Abortion is the practice of terminating a pregnancy resulting in, or closely followed by, the death of the human fetus. In 1973 the famous court case of Roe versus Wade legalized abortion in the United States. Since that time, despite the occurrence of over thirty-five million abortions, abortion has become a prevalent social issue, extremely debatable and controversial. For the most part people can be divided into two basic categories: those in favor of abortion and those opposed to it. Both groups feel strongly concerning the issue and regularly debate its morality. These opinions on abortion are so powerful that the issue is frequently referred to in politics and is often a deciding factor when votes are being cast for public office. Obviously, these fierce opinions are influenced by far more than whimsical convictions, which raises the question: why do people feel so strongly about abortion?
The answer to two key questions determine an individual’s stand on abortion. First, what is life? Second, when does life begin? Those opposed to abortion, known as pro-life, believe that human life occurs at conception, the point when a father’s sperm unites with the mother’s egg and a genetically individual organism is created. Those who are pro-life argue that because at conception the embryo is not an extension or part of the mother’s body, it is an authentic and equal human life. A completely unique biological system occurs at conception, the identical system that exists at death. Based upon genetics, this leads those who are pro-life to believe that human life exists at any time between these two points. Thus, anti-abortionists believe that humanity does not depend on size, stage of development or place of residence (Garton 5).
Those who are pro-life also consider the various developments of a human fetus when determining it’s humanity. For example, at six weeks an unborn child is able to experience pain. An unborn baby of eight weeks has established it’s own set of specific fingerprints, the exact set that, if born, the child will carry into adulthood. Furthermore, by three months into a normal pregnancy all of the unborn infant’s organ systems are intact and working. The fetus sleeps, wakes, tastes, hears, senses and simply continues to grow until birth (Erhard 2). All of these distinct human traits cause these people to strongly believe that “behind every ultrasound, amniocentesis and blood sample test there is the real flesh, blood and bone of a child (Reilly 23).” Finally, infants, still in the womb can be viewed, monitored, have surgery, and receive blood transfusions (Erhard 2). Therefore, those opposed to abortion find it illogical that these unborn babies could not be part of the human family.
Due to the belief that an unborn fetus is an equal human being, many oppose abortion on the grounds that it is a brutal and inhumane form of murder. There are seven major induced abortion methods which are used, depending upon the baby’s development in the womb. Each and every one of these surgeries are viewed by those who resist abortion as inhumane and brutal murder. The most common abortion technique is the Suction Aspiration where a powerful suction tube is inserted into the womb via a dilated cervix. Sucking the fetus and placenta into a container, the developing infant is grossly dismembered, body parts such as arms, legs and head often recognizable. The second method is known as the Dilation and Curettage where the cervix is dilated to allow the insertion of a loop-shaped knife so that the fetus and placenta can be cut into pieces and extracted. This is identical to the third technique of Dilation and Evacuation, except that Dilation and Evacuation requires the use of special forceps because the fetus has already developed calcified bones. Fourth is Saline Amniocentesis, which only occurs after sixteen weeks of pregnancy. In this maneuver a needle containing a strong salt solution is inserted into the mother’s amnionic fluid sac. This concentrated salt poisons the developing baby and usually the next day the mother goes into labor delivering a dead and shriveled baby. Prostaglandins, used in the fifth type of action, are hormones that induce the labor of a child typically too young to survive. Sixth, is a process known as a Hysterotomy, very similar to a Cesarean Section and used if Prostaglandin and Saline amniocentesis fail. Finally, is the technique of Dilation and Extraction, Partial Birth Abortion. This is a late pregnancy method where the baby, inches from being delivered, is punctured in the head. The brain is sucked out and the pregnancy terminated (Pro-Life Info). According to Illinois Physician M. LeRoy Sprang: “Forcibly incising the cranium with a scissors and then suctioning out the brain is certainly excruciatingly painful. (Reilly 101)”. For this reason anti-abortionists see these various surgeries and procedures as not just the ending of a pregnancy, but also the death of an innocent life. They therefore radically oppose them.
Theologically based, other prevalent reasons for the opposition to abortion originate from the Bible. Although the Bible does not clearly condemn abortion, it has much to say about the value of human life, keeping in mind that these people already hold to the view that unborn babies are fully equal humans. First, Genesis 1:27 states “God created man in his own image.” This verse is a foundation for the pro-life belief that all human life is sacred because it is made by and in the image of an almighty God. Unlike other animals, man is able to think, reason, and function at a high social level. This is all part of the concept of being made in the image of God (Davis 152). Also supporting this belief is Psalms 139:13-14, where the psalmist writes “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made”. This portion of scripture indicates that God had a hand in the creation of life even in its earliest stages. Thus, it is argued that God values the life of the unborn child at every stage of development, not only after birth. Furthermore, in Exodus 20:13, a portion of the Ten Commandments, the Bible says “You shall not murder.” As previously discussed, anti-abortionists recognize abortion as murder of innocent life and therefore use this verse to oppose the termination of pregnancy. Obviously, the anti-abortionist would argue, because God is the creator of individual and unique life in the womb, what right has man to terminate this life?
