Legal Status of Abortion Research Paper

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The moral issues in regard to the proper legal status of abortion do not involve a dispute over fundamental demonstrable facts but rather concern a myriad of considerations that lie beyond empirical verification or dismissal. It is this ambiguity that allows the dispute to be so contentious and continuous. There also is considerable argument but few facts concerning the consequences of the triumph of either the pro-choice position favoring legal abortions or the pro-life position that advocates that there be no government-accorded right to an abortion. Some pro-lifers, although by no means all, qualify this last view by granting the right to an abortion when a conception is the result of rape or incest or if the abortion seems necessary to save the life of the pregnant woman. When the “health” of the women becomes a proabortion criterion – especially her mental health – pro-life forces tend to object on the ground that pro-choice proponents define “health” so loosely that it would allow abortions almost at will. The incest exception also can be controversial. Most incest likely occurs between teenage and somewhat older brothers and sisters: should abortions be allowed in these instances if they are otherwise banned?

Key Issues

Some people note that permissible abortions detract from the population growth, although there is no agreement whether this is a good or an undesirable consequence. There also are those who insist that if legal abortions were not available, nearly as many women who now have them would choose illegal ways to get rid of the embryo growing inside them. Disputes can become highly emotional with the pro-choice advocates publishing frightening scenarios depicting poor and desperate women resorting to back-alley quacks or to dangerous folk remedies to deal with what they regard as an intolerable situation. Botched amateur abortion procedures can prove fatal; the pro-choice forces point out that the death rate from legal abortions, which increases with the length of the pregnancy, is about 0.7 per 100,000 operations (Bartlett et al. 2004). Depending on the source you rely upon, the death rate for legal abortions may or may not be higher than that in which pregnancies are carried to term. The prochoice forces, for their part, often employ grisly pictures of aborted matter, particularly in regard to late-stage abortions when the images bear obvious humanlike features.

There is among the pro-life advocates a belief that permissible abortions are evidence of the trend toward more degeneracy in the United States, part of a burgeoning spirit that favors self-interest over social and moral imperatives. Others believe that permitting legal abortions demonstrates the freedom that should characterize a democratic society.

In terms of empirical evidence, some scholars have reported that the number of what they label “marginal children” is decreased by the availability of legal abortion. They maintain that cohorts of children born after legalized abortion have experienced a significant reduction in the number of adverse outcomes compared to the average child and that the “marginal child [who was aborted] would have been 40–60 % more likely to live in a single-parent family, to live in poverty, to receive welfare, and to die as an infant” (Gruber et al. 1999, p. 269). Others maintain that abortion has contributed to a decline in the rate of juvenile delinquency and crime (Donahuse and Levitt 2001). That finding, if accurate – it is disputed by Joyce (2003) – would have to be considered with a research conclusion that having a baby significantly decreases the likelihood of delinquency among adolescent girls (Hope et al. 2003). Prolifers generally find such studies unpersuasive, declaring that alternative explanations are just as plausible for the reported results, and, besides, the outcomes, even if accurate, do not make what they consider to be fetal homicide either justifiable or excusable.

For the pro-life group, a fundamental moral consideration is that for them at the moment of conception the embryo becomes a human being and has the right to have his or her life sustained. Some regard this as a sacred right and rely on biblical sources to make their case; others see the issue as one of secular morality. Carried to its logical extreme, this position regards abortion as murder, though only extremely rarely do pro-life people maintain that women who have abortions ought to be tried in criminal courts for homicide.

For the pro-choice camp, the decision whether to carry the fertilized embryo to term should be the woman’s because her body is deemed to be her personal domain. They maintain that the state has no right to demand that a woman give birth to what is now in her womb. Those adopting this position have to grant that the state often intrudes to dictate what they must do with their body, such as put it inside a classroom in their early years.

