Abortion debate

Abortion debate

The abortion debate refers to discussion and controversy surrounding the moral and legal status of abortion. The two main groups involved in the abortion debate are the self-described "pro-choice" movement (emphasizing the right of women to choose whether or not they wish to bring a fetus to term) and the "pro-life" movement (emphasizing the right of the unborn child to live). Each movement has, with varying results, sought to influence public opinion and to attain legal support for its position. Both of these are considered loaded terms in general media where terms such as "abortion rights" or "anti abortion" are preferred.[1] In Canada, for example, abortion is available on demand,[2] while in Ireland abortions are illegal.[3] In some cases, the abortion debate has led to the use of violence.



In ancient times, abortion, along with infanticide, had been considered a matter of family planning, gender selection, population control, and the property rights of the patriarch.[4] Rarely were the rights of the prospective mother, much less the prospective child, taken into consideration.[5] Although generally legal, the morality of abortion, birth control and child abandonment (as a form of infanticide) was sometimes discussed. Then, as now, these discussions often concerned the nature of man, the existence of a soul, when life begins, and the beginning of human personhood.

While the practice of infanticide (as a form of family planning) has largely died out, child abandonment, birth control, and abortion are still very much with us; and their morality and legality continues to be debated. While modern debates about abortion retain some of the language of these older debates, the terminology has often acquired new meanings. Reason is now seen as a human ability rather than as a spirit personified.[6]

Any discussion of the putative personhood of the fetus will be complicated by the current legal status of children. They are not full persons[7] at law until they have reached the age of majority and are deemed able to enter into contracts and sue or be sued at law. However, for the past two centuries, they have been treated as persons for the limited purposes of Offence against the person law. Furthermore, as one New Jersey Superior Court judge noted,

If a fetus is a person, it is a person in very special circumstances – it exists entirely within the body of another much larger person and usually cannot be the object of direct action by another person.[8]

This judgement discusses the logistic difficulties of treating the fetus as an "object of direct action".

Opinions in the current debate range from complete prohibition, even if done to save the woman's life,[9] to complete legalization with public funding, as in Canada.[citation needed]


Many of the terms used in the debate are seen as political framing: terms used to validate one's own stance while invalidating the opposition's. For example, the labels "pro-choice" and "pro-life" imply endorsement of widely held values such as liberty and freedom, while suggesting that the opposition must be "anti-choice" or "anti-life" (alternatively "pro-coercion" or "pro-death").[10] Such terms gloss over the underlying issue of which choice or life is being considered and whose choice or what kind of life is deemed most important.[11] Terms used by some in the debate to describe their opponents include "pro-abortion" or "pro-abort". However, these terms do not always reflect a political view or fall along a binary; in one Public Religion Research Institute poll, seven in ten Americans described themselves as "pro-choice" while almost two-thirds described themselves as "pro-life."[12]

Appeals are often made in the abortion debate to the rights of the fetus, pregnant woman, or other parties. Such appeals can generate confusion if the type of rights is not specified (whether civil, natural, or otherwise) or if it is simply assumed that the right appealed to takes precedence over all other competing rights (an example of begging the question).

The appropriate terms with which to designate the human organism prior to birth are also debated. The medical terms "embryo" and "fetus" are seen by pro-life advocates as dehumanizing.[13][14] The terms "baby" and "unborn child" are seen by pro-choice advocates as emotionalized. Similarly, there is debate between use of the terms "woman" and "mother".

Political debate

Politics refers to the processes, defined and limited through legal documents, by which decisions (laws) are made in governments. In politics, rights are the protections and privileges legally granted to citizens by the government. In a democracy, certain rights are considered to be inalienable, and thus not subject to grant or withdrawal by government. Regarding abortion law, the political debate usually surrounds a right to privacy, and when or how a government may regulate abortion. There is abundant debate regarding the extent of abortion regulation. Some pro-choice advocates argue that it should be illegal for governments to regulate abortion any more than other medical practices.[15] On both sides of the debate, some argue[who?] that governments should be permitted to prohibit elective abortions after the 20th week,[16] viability,[17] or the second trimester.[18] Some want to prohibit all abortions, starting from implantation.[19]


The right to privacy, while not spelled out in the constitutions of most sovereign nations, nonetheless is understood to be foundational to a functioning democracy. In general the right to privacy can be found to rest on the provisions of habeas corpus, which first found official expression under Henry II in 11th century England, but has precedent in Anglo-Saxon law. This provision guarantees the right to freedom from arbitrary government interference, as well as due process of law. This conception of the right to privacy is operant in all countries which have adopted English common law through Acts of Reception. The Law of the United States rests on English common law by this means.

