Essay, Research Paper: Abortion


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Abortion in today's society has become very political. You are either pro-choice
or pro-life, and there doesn't seem to be a happy medium. As we look at abortion
and research its history, should it remain legal in the United States, or should
it be outlawed to reduce the ever growing rate of abortion. A choice should
continue to exist but the emphasis needs to be placed on education of the
parties involved. James C. Mohr takes a good look at abortion in his book
Abortion in America. He takes us back in history to the 1800s so we can
understand how the practice and legalization of abortion has changed over the
year. In the absence of any legislation whatsoever on the subject of abortion in
the U.S. in 1800, the legal status of the practice was governed by the
traditional British common law as interpreted by the local courts of new
American states. For centuries prior to 1800 the key to the common law's
attitude towards abortion had been a phenomenon associated with normal gestation
as quickening. Quickening was the first perception of fetal movement by the
pregnant woman herself. Quickening generally occurred during the mid-point of
gestation, late in the fourth or early in the fifth month, though it would and
still does vary a good deal from one woman to another (pg.3). The common law did
not formally recognize the existence of a fetus in criminal cases until it had
quickened. After quickening, the expulsion and destruction of the fetus without
due case was considered a crime, because the fetus itself had manifested some
semi-balance of a separate existence: the ability to move (pg3). The even more
controversial question: Is the fetus alive? Has been at the forefront of the
debate. Medically, the procedure of removing a blockage was the same as those
for inducing an early abortion. Not until the obstruction moved would either a
physician or a woman regardless of their suspicions be completely certain that
it was a "natural" blockage-a pregnancy-rather than a potentially
dangerous situation. Morally, the question of whether or not the fetus was
"alive" had been the subject of philosophical and religious debate
among honest people for 5,000 years. Single pregnant woman used abortion as a
way to avoid shame. The practice of aborting unwanted pregnancies was, if not
common, almost certainly not rare in the United States. A knowledge of various
drugs, potions and techniques was available from home medical guides, from
health books for woman, for mid-wives and irregular practitioners, and trained
physicians. Substantial evidence suggest that many American women sought
abortions, tried the standard techniques of the day, and no doubt succeeded some
proportions of the time in terminating unwanted pregnancies. Moreover, this
practice was neither morally nor legally wrong in the vast majority of
Americans, provided it was accomplished before quickening. The important early
court cases all involved single woman trying to terminate illegitimate
pregnancies. As late as 1834 it was axiomatic to a medical student at the
University of Maryland, who wrote his dissertation on spontaneous abortion, that
woman who feigned dysmenorrhea in order to obtain abortions from physicians were
woman who had been involved in illicit intercourse. Cases reported in the
medical journals prior to 1840 concern the same percentages (16,17). Samuel
Jennings quoted Dr. Denman, one of the leading obstetrical writers of the day to
reassure his readers, "In abortions, dreadful and alarming as they are
sometimes it is great comfort to know that they are almost universally void of
danger either from hemorrhage, or any other account." Again, the context
was spontaneous by the then induced abortion, but in a book with such explicit
suggestions for relieving the common cold, woman could easily conclude that the
health risks involved in bringing on an abortion were relatively low, or at
least not much worse than childbirth itself in 1808, when Jennings wrote in his
book (18). Mohr continues with the first dealings with the legal statues on
abortion in the United States. The earliest laws that dealt specifically with
the legal status of abortion in the U.S. were inserted into Americans criminal
code books between 1821 and 1841. Ten states and one federal territory during
that period enacted legislation that for the first time made certain kinds of
abortions explicit statute offenses rather than leaving the common law to deal
with them. The legislation 13, 14 and 15 read. Every person who shall, willfully
and maliciously, administer to, or cause to be administered to, or taken by, any
person or persons, any deadly poisons, or other noxious and destructive
substance, within an intention him/her/them, thereby to murder, or thereby to
cause or procure the miscarriage of any woman, then being quick with child, and
shall be thereof duly convicted, shall suffer imprisonment, in the newgate
prison, during his natural life, or for such other terms as the court having
cognizance of the offense shall determine (21). Consequently, it is not
surprising that the period was not one of vigorous anti-abortion activity in
state legislation. One of the exceptions was Ohio. In 1834 legislators there
made attempted abortion a misdemeanor without specifying any stage of gestation,