Some in both the pro-life and pro-choice camps believe that the father of the child should have a voice in the decision about whether or not an abortion ought to be elected. If the couple is not married, nor a pair, advocates of this position typically agree that the responsibility to raise the child should be totally on the man who objects to an abortion. The subtitle of a law review article illustrates how some women feel about any involvement of a putative father-to-be: “A Women’s Womb is not a Man’s Castle” the subtitle reads; the text of the article notes that in law the unwed father has no rights and to afford him any would make a woman’s right to an abortion “virtually meaningless” (Preshiran 1990, p. 1365).

Roe v. Wade

The clash between opposing views about abortion began most dramatically after a Supreme Court opinion – Roe v. Wade, handed down in 1973 – decreed that under the umbrella of the judicially decreed doctrine of privacy abortions must be legally available to women in the first trimester of pregnancy. During the decades, since the Roe decision, pro-choice advocates have whittled away at the Supreme Court opinion, hedging it with requirements that make access to abortions more burdensome.

A major pro-life group goal is to have the Supreme Court, if it is reluctant to overturn Roe v. Wade, to alter its ruling by declaring that abortion is not a federal matter but that individual states should be allowed to adopt whatever rules they desire in regard to abortion. Justice Antonin Scalia, who strongly supports this view, has declared that the Court should repudiate Roe, which he sees as the Court’s “self-awarded sovereignty over a field in which it has little proper business” (Webster v. Reproductive Health Services 1989, p. 532). A result of state control of abortions obviously would be that persons living in a state such as Utah who desired an abortion would have to travel to a state such as California to undergo the procedure. Obviously, the less affluent would be most affected if the states were to determine their position on abortion.

The pro-choice advocates, since they continue to retain the right to a legal abortion, have largely been relegated to a defensive position, trying to erect barricades against the incremental advance of the agenda of the pro-life forces who have benefited by having a Supreme Court with a conservative majority that recently had the very unlikely arrangement of six Roman Catholic justices (all but one a conservative) and three Jews (all liberals) sitting on the nine-person bench.

South Dakota And Abortion

In 2011, as illustrative of the whittling away process, the South Dakota legislature, with a three-to-one majority of Republicans, enacted the first statute in the nation that requires women seeking abortions to undergo a consultation at a “pregnancy help center” where they are to be informed what assistance is available “to help the mother keep and care for her child.” The statute also established the nation’s longest waiting period – 3 days – after an initial visit with an abortion provider before the procedure can be done. About half of the states in America have a 24-h waiting period – none, until South Dakota’s action, any longer than that. It is presumed that the waiting period, the extra trip to the sites for counseling, and the cost of overnight stays will deter some South Dakota women from seeking abortions. Since no doctors in South Dakota will perform abortions, women in the state who desire abortions are dependent upon physicians who once a week fly into South Dakota from Minnesota.

When signing the legislation into law, South Dakota’s governor wrote that he hoped that women considering abortion will use the 3-day waiting period to become “as fully aware as possible of the implications of the grave decision to terminate the most sacred gift of life.” The governor praised the law as promoting “voluntary, uncoerced, and informed” decision-making in regard to abortion. He presumably had in mind husbands, family, friends, or others who might encourage an abortion when he employed the word “uncoerced,” but opponents found the usage ironic in view of the fact that the required counseling would be by individuals without accreditation who are personally committed to the pro-choice ideology. One of the counseling sites, the Alpha Center in Sioux City, for example, had declared that abortions increase the risk of breast cancer, infertility, and depression, a conclusion decried by the most reputable scientific studies (see, e.g., Varmos 2003).

A Democrat member of the South Dakota legislature expressed the basis for her opposition to the new law, stating that “South Dakota women should not need any in-person lecture from an unqualified, uncertified faith-based counselor or volunteer at an anti-choice clinic” (Sulzberger 2011).

In 2011, the eighth circuit of the federal appellate court upheld the constitutionality of the major elements of the South Dakota law, including the fact that the person seeking an abortion must be told that what she was contemplating would “terminate the life of a whole. separate, unique human being.” At the same time, the court ruled against the requirement that the woman should be informed that her behavior increased the risk of “suicide ideation” and suicide itself. The court maintained that there was no satisfactory evidence to support this conclusion. Critics would argue that the same was true of the “unique human being” message. In 2012, the legislature mandated that abortion counselors must be certified but rejected a proposal that the doctor and the proposed patient could conduct their business on the telephone, thereby avoiding the possible expenses of an extra trip to the abortion site.

