A MATTER OF CHOICE
The topic of abortion is one of the most controversial of our times.
It has caused countless deaths and several violent confrontations between
the two separate parties of opinion. The fight between pro-life and
pro-choice supporters has been long and brutal. This is because, despite
what several people may believe, abortion is neither right nor wrong. It
is a matter of personal opinion. In this way, each side can say with
certainty that the other is wrong.
Therefore the question remains; should abortion be legal? Though
some may disagree on this point, the fact is that legalized abortion is
the only option that will protect the lives of American citizens. One
only needs to look into American history to see the results of prohibiting
abortions to women. The violence which occurs today because the of
pro-choice/pro-life conflicts is minimal in comparison to the thousands of
hopeless women who turned to the illegal abortions --either self-inflicted
or preformed by the backroom "professionals"-- which resulted in
infection, massive blood loss, and death. It is better now that they have
a place to go where abortions can be performed cleanly and with minimal
risk. Legalization of abortion is the only choice no matter what side one
takes in the debate. Women will try to do what they think is necessary to
live as they wish, no matter what the risk. In order to live as she
chooses a woman may give up her freedom, her morals, her beliefs, her
family, or even her life.
Abortion has been around for thousands of years in every inhabited
corner of the globe. It has always been accepted as a means to prevent
the suffering of both woman and potential child. It has been practiced
widely in every society for many reasons including famine, war, poverty,
overpopulation, or simply because a woman felt she was not ready for a
child (Whitney 40). No one ever questioned a woman's right to this
procedure. After all, who but God had the right to judge what a woman did
with her own body? This thought process lasted till the 1800's. During
this era of change people began to turn their attention in a new
direction, the fetus. They began to protest abortion as cruel, inhumane,
and murderous. Filled with a new sense of purpose and the glory of a
fresh, righteous cause to uphold this new morality swept the countryside
enveloping everyone in its wake. Abortionists who were once revered and
depended upon were now scorned and threatened. Though abortions still
happened with regularity, they were kept silent and seen as a matter of
shame. "Over the next hundred years, public sentiment for the fetus
continued to rise until the inevitable happened in America during the
early 40's; Abortion was made illegal." (Cohen 17). There was much back
patting and congratulations among the pro-life supporters. And why not?
They had succeeded in saving the lives of the hundreds of innocent babies
who would have been senselessly slaughtered for the convenience of
selfish, ignorant, and irresponsible women. Because of this new law,
women would settle down and raise families or give these beautiful
children over into the hands of the hundreds of loving couples who were
just waiting for a baby to call their own. It seemed that the perfect law
had just been passed. Or had it?
It has been proven time and time again throughout history that the
human spirit will not allow prohibition. Something inside us feels the
need to strike out at that which restrains us and holds us from the life
we want. Just as prohibition of alcohol made a black market for liquor (a
virtual underworld was immediately erected to fulfill the new need for
abortions). Government, through regulation, had once again created a need
that would be fulfilled by the lawless. Most doctors, fearing
incarceration, refused to treat the women who so desperately wanted
abortions. Women, seeing no other solution to their problems, were often
desperate enough to turn to these "Back Room" clinics. These clinics were
located in poverty-ridden sections of the city and their conditions were
deplorable. The places themselves were layered in filth and disease.
Inexperienced butchers using dirty and crude equipment treated the girls.
As if these backroom clinics were not bad enough, there was an even more
appalling decision a woman might face. If a she were unable to pay the
exorbitant price for the illegal surgery, she would often perform the act
herself. "Knitting needles, coat hangers, antiseptic douches and poisons
were used most often" (Welton 123). "Emergency rooms primarily in the
more urban areas were reporting higher numbers of intractable bleeding to
the point of death. Pelvic inflammatory disease and other forms of life
threatening sepsis were on the rise. Self induced poisoning was another
complication." (Boyer, 98). Partial abortions were also commonplace.
