Abortion refers to termination of pregnancy with the consent of the mother. Therefore even when the mother herself is demanding abortion, pro-lifers maintain that termination must not be allowed because it violates basic rights of the unborn child. Pro-choice quarter on the other hand, advocates a mother’s right to health and feels that an unwanted child would only lead to numerous economic, social and emotional problems for the woman. The paper therefore addresses both sides of the issue and also briefly mentions that the role of the Supreme Court in this area.
INTRODUCTION AND CONFLICT
Abortion is one of the most critical issues on each American administration’s agenda. This is because while every politician would love to avoid the issue altogether, public wants to know exactly what the government’s stand on this particular issue is so that they would be able to judge it better. This is quite strange how stance on abortion has become an important criterion for judging a government and it can either turn people in favor of it or completely against it depending on how government interprets its own stand. From this it is evident that people attach great degree of significance to this issue because it somehow is related to their sense of morality and tolerance. Let us understand what exactly abortion is and what is the significance of Court in this particular area of conflict.
Abortion refers to termination of pregnancy at any stage and people are divided on this issue because the pro-abortion quarter thinks right to termination is connected with women’s basic rights while the pro-life quarter maintains that we must also think of the child that is growing in the womb. Jerry Z. Muller (1995) writes:
“In contemporary American political debate, usually treated as conflicts between rival interpretations of individual rights. Those who favor abortion most often invoke the “right to choose” of the woman who has conceived the fetus. Those who oppose abortion focus on the “right to life” of the fetus.” (Muller, 1997: 27-28)
There is little that one quarter can do to convince the other that its stance is more appropriate because they both have valid arguments in favor of their views on the subject. But it pays to enlighten ourselves regarding both sides of the issue because if we have an open mind, deeper knowledge of the subject might help us at reaching a more a more objective balanced conclusion.
This quarter maintains that every child whether born or unborn has a right to life and health; therefore it is absolutely immoral for her mother to deny him this right especially when the child has not even entered the world. In other words, this section feels that if a mother has the right to life and if she could terminate the pregnancy because of her health, how she could be allowed to deny her unborn child his right to life. It is extremely important to understand that there is nothing wrong with the views of this quarter because though it may appear to be based on religious beliefs; this view is actually developed on the lines of civil rights. There are certain people in this section that would probably be atheists and still against abortion, this is because they feel that termination of pregnancy is another name for murder. They have adopted several ways of making their presence felt. Not only do they repeatedly participate in rallies and demonstration, but also some extremists among this group would actually target anti-abortions clinics and there have been several cases of arson and violence. David Whitman (1998) writes about anti-abortion violence that has peaked during the last few years:
“While most types of antiabortion violence have ebbed over the years, disruptive tactics like picketing, hate mail, and bomb threats reached record highs in 1997. The most common tactic, by far, is picketing–NAF reported more than 7,500 incidents of picketing during 1997. Clinics in 21 of 43 states surveyed by NAF last year reported weekly or daily protests.”
The pro-choice movement on the other hand advocates rights of the mother. It maintains that a child in the womb is not a fully developed person and therefore his rights are not as important as that of the mother and similarly it is her life and health, which must be kept in mind, when decision regarding pregnancy is being made. (Gordon, 1995) Logically speaking, this group appears to have more valid and reasonable arguments in favor of its stance in the subject but there are certain extremes, which are to be avoided by this group. This is because it is the extreme views, which have turned pro-lifers against pro-choice group. The extreme involves not considering the unborn child a human being even in the final stage of pregnancy. It is true that a child cannot be called a person in prenatal stage, but still he is a fully developed human being when pregnancy has reached the end of its term. Therefore to support abortion at this stage is absolutely wrong because it would be the same thing as killing a human being.
This group also maintains that every child coming into this world should be wanted’. In other words, they feel that if a mother wants to terminate pregnancy, it means that she doesn’t want the child she is carrying and therefore bringing such a child into the world would only result in numerous problems as the child would not be provided with loving care that he deserves. But this argument appear to be a rather weak one because we have noticed that many unwanted children have gone on to live a very productive life and thus if we kill all of them, we would probably also kill people like Beethoven too. This is because Beethoven was born when her mother already had 14 children, father had a chronic drinking problem and the family was living well below the poverty line. In this case, most of us today would have suggested an abortion but then we would have killed the greatest symphony creator.
Jerry Muller explains the major difference between the stand of two groups on the issue of abortion:
“The right-to-life movement regards human “life” as a good–a claim most of us are broadly inclined to accept. But the right-to-life movement goes further. It regards all human life as a good, regardless of the mental, emotional or intellectual capacities of the individual. To right-to-lifers, keeping alive anencephalic infants (children missing all or most of their brains) is a moral imperative. The right-to-life movement regards every degree of human life as equal to the most complete development of human life: that is why the moral status of a fetus two weeks into its development is the same as that of children and adults.” (Muller, 1997: 27-28)
ROE VS WADE COURT DECISION
It is important to know how the Court has played an important role in this issue. In fact it was the Supreme Court decision of 1973 that turned this issue into major subject of political, legal and social debate. It was in 1973 that Roe vs. Wade case was brought to the Supreme Court where it was decided that abortion on demand should be legalized in all 50 states of the country. This was the first major decision in this area and also the most critical one. (Pollit, 1997)
The Court maintained that women should be allowed to terminate her pregnancy on the grounds of health. But even then, Court was not referring to physical health alone and gave women the right to interpret health’ in ways she deemed fit. Court said abortion was allowed, “. . . in the light of all factors physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s age relevant to the well being of the patient. All these factors may relate to health.” Doe vs. Bolton, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 70-40,
IV, p. 11, Jan. 1973
The Court also considered the pro-choice quarter regarding birth of an unwanted child and decided that abortion could be performed if the mother felt she couldn’t give proper care and attention to the child she is carrying.
“Maternity or additional offspring may force upon the woman a distressful life and future. Psychological harm may be imminent. Mental and physical health may be taxed by childcare. There is also the distress for all concerned associated with the unwanted child, and there is the problem of bringing a child into a family already unable, psychologically or otherwise, to care for it…”.” Roe vs. Wade, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 70-18, p. 38, Jan. 1973
Since then several amendments have been made to the original decision and it has been turned into a more pro-life one in nature. This is because the successive administrations and judiciary officials felt that original decisions did not take into account issue of dignity of human life. And therefore introduced amendment of paramount importance in 1981 that altered the Supreme Court decision of 1973 to include pro-life arguments.
Now that we have examined the issue closely, it is clear that abortion is one of the most pressing contemporary issues facing the political, legal and social circles. While each person may have his own reasons for supporting or condemning abortion, still it would be important to find a middle ground for permanent resolution of this issue. We cannot remain impartial on this subject because it is certainly connected with our moral and religious values, but in order to avoid a major conflict, we must advocate tolerance and patience. No matter how we feel about the issue, it is certainly not socially or morally acceptable to hurt or harass people with conflicting views.
1)Muller, Jerry Z, The conservative case for abortion: family values vs. family planning. (The New Republic: 1995). 27-28
2)David Whitman, Abortion: the untold story. (U.S. News ; World Report: 1998), 20.
3)Gordon, Doris, Abortion and Rights: Applying Libertarian Principles Correctly Vol. 1, (Contemporary Women’s Issues Database: 1995). 134-140.
4)Katha Pollit, Abortion in American History; (The Atlantic Monthly: 1997). 111-115.
5)ROE V. WADE COURT DECISION: Available Online: http://www.roevwade.org/index2.html, (Accessed 16th July 2005)