The Personhood Movement

The boldest drive by the pro-life forces has involved an effort by a group called Personhood USA to sponsor referendums that seek to alter state constitutions so that a fetus at the moment of fertilization is deemed to be a human being and its destruction therefore becomes a grave criminal offense. The proposed amendment makes no exception for fertilizations that were the consequence of rape or incest or that were found to be likely to produce seriously deformed children. An egg fertilized in a test tube was also to be regarded as a person.

A Personhood initiative in November 2011 appeared on the ballot in Mississippi, arguably the most conservative state in the nation. Proponents thought its passage would be a slam dunk and were stung when it went down to defeat by a 58–42 % vote. Many persons who opposed legal abortion voted against the measure because they believed it was too broad and overly ambiguous. Some pro-lifers also thought that the measure was certain to be struck down by the courts and thus would set their movement back in the minds of the public. There also was voter concern that the measure would have implications for the legality of some birth control procedures such as the use of intrauterine devices that allow egg fertilization but prevent the embryo from attaching to the uterine wall. Supporters of the initiative maintained that many of the views of opponents were scare tactics and not realistic assessments of the proposed measure (Markoe 2001, December 13).

The Mississippi legislature responded to the Personhood proposal’s defeat by placing particularly cumbersome restrictions on which doctors could do abortions and where they must be granted permission to do so. A temporary injunction against the law was granted in mid-2012 (Jackson Women’s Health Organization v. Currier 2012), but the case is likely to be under legal review for a considerable time. About 2,200 abortions were performed in 2010 in Jackson, the site of the only clinic in Mississippi offering the service.

Religion And Abortion


The hierarchy and communicants of the Roman Catholic Church constitute major supporters of the pro-life movement. Catholics, the country’s largest religious group, make up 24 % of the population of the United States. Clearly, not all Catholics follow every church doctrine literally, and a large number of individuals with other religious affiliations and many with no such allegiances are part of the pro-life camp.

The historical record shows that in earlier times the core issue for Roman Catholic theologians regarding abortion was the question of “ensoulment,” that is, when the soul unites with the body to produce an actual human being. For some time, Catholic authorities held that abortion during the initial stages of pregnancy did not constitute a religious sin because the soul had not yet entered the fetus. St. Augustine in his fourth-century writings declared that the amalgamation of body and soul did not take place until the time of fetal quickening, which usually occurs during the fifth month of pregnancy with the development of the spinal cord. Pope Innocent III, the church leader from 1198 to 1216, set the dividing line for when abortion became a mortal sin at 40 days after conception for a male fetus and 80 days for a female fetus, numbers based on the time when it became possible to determine genital development in spontaneously aborted fetuses. In practice, since the gender of the gestating fetus was unknowable at the time, 80 days became the sanctioned time for a legal abortion (Asma 1994). The problem the church faced was that in regard to ensoulment, the task of sustaining its legitimacy was made significantly more difficult by virtue of the fact that religious conceptions of the soul are often hybrids of fundamentally inconsistent notions.

The current position of the Catholic Church regarding abortion was forcefully enunciated by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010:

From the moment of its conception life must be guarded with the greatest care. With regard to the embryo in the mother’s womb science itself highlights its autonomy, its capacity for interaction with the mother, the coordination of biological processes, the continuity of development, the growing complexity of the organism.