Time has stated that the issue of bodily privacy is "the core" of the abortion debate.[20] Time defined privacy, in relation to abortion, as the ability of a woman to "decide what happens to her own body".[20] In political terms, privacy can be understood as a condition in which one is not observed or disturbed by government.[21]

Traditionally, American courts have located the right to privacy in the Fourth Amendment, Ninth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, as well as the penumbra of the Bill of Rights. The landmark decision, Roe v Wade relied on the 14th Amendment which guarantees that federal rights shall be applied equally to all persons born in the United States. The 14th Amendment has given rise to the doctrine of Substantive due process, which is said to guarantee various privacy rights, including the right to bodily integrity. In Canada, the courts have located privacy rights in the security of persons clause of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Section 7 of that charter echoes language used in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which also guarantees security of persons.

Eileen L. McDonagh explains privacy in US law:

Although not widely understood, there are in fact two components to the right to bodily integrity and liberty: the right of a person to choose how to live her own life and the right of a person to consent to the effects of a private party on her bodily integrity and liberty. In the context of constitutional guarantees, a person's right to consent to "what is done" to her body is an even stronger right than a person's right to choose "what to do" with her life...Since there are two components to the right to bodily integrity and liberty--choice and consent--once the state designates the fetus as an entity separate from the woman, her right to terminate pregnancy stems not only from her right to make a choice about her liberty, but more fundamentally, from her right to consent to how the fetus, as another entity, affects her body and liberty.[22]

While governments are allowed to invade the privacy of their citizens in some cases, they are expected to protect privacy in all cases lacking a compelling state interest. In the US, the compelling state interest test has been developed in accordance with the standards of strict scrutiny. In Roe v Wade, the Court decided that the state has an "important and legitimate interest in protecting the potentiality of human life" from the point of viability on, but that prior to viability, the woman's fundamental rights are more compelling than that of the state. The pro-life position argues that, while abortion is a private matter, abortion regulation is valid because the state interest in protecting prenatal life is compelling[citation needed]. The pro-choice position argues either that there is no state interest in regulating abortion[citation needed], or that the woman's privacy is a more compelling interest.

Albert Wynn and Gloria Feldt at the U.S. Supreme Court to rally in support of Roe v. Wade.

U.S. judicial involvement

Roe v. Wade struck down state laws banning abortion in 1973. Over 20 cases have addressed abortion law in the United States, all of which upheld Roe v. Wade. Since Roe, abortion has been legal throughout the country, but states have placed varying regulations on it, from requiring parental involvement in a minor's abortion to restricting late-term abortions.

Legal criticisms of the Roe decision address many points, among them are several suggesting that it is an overreach of judicial powers,[23] or that it was not properly based on the Constitution,[24] or that it is an example of judicial activism and that it should be overturned so that abortion law can be decided by legislatures.[25] Justice Potter Stewart, who joined with the majority, viewed the Roe opinion as "legislative" and asked that more consideration be paid to state legislatures.[26]

Candidates competing for the Democratic nomination for the 2008 Presidential election cited Gonzales v. Carhart as judicial activism.[27] In upholding the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, Carhart is the first judicial opinion upholding a legal barrier to a specific abortion procedure.

"Where, in the performance of its judicial duties, the Court decides a case in such a way as to resolve the sort of intensely divisive controversy reflected in Roe and those rare, comparable cases, its [505 U.S. 833, 867] decision has a dimension that the resolution of the normal case does not carry. It is the dimension present whenever the Court's interpretation of the Constitution calls the contending sides of a national controversy to end their national division by accepting a common mandate rooted in the Constitution [...W]hatever the premises of opposition may be, only the most convincing justification under accepted standards of precedent could suffice to demonstrate that a later decision overruling the first was anything but a surrender to political pressure and an unjustified repudiation of the principle on which the Court staked its authority in the first instance." -Majority opinion of Planned Parenthood v. Casey,[28][29]

Quite to the contrary, by foreclosing all democratic outlet for the deep passions this issue arouses, by banishing the issue from the political forum that gives all participants, even the losers, the satisfaction of a fair hearing and an honest fight, by continuing the imposition of a rigid national rule instead of allowing for regional differences, the Court merely prolongs and intensifies the anguish [over abortion]. – Justice Antonin Scalia, "concurring in the judgment in part and dissenting in part"[29]

"No to abortion" at a 2007 meeting with Pope Benedict XVI in São Paulo, Brazil. The crowd have both arms raised in a prayer gesture.