and they made the death of either the woman or the fetus after quickening a
felony (39,40), Alabama enacted a major code revision during the 1840/1841
session of its legislature that made the abortion of "any pregnant
woman" a statuate crime for the first time in that state, but pregnant
meant quickened (40). A code revision in Maine in 1984 made attempted abortion
of any woman "pregnant with child" an offense, whether such child be
quick or not." Regardless of what method was used (41). The first wave of
abortion legislation in American history emerged from the struggles of both
legislatures and physicians to control medical practice rather than from public
pressures to deal with abortion per se. Every one of the laws passed between
1821 and 1841 punished only the "person" who administered the
abortifacients or performed the operation; none punished the woman herself in
any way. The laws were aimed, in other words, at regulating the activities of
apothecaries and physicians, not at dissuading woman from seeking abortions
(43). The major increase in abortion in the U.S. start in the early 1840's three
key changes began to take place in the patterns of abortion in the United
States. These changes profoundly effected the evolution of abortion policy for
the next 40 years. First, abortion came out into the public view; by the
mid-1840's the fact that Americans practiced abortion was an obvious social
reality, constantly visible for the population as a whole. The second
overwhelming incident of abortion, according to the commentary observers began
to rise in the early 1840's and remained at high levels through the 1870's.
Abortion was no longer marginal practice whose incident probably approximated
that of illegitimacy, but rather a wide spread social phenomenon during that
period (46). Third, the types of woman having recourse to abortion seem to
change; the dramatic surge of abortion in the U.S. after 1840 was attributed not
to the increase in illegitimacy or a decline in marital fidelity, but rather to
the increase use of abortion by white, married, Protestants, native born woman
of the mid and upper class who either wished to delay their child bearing or
already had all the children they wanted (46). The increased public visibility
of abortion as stated by Mohr may be attributed largely to a process common
enough in American history: commercializations. Several factors were involved in
the commercialization of abortion, but the continued compensation for clients
among members of the medical profession stood out because that compensation was
so intense many marginal practitioners began in the early 1840's to try and
attract patients by advertising in popular press their willingness to treat the
private ailments of woman in terms that everybody recognized as significantly
their willing to provide abortion services (47). During the 1840's Americans
also learned for the first time not only that many practitioners would provide
abortion services, but that some practitioners had made the abortion business
their chief livelihood indeed, abortion became one of the first specialties in
American medical history. The popular press began to make abortion more visible
to the American people during the 1840's not only in its advertisements, but
also in its coverage of a number of sensational trials alleged to involve
botched abortions and professional abortionists (47). One indication that
abortion rates probably jumped in the United States during the 1940's and
remained high for some 30 years thereafter was the increased visibility of the
practice. By the 1950's, then, commercialization had brought abortion into the
public view in the United States, and the visibility it gained would effect the
evolution of abortion policy in American State Legislatures. At the same time, a
second key change was taking place: American woman began to practice abortion
more frequently after 1840 then they had earlier in the century (50). During the
week of January 4, 1845, Boston Daily Times advertised Madame Restell's Female
Pills; Madame Drunette's lunar pills which were sold as "a blessing to
mothers . . . and although very mild and prompt in their operations, pregnant
females should not use them, as they may invariably produce a miscarriage":
A second piece of evidence for high abortion rates for the period of was
existent during that time of flourishing business and abortifacients medicine
(53). The East River Medical Association of New York obtained an affidavit form
the Commissioner of Internal Revenue in 1871 declaring that a single
manufacturer had produced so many packages of abortifacient pills "during
the last twelve months" that 30,841 federal revenue stamps had been
required of him(59). Beginning in 1840 several Southern physicians drew
attention to the fact that slave women used cotton root as a abortifacient, and
they considered it both mild and effective. Although regular physicians never
prescribed cotton root for any purpose in normal practice, druggists around the
country were soon beginning to stock it. By the late 1850's, according to the
Boston Medical and Surgical Journal, cotton root had "become a very
considerable article of sale" in New England pharmacies. In 1871 " a
druggist in extensive trade " informed Van de Warker "that the sales
of extract of cotton-wood had quadrupled in the last five years" (59).