It is not an accumulation of biological material but rather of a new living being, dynamic and marvelously ordered, a new individual of the human species. This is what Jesus was in Mary’s womb; this is what we all were in our mother’s womb. We may say with Tertullian, an ancient Christian writer, “the one who will be a man is one already”[Bindley 1890, ch. 9], there is no reason not to consider him a person from conception. (Benedict 2010)

The Pope’s statement represents a departure from the Church’s earliest emphasis on allowing abortions until ensoulment. That criterion, obviously lying beyond any possibility of demonstration, was open to being scorned by nonbelievers as no more than folklore. To declare that humanity begins at birth is a much less vulnerable position. The best that skeptics can say is “Maybe so, maybe not.” Pro-choice advocates might add that they resent having the church’s arguable interpretation determine their personal behavior in regard to whether or not to undergo an abortion.

Abortion In Brazil

The United States has the fourth largest number of Roman Catholics of any country in the world. As the largest religious group in the United States, the Church is able to influence to some extent the alignment between its doctrines and secular law. In Brazil, which has the largest number of Catholics of any country, the Church, home to 75 % of the country’s population, inevitably exerts a great deal more power over daily affairs than it does in the United States.

Brazilian law permits abortion in cases of rape and in circumstances in which giving birth could cause the death of the pregnant women. To perform an abortion on oneself or another person carries the possibility of a 3-year prison term.

The status of abortion was vaulted into the limelight in Brazil in 2009 when it became known that a 9-year-old girl had undergone a medical abortion in the city of Recife after she was made pregnant with twins by her 23-year-old stepfather. The doctors claimed that the girl’s 80-lb body was not mature enough to give birth safely. Church authorities retorted that the doctors could have resorted to a Caesarian section to bring the twins into the world.

The rift between church and state came into play when the Church excommunicated the girl’s mother (but declared there was no theological doctrine to allow it to do so in regard to the stepfather) as well as all members of the medical team that had participated in the abortion. The President of Brazil deplored this action. The Archbishop replied that the President ought to study up on his theology. “We know people have other ideas,” the Archbishop declared, “but if they do they are not Catholics. We want people who adhere to God’s word.” The Archbishop later added: “Abortion is much more serous than killing an adult. An adult may or may not be innocent, but an unborn child is most definitely innocent. Taking that life cannot be ignored” (Downie 2009).

The statistics concerning aspects of the abortion phenomenon in Brazil portray a situation difficult to interpret. There were 3,093 legal abortions performed in the country from January to November of 2008. The Ministry of Health indicates that 200,000 women, almost all of them Catholics, appear at hospitals or medical clinics each year for treatment for errant illegal abortions. It is estimated that there are about 14 million clandestine abortions performed in Brazil annually. Yet, 67 % of the population responding in a national poll indicated that their preference is to leave the law as it is (Downie 2009).

Abortion And Other Religions


Protestant religions run a gamut in regard to abortion, although the most prominent tendency is to echo the Catholic Church’s position but less categorically, lest the ministers offend too many communicants. A policy statement by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, for instance, reads as follows:

…the number of induced abortions is of deep concern to this church. We mourn the loss of life that God has created. Abortion ought to be an option only of last resort. Therefore, as a church we seek to reduce the need to turn to abortion as the answer to unintended pregnancies. (Baker and Ehlke 2011, p. 122)

The “ought” in statement is somewhat equivocal, and the words “we seek” do not suggest as vigorous a condemnation of abortion as that promulgated by Catholic theologians.


The Church of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) allows abortions under limited circumstances (rape, for instance) but advises that those contemplating the procedure first consult with the local presiding church authority and then go ahead only after receiving divine conformation of their decision through prayer (Hunter 1990).


We can examine the theological position of Jews as an interesting example of an approach that, depending on which segment of the religion a communicant adheres to, comes close to or differs notably from Catholic doctrine.

In terms of theology, Jews divide into three major subgroups: Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform. The issue of Jews and abortion is more complex than with Catholics because there is no one person, such as the Pope, who can put forward a position that would represent the official stance for all the observant.

Orthodox Jews oppose abortion except under very limited circumstances, while some conservative and reform rabbis take the position that a fetus is not a person until some segment of the birthing baby moves outside the mother’s body. Theology aside, Jewish authorities find themselves faced with a survival problem that tilts them away from endorsing abortion. In the United States, about half of the Jews marry outside their religion, and their children may or may not be raised in the Jewish faith. Besides, the Jewish birth rate is not sufficiently high to reach replacement levels.