Canadian judicial involvement

With R v. Morgentaler, the Supreme Court of Canada removed abortion from the Criminal Code. Relying on the security of person clause of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the court determined that, while the state has an interest in protecting the fetus "at some point", this interest cannot override that of the pregnant woman because: "the right to security of the person of a pregnant woman was infringed more than was required to achieve the objective of protecting the fetus, and the means were not reasonable." The only laws currently governing abortion in Canada are those which govern other medical procedures, such as those regulating licencing of facilities, the training of medical personnel, and the like.

Because the courts did not specifically establish abortion as a right, Parliament has leave to legislate on this aspect of the matter; and in 1989, the Progressive Conservative government attempted to do just that. A bill was introduced that would allow abortion only if two doctors certified that the woman's health was in danger. This bill passed the House of Commons but was defeated by a tie vote in the Senate.

Several additional cases have considered further issues.

Although the courts have not ruled on the question of fetal personhood, the question has been raised in two cases, Tremblay v. Daigle and R. v. Sullivan. Both cases relied on the born alive rule, inherited from English common law, to determine that the fetus was not a person at law.

Two further cases are notable: Dobson (Litigation Guardian of) v. Dobson, and Winnipeg Child & Family Services (Northwest Area) v. G . (D.F.), [I9971 3 S.C.R. 925 M, which dismissed so-called fetal abuse charges.

Effects of legalization/illegalization

Pro-choice advocates argue that illegalization of abortion increases the incidence of unsafe abortions, as the availability of professional abortion services decreases, and leads to increased maternal mortality. According to a global study collaboratively conducted by the World Health Organization and the Guttmacher Institute, most unsafe abortions occur where abortion is illegal.[30]

The effect on crime of legalized abortion is a subject of controversy, with proponents of the theory generally arguing that "unwanted children" are more likely to become criminals and that an inverse correlation is observed between the availability of abortion and subsequent crime.

Ethical debate

Ethics refers to "moral philosophy", or the study of values and the analysis of right and wrong. The ethical debate over abortion usually surrounds the issues of whether a fetus has rights, in particular a right to life, and whether the pregnant woman's rights over her own body justify abortion even if the fetus has a right to life. For many, there is a strong association between religion and abortion ethics.

Ethical question regarding abortion usually include:

  • Are embryos, zygotes and fetuses "persons" worthy of legal protections?
  • Should the potential to be a person give embryos, zygotes and fetuses a right to life?
  • Does a fetus gain rights as it gets closer to birth?
  • Does a woman have an absolute right to determine what happens in and to her body?
  • Is abortion acceptable in cases of rape, incest, contraception failure?
  • Is abortion acceptable in cases where the fetus is deformed?
  • Is abortion acceptable in cases where if the pregnancy were to continue, it would pose a direct threat to the life of the mother?[31][32]

Question of personhood

Establishing the point in time when a zygote/embryo/fetus becomes a "person" is open to debate since the definition of "personhood" is not universally agreed upon.

Philosophers have traditionally declared that some characteristic of reason ought to be included in the definition of person. Although "person" is not defined in standard science texts, Biology Online offers this:

3, self-conscious being, as distinct from an animal or a thing; a moral agent; a human being; a man, woman, or child. Consider what person stands for; which, i think, is a thinking, intelligent being, that has reason and reflection. (locke)[33]

Peter Singer argued that something can only be a person if it is self-aware and has temporal awareness. Therefore, abortion is morally acceptable, because a fetus does not meet this definition of personhood. Singer also concluded that infanticide would be permissible until the 3rd month after birth, because, at that point, self-awareness has still not been acquired.[34]

Additionally, "person" has several, poorly defined meanings in law, with children and the mentally infirm occupying a grey area. Children are not considered persons until they reach the age of majority and are able to enter into legally binding contracts and sue or be sued. For the purposes of Offences against the person law, however, they are considered to be persons. According to Bouvier's Law Dictionary[35] in 1839, women, children, and slaves were considered persons, but with various limitations. Today, only children have limited personhood under the law.

If the fetus is a person in some sense, it is nonetheless living inside the body of someone who is a full person at law.

Debates within the abortion debate

Many of the views in favor of and against the right to abortion are framed in the context of other debates whose arguments and implications relate directly to the topic of abortion.

