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Abortion: A Brief Overview
Stances on the pros and cons of abortion starkly divide the nation. Before sifting through polarized viewpoints, let’s consider the basics.
Induced abortions — the subject of this article — are not new. Ancient Greek and Roman texts document abortion attempts through herbal concoctions, rigorous exercises, bloodletting, and other methods.
In North America, women commonly sought abortions before the 19th century. British colonies allowed abortions before “quickening” — the first perceptible fetal kicks. French, Spanish, and Portuguese colonies banned them. Public opinion then shifted, deeming abortions immoral. By 1910, every state had banned abortion after quickening, although some allowed the procedure to save women’s lives.
Amid the women’s liberation movement, the Supreme Court legalized abortion nationwide in 1973 through its landmark decision Roe v. Wade. However, the decision did not make the right to an abortion absolute. States can regulate abortions after the first trimester. They can also establish trigger laws that would fully ban abortions if the Supreme Court overturns the decision.
Now, let’s examine the pros and cons of abortion.
Abortions give women additional control over their reproductive lives and economic futures. This is especially important for vulnerable populations, like teenage girls, low-income women, and survivors of sexual abuse.
Secondly, abortion can save the mother’s life. High-profile cases of women dying after they were refused abortions in Ireland and Italy recently rocked the international community. Additionally, women with pre-existing chronic conditions — like diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and substance-abuse disorders — face higher maternal death risks. Aborting an unintended or non-viable pregnancy could potentially reduce their chance of suffering serious complications or a premature death.
Abortions can also relieve women of the physical and mental turmoil of carrying a dying fetus or delivering a stillborn baby. Recent domestic and international cases — in Texas, Michigan, and India — document personal tragedies and political challenges surrounding wanted, yet non-viable, pregnancies.
Lastly, legal abortions reduce the economic incentive for unregulated “back alley” abortionists to operate. It remains unclear exactly how many American women became ill or died from illegal abortions before Roe v. Wade. However, one hospital admitted 75 percent fewer cases of septic abortion — a serious side-effect of incomplete abortions — after California loosened its abortion laws.
Modern science hasn’t proven exactly when life begins. For those who believe that human life begins at conception, aborting a pregnancy at any stage is murder; therefore, abortion is immoral and should be illegal in all cases.
It also remains unclear whether abortions cause fetuses pain. As science and technology have improved, researchers have developed varying opinions regarding if — or how soon — fetuses can feel pain. Some now believe that fetuses can feel pain as early as 18 weeks gestation. Others assert that babies don’t feel pain until the mind develops post-birth.
For women, induced abortions may increase the risk of long-term mental health issues. One 2015 Finnish study found that following an abortion, women have “a 2-fold suicide risk.” A 2008 Norwegian study also concluded that “young adult women who undergo induced abortion may be at increased risk for subsequent depression.”
Lastly, some women may rely on abortion as a birth control method — rather than abstinence or contraceptives. According to the CDC, about 40 percent of American women who received abortions in 2018 underwent one or more abortions previously.
Pros and Cons of Abortion: The Politics
Abortion opinions largely fall along party lines. According to Pew Research, 59 percent of Americans believe “abortion should be legal in all or most cases.” Just 35 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents agree — compared to 80 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents.
States’ abortion regulations also follow their political leanings. As expectations rise that Roe v. Wade may soon be overturned, statewide abortion laws have become more polarized. Ten traditionally Republican states passed legislation outlawing all or nearly all abortions if Roe v. Wade is overturned. In contrast, 14 Democratic states and the District of Columbia have upheld abortion rights prior to viability or throughout pregnancy if abortion loses constitutional protection.
Nationally, former Republican President Donald Trump energized pro-life Americans. As People For Life notes, he filled his cabinet with prominent pro-lifers and tipped the Supreme Court’s balance toward conservative ideology. He also withheld federal funds from domestic and international abortion providers and promoters.
On the campaign trail, Democratic President Joe Biden pledged to help make women’s right to abortion a federal law and restore the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate. Since taking office, he’s begun unraveling his predecessor’s abortion-restrictive family planning policies at home and abroad.