Orthodox Jewish theology takes a position opposite to that of the Catholic Church on the priority of mother and fetus in instances when a decision has to be made which of the two is to be sacrificed to save the other. A one scholar has enunciated Jewish doctrine: “If a woman suffered hard labor in travail, the child must be cut up in her womb and brought out piecemeal, for her life takes precedence over its life; if the greatest part already has come forth, it must not be touched, for the claim of one life can not supersede that of another” (Zoloth 2003, pp. 40–41).

Attitudes Toward Abortion

A comprehensive analysis of the views regarding abortion among white and black men and women from the 1970s date demonstrated shifts over four decades. Factors said to have had an impact on these swings include the increase in female participation in the labor force, the alterations in the extent of nonmarital sexual activity (a dramatic upward move followed by a decline after the appearance of the AIDS epidemic), the further secularization of the society, the increase in educational attainments, the decreasing vitality of the feminist movement, and the growing vigor of the antiabortion movement (Carter et al. 2009, p. 3).

The trend analysis is based on the results of the General Social Survey that questions a representative sample of noninstitutionalized English-speaking adults in the United States. Abortion attitudes were determined by a composite score based on answers to seven questions, asking the respondent if he or she favored allowing abortion under each of the following conditions:

  1. If there is a strong chance of a defect in the baby?
  2. If she is married and does not want any more children?
  3. If the woman’s own health is seriously jeopardized by the pregnancy?
  4. If the family has a very low income and cannot afford any more children?
  5. If she becomes pregnant as a result of rape?
  6. If she is not married and does not want to marry the man?
  7. The woman wants it for any reason?

The was a slight decrease in support for abortion during the 1980s compared to the period between 1973, when Roe v. Wade was decided, and the following decade. That decline has been tied to the influence of President Reagan’s antiabortion views but, of course, could have been a cause for his election. White males have been and remain the most liberal of the demographic groups studied when it comes to abortion attitudes. White females are the second most liberal group followed closely by black females and black males. The striking decline in support for abortion among black females from the 1980s to 2008 brings their score close to the point at which it stood in the 1970s before a dramatic rise from the 1980s to the 1990s. It is black males who show the greatest increase in support for abortion between the 1970s and current times (Carter et al. 2009).

Abortion And The Law

Frederick J. Tausig, a leading authority on abortion, observed of the pre-Roe days that he knew of “no other instances in which there had been such frank and universal disregard for a criminal law” (Taussig 1936, p. 422). There are greatly varying estimates of the number of illegal abortions in the United States that set the annual figure for the years right before the Roe decision at about 200,000–1.2 million. If all women who underwent illegal abortions then were included in the crime statistics, the female crime rate would have far exceeded that for males. In practice, sanctions were not applied to women who had abortions but to those who performed them. Most often, this happened when the aftereffects of the procedure brought the woman to a hospital. There she sometimes offered or was persuaded to testify against the abortionist (Regan 1997).

As with many highly controversial issues in the United States, such as racial desegregation, it was the judiciary that took the lead in endorsing the dramatic national shift in abortion practices. Part of the reason for this is that federal judges are appointed for life and need not be unduly concerned about public disfavor with their decisions. Presidents, governors, and legislators, if they want to remain in office, cannot afford to alienate too significant a portion of their constituency and often decide to stay on the sidelines in regard to actions that might split the public.

Fifteen states had already relaxed restrictions on abortion by 1973. In tandem with Roe v. Wade, the 7–2 Supreme Court decision that allowed abortions to be performed legally throughout the nation during the first trimester of pregnancy, the Doe v. Bolton (1973) opinion delivered the same day declared unconstitutional a Georgia law requiring that a doctor’s decision regarding abortion had to be confirmed by another doctor or a committee and had to be performed in a hospital. Among the forces that appeared to underlie the Roe decision was the power of the feminist movement, particularly in terms of the considerable number of women moving into the work force. Birth control pills (replacing more cumbersome and less employed means of contraception) and the growing use of condoms called into question the inviolability of the birth process, since it could readily have been prevented before it began. Condoms became available in college campus restrooms, and birth control pills often sit on the kitchen counter, waiting to be swallowed with orange juice at breakfast.