Fetal pain debate

Fetal pain, its existence, and its implications are part of a larger debate about abortion. Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan. has stated that he hopes that the fetal pain discussion would "curb abortions without making them illegal." Many researchers in the area of fetal development believe that a fetus is unlikely to feel pain until after the sixth month of pregnancy. Others[who?] disagree.[36] Developmental neurobiologists suspect that the establishment of thalamocortical connections (at about 26 weeks) may be critical to fetal perception of pain.[37] However, legislation has been proposed by anti-abortion advocates requiring abortion providers to tell a woman that the fetus may feel pain during an abortion procedure.[38]

A review by researchers from the University of California, San Francisco in JAMA concluded that data from dozens of medical reports and studies indicate that fetuses are unlikely to feel pain until the third trimester of pregnancy.[39] However a number of medical critics have since disputed these conclusions.[36][40] Other researchers such as Anand and Fisk have challenged the idea that pain cannot be felt before 26 weeks, positing instead that pain can be felt at around 20 weeks.[41] Anand's suggestion is disputed in a March 2010 report on Fetal Awareness published by a working party of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, citing a lack of evidence or rationale. Page 20 of the report definitively states that the fetus cannot feel pain prior to week 24. Because pain can involve sensory, emotional and cognitive factors, leaving it "impossible to know" when painful experiences are perceived, even if it is known when thalamocortical connections are established.[42]

Wendy Savage Press officer, Doctors for a Woman’s Choice on Abortion, considers the question to be irrelevant. In a letter to the British Medical Journal,April 1997, she noted that the majority of surgical abortions in Britain are already performed under general anesthesia which affects the fetus, and considers the discussion "to be unhelpful to women and to the scientific debate." Others caution against unnecessary use of fetal anesthetic, as it poses potential health risks to the prospective mother.[39] David Mellor and colleagues have noted that the fetal brain is already awash in naturally occurring chemicals that keep it sedated and anesthetized until birth.[43] At least one anesthesia researcher has suggested the fetal pain legislation may make abortions harder to obtain; because, abortion clinics lack the equipment and expertise to supply fetal anesthesia. Currently, anesthesia is administered directly to fetuses only while they are undergoing surgery.[44]

Fetal personhood debate

Although the two main sides of the abortion debate tend to agree that fetuses are biologically and genetically human (that is, of the human species), they often differ in their view on whether or not a fetus is, in any of various ways, a person. Pro-life supporters argue that abortion is morally wrong on the basis that a fetus is an innocent human person[45] or because a fetus is a potential life that will, in most cases, develop into a fully functional human being.[46] Others reject this position by drawing a distinction between human being and human person, arguing that while the fetus is innocent and biologically human, it is not a person with a right to life.[47] In support of this distinction, some propose a list of criteria as markers of personhood. For example, Mary Ann Warren suggests consciousness (at least the capacity to feel pain), reasoning, self-motivation, the ability to communicate, and self-awareness.[48] According to Warren, a being need not exhibit all of these criteria to qualify as a person with a right to life, but if a being exhibits none of them (or perhaps only one), then it is certainly not a person. Warren concludes that as the fetus satisfies only one criterion, consciousness (and this only after it becomes susceptible to pain),[49] the fetus is not a person and abortion is therefore morally permissible. Other philosophers apply similar criteria, concluding that a fetus lacks a right to life because it lacks self-consciousness,[50] rationality,[51] and autonomy.[52] These lists diverge over precisely which features confer a right to life,[53] but tend to propose various developed psychological features not found in fetuses.

Critics of this typically argue that the proposed criteria for personhood would disqualify two classes of born human beings – reversibly comatose patients, and human infants – from having a right to life, since they, like fetuses, are not self-conscious, do not communicate, and so on.[54] Defenders of the proposed criteria may respond that the reversibly comatose do satisfy the relevant criteria because they "retain all their unconscious mental states".[55] Warren concedes that infants are not "persons" by her proposed criteria,[56] and on that basis she and others concede that infanticide could be morally acceptable under some circumstances (for example if the infant is severely disabled[57] or in order to save the lives of several other infants[58]). Critics may see such concessions as an indication that the right to life cannot be adequately defined by reference to developed psychological features.

