decision stated that the Constitution gives “a guarantee of certain areas or zones of privacy,” and that “this right of privacy… is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.”
The reaction to Roe was immediate and controversial; supporters of legal abortion rejoiced while others felt betrayed by the court for the decision as it conflicted with religious or personal views. Those opposed to legal abortion began working immediately to prevent any federal or state funding for abortion and to undermine or limit the effect of the decision. Their work involved disrupting clinics where abortions were being provided; the tactics to accomplish the disruption have included demonstrating in front of abortion clinics, harassing people trying to enter, vandalizing property, and blocking access to clinics.
Eventually, the level of anti-abortion violence escalated, weaving its toxic nature into today’s society. The fatal shooting of three people at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs in 2015 marks an incident in a long history of violent attacks on facilities that provide abortions in the United States. Such violence promotes negative mentality associated with abortion clinics and creates a hostile environment for a woman seeking an abortion. Despite the violence that suggests American society should work on a shift in mentality towards abortion, states continue to ignore this by their legal actions. Today, many states known for being pro-life have managed to weave around the constitutional ruling; states such as Idaho, Utah, and Louisiana have increasingly restrictive state laws virtually making abortion illegal in their jurisdiction. The state of Idaho has a 20-week ban on abortion. The state of Louisiana has only eight providers of Planned Parenthood, and Utah even less with two, thus limiting a number of women from their constitutional right. The state of Louisiana also has a law allowing abortion clinics to be shut down for any violation of any regulation, no matter how minor, even though it’s standard in most cases to let medical facilities stay open as long as they’re resolving the problem.
These are just a few examples of the clever initiatives states have taken to ensure abortion remains at limited access for their female population. By contrast, states known for being pro-choice like Vermont do not have any of the major types of abortion restrictions such as waiting periods, mandated parental involvement, or limitations on publicly funded abortions, that are often found in other states. Vermont does not even have a law requiring that alternatives to abortion be discussed with a patient before an abortion is performed. Thus, an inequality through inequity is established, where women in different jurisdictions have different chances of receiving an abortion, should they desire it. The weaving around the constitutional right by limiting access to abortion, states compromise the statements expressed by the medical society in the United States and the world today.
Despite previous misdoings, the American Public Health Association (APHA) policy has long held that access to the full range of reproductive health services, including abortion, is a fundamental right. It is significant in noting how the APHA has taken steps to emphasize how the criminalization of abortion threatens maternal health. The UN itself has declared abortion a human right, pushing for a global right for abortion, which the US refuses to back. Such refusal is significant, since “about 25 million unsafe abortions (accounting for 45 percent of all abortions) occurred every year from 2010 to 2014 worldwide, with 97 percent of those unsafe procedures occurring in developing countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, a new United Nations study has found.” The findings in the study by the UN are significant and show how the criminalization of abortion yields to even more occurrences of unsafe abortions. Yet, U.S. states continue to seek new ways to criminalize abortion.
Despite the medical community at the global scale, arguments continue. The main argument the pro-life side takes is that abortion is the murder of an unborn child that is its own being. Regardless of whether the argument is religiously or personally influenced, this argument has been at the forefront of the pro-life stance. However, such a stance is heavily based on what a person’s belief of “life” is. Life begins after a fetus becomes “viable” (able to survive outside the womb) or after birth, and not at conception, as the pro-choice side argues. A woman is an autonomous being, and bodily autonomy is a basic human right. A fetus, which is biologically dependent on the mother for sustenance, has yet to acquire bodily autonomy as it cannot self-govern due to this dependence. Thus, a fetus is not its own being.
However, the argument about when life begins only distracts from an important fact: illegal and unsafe abortions should never be the last resort for a woman. Criminalizing abortion by restricting access will not reduce the amount of abortions that will occur, as history shows. It is incredibly important for women to have full access to abortions in a manner that does not take away or dissuade them from their right to an abortion. Taking away abortion infringes upon a woman’s right to her body; the choice of abortion empowers women by giving them control over their own bodies.