Parental Notification

The matter of parental notification became the first major abortion battleground. In Planned Parenthood of Kansas City, Missouri v. Ashcroft (1983), the US Supreme Court ruled that it was constitutionally acceptable to demand that minors inform their parents of the intention to have an abortion; in some instances, telling a judge could substitute for parental notification. By 2012, in 22 states a parent had to consent to the procedure and in three of these, both parents. In 11 states, a parent only had to be notified and in one of these, both parents. In seven states, the parental notification had to be notarized. In the remaining states, an abortion could be had by a minor without parental involvement.

The irony in the success of the campaign to incorporate parental notification by underage women in the requirement for an abortion surfaced in a later study that indicated that the ruling appeared to have produced only a scant effect on teenage abortions. In Tennessee, for instance, the abortion rate went down after a federal court put a parental notification law on hold but increased when the requirement was reinstated. The rate of abortions fell in Texas after parental notification was mandatory but not nearly as much as it had dropped before then. All told, the study found “no evidence that the laws had a significant impact on the number of minors who got pregnant, and, once pregnant, the number who had abortions” (Lehren and Leland 2006, p. A1).

The Webster Case

An important victory for pro-lifers came 16 years after Roe when the Supreme Court in Webster v. Reproductive Health Services (1989) upheld the constitutionality of a Missouri law that prohibited the use of public facilities, such as municipally owned hospitals, to perform abortions, except when necessary to save a woman’s life. The Missouri law also disallowed public funding for programs that included proabortion counseling. The court further agreed that a doctor could be required to inform a pregnant woman seeking an abortion whether her fetus was viable and might possibly survive if delivered prematurely.

The Casey Case

The Supreme Court’s ruling in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992) found the justices deciding by a five to four vote to uphold a Pennsylvania law that required a woman seeking an abortion to listen to a lecture or watch a film about fetal development and then wait a day before undergoing the procedure. The doctor was obligated to provide information about alternatives to abortion, its medical risks, and the probable gestational age of the fetus. The doctor also had to inform the patient regarding medical benefits for prenatal care, childbirth, and neonatal assistance, among other matters. The Court, however, refused to endorse the segment of the Pennsylvania law that required the woman, unless she had compelling reasons for not doing so, to sign a statement that she had informed her husband that she was going to have an abortion.

The Casey decision was something of a disappointment for the pro-life camp which had thought there was a good chance that the Court would totally jettison Roe v. Wade. It led the antiabortion forces to decide to take a lesson from the civil rights movement and to incrementally pick away at elements of Roe until it had been so weakened that it would virtually fall of its own accord. They took particular heart from the clause in Casey that stated that the Court would be hospitable to abortion arrangements so long as they did inflict an “undue burden” upon women seeking an abortion. Pro-lifers anticipated that “undue burden” was so vague a criterion that it left a great deal of room for them to chip away at the guidelines for abortions.

Late-Term Abortions

The controversy between supporters of legal abortion and their opponents, like many campaigns for the minds of the public, has relied upon the manner in which disputed matters are worded. In the overall denotation of the two sides, those opposing abortion enjoy the verbal high ground. Pro-life is a more appealing slogan than pro-choice. Who can declare that they are not in favor of life, especially when considering its alternative? Pro-choice, on the other hand, sounds self-indulgent. Choices are always limited and where would its adherents draw the line? The unequal appeal of the way the sides have designated themselves has been noted elsewhere: “Perhaps ‘pro-choice’ once was good enough shorthand for liberty, human dignity, individualism, pluralism, self-government and woman’s equality,” writes Nancy Cohen (2010, p. A20), who then adds: “But anyone who thinks it still is sufficient as we enter our fifth decades of the cultural wars [over abortion], hasn’t been paying attention.” By the last, she means attention to the growing strength of the pro-life movement.