An alternative approach is to base personhood or the right to life on a being's natural or inherent capacities. On this approach, a being essentially has a right to life if it has a natural capacity to develop the relevant psychological features; and, since human beings do have this natural capacity, they essentially have a right to life beginning at conception (or whenever they come into existence).[59] Critics of this position argue that mere genetic potential is not a plausible basis for respect (or for the right to life), and that basing a right to life on natural capacities would lead to the counterintuitive position that anencephalic infants, irreversibly comatose patients, and brain-dead patients kept alive on a medical ventilator, are all persons with a right to life.[60] Respondents to this criticism argue that the noted human cases in fact would not be classified as persons as they do not have a natural capacity to develop any psychological features.[61][62][63] Also, in a view that favors benefiting even unconceived but potential future persons, it has been argued as justified to abort an unintended pregnancy in favor for conceiving a new child later in better conditions.[64]

Members of Bound4LIFE in Washington, D.C. symbolically cover their mouths with red tape.

Philosophers such as Aquinas use the concept of individuation. They argue that abortion is not permissible from the point at which individual human identity is realised. Anthony Kenny argues that this can be derived from everyday beliefs and language and one can legitimately say "if my mother had had an abortion six months into her pregnancy, she would have killed me" then one can reasonably infer that at six months the "me" in question would have been an existing person with a valid claim to life. Since division of the zygote into twins through the process of monozygotic twinning can occur until the fourteenth day of pregnancy, Kenny argues that individual identity is obtained at this point and thus abortion is not permissible after two weeks.[65]

Arguments in favor of the right to abortion

Bodily rights

An argument first presented by Judith Jarvis Thomson states that even if the fetus has a right to life, abortion is morally permissible because a woman has a right to control her own body. Thomson's variant of this argument draws an analogy between forcing a woman to continue an unwanted pregnancy and forcing a person's body to be used as a dialysis machine for another person suffering from kidney failure. It is argued that just as it would be permissible to "unplug" and thereby cause the death of the person who is using one's kidneys, so it is permissible to abort the fetus (who similarly, it is said, has no right to use one's body against one's will).

Critics of this argument generally argue that there are morally relevant disanalogies between abortion and the kidney failure scenario. For example, it is argued that the fetus is the woman's child as opposed to a mere stranger;[66] that abortion kills the fetus rather than merely letting it die;[67] and that in the case of pregnancy arising from voluntary intercourse, the woman has either tacitly consented to the fetus using her body,[68] or has a duty to allow it to use her body since she herself is responsible for its need to use her body.[69] Some writers defend the analogy against these objections, arguing that the disanalogies are morally irrelevant or do not apply to abortion in the way critics have claimed.[70]

Alternative scenarios have been put forth as more accurate and realistic representations of the moral issues present in abortion. John Noonan proposes the scenario of a family who was found to be liable for frostbite finger loss suffered by a dinner guest whom they refused to allow to stay overnight, although it was very cold outside and the guest showed signs of being sick. It is argued that just as it would not be permissible to refuse temporary accommodation for the guest to protect them from physical harm, it would not be permissible to refuse temporary accommodation of a fetus.[71]

Other critics claim that there is a difference between artificial and extraordinary means of preservation, such as medical treatment, kidney dialysis, and blood transfusions, and normal and natural means of preservation, such as gestation, childbirth, and breastfeeding. They argue that if a baby was born into an environment in which there was no replacement available for her mother's breast milk, and the baby would either breastfeed or starve, the mother would have to allow the baby to breastfeed. But the mother would never have to give the baby a blood transfusion, no matter what the circumstances were. The difference between breastfeeding in that scenario and blood transfusions is the difference between using your body as a kidney dialysis machine, and gestation and childbirth.[72][73][74][75][76][77]

Sexual emancipation and equality

Some argue that women's freedoms are limited until they can have the right to abortion on demand and to walk away from parenthood like men can. Governments that ban abortion arguably burden women with certain duties that men (who, too, are responsible for the pregnancy) are not also held accountable to, therefore, creating a double standard.[78] Margaret Sanger wrote: "No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother."[79] Denying the right to abortion can be construed from this perspective as a form of female oppression under a patriarchal system, perpetuating inequality between the sexes. Among pro-choice advocates, sexual-equality discussion often involves the additional debate regarding to what degree the potential father should have a choice in deciding whether or not to abort the developing child.