Judging by advertisements in the German-language press in New York after the
Civil War. Abortion was apparently on a commercialized and relatively open basis
in the German community by then. Female specialists, quite candidly announced
their willingness to provide for German women the services then touted so openly
in the English-language press. Many practitioners offered abortifacient
preparations for sale and several made less than subtle allusions to their
willingness to operate. A Dr. Harrison, for example, invited German women to his
office with the promise that" all menstrual obstructions, from whatever
cause they might originate, will be removed in a few hours without risk or
pain"(91). Mohr advises us who was performing the abortions. Only the
affluent, generally speaking. Could offer temptations that were worth the risk
to a regular of being found out by his colleagues. The two groups of regulars
most vulnerable to proffered bonuses for abortions were young men struggling to
break into the viciously competitive laissez faire medical market of the 1840s
and the 1850s and older practitioners losing their skills and their reputations
during the 1860s and 1870s, when modern medicine took long strides forward and
physicians unfamiliar with the new breakthroughs began to fall behind (95). The
founding of the American Medical Association in 1847 may be taken as the
beginning of this long-term effort, the goals of which were not fully realized
until the twentieth century. Mohr leads us to believe that the physicians were
launching a crusade against abortion for there own finical benefit. While the
founding of the AMA did not instantly alter the situation, it did provide an
organizational framework within which a concerted campaign for a particular
policy might be coordinated on a larger scale than ever before. Ten years after
its creation a young Boston physician decided to use that framework to launch an
attack upon America's ambiguous and permissive policies toward abortion
(147-148). The young physician was Horatio Robinson Storer, a specialist in
obstetrics and gynecology. Storer, an activist who "kept things stirred up
wherever he was, "sensed that his elders were growing restive about
abortion and that the time was right for a professionally ambitious leaders to
take advantage of the still unfocused opposition of regular physicians to
abortion. Horatio Storer laid the groundwork for the anti-abortion campaign he
launched later in the year by writing influential physicians all around the
country early in 1857 and inquiring about the abortion laws in each of their
states (148-149). Reactions around the country continued to bode well for the
success of Storer's national project. Still another prominent professor of
obstetrics, Dr. Jesse Boring of the Atlanta Medical School, who was at the AMA
meeting in 1857, when Storer called for action, came out publicly against the
" prevalent laxity of moral sentiment of this subject, as evidenced by the
increasing frequency of induced abortions"(155). Between 1860 and 1880
physicians all around the nation worked hard at the job of "educating
up" the public attitude toward abortion in the U.S., and by the end of that
period they had made some significant progress (171). Public opinion is turned
to make abortion illegal the popular press and church had joined with the
leaders of the charge the physicians. Mohr continues to state that the
anti-obscenity movement rose to prominence during the 1870sunder the leadership
of Anthony Comstock, the well-known head of the New York Society for the
Suppression of Vice. In the 1873 Comstock persuaded Congress to pass " and
Act for the Suppression of Trade in and Circulation of, Obscene Literature and
Articles of Immoral Use. " As a result of that law, it became a federal
offense to ...sell, or offer to sell, or...give away for offer to give away, or
...have in...possession with intent to sell or give away,...instrument, or other
article of indecent or immoral nature, or any article or medicine...for causing
abortion, except on a prescription of a physician in good standing, given in
good faith...(196). Under the law of 1873 Comstock himself became a special
agent of the national government empowered to enforce the act's provisions. In
this capacity Comstock became the country's best known pursuer of abortionists
for the remainder of the 1870s. In early spring of 1878 he finally succeed in
arresting Madame Restell herself, after purchasing abortifacient preparations
from her. The popular press trumpeted the arrest loudly, and when Madame Restell
committed suicide on the day before her trial the story became an instant
national even international, sensation. As a symbolic act, the Restell suicide
of April 1878 may well have marked a turning point in public opinion in the
United States (197). The anti-abortion legislation begins Mohr tells us. Between
1860 and 1880 the regular physicians' campaign against abortion in the Untied
States produced the most important burst of anti-abortion legislation in the
nation's history. At least 40 anti-abortion statutes of various kinds were
placed upon state and territorial law books during that period. Some 13
jurisdictions formally outlawed abortion for the first time, and at least 21
states revised their already existing statutes on the subject. More
significantly, most of the legislation passed between 1860 and 1880 explicitly
accepted the regulars' assertions that the interruption of gestation at any
point in a pregnancy should be crime and that ate state itself should try
actively to restrict the practice of abortion (200). Consequently, after four
decades of rapid change, American abortion policy re-estabilized during the
final two decades of the nineteenth century while legislative responses typical
to the 1860s and 1870s wove themselves deeply into the fabric of American law.
