Abortion is a social issue and problem that has elicited a great amount of controversy and debate in countries and societies throughout the world. The central general concern which this debate revolves around is the issue of social norms and values. From a sociological perspective the issue of abortion can be analyzed in terms of the conflict model of society from the perspective of either Marx or Coser and the competition between different view and values of various groups within the matrix of the society.
On the one hand many people in society oppose abortion in terms of normative value structures which often are manifested in religious principles and ideologies. This refers to the issues such as the sanctity of life and the view that abortion goes against the ethos and underlying structure of the society. On the other hand there are many groups in society who have an opposing and contrary view which states that abortion should be permissible and available to members of a free and democratic society and that the choice to abort should be unencumbered by religious and ethical ideology.
Central among these groups are the feminist movements that stress the view that the women has been subjugated and marginalised in society and that laws or social prejudice against abortion is an extension of this oppression and constitutes the denial of the societal rights of women to choose for themselves. This is also linked to the view that women have the right to choose what to do with their bodies. This refers in turn to social issues, such as gender rights and the ethics and social aspects of women's role and responsibility in a given society.
2. Abortion and the social context
As has been briefly referred to in the introduction, the debate about abortion in a sociological context can be seen to focus on the conflict between values and perspectives in the society. This can be interpreted at a more pragmatic level as a focus on the right to life and the right to abort a foetus. These two perspectives refer to very different underlying perceptions in the society. This also brings into play a number of variables that have to be taken into account in an analysis of this issue from a sociological perspective.
The first aspect to consider is the way that the debate about abortion takes on a complex and involved sociological dimension when the issue involves sensitive ethical areas of concern. This refers to issues such as the 'right to life' and the ideological and ethical implications of allowing a living foetus to be aborted. Therefore, the first issue is the view that life is 'sacred' and that the issue of abortion is an infringement of this right; the foetus has the same right to life as does any member of the society and to transgress this basic right is to undermine the essential value system of the society.
On the other hand, the second aspect to consider is the issue in society of gender rights and equality in that society. The issue of women's rights and the subjugation of women and their relegation to an inferior gender 'class' in the society is one that been raging in modern western society for more than a century.
This can be seen in early American history where was little regard given to the rights and women in the society. In the 18th and early 19th centuries America and other western societies were characterized by a highly patriarchal social structure in which a man "... virtually owned his wife and children as he did his material possessions. If a poor man chose to send his children to the poorhouse, the mother was legally defenseless to object" (Women's History in America). In the last century there has been an intense reaction against the male -dominated structure of society and this has reaction includes the views about the abortion issue.
This issue of abortion therefore refers to a wide range of sociological aspects and conflicts in contemporary society. The point that is being made at this juncture is that the issue of abortion is, in sociological terms, much more extensive and involved that it may appear at first glance. In fact an analysis of the abortion debate also brings to light many other conflicts and contradictions that exist in contemporary western society; for example, the conflict between religious and secular views of life in western society and the conflict and discourse that exists about women's rights in a male dominated and patriarchal society. In other words, the issue of abortion cannot be understood or analyzed in isolation. Understanding the controversy about abortion necessitates a broader view of the related and concomitant values and variables in that society.
3. Women's rights and abortion more appropriate term to use when talking about women's rights in relation to the issue of abortion is reproductive rights. Reproductive rights refers to the right of women to "...control their own bodies and reproductive lives" (Abortion is every woman's right). Reproductive rights are defined more adequately as follows.
Reproductive rights include the rights of all individuals to control over their own bodies, to have sex that is consensual, free from violence and coercion, and to enter marriage with the free and full consent of both parties. Reproductive rights are essential for women's exercise of their right to health. Women's reproductive rights concern the freedom that women must have to express their sexuality with dignity.
What are women's reproductive rights?)
One of the central arguments put forward by women's movements for the acceptance of abortion in society is that this issue is strongly linked to certain central values and societal principles in an open and democratic society. This refers mainly to the issue of social and cultural prejudice and discrimination. In other words, many argue that abortion should be legal and that making it illegal is in fact furthering and increasing the social discrimination against women in society.
Among the many arguments used for of abortion is the fact that in many countries in the world women do not have any rights or control over their bodies or reproduction in the socio-cultural context. This is the cases in many African and Asian countries. This fact is also linked to the spread of HIV / AIDS and the lack of reproductive rights for women.
Therefore, in this light the right to abortion is seen as an extension of necessary gender and reproductive rights. The debate about abortion therefore becomes a debate about societal values and prejudices and the marginalization of a certain sectors of the society. In addition, the argument is also put forward that many women die from illegal abortions and this is another reason for the acceptance of abortion as a legitimate social norm. This refers to data from the World Health Organization which states that 78,000 women around the world die from unsafe abortions every year." (Abortion is every woman's right) There are also studies of many women who die from unsafe abortion practices in the United States. The issue of abortion and reproductive rights should be considered in the broader social context of the way that norms and value are perceived in the society. The RIGHT to choose is just one aspect of a much larger issue of reproductive rights - women's right to control their own bodies and reproductive lives" (Abortion is every woman's right).
Abortion rights are often seen in terms of social conflict and oppression. The following quotation outlines this point-of-view.
A the traditional view of women has been strengthened by the masculine values that do not recognize the importance of women's health and well-being, including women's capacity for sexual expression, as a positive moral good.... The indifference to the women's well-being... is reflected in Supreme Court rulings that fail to address the question of the risks of death and disability from state-imposed childbearing. The Court's reference to maternal health arises from its concern for the compelling interest of the state rather than for the right or interest of an individual woman, so that the state can regulate women's access to abortion (Sachdev, 1993, p. 237).
The above quotation is cited as length as it clearly expresses the social context in which the issue of abortion is often considered., 4. Abortion and religious and ethical views
The shaping of values and views in society must also take into account the way in which morals and ethics are determined by ideological points-of-view and particularly by religious stances and views. It is important to realize that the structure of society is largely determined by ideals and views about life and reality. Central to this structure are the strong views and standpoints that are taken about issues by the major religious groups in the society. Central to religious ideology that shapes societal norms is the issue of the sanctity of life. This view obviously contrasts with the more secular norms put forward by feminists and those who approve of abortion. In…