Arguments against the right to abortion


The book Abortion and the Conscience of the Nation presents the argument that abortion involves unjust discrimination against the unborn. According to this argument, those who deny that fetuses have a right to life do not value all human life, but instead select arbitrary characteristics (such as particular levels of physical or psychological development) as giving some human beings more value or rights than others.[80]

In contrast, philosophers who define the right to life by reference to particular levels of physical or psychological development typically maintain that such characteristics are morally relevant,[81] and reject the assumption that all human life necessarily has value (or that membership in the species Homo sapiens is in itself morally relevant).[82]


The argument of deprivation states that abortion is morally wrong because it deprives the fetus of a valuable future.[83] On this account, killing an adult human being is wrong because it deprives the victim of a future like ours—a future containing highly valuable or desirable experiences, activities, projects, and enjoyments.[84] If a being has such a future, then (according to the argument) killing that being would seriously harm it and hence would be seriously wrong.[85] But since a fetus does have such a future, the "overwhelming majority" of deliberate abortions are placed in the "same moral category" as killing an innocent adult human being.[86] Not all abortions are unjustified according to this argument: abortion would be justified if the same justification could be applied to killing an adult human.

Criticism of this line of reasoning follows several threads. Some reject the argument on grounds relating to personal identity, holding that the fetus is not the same entity as the adult into which it will develop, and thus that the fetus does not have a "future like ours" in the required sense.[87] Others grant that the fetus has a future like ours, but argue that being deprived of this future is not a significant harm or a significant wrong to the fetus, because there are relatively few psychological connections (continuations of memory, belief, desire and the like) between the fetus as it is now and the adult into which it will develop.[88] Another criticism is that the argument creates inequalities in the wrongness of killing:[89] as the futures of some people appear to be far more valuable or desirable than the futures of other people, the argument appears to entail that some killings are far more wrong than others, or that some people have a far stronger right to life than others—a conclusion that is taken to be counterintuitive or unacceptable.

Argument from uncertainty

Some pro-life supporters argue that if there is uncertainty as to whether the fetus has a right to life, then having an abortion is equivalent to consciously taking the risk of killing another. According to this argument, if it is not known for certain whether something (such as the fetus) has a right to life, then it is reckless, and morally wrong, to treat that thing as if it lacks a right to life (for example by killing it).[90] This would place abortion in the same moral category as manslaughter (if it turns out that the fetus has a right to life) or certain forms of criminal negligence (if it turns out that the fetus does not have a right to life).[91]

David Boonin replies that if this kind of argument were correct, then the killing of nonhuman animals and plants would also be morally wrong, because (Boonin contends) it is not known for certain that such beings lack a right to life.[92] Boonin also argues that arguments from uncertainty fail because the mere fact that one might be mistaken in finding certain arguments persuasive (for example, arguments for the claim that the fetus lacks a right to life) does not mean that one should act contrary to those arguments or assume them to be mistaken.[93]

Religious beliefs

Each faith has many varying views on the moral implications of abortion with each side citing their own textual proof. Oftentimes, these views can be in direct opposition to each other.[94]

Pro-life Christians support their views with Scripture references such as that of Luke 1:15; Jeremiah 1:4–5; Genesis 25:21–23; Matthew 1:18; and Psalm 139:13–16. Roman Catholics believe that human life begins at conception as does the right to life; thus, abortion is considered immoral.[95] The Church of England also considers abortion to be morally wrong, though their position admits abortion when "the continuance of a pregnancy threatens the life of the mother".[96]

Other factors

Mexico City Policy

The Mexico City policy, also known as the "Global Gag Rule" required any non-governmental organization receiving U.S. government funding to refrain from performing or promoting abortion services in other countries. This had a significant effect on the health policies of many nations across the globe. The Mexico City Policy was instituted under President Reagan, suspended under President Clinton, reinstated by President George W. Bush,[97] and suspended again by President Barack Obama on January 24, 2009.[98]

Public opinion

A number of opinion polls around the world have explored public opinion regarding the issue of abortion. Results have varied from poll to poll, country to country, and region to region, while varying with regard to different aspects of the issue.

A May 2005 survey examined attitudes toward abortion in 10 European countries, asking respondents whether they agreed with the statement, "If a woman doesn't want children, she should be allowed to have an abortion". The highest level of approval was 81% (in the Czech Republic); the lowest was 47% (in Poland).[99]

In North America, a December 2001 poll surveyed Canadian opinion on abortion, asking in what circumstances they believe abortion should be permitted; 32% responded that they believe abortion should be legal in all circumstances, 52% that it should be legal in certain circumstances, and 14% that it should be legal in no circumstances. A similar poll in April 2009 surveyed people in the United States about U.S. opinion on abortion; 18% said that abortion should be "legal in all cases", 28% said that abortion should be "legal in most cases", 28% said abortion should be "illegal in most cases" and 16% said abortion should be "illegal in all cases".[100] A November 2005 poll in Mexico found that 73.4% think abortion should not be legalized while 11.2% think it should.[101]