Pro-life activists also find a basis for their opposition to abortion in the mere individuality of each and every person. From a single celled zygote the specific characteristics that an individual will possess as an adult can be determined, all completely unique. Despite any deformity, inability, or low functioning capacity of any kind, anti-abortionists recognize each person as an individual who is designed by God and is special and unique. Therefore, they feel that all unborn children should be given a chance to reach their potential in the world. The argument is often used that of all infants aborted how many may have been presidents, senators, professional athletes, writers, astronauts, mathematicians or doctors? Although this can be refuted by the fact that aborted babies would also create an increase of criminals and dregs upon society, the concept is that every person, a irreplaceable and extraordinary individual, should be given the right to live life to its fullest.
As in all aspects of life, many people are influenced by authorities over them that they appreciate and trust. For example, a person may be swayed in opposition to abortion by the stand of the church that he or she attends. Although in modern society several liberal churches have accepted the practice of abortion as acceptable and normal, a large group of churches remain from several denominations who are radically outspoken against abortion. Various churches are a moral authority for millions of people across the United States and therefore a church stand against abortion is often a reason for a personal opposition to this issue.
Abortion, a common practice in the ancient world, is nothing new. “Plato wrote that ill-conceived embryos should not be brought to birth and if the children were born, the parents should dispose of them. Aristotle was also of the opinion that deformed children should be exposed and left to die. (Davis 131.)” In fact, the earliest recorded reference to abortion is by a Chinese Emperor in 2737 B.C. However, early Christianity was resolutely opposed to abortion, which was common in ancient Greece and Rome. “The Didache or “Teaching of the Twelve Apostles” , a manual of Christian morals and church affairs from the first century, stated, “Thou shalt do no murder” thou shalt not procure abortion, nor commit infanticide.” (Davis 131).” This determined resistance to abortion demonstrated by Christian church patriarchs for millennia is often a foundation for opposition to abortion in today’s society. Individuals who understand the direct condemnation given abortion by respected church fathers often immediately assume it to be a horrendous evil.
A less noted reason for hostility towards abortion is one of a psychological dimension. Many believe that an act as intimate as an abortion is bound to have significant psychological repercussions (Harwood 73). “Although “hard data” are difficult to obtain because of the highly subjective nature of the reporting and the emotionally charged nature of the subject, nevertheless there is evidence that guilt, depression, and other forms of psychological conflict plague many women who have had abortions (Davis 142).” Through various studies, approximately sixty percent of women expressed distress within eight weeks of their abortions. These symptoms included feelings of guilt, anxiety, depression, sense of loss, remorse and deterioration of self image (Harwood 73). Also, though typically unnoticed, men are mentally affected by abortion. This includes both boyfriends and husbands who are in some way involved in the abortion procedure. Doctor Arthur Shostak, a professor of Sociology at Drexel University, has conducted several studies on the affects abortions may have on males. “They don’t think of it just as an operation that their wives or girlfriends are having,” stated Shostak. “They think of it, even though they don’t always describe it this way, as a loss of fatherhood.” (Davis 143).”Although many may not be affected by abortion, it does appear evident that the psychological consequences of abortion may be felt by millions of people in America for decades to come.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, an equivalently vast number of people, also with powerful convictions, are thoroughly convinced of the morality and necessity of abortion. Abortionists typically believe that the idea that a baby exists at the moment of conception is entirely a religious theory, and is preposterous. They readily state that “to believe that one cell is already a full human being and should be treated as such is so patently absurd that it is almost to difficult to refute (Reilly 35).” Those in favor of abortion are forced to admit that embryos are at the very least “potential life”, but they refuse to acknowledge them as fully human until all normal human structures and functions have been developed and are readily being used (Paul 24). In other words a fetus is not considered human one week before birth, but is an equal human life after birth. This theory causes one to wonder, are the elderly with failing body functions still considered human? If so, then this is a highly hypocritical, although common, rationale for abortion. Finally, abortionists frequently separate the definitions of human life and personhood. Defining personhood as both the capacity for self-conscious thought and acceptance as a member of a social community, they may admit that a fetus is human life, but deny its rights as a person (World Book Encyclopedia).