There they would remain through the first two thirds of the twentieth century
(245). The Roe vs. Wade case is told by Mohr so bring up to today's law in
practice. A single, pregnant woman, assigned the pseudonym Jane Roe by the court
to protect her privacy, took action in 1970 against Henry Wade, the district
attorney of Dallas County, Texas, where Jane Roe lived, in an effort to prevent
him from enforcing the Texas state anti-abortion statute on the grounds that it
violated the United States Constitution. The law that Jane Roe wanted struck
down dated form the 1850s. After hearing the case argued in December 1971, and
reargued in October 1972, the Supreme Court finally rendered its decision in
January 1973. Jane Roe "won" the case in a technical sense, for the
majority ruled that Texas anti-abortion sense, for the majority ruled that the
Texas anti-abortion statue was indeed unconstitutional as drafted. Moreover, all
similar statues then in effect in other stated were likewise declared to be
unconstitutional. By itself this portion of the decision would not only have
undone all that the physicians' crusade of the nineteenth century had brought
about, but would have left the nation with an abortion policy considerably more
tolerant of the practice than the common law had been two hundred years earlier
(247). Roger Rosenblatt gives us his opinion on abortion. My stand on abortion
is conventionally. Pro-choice: Every woman in America, in my opinion, ought to
have the legal right to choose an abortion. The belief that a clear-cut
intellectual or moral compromise is available to the issue, is wrong. If
abortion is considered murder, how can it ever be entirely acceptable to those
who oppose it, even though they may allow certain exceptions to the rule. If
it's not considered murder, on what grounds would those who favor abortion
rights want them restricted? Nor do I believe that the question of when life
begins, over which there is so much scientific and spiritual haggling, is
pertinent or useful to the debate. I would be perfectly willing to concede that
life begins at conception, yet I would still advocate a system in which the
killing of an unborn child is preferable to forcing an unwilling mother to give
birth. And I do not believe that community rights in this matter are equal to
individual rights. While the rights of the community are not to be ignored, the
final decision should be the individual woman's no matter how misguided she may
be thought or how strongly the rest of society disapproves (1-10). Dr. Hodgson
said that she did not think abortion constituted killing at all. The
obstetrician said, " I think I have done a humane service for lots of women
in this world. I don't look upon (abortion) as killing, because I do not
consider that any embryo or fetus is a person. It is a potential person
"(24). The killer of women is illegal abortion and that is why women should
have a choice. The question is, when you have a woman's life and her needs and
her health on the one side and the developing fetus on the other, a choice has
to be made. And the choice should be left to the individual. Father McBrien
stated his personal and religious morality forbade his approving of abortion in
any situation, but even in this he was willing to accept his role as an American
citizen, which requires people to live with several things they dislike (28).