The same kind of verbal warfare was prominent in regard to what here is being called “late-term abortions.” Pro-life forces defined the matter as “partial-birth abortion” and described the procedure in repellent terms. Pro-choice advocates tended to rely on the terms “dilation and extraction” (d & x) or “dilation and evacuation” (d & e), the medical designations for the procedure. These were abortions generally performed during the fifth to the sixth month of pregnancy. Estimates placed their number at somewhere between 2,000 and 5,000 a year.

The procedure was banned by the federal Congress in 2003. Signing the measure into law, President Bush noted that “for years a terrible form of violence has been directed against children who are inches from birth.” The constitutionality of the measure was upheld by a 5-4 vote in the US Supreme Court (Gonzalez v. Carhart 2007). The law decreed a fine of not more than $250,000 and/or 2 years imprisonment for “any physician who, in or affecting interstate commerce, knowingly performs a partial birth abortion and thereby kills a human fetus.” The Court’s opinion noted, rather oddly, that “while we find no reliable data on the phenomenon it seems unexceptional to conclude some women come to regret their decision to abort the infant they once created and sustained” (Gonzales v. Carhart 2007, p. 159). This piece of obiter dicta (offthe-cuff musings not directly relevant to the case) is undoubtedly accurate, but the same can be said, perhaps more tellingly, about births – or, for that matter, about people who marry and Supreme Court judges who render decisions they come to regret.

Pro-choice groups had little leverage against the groundswell of public support in opposition to late-term abortions. The view of the liberal wing of the medical profession was expressed in an article in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine:

This is the first time the Court has ever held that physicians can be prohibited from using a medical procedure deemed necessary by the physician to benefit the patient’s health. (Annas 2007, p. 2201)

Subsequent Developments

For a time thereafter, the abortion issue was confined to the periphery of social concerns in the face of America’s involvement in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the drastic economic meltdown in late 2008. Then abortion recaptured in headlines in March 2011 when the Republicans in Congress held up to almost the very last moment passage of a budget bill that would keep the government functioning. It was not monetary concerns that were being fought over but the Republican’s demand to end all funding for Planned Parenthood, a national agency that devotes a small portion of its work to abortion. The Republicans also wanted to stop funding for abortions in the District of Columbia, which is ruled by Congress, and to end the distribution of funds to any overseas government that reallocates some part of the money to agencies encouraging or performing abortions. The dispute over these matters finally was postponed at the last moment in order to keep the government running. But the fact that abortion again has become a political issue is indicated by the fact 944 bills were introduced intro state legislatures during the first 3 months of 2012 seeking to rein in abortions (about 3 % of these bill make it into law).

The Demographics Of Abortion

The most reliable statistics on abortion in the United States are those gathered by the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit organization that conducts research on human reproduction and performs policy analyses and sponsors public education programs.

The Institute notes that there have been about 50 million abortions since the procedure was authorized by the Roe decision in 1973 and 2008 (2008 was the latest year for which US figures were available as late as mid-2012.4

That figure represents a decrease from the highest levels of 1.6 million in the 1980s, despite a growing population. Part of the decrease is due to the appearance of the so-called morningafter abortion pills (RU-486 or Mifepristone) that were sold over the counter to women over 18 and by prescription to those younger.

The legal abortion rates by 4-year periods are presented in Table 1.

Legal Status of Abortion Research Paper

Nearly half of the pregnancies in the United States are reported to be unintended, and 40 % of these pregnancies are terminated by abortion. Eight percent of the abortions are performed on teenagers. The figures for other age groups are 20–24 years old (33 %) and 25–29 (24 %). Women who have never married and are not currently cohabiting accounted for 45 % of all abortions, while 61 % are performed on women who already have one or more children. Twenty-eight percent of the women who obtain abortions report that they are Catholics (Jones et al. 2010).