Of attitudes in South America, a December 2003 survey found that 30% of Argentines thought that abortion in Argentina should be allowed "regardless of situation", 47% that it should be allowed "under some circumstances", and 23% that it should not be allowed "regardless of situation".[102] A March 2007 poll regarding the abortion law in Brazil found that 65% of Brazilians believe that it "should not be modified", 16% that it should be expanded "to allow abortion in other cases", 10% that abortion should be "decriminalized", and 5% were "not sure".[103] A July 2005 poll in Colombia found that 65.6% said they thought that abortion should remain illegal, 26.9% that it should be made legal, and 7.5% that they were unsure.[104]

Effect upon crime rate

A theory attempts to draw a correlation between the United States' unprecedented nationwide decline of the overall crime rate during the 1990s and the decriminalization of abortion 20 years prior.

The suggestion was brought to widespread attention by a 1999 academic paper, The Impact of Legalized Abortion on Crime, authored by the economists Steven D. Levitt and John Donohue. They attributed the drop in crime to a reduction in individuals said to have a higher statistical probability of committing crimes: unwanted children, especially those born to mothers who are African American, impoverished, adolescent, uneducated, and single. The change coincided with what would have been the adolescence, or peak years of potential criminality, of those who had not been born as a result of Roe v. Wade and similar cases. Donohue and Levitt's study also noted that states which legalized abortion before the rest of the nation experienced the lowering crime rate pattern earlier, and those with higher abortion rates had more pronounced reductions.[105]

Fellow economists Christopher Foote and Christopher Goetz criticized the methodology in the Donohue-Levitt study, noting a lack of accommodation for statewide yearly variations such as cocaine use, and recalculating based on incidence of crime per capita; they found no statistically significant results.[106] Levitt and Donohue responded to this by presenting an adjusted data set which took into account these concerns and reported that the data maintained the statistical significance of their initial paper.[107]

Such research has been criticized by some as being utilitarian, discriminatory as to race and socioeconomic class, and as promoting eugenics as a solution to crime.[108][109] Levitt states in his book Freakonomics that they are neither promoting nor negating any course of action—merely reporting data as economists.

Breast cancer hypothesis

The abortion-breast cancer hypothesis posits that induced abortion increases the risk of developing breast cancer.[110] This position contrasts with the scientific consensus that abortion does not cause breast cancer.[111][112][113][114]

In early pregnancy, levels of estrogen increase, leading to breast growth in preparation for lactation. The hypothesis proposes that if this process is interrupted by an abortion – before full maturity in the third trimester – then more relatively vulnerable immature cells could be left than there were prior to the pregnancy, resulting in a greater potential risk of breast cancer. The hypothesis mechanism was first proposed and explored in rat studies conducted in the 1980s.[115][116][117]

Exceptions in abortion law

There are a few common exceptions sometimes found in legal domains where abortion is generally forbidden. Legal domains which do not have abortion on demand will often allow it when the health of the mother is at stake. "Health of the mother" may mean something different in different areas: for example, the Republic of Ireland allows abortion only to save the life of the mother, whereas pro-lifers in the United States argue health exceptions are used so broadly as to render a ban essentially meaningless.[118]

Laws allowing abortion in cases of rape or incest often go together. For example, before Roe v. Wade, 13 US states allowed abortion in the case of either rape or incest, but only 1 allowed for it just for rape (Mississippi), and none for just incest.[119]

Also, many countries allow for abortion only through the first or second trimester, and some may allow abortion in cases of fetal defects, e.g., Down syndrome.