Brian Elroy Mc, tells us the abortion stance of most Christians is one sided. In
reality there is merely evidence that most people will listen to their pastors
and to Christian radio broadcaster. They merely listen to others who quote a
verse to support a view they heard from someone else. By definition, most
Christians, rather than reading for themselves, follow the beliefs of a Culture
of Christianity - and many of the Culture's beliefs are based on one or two
verses of the Bible, often taken out of context (5-1). Lets take a look at what
God has to say in the Bible. The commandment against murder. Psalms 139:13-16,
has been used by Christians and taken out of text to serve the point of
ant-abortion. These are used to try and state that the fetus is a human and that
abortion is murder. A lot of verses in the Bible can be taken out of text Palms
10:1, could be used to state that God has abandoned us. Also Job 10:18-19, could
be used to state that the Bible supports ending a pregnancy in the face of a
life without quality. According to Elroy, it's time to stop the one-sided view
of abortion being proclaimed by Christian leaders. These leaders do not despite
their claims have a biblical mandate for their theologies. It is time to stop
preaching that the Bible contain and undeniable doctrine against abortion
doctors and upon women who have abortions, especially when it's done in the name
of a God who has no written such condemnations in his Bible. It is time to stop,
because the act of making a judgement against people in God's name, when God is
not behind the judging, is nothing short of claiming that our own beliefs are
more important than God's. We must stop, because if we don't, then indeed the
very type of theological argument being used against abortion can be turned
around and used to proclaim that abortion is biblical (18). Effects on an
abortion and their ridicule that goes along with it can leave scars that can
last a lifetime. These are a lists of questions asked to an unnamed woman who
has become a victim of the anti-abortion propaganda. Lets take a look at how her
decision to have an abortion has changed her life. Q: Why did you have an
abortion? A: I was too young, and pressured by parents to have an abortion as
their religion did not accept premarital intercourse and the child would be
considered illegitamate, even if she and the father were to have wed. Q: How
does it effect you now? A: I've got emotional scars, it's not a quick fix, it's
a burden that you carry for life. I still think about it. Q: How often do you
think about it? A: Once or twice a month, especially in June, which was the
month I had it done. Q: Do you remember the day? A: Yes, June 7th, 1988. Q: How
did you feel right after it was over? A: Well, after I woke up and came around,
I felt like a huge burden had been lifted off my shoulders and I remember my Dad
saying "That's my Tiger, she's back" I was back to my old bubbly self,
or so I thought. Q: What kind of advice would you give a young girl in the same
situation? A: Think long and hard, you will always have a sense of doubt, did I
make the right choice or I wonder if I didn't. Q: Which way would you lean
towards in trying to direct this girl in the same situation? A: I would not
influence her, it's her decision. I would tell her my story and how it's
effected my life. Q: When did you realize it would never go away? A: When my
current child was born. Q: Did you think it was a fetus or a live child? A: A
fetus, because there was no heart beat. Q: Are you going to tell your children
about it to change their views on premarital sex? A: When they are old enough to
understand, yes, so they won't be pressured into the same situation. The
suffering caused by abortion can be about many different feelings, such as
anger, grief, guilt, shame and spiritual injury. The interview with the victim
has clearly shown that these feelings may last a lifetime. This is even more
reason why education before conception, pre and post abortion is so important.
There's a book called Peace after Abortion that can help heal some of these
feelings she might be experiencing. A word about Pro-Life from Rosenblatt, the
effort to reduce the necessity of abortion, which is the same as an effort to
improve much that needs improving in this country, is to choose life as
whole-heartedly as it is to be "Pro-life." By such an effort one is
choosing life for millions who do not want to be, who do not deserve to be,
forever hobbled by an accident, a mistake, or by miseducation. By such an effort
one is also choosing a different sort of like for the country as a whole-a more
sympathetic life in which we acknowledge, privileged and unprivileged alike,
that we have the same doubts and mysteries and hopes for one another (179).
We've got to eliminate the cause of unwanted pregnancies, and if we can work
together, liberals and conservatives, religious people and non religious people
alike, to eliminate the reasons why young women feel that they must have an
abortion when they don't want to have an abortion, then we can, together, do
something constructive and stop this useless and endless debate about whether
there's a baby there with a personality or whether or not it's simply a woman's
right. It is right that we have the choice, but it would be better if we did not
have to make it.
Elroy, Brian Mc. The Bible and Abortion, Why abortion is Biblical The Every day Bible, ( New century version )
87-51673. Peace after abortion, an internet site that offers help for women. Mohr, James C. Abortion in America. New York: Oxford
university Press,1978. Rosenblatt, Roger. Life Itself Abortion in American Mind.
New York: Random House,1992. Unnamed Interview. A women who experienced abortion
first hand.
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