One thing most people do not think about is the fetus. If, as some say,
life and the sense of self begins at conception, how many atrocities have
been caused by the incompetence shown during this time? Some may wonder
what drove these women to such extremes just to have and abortion. Why
didn't they just have the baby?
The answer lies in our most basic human instinct: to survive as best
we can. These women want to live their lives as they choose, not as it is
chosen that they live it. Being forced to bear a child could mean having
to support and give up dreams of a better life. Also they might be
pressured into a "shotgun wedding" to save their reputations. In the book
Back Rooms, by Ellen Messer, a woman named Liz, explains her reasons for
receiving an abortion. "People have said to me, 'How can you be in favor
of abortion? If you'd had one, you wouldn't have these beautiful
children.' But I would have had them. It just would have been later when
I was better prepared to care for them. And maybe they would have a nicer
man for their father. I would have been more prepared and all our lives
would have been so much easier. Even though I love my children dearly, I
regret that I did not have an abortion when I was given the option. I
should never have let others influence my decision." (29)
For other women, being forced to bear a child would mean placing it
into the system. It is commonly thought that every orphan is just
temporary. That there is a family out there just waiting for it with open
arms. The truth of the matter is that many families did not want children
unless they were white and healthy. Most of the others were either
shifted through the system until they were 18 or sent to live with foster
families who were sometimes uncaring or even abusive (187). Women were
aware of these realities and many refused to bring a child into the world
and have it live in such a manner. Also was the fact that many women
wanted to hide their present state from families or employers. They knew
that they could be disowned or fired for their "shameful state". They
were desperate to keep their secrets, so desperate in fact that they were
willing to risk their lives. This was a risk they should not have had to
take. In the book Abortion: A Positive Decision, Mrs. Lunneborg states
that "The desire not to have a child is by far the best reason for an
abortion. There are enough unwanted children in the world already." (18)
And so these women risked, and often lost, their lives in these illegal
abortions. If they were caught afterwards, they were charged with murder.
But is abortion murder?
Abortion is defined as "The induced termination of a pregnancy before
it is capable of survival as an individual" (Frohock 186). Considering
this definition, at the time of most abortions, the fetus is not an
individual. The definition is far too simplistic. One needs to take into
consideration the developmental stages of the fetal life span.
Most abortions occur soon after the confirmation of pregnancy,
(usually prior to 12 weeks gestation.) The first twelve weeks is known as
the first trimester or the embryonic phase. At this time the fetus is
about 3-3.5 inches long having a weight of 15-20 grams. The neurological
system is primitive at best, demonstrating only vague swimming motions
(Rosenblatt 37). The second trimester heralds a time of rapid growth. At
about 20 months the mother usually first perceives fetal movement. At 24
weeks the brain resembles that of a mature person. The fetal weight is
about 650 grams. (39) The third trimester is from 24 weeks to birth
(approximately 40 weeks.). At 26 weeks the nervous system begins to
regulate some body processes. (40)
"When making the conscious decision to terminate the life of the
fetus one must take into account the development of the fetus. One
approach might be that of assessing the neurological development. It is
only logical that the more complex the neurological system the more likely
you are to induce pain or end a sense of self if in fact that sense exists
prior to birth" (Frohock 28). In many ways it is similar to the decision
to pull the plug on a comatose person. Here, one must decide whether or
not to withdraw that which the person needs to survive. Yet the decision
to terminate is not considered murder but an act of the deepest humanity,
an opinion that contrasts greatly to the shame and animosity faced by an
aborted mother during the time of the mass anti-abortion sentiment. How
long would women suffer this mental anguish? (Haddok 132)
Based on this information, presented in the Roe vs. Wade case, the
Supreme Court ruled that a woman was allowed by the Constitution's 14th
Amendment to receive an abortion before the first trimester. It now
appeared that the pro-choice advocates had won the political tug-o-war at
last. However, violence continues between the two groups as the animosity
and resentment has grown to new heights. Now, more than ever, research
articles are coming out about a woman's right to privacy vs. a fetus's
right to life. The law may have been passed, but the war goes on.