See also


  1. ^ For example: "Wall Street Journal style guide: Vol. 23, No. 1". Wall Street Journal. 2010-01-31. http://blogs.wsj.com/styleandsubstance/2010/01/31/vol-23-no-1/. Retrieved 2011-11-04. 
  2. ^ "abortion on demand". Dictionary.com. http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=abortion-on-demand&r=66. Retrieved 2007-05-01. "(1) the right of a woman to have an abortion during the first six months of a pregnancy; (2) an abortion performed on a woman solely at her own request" 
  3. ^ "Divisions deep over abortion ban". BBC News. 2007-10-12. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/7041048.stm. Retrieved 2010-03-30. 
  4. ^ See generally, "The Kindness of Strangers: The Abandonment of Children in Western Europe from Late Antiquity to the Renaissance", John Boswell ISBN 978-0-226-06712-4 Nov. 1998, Intro.
  5. ^ See generally Spivack, Carla, To Bring Down the Flowers: The Cultural Context of Abortion Law in Early Modern England. Available at SSRN: [1] Introduction
  6. ^ MacMillan's
  7. ^ "Person"
  8. ^ State v Loce September 6, 1991
  9. ^ "Sister Margaret's Choice" May 27, 2010
  10. ^ Holstein and Gubrium (2008). Handbook of Constructionist Research. Guilford Press. 
  11. ^ Retrieved 15 June 2009
  12. ^ "Committed to Availability, Conflicted about Morality: What the Millennial Generation Tells Us about the Future of the Abortion Debate and the Culture Wars". Public Religion Research Institute. June 9, 2011. http://publicreligion.org/research/2011/06/committed-to-availability-conflicted-about-morality-what-the-millennial-generation-tells-us-about-the-future-of-the-abortion-debate-and-the-culture-wars/. 
  13. ^ Brennan 'Dehumanizing the vulnerable' 2000
  14. ^ Getek, Kathryn; Cunningham, Mark (February 1996). "A Sheep in Wolf's Clothing – Language and the Abortion Debate". Princeton Progressive Review. http://groups.csail.mit.edu/mac/users/rauch/nvp/consistent/naomi_wolf.html. 
  15. ^ "Abortion". Positions. British Columbia Civil Liberties Association. http://www.bccla.org/positions/privateoff/72abortion.html. Retrieved 2007-05-24. "…rights call for complete legal freedom to secure an abortion, in the sense that the legal status of abortion should be the same as that of other medical services that a doctor provides to a patient" 
  16. ^ "Abortion". Where We Stand—CMA Position Papers. California Medical Association. December 1973. p. 43. http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/pagerender.fcgi?artid=1455357&pageindex=2. Retrieved 2007-05-24. "Good medical practice indicates that abortion should not be performed after the 20th week of pregnancy" 
  17. ^ Lee, Ellie; Ann Furedi (February 2002). "Abortion issues today – a position paper" (PDF). Legal Issues for Pro-Choice Opinion – Abortion Law in Practice. University of Kent, Canterbury, CT2 7NY, UK. p. 2. http://www.kent.ac.uk/sspssr/research/papers/legalpro.pdf. Retrieved 2007-05-24. "While most people have no difficulty accepting the legality of abortion at early stages of pregnancy, fewer are so sure about their position as pregnancy progresses – especially when the fetus is perceived to be 'viable'" 
  18. ^ "Abortion". Positions. American Medical Women's Association. 2000. Archived from the original on 2007-09-20. http://web.archive.org/web/20070920172711/http://www.amwa-doc.org/index.cfm?objectId=0A5BF4D4-D567-0B25-58C7E8584C98D43B. Retrieved 2007-05-24. "The 1973 Supreme court decision Roe v. Wade struck a fair balance between the responsibility of the state to protect a woman's right to make personal medical decisions and the responsibility of the state to protect the potentially viable third trimester fetus" 
  19. ^ Johnston, Wm. Robert (2002-12-24). "Evaluation of the BGCT Christian Life Commission's "Abortion and the Christian Life"". Committee Report. First Baptist Church, Brownsville, Texas. http://www.johnstonsarchive.net/baptist/rptbgctc.html. Retrieved May 2007. "…the unique value that human life has, as a gift from God, regardless of stage of development or physical health, from the point of conception to the point of physical death" 
  20. ^ a b "Abortion and Privacy". TIME. 1972-03-13. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,903358,00.html?promoid=googlep. Retrieved 2007-05-25. 
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  29. ^ a b Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992).
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  48. ^ Warren 1973: 458.
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  51. ^ Singer 2000: 128 and 156–157.
  52. ^ McMahan 2002: 260
  53. ^ It is similarly unclear which features one must have a natural capacity for, in order to have a right to life (cf Schwarz 1990: 105–109), or which features constitute a "future like ours".
  54. ^ Marquis 1989: 197; Schwarz 1990: 89
  55. ^ Stretton 2004: 267, original emphasis; see also Singer 2000: 137; Boonin 2003: 64–70
  56. ^ Warren 1982
  57. ^ Singer 2000: 186–193
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  60. ^ Stretton 2004: 274–281.
  61. ^ Schwarz 1990: 52.
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  86. ^ Marquis 1989: 183.
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