Four of the 13 possibilities were the median number offered by the 1,160 women questioned about the reason they chose to undergo an abortion. Three-fourths cited concern for or responsibility to other individuals; three-fourths said that they could not afford a child; three-fourths said that having a baby would interfere with work, school, or the ability to care for dependents; and half indicated that they did not want to be a single parent or were having problems with their husband or partner (Finer et al. 2005).

For And Against Legal Abortion

Most of the positions taken by pro-choice advocates and those favoring the pro-life positions are summarized below.

The Pro-life Claims

  1. It is argued by pro-lifers that to allow legal abortion represents a wedge into more drastic reinterpretations of life and its value. They maintain that since the elderly tend to be a drain on the economy, especially in terms of their pensions and medical costs, attitudes favoring abortion could readily be expanded to form a basis for a program of euthanasia directed against old people.

Legal Status of Abortion, Table 1 Abortion rate per 100,000 women, 1973–2008

  1. Legal abortion is said to make fetal experimentation and human cloning more acceptable, actions most pro-lifers deplore.
  2. Pro-lifers maintain that many women who undergo abortions later come to deeply regret that irreversible action; therefore, all reasonable means ought to be allowed to keep them from doing something they subsequently would wish they had not done.
  3. Relatively few persons, pro-lifers point out, no matter how wretched their situation may be, choose to end their lives. Nor do many people wish they had never been born. The argument is offered that the fetus being aborted has no way of registering his or her view on the matter and that pro-lifers must defend the fetus.
  4. Pro-lifers believe that abortion encourages immoral behavior, such as premarital or extramarital sexual intercourse.
  5. The term “genocide” is sometimes used by pro-lifers to describe what they view as the slaughter of millions of unborn human lives.
  6. Pro-lifers often insist that the Supreme Court put its nose (and votes) into business that is far removed from its judicial concerns and competence.
  7. In regard to Doe v. Bolton, pro-lifers maintain that the definition of a pregnant woman’s health was overbroad and ill-defined since it includes emotional, familial, and other conditions that can be employed as excuses for a self-indulgent act.
  8. With ultrasound techniques now able to determine the gender of the fetus, pro-lifers note that abortion will be used to discriminate against female fetuses, skewing the population ratio and in time having far-reaching detrimental consequences for social life.
  9. Pro-lifers argue that the loss of manpower and womanpower because of legal abortions creates a necessity for the United States to rely upon foreigners to maintain an adequate workforce. This necessity, they argue, has led to a considerable influx of illegal aliens who are claimed to be a drain on the economy.
  10. Pro-lifers say that as a nation that largely derives its moral principles from biblical writings, we should be obligated to follow Christian theological doctrines that preach divine objections to abortion.

The Pro-Choice Claims

  1. Pro-choice advocates emphasize that making abortion illegal has racist implications. They point out that when abortion was against the law, fatalities from outlawed procedures were found primarily among poor minority group women.
  2. Pro-choicers believe that if women bear children they do not want, they are very likely to severely undermine the quality of life in store for those children and, as a result, impose social costs upon others.
  3. Pro-choicers dispute the claim that there exists biblical justification for the crusade against legal abortions and that, even if there are such doctrines, they should not be used to interfere with options available to those who do not accept them as guidelines for their own conduct.
  4. While granting that it was a Supreme Court of males that enunciated the Roe v. Wade doctrine, pro-choicers point out that it has been only males who have allowed inroads against the unfettered application of the original ruling. None of the women who are or have been on the court have ever voted in favor of an abortion restriction.
  5. The pro-choice forces find the ideologies of pro-lifers illogical and contradictory if not hypocritical. They point out that pro-lifers tend to argue that they want the government to get off their backs, yet at the same time, they advocate that the government intrude into people’s freedom by forbidding them to undergo abortions.


The fight (battle may be the better term) over abortion shows few signs of abating. It is difficult to think of a resolution that would appease and subdue both sides. Perhaps the best shorthand summary of the situation is that of Laurence Tribe, an eminent constitutional law professor: “What we have here,” Tribe (1991, p. 6) has observed, “is a clash of absolutes.”


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