It is difficult to gain valid and subjective information on the
topic of abortion. This is because much of the research has been colored
by the personal beliefs of the group or individual that collects it. There
may not be an intentional or even conscious effort to skew the facts in
this manner but it happens none the less. A person writing a paper on the
tragic effect of abortion on society's moral values may tend to twist the
real statistics slightly to better serve his or her purpose. Another
doing a paper on the same topic may use the previous one as a reference
point and exaggerate the information even more. One can see how, very
soon, the "facts" are no longer recognizable as truth. Another
metamorphosis may occur in the way the original research is collected. In
order to prove a certain point, a researcher may choose to collect
information in a very select genres of people instead of wide and random
test groups taken from many diverse areas. A pro-choice researcher may
poll a feminist rally while a pro-lifer may choose a Catholic
organization. Thus the information becomes so varied and conflicting that
the objective data gets lost in the muddle. It is a case of ignoring the
whole truth and focusing on the part of it which best suits a specific
person and their ideals. Unfortunately, because of this lapse, many
Americans are confused as to the reality of the situation and tend to
avoid it as we have a tendency to do with subjects we do not understand.
Others simply grab the information they like best and sling it at their
opponents in the matter. The other side looks at this information and
sees that it contrasts with their own. Thus they dismiss it as lies. It is
a vicious circle and it has caused many deaths and injuries on both sides
from riots, bombings, and fights. Carrie, a San Diego nurse in an abortion
clinic, tells us what it was like when the building was bombed by pro-life
"At the initial explosion, I was knocked to the floor. A wave of
heat burst through the room followed closely by the fire. Burning papers
fell from my desk and caught on the leg of my scrubs. The pain was
unbelievable! I now know what hell must be like. I began to crawl to the
door when I heard a cry behind me. One of the young patients was running
down the hall with her gown on fire. I grabbed her and made her roll. Then
we got out... I suffered second and third degree burns on my legs and arms
and my lungs were filled with smoke and had to be flushed out. Still, I am
lucky to even be alive. Two of my best friends died in that bombing and
several of my co-workers. I can not help but think now, that it is a
bitter irony that the people who claim they are trying to save lives are
killing people to accomplish it." (Interview with Carrie)
According to Jannet Lennelborg, "We must find an uncommon ground on
this issue."(18). It is clear that these two groups will never join in
their ways of thinking. There is too much passion and conflict involved in
the debate. What we must do is find a compromise and "agree to disagree"
(18). If, just for a moment, we could just stop the finger pointing and
name calling, and just listen to what our so-called opponents have to say,
we may find that both sides have their points. Only then can we stop the
hatred and violence that has so ripped America in the last few decades.
In conclusion, my research leads me to believe that, while abortion
must be legal, a woman should also be provided with all the correct
information she needs to make a responsible and rational decision. I
believe that this is the only solution we can have which will conclude
this "private war" once and for all. The misinformation and violence
surrounding this issue has turned human against human for far too long.
Most of the negativity regarding the issue of abortion comes from the
religious rights who believe that the right to the life of the fetus
supercedes all else. Unfortunately there will always be a disparity
between logic and religion.
~Boyer, Mark. Abortion: The Straight Facts. Boston: Houghton Mifflan,
~Cohen, Marshall. The Rights and Wrongs of Abortion. New Jersey:
Princeton Press, 1978.
~Frohock, Fred. Abortion. Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1989.
~Haddock, Martha. Abortion Today. New York: Doubleday, 1992.
~Interview- Interview with a former San Diego abortion clinic nurse who
was present when it was bombed in 1985.
~Lunneborg, Patricia. Abortion: A Positive Decision. New York: Bergin
& Garvey, 1992.
~Messer, Ellen. Back Rooms. New York: St. Martin's press, 1989.
~Rosenblatt, Rodger. Life Itself. New York: Random House, 1993.
~Welton, K.B. Abortion...Is Not A Sin. California: Pandit Press, 1989.
~Whitney, Catherine. Whose Life? New York: William Morrow and Co.,