In ancient times abortion was permitted under certain circumstances, such as rape or if carrying the pregnancy to term posed a risk to the mother’s health. More recently, along with the creation of the birth control pill, women have been given more control of their reproductive system this includes abortion. The Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade, and its co- case Doe v. Bolton (1973), ruled that abortion was a private matter, and was allowed until the end of the first trimester, after that point, the laws regarding abortion are left up to the states. This judgement caused a storm of controversy, which created two sides to the debate, pro- life and pro-choice.
Abortion has been legal in the United States since 1973. It has been found to be seven times safer than childbirth. However, there are unknown risks, such as the effect of repeated abortions on the female reproductive system. Every year approximately 1.5 million abortions are performed (one out of every four pregnancies are terminated.) Of these abortions that performed, ninety percent are performed within the first twelve weeks of pregnancy, through a method called aspiration. Eighty percent of these women are unmarried, and sixty three percent are between the ages of fifteen and twenty- four (Levine185).
Several methods can be used when performing an abortion. The age of the fetus or the length of the pregnancy can determine the safest method. On average, pregnancies last between thirty- nine to forty weeks, which are divided into trimesters. The first consists of the first thirteen weeks; the second is from fourteen to twenty-four weeks; and the final trimester is from twenty- five to birth. Most procedures are performed during the first trimester because it is safer to the woman’s health. In United States, death caused by abortions during this trimester is only one in 100,000, however, anytime after the twelfth week the risk increases by thirty- percent (Merz 1).
There are quite a few different forms of drug based abortions, the most popular is the “morning after” pill. This drug is most commonly given to rape victims. It gives the woman large doses of estrogen within a seventy- two hour window of the event; and then again in twelve hours. Such high doses of hormone halts the fetal development at the earliest stages after conception. The only known side effects of this drug are nausea, headache, dizziness, and fluid retention (Merz 2). Within the first seven weeks of pregnancy, a combination of two drugs can be given in order to abort the fetus. First the drug mifeprlstone (RU-486), which blocks progesterone (a hormone needed to maintain pregnancy.) Forty- eight hours later, she will take misoprostol, which causes the uterus to contract. It is the contractions of the uterus, which expels the fetus (Merz 1).
Vacuum aspiration is used for abortions between the sixth and fourteenth week of pregnancy. The cervix has to be dilated. Dilators can be used to dilate the cervix. Cannula is attached to an electrically powered pump that removes the contents of the uterus (Merz 2). Induction abortion (a second trimester procedure) between the sixteenth and twenty- fourth weeks. A small amount of the fluid the surrounds the fetus (an amniotic fluid), is removed. Another fluid is injected, this is usually a strong saline solution, and this causes the uterus to contract. This procedure can cause heavy bleeding, infection, and injuries to the cervix can occur. A hospital stay of one or more days is required (McGee 20).
Some countries ban together altogether, in 1803, England banned all abortions, this policy quickly soon spread to Asia, Africa, and Latin America. In 1920 the former USSR legalized abortion, followed by Japan in 1948, by the 1970s, the United States and much of Europe, Asia, and Canada all had legalized abortion (McGee 24). In some African countries, illegal abortions contribute to up to fifty percent of pregnancy related deaths. In Romania, abortions were outlawed from 1966 to 1989. During this time eighty percent of pregnancy related deaths were caused by illegal abortions. In countries where abortions are legal, deaths are only one percent (McGee 25).
Legalization of abortions began in 1966, when Mississippi allowed abortions due to rape. By 1970, other states expanded the use of abortions to include cases where the pregnancy poses a threat to the woman’s life, the baby would have serious abnormalities, or if it was a result of incest (McGee 30). In 1973 the Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton decided that abortion was legal for any reason before the twenty-fourth week of pregnancy, the point where it becomes viable. The laws allowed the states to regulate abortions after that point. With the exception of cases where carrying the pregnancy to full term poses a risk to the woman’s health or life (McGee 25).
In 1976, the Supreme Court recognized the right of pregnant girls under the age of eighteen “mature minors”, if they chose to have an abortion. In 1979 the Court ruled that states have the power to require consenting of the minors parents who wants an abortion (Hodgson v. Minnesota (1990))(McGee 25). There is an alternative to the notification of parents. A confidential judicial hearing can be held. If the judge believes that the minor is mature enough to proceed with the abortion, then the court’s decision can be used as a substitute to the parental consent. If not, then the court can decide what is in the minor’s best interest (McGee 26).
In 1983, the court found it unconstitutional to require that a woman considering an abortion be given information developed by the state about risks and consequences, and then have a twenty- four hour waiting period, before the procedure can be preformed (McGee26). However, the 1989 Supreme Court decision in Webster v. Reproductive Health Services, the court allowed several state-imposed restrictions to stay in tact. It upheld the Missouri law that prohibits the use of public facilities or public employees for an abortion, and requires a physician to determine the viability of a fetus older than twenty weeks (McGee 27).
Rust v. Sullivan (1991), the Court upheld federal policy that prevented health care providers who received federal funding from engaging in any activities that encouraged or promoted abortion as a method of family planning, this law was later revoked by President Clinton (1992)(Nelson 45). The Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (1994), made it a federal crime to use force, threat of force, or physical obstruction to injure, intimidate, or interfere with reproductive health care providers and their patients (Nelson 45). In 1996, the United States Congress enacted a bill that banned the practice of partial birth abortions. The bill was vetoed by President Clinton because if failed to permit use of the procedure when a fetus displays severe abnormalities. Since then, many states have banned this procedure. February 1997 the court upheld buffer zones around clinics, but struck down “floating” buffer zones around individuals approaching clinics (Nelson 46).
Abortion also has many political and social issues as well. One political issue is that the line between pro-life and pro-choice has become blurred. Many women who are pro-life are concerned about the possible threat to the reproductive rights and the danger of allowing the government to decide what medical options are available to them. Also, pro- choice women are disturbed by the use of abortion as a form of birth control (Benson 30).
Embryology, the study of fetal development, offers little insight about the fetus’ status at the moment of conception (Benson31). There have been a lot of debates on the topic, but no decision has ever been reached because of the radicals on both sides, and the strong emotions (Benson 32). Also, the point viability is constantly changing. Every year, medical advances have been made to keep a premature baby alive at an earlier stage. Currently, the generally accepted viability age is about twenty- four weeks. A small percentage of babies born at about twenty- two weeks have been kept alive with intensive medical care (Benson 33).
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