May 9, 2018
While many anti-abortionists argue that from the moment of conception the unborn “child” deserves the same rights as all other humans, the question of when a fetus becomes “human” has no universal answer. We know that life is the time between birth and death, but many anti-abortionists argue that a fetus’s potential for life makes it wrong to kill. At its root, this debate is centered on the very definition of humanity. Is it our heartbeat that makes us human? Our ability to think? Our capacity for emotion? This is a matter of opinion and ideology, nothing that science can prove. Therefore, a fetus cannot be declared a human with constitutional rights by law because of the country’s separation of government and religion, the concrete and the abstract. Just as immigrants to the United States, even if they have a legal guarantee that they will acquire American rights, they don’t have these rights until they actually arrive on American soil, a fetus can only be considered as an individual with its own rights once it becomes a baby and is actually living. Furthermore, a range of experts, including the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, have scientifically proven that fetuses cannot feel pain until the 24th week of pregnancy or later. Putting to death a fetus under 24 weeks involves no suffering on the part of the fetus. It’s not at all comparable to putting to death an infant or child, contrary to what many pro-life supporters make it out to be. The pro-choice movement advocates for women’s right to choose whether to have an abortion, so those who see abortions as akin to killing babies, despite the science, can choose for themselves not to have abortions, but not for other women who may have different beliefs and circumstances.
The history of abortion is long and tumultuous. Various states in the mid to late 1800s started banning abortion due to the high risks that accompanied the procedure, but in the modern age technology has matured and surpassed expectations, allowing for the safety of the mother. The main reason behind outlawing abortion was that if American women had abortions there would be more immigrant children than American children, which pertains to the nativist sentiments of the time; safety was likely a factor in the decision of outlawing abortion, but most of the advocacy came from male religious figures or politicians, each with their individual agenda, leaving women with no say. The laws fashioned in the 1880s were maintained until the 1960s and 70s. Between 1967 and 1973, a third of the United States had decriminalized abortions, but these decisions were only made for individual states.
It wasn’t until the Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade in 1973 that abortion was made available to women in all states. A young woman named Norma McCorvey, who went by “Jane Roe” during the case, was seeking an abortion in Texas but could not receive one because they were only made available if the mother’s life was in danger. She filed a lawsuit against the district attorney of Texas, Henry Wade. Initially the case went to a district court where it was ruled that the abortion ban was illegal, but due to Wade’s promise he would keep prosecuting doctors who performed the procedure the case was sent to the Supreme Court. In a 7-2 decision on January 22nd, it was decided that a woman’s right to abortion was legal under an American’s right to privacy since it is the sole decision between a woman and her doctor whether she can abort a fetus. The only major threat to women’s rights as outlined in Roe v. Wade came from President George Bush in 2003, when he tried to ban partial birth abortion, which is the late term abortion of a fetus that has been killed within the mother. Although this is not quite the same procedure as a regular abortion, Bush wanted his ban to be a launchpad for prohibiting abortion overall, no matter what circumstances. The ban was declared unconstitutional and, while controversy over this issue remains, abortions are still legal and protected in all fifty states.
The decision to have an abortion is best made by the pregnant woman in consultation with health experts, so organizations like Planned Parenthood are essential. This particular nonprofit provides sexual health care and assistance in making informed choices in order to empower individuals to choose if or when they want to start a family, and abortion is one of the tools in their varied collection, along with contraceptives. Just because Planned Parenthood provides abortions for free or for a low price doesn’t mean they advocate taking the decision lightly; their website emphasizes careful evaluation of the evidence and personal factors and offers support for uncertain women.
The compassionate but fact-based approach of Planned Parenthood stands against the many myths floating around about abortion, invalidating the false beliefs that abortion is more dangerous than childbirth and that abortion increases risk of breast cancer or loss of fertility. The organization’s inexpensive and accessible abortions are necessary to protect women’s health. The highest rates of sexual assault are among lower class women, and this is the demographic on which the immense financial burden of raising a child will weigh heaviest, costing $250,000 on average to care for and educate a child in the U.S. over the course of the parent’s lifetime. These women need abortion as an available option as much as anybody, so it needs to be affordable. History has proven that when abortion access is limited, the rates of illegal, highly unsafe abortions increase. Although some perceive abortion as only needed by irresponsible women who didn’t plan ahead, there are a variety of reasons that a woman might choose to have an abortion: she could’ve been sexually assaulted, gotten pregnant while on birth control, or simply not had the finances or maturity to raise a safe and healthy child. In fact, about one-third of women under the age of 45 has had an abortion.
The essence of the right to abortion is the feminist principle that women have a right to their own bodies and should be able to make decisions for themselves with the advice of their doctor. It is a decision to be made privately with thoughtful deliberation, not in the public eye while being shamed and bombarded with criticisms. The woman is the one person who has to carry the fetus for nine months and handle the ordeals of pregnancy then care for it until it is independent, so, ultimately, it is her decision. Yet, even though abortion is legal, lawmakers are constantly trying to limit abortion accessibility; as of right now, our government does not represent the demographic of women seeking the availability of abortions, or, frankly, women at all. Out of the 435 representatives in the House, only 83 are women, and in the 100 Senate members there are only 23 women. That is 19% and 23%, respectively, and the former is the record of female senators. Women make up around half of the country, but we are still an underrepresented, neglected constituency. Decisions concerning our bodies are made by men sitting in an ivory tower and we suffer the consequences. Threats to abortion accessibility don’t just threaten female health care and reproductive rights; they jeopardize our fundamental freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. Though our country prides itself on democracy and freedom, we seem to loathe the constitutional ability to choose when it comes to abortion.