Abortion and Women's Rights One

Abortion and Women's Rights

One controversy that pans the socio-political and cultural paradigm in the late 20th and early 21st century is that of the overall morality of abortion. The abortion debate, in fact, surrounds the legal and moral status of the fetus, which has not been established from either a medical or a moral viewpoint. Again, from a utilitarian principle, one has to ask if there are ever any moral reasons in which humans should destroy other humans. There is no overall "right" or "wrong" answer; instead, there is a continuum of morality that surrounds abortion. Abortion is the termination of pregnancy through artificial means prior to the date the fetus is viable in the outside world. If an abortion occurs spontaneously it is called a miscarriage that can be either induced purposefully or as the result of a fetus that is not viable. (Mears and Franken, 2003).

The reason there is no absolute when talking about abortion is because there are various degrees of morality. If the fetus is aborted within the first few months after conception, there is no argument that it would not be able to live outside the mother's body -- therefore, it is not the same as "killing a baby" only a few weeks away from delivery. Second, there is a moral issue that involves the health of the mother or child, or both. If the child may be born severely deformed or mentally incapacitated, is it not kinder to allow that fetus to be aborted rather than suffering a long and painful life? In the same manner, if having a full-term baby would endanger the mother, is it not moral to allow that mother to live, particularly if she has other children to care for? These examples are very different that those who might use abortion as birth control, or do not differentiate a fetus unable to survive outside the womb with one that is near delivery.

In addition, does society have the right to tell a woman what she can and cannot do with her body? There may be a number of circumstances in which an abortion, performed in the first trimester, is kinder, more practical, and takes a burden off society. For the large percentage of the world, in the first trimester the fetus is a mass of tissue that cannot cognate and exhibit human tendencies. If the overall cost to the mother and society is too high (e.g. rape, incest, sexual abuse, deformations or cognitive inability to live life), then there is a moral justification for abortion. Finally, abortion and decisions about morality are individual -- and should be made by the parties involved, not society in general.

From a cultural and legal perspective, even after three decades, the debate on abortion that was made so famous by the Roe v. Wage decision of the U.S. Supreme Court continues to be controversial. From a political standpoint, the controversy could not be better explained that President Barak Obama's comments to students at Notre Dame University, "I do not suggest that the debate surrounding abortion can or should go away. At some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable. Each side will continue to make its case to the public with passion and conviction. But surely we can do so without reducing those with differing views to caricature" (McCormick, 2009).

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Often, in society, cultural tradition morphs into legal tradition as behaviors and mannerisms become more acceptable. Witness that at times, cultural attitudes about race and ethnicity (e.g. The separation of the races) were also those that were legally enforced. In Roe v Wade, the issue was pushed to the High Court. In a decision (7-2), Judge Harry Blackmun, writing for the majority, looked at the legal rights of the individual, the rights of individual State Constitutions, and the standard by which Federal law should override certain aspects of State law if it is for the good of the individual. Instead of focusing on the Ninth Amendment, though, Blackmun wrote: "the right of privacy, whether it be founded in the Fourteenth Amendment's concept of personal liberty and restrictions upon State action, as we feel it is, or, as the District Court determined, in the Ninth Amendment's reservation of rights to the people, is broad enough to encompass a woman's decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy" (RW). Additionally, the Court returned a legal argument stating that the government has a right to ensure the preservation of the health of its citizens, and to protect them if they are placed in harm's way in a manner that can be rectified, "the State does have an important and legitimate interest in preserving and protecting the health of a pregnant woman…. And that it has still another important and legitimate interest in protecting the potentiality of human life" (RW, Section X).

Arguments regarding RW thus come to both the legal side and the moral side of the issue. Legally, pro-life supporters believe that RW (in both a legal and moral argument) failed to acknowledge that life begins at conception, not at a presupposed viability date and that the fetus, as a living being, should be protected under the Constitution (Balkin 2005). This is echoed in the argument that if an absolute, Constitutional ruling regarding when life begins is not clear, the government should err on the idea of doing no harm.[footnoteRef:1]* Opponents of RW also object to the decision on the basis of Constitutional law. They maintain, as did the dissenting Justices, that the Constitution does not give a firm authority on either the action of privacy for the mother, or the Federal government's right to overturn a legally binding State law. Since RW resulted in numerous States passing new laws to be in line with the decision, opponents believe that the legal question should reside with the State, while the morality of that decision might well be in line with the community in which the law is passed (Koppelman 2010). [1: * See, for instance, the comment from former President Ronald Reagan, "If you don't know whether a body is alive or dead, you would never bury it. I think this consideration itself should be enough for all of us to insist on protecting the unborn." In Reagan, R. Abortion and the Conscience of the Nation. Nelson, 1984.]

Proponents of RW see the law as vital to protect a woman's right to control her own body, her personal freedom, and her freedom of choice (Gans 1998). The very idea of denying her the right to abort an unborn fetus, to them, is tantamount to compulsory motherhood, which therefore violates the mother's protection under the Thirteenth Amendment: "When women are compelled to carry and bear children, they are subjected to involuntary servitude in violation of the Thirteenth Amendment… [E]ven if the woman has stipulated to have consented to the risk of pregnancy, that does not permit the State to force her to remain pregnant" (Koppelman).

Morally, the issue is far more convoluted, since moral arguments are often a product of faith and individual reason rather than Constitutional law. Nevertheless, the ideas that are held morally are part of the collective, which in turn constitutes the population under consideration. Prior to examining these arguments, though, it is quite interesting to view the public opinion graph regarding RW over time. In Figure 1 we see that there has not been any real standard of opinion on the subject, but one of a variable sense of agreement and disagreement -- perhaps due to media or personal attention to the matter, perhaps due to the ebb and flow of the entire political machine. Those with no opinion have increased, but in the last 8 years those in favor of keeping the law have dropped from 66% to 29%, while those wishing to overturn RW have moved from a high of 36% in 2002 to 29% in 2013 (Saad, 2013).Figure 1 - Support of Roe v. Wade

Morally, arguments come to five major conjectures, argued by the Pro-Choice and Pro-Life movements:

Pro-Choice

Pro-Life

Legal Abortion Benefits Women

Eliminates "back alley" or unqualified abortions; favors the mother in cases of rape or incest, fetal abnormalities, or threats to the mother's life or health.

Incest and fetal abnormalities represent only about 2% of all cases; mother's health risk only 3% of cases.

A fetus is not yet a human being.

Conception is just a group of cells dividing, a zygote; the individual is not developed at conception. Nearly all abortions take place in the first trimester, and the concept of personhood is different than life.

Life begins at the moment of fertilization because it is life that was not there prior to fertilization. All the potential of a human is available, and therefore needs protection under the law.

A Woman has the right to control her own body.

It is up to a woman to choose what happens to her own body. Forcing a woman to give…