controversial subject of abortion in America. The question of abortion is one that is physically and mentally stressful for any woman, but when the elements of public opinion and legal rights are added to that decision-making process as elements a woman must take into consideration when making the choice to abort a fetus, or not to abort it; then, the question must be asked: Whose body is it? Does a pregnant woman's body belong to her and her alone when she is considering abortion? Or, is her body de facto property of the state that governs her choices in deciding to have an abortion? In the United States, a woman does not make the decision to have an abortion alone. Her choice is regulated by state and federal laws that will impact the choices available to her when deciding on whether or not an abortion is in her -- and often times the unborn child's -- best interest.
During the early 19th century, laws governing abortion in America were, in all but a few states, the same laws that had existed in England when America was settled (Lewis, and Shimabukuro 2001). Around 1861, however, states had begun to revise their state laws, and, presumably under pressure from religious organizations, passed laws making abortions illegal at any point in a woman's pregnancy (Lewis and Shimabukuro). Since women in America did not win the right to vote until 1920 (Nineteenth Amendment), the lawmaking process and decisions governing women's choices regarding abortion, or lack thereof, were decided by men (Hull, and Hoffer 2010). This could easily be perceived as a control issue, perhaps the residue of a time when men actually did own the bodies of women as their wives and their daughters were concerned. N.E.H. Hull and Peter Charles Hoffer say:
"The laws that first made abortion a serious crime reflected profound changes in social and political relationships, in particular increasing complexity and tension in the association between men and women; new sources of male authority and new sources of moral authority and new ways of expressing that authority; and a hitherto unprecedented degree of governmental intervention in private life. In an era of rising middle-class domesticity, growing professionalism of doctors and ministers, the popularization of science, and new kinds of state-imposed social controls on everyday life, abortion became a way of redrawing boundaries of deviance that extended into the bedroom and the doctor's office (p. 11)."
Since voters, legislators, and most physicians and governmental representatives were (and continue to be) men, then, in the face of the legislating as regarded a woman's body, was a continuation of male domination and ownership -- a legal loophole -- of women's bodies.
Even after 1920, when women won the right to vote in America, the legislative processes, government, and the business world, including medicine, continued to be dominated by men. Women's rights, full and complete rights, over their own bodies and especially in choosing whether or not they would give birth, has never been their own right.
This research essay will examine the history of the laws governing abortion, and the progress women have made in taking control of their bodies. It will rely upon the existing body of published scholarship in books and journals to bring together the story of how women have won the rights over their bodies, and how, today, they are faced with losing hard won rights as abortion laws continue to be modified as a reflection of public opinion and governmental intervention and interference.
Lewis, J. And Shimabukuro, Jon, 2001. Almanac of Policy Issues.org. Abortion Law
Development: A Brief Overview, found online at http://www.policyalmanac.org/culture/archive/crs_abortion_overview.shtml, retrieved 22 October 2010.
Hull, N.E.H. And Hoffer, Peter Charles (2010). Roe v Wade: The Abortion Rights Controversy, University Press of Kansas.
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