In defense of abortion, the best interest of the mother and family are frequently observed. Abortion supporters often ask the question, “Should any woman be forced to continue a pregnancy or be saddled with bringing up a child for eighteen years without any regard for the consequences, without any regard for the expressed will or desire of that woman, or of the couple? (Reilly 36).” The first instance of abortion being used as a family benefit is one of birth control. Many families may not be able to adequately support additional children or may be immensely inconvenienced by a new family member and therefore see abortion as a solution. Thus in the abortionist’s mind, the value of an infant’s life depends upon the desire for a child by his or her parents. In addition, abortionists inquire, “Is it more important to minimize abortion or to minimize the birth of children to women who are unprepared to provide the familial structure needed for children to become stable and responsible adults? (Paul 27).” Believing that it can be socially dysfunctional to have children out of wedlock, abortionists encourage abortion for single women who become pregnant. Indeed, a 1991 survey reflected that over fifty percent of pregnancies involving unmarried women resulted in abortion (Paul 29). Because they recognize the need for strong two-parent homes, pro-abortion activists proclaim abortion to be a valuable tool for family planning. However, this argument is refuted by anti-abortionists who say that if individuals would simply abstain from sexual promiscuity, there would be no instances of out of wedlock pregnancy and therefore no need for abortion.
The question then arises, is abortion acceptable in cases of rape? This is a question many anti-abortionists have difficulty answering and is consequently a primary line of reasoning for the legality of abortion. In truth, one sixteenth of one percent of all abortions deal with rape (Davis 154). Hence, only approximately six of every ten thousand abortions occur because of rape and the other 9,994 usually occur because of social issues. Still, pregnant rape victims are an issue to be considered. Supporters of abortion maintain that in cases of rape women who follow through with the pregnancy may be haunted by flashbacks of their terrible experience. Also, because these rape victims are typically single young women, it would be difficult for them to raise a child and abortion proponents believe the mother must be considered first in this type of situation (Paul 133). Abortionists contend that a woman’s choice to commit an abortion should be based upon her particular set of circumstances (Harwood 65).
In addition to rape, the safety of the mother is probably the most referred to grounds for abortion. When complications arise as a result of pregnancy, abortionists, not believing a fetus to be an equal human life, naturally assume priority to the mother. Some anti-abortionists also accept that a motherТs life must have priority when it is jeopardized by a complicated pregnancy. Reasoning behind this is apparent contradiction is that the mother is already a valuable member of society whose death would pose a much greater tragedy than that of the unborn child (Schwenkler 31). Because abortionists consider abortion to be an acceptable choice in any instance deemed appropriate by the mother, they do not hesitate to approve abortion when a woman’s heath is at risk.
Another issue that pertains to some proponents of abortion is one that is seldom considered. This matter is one that deals with the value of human life. Some abortion activists may admit that a fetus is a living human being, but do not believe that to be sufficient reasoning to prevent the fetusТs death. These advocates of abortion deem that “mere membership of the species Homo Sapiens is not crucial to whether the life of the being may or may not be taken (Paul 28).” This image of human life does not recognize any difference between the lives of people and of other animals and therefore makes abortion as significant as exterminating a pesky rodent or putting to sleep an unwanted puppy. However, at some point abortionists must admit that people have the human right to live. This point is typically after birth when the child reaches a point of self awareness. On these grounds a child already born has the right to life, not because human life is sacred, but rather because that child has become a self-aware being and an accepted member of society (Paul 28).
An additional, widespread motivation for getting an abortion is the occurrence of deformities in a fetus. Again, those in favor of abortion find this acceptable based on their belief that a mother’s set of circumstances outweigh the right of the infant to live.
“It is not unethical for a woman to choose to abort a handicapped fetus. Because the woman would be responsible for raising the handicapped child, only she can decide whether to bring the pregnancy to term. The theoretical “interests of the fetus” do not outweigh the real rights of the mother (Schwenkler 70).”
Furthermore, abortionists argue that by aborting the deformed infant, they are actually doing what is best for the child. They state that the child will live a valueless life due to his or her severe mental or physical handicap. Obviously abortionists place the value of human life on mental and physical success. However, typically the reason for the abortion of a deformed fetus is the parents’ desire for a “perfect child” (Davis). This is because many parents do not want to deal with the social difficulties of having a severely impaired child. Furthermore, due to vast amounts of special care, critically handicapped children can pose a heavy economic hardship on parents. Again, it is the abortionists’ philosophy that each mother and family make decisions concerning abortion that are based entirely on individual circumstances and personal opinions concerning what is preeminent. Although this is a common practice, only a “master race” ethic would hold that only the physically and intellectually elite have the right to live (Davis 146).
In conclusion abortion is a highly contentious matter that should not be taken lightly. Very few women and families regret carrying out a pregnancy. However, over fifty percent of women have compunctions concerning their decision to terminate a pregnancy (Harwood 73). Even those who contend that a fetus is not a person must at the very least admit that a fetus is human life and is a potential human being. When an abortion occurs, that human life, however small, is eliminated. This is a biological fact, not a moral judgment. Obviously, there are an astronomical number of reasons why people feel so strongly about the issue of abortion, most of them valid. These reasons ranging from specific to general and personal to universal are based on a variety of life experiences and circumstances. Due to vast differences in the general nature of people, social and religious backgrounds, moral authorities, views of humanity, economic situations and biological interpretations, a constant conflict ensues regarding abortion. This conflict is a permanent one and will endure as long as children are born into the world.