Why Abortions Must Be Legal Essay, Research Paper
Why Abortions Must Be Legal
No matter how any of us feel about embryos and fetuses and their
“rights”…about women and sex and responsibility…about God’s will,
Karma, or the Bible…the fact still remains:
Women have always used abortion as a last resort to prevent the birth
of a child, and they always will, regardless of what the laws say or the
rest of us think.
But when abortion is illegal, it is unsafe and dangerous. Therefore, abortion
must be legal, and it must be accessible too.
Abortion is never an easy decision, but women have been making that
choice for thousands of years, for many good reasons. Whenever a
society has sought to outlaw abortions; it has only driven them into
back alleys where they became dangerous, expensive, and
humiliating. Thousands of American women died. Amazingly, this was the case in the United States until 1973, when abortion was legalized nationwide.
Thousands more were maimed. For this reason and others, women
and men fought for and achieved women’s legal right to make their
own decisions about abortion.
However, there are people in our society who still won’t accept this.
Some argue that even victims of rape or incest should be forced to
bear the child. And now, having failed to convince the public or the
lawmakers, certain of these people have become violent extremists,
engaging in a campaign of intimidation and terror aimed at women
seeking abortions and health professionals who work at family
Some say these acts will stop abortions, but that is ridiculous. When
the smoke clears, the same urgent reasons will exist for safe, legal
abortions as have always existed. No nation committed to individual
liberty could seriously consider returning to the days of back-alley
abortions; to the revolting specter of a government forcing women to
bear children against their will. Still, amid such attacks, it is
worthwhile to repeat a few of the reasons why our society trusts each
woman to make the abortion decision herself.
Here are some reasons why legal abortion is necessary
1. Laws against abortion kill women.
To prohibit abortions does not stop them. When women feel it
is absolutely necessary, they will choose to have abortions,
even in secret, without medical care, in dangerous
circumstances. In the two decades before abortion was legal in
the U.S., it’s been estimated that nearly a million women per
year sought out illegal abortions. Thousands died. Tens of
thousands were mutilated. All were forced to behave as if they
Making abortion illegal has little effect on the number of
abortions, as history and present-day evidence from all over
the world show. But illegal abortion is much more dangerous.
According to the American Medical Association in the 1930s
there was “an epidemic of criminal abortion” in the
United States. The number of births dropped by about
half, as women who refused to bring children into a depressed
economy resorted to illegal abortion to end their pregnancies.
As a result, about 2500 women died each year from abortion
complications, accounting for nearly one in four maternal
From 1950 to 1965 in the US, the National Center for Health
Statistics stated that there were 200 to 250
abortion-related deaths reported each year, a number that is
acknowledged to be lower than the true death count.2 But
even using these statistics, and assuming that illegal abortion
was two or three times as dangerous as legal abortion at that
time, a simple calculation shows that there were at least
500,000 illegal abortions each year. It’s not worth the death
of one woman if that’s what it would take to cut the number of
abortions by 60%, let alone fifty or a hundred women.
Thanks to changes in the law, today the mortality rate from
legal abortion is almost zero, and abortion accounts for only
3% of maternal deaths.
The publication Lancet said that “It is impossible to achieve a low maternal mortality without access to safe abortion.”
2. Legal abortions protect women’s health.
Legal abortion not only protects women’s lives, it also protects
their health. For tens of thousands of women with heart
disease, kidney disease, severe hypertension, sickle-cell
anemia and severe diabetes, and other illnesses that can be
life-threatening, the availability of legal abortion has helped avert
serious medical complications that could have resulted from
childbirth. Before legal abortion, such women’s choices were
limited to dangerous illegal abortion or dangerous childbirth.
In a case-controlled study women whose own health is
compromised during pregnancy
are more likely to miscarry and to deliver babies who are
sick. Their babies are also more likely to die after birth.
Women’s Health, Am Journal of Public Health, and Demography, all stated that women whose pregnancies are unwanted are less likely to
get prenatal care, more likely to use cigarettes, alcohol, and
drugs during their pregnancies, more likely to be abused by
their partners, and more likely to give birth to low-birth weight,
sick babies, as well as not to breast-feed. The Demography believed
that This is not simply a correlation with ethnic or socioeconomic status rather than pregnancy wantedness, because women who abort one
pregnancy are more likely to have a healthy baby in the next
pregnancy, and some of the poor outcomes persist even when
correcting for race and income level.
3. A woman is more than a fetus.
There’s an argument these days that a fetus is a “person” that
is “indistinguishable from the rest of us” and that it deserves
rights equal to women’s. On this question there is a
tremendous spectrum of religious, philosophical, scientific, and
medical opinion. It’s been argued for centuries. Fortunately, our
society has recognized that each woman must be able to
make this decision, based on her own conscience. To impose
a law defining a fetus as a “person,” granting it rights equal to
or superior to a woman’s – a thinking, feeling, conscious
human being – is arrogant and absurd. It only serves to
What they ignore is that allowing an embryo to use a woman’s
body against her will would give it more rights than she has,
since women (including pregnant ones) are not entitled to
demand the use of other people’s bodies to save their own
lives. In fact, children cannot gain access to the bodily
resources of their parents, even when their lives are at stake.
Abortion opponents also ignore thousands of years of cultural,
religious, social, and legal history which has never held an
embryo to be a person. Only abortion opponents have ever
defined embryos as persons-and then only for the purpose
of opposing abortion, as they are quite willing to regard
embryos as non-persons when it suits them. (For instance, by
allowing abortion in circumstances that would never justify
killing an innocent person.)
Calling for laws that define an embryo as “a person,” with
rights equal to or greater than those of women, is arrogant and
absurd. Subjugating women-living, breathing, thinking,
feeling, hoping, suffering human beings-to the needs of a
tablespoon of insentient, unaware tissue is perverse. Equating
a person with a hollow ball of cells trivializes everything we
value about humanity.
The time to worry about equal rights and human dignity is
when a society singles out one group of people and strips
them of rights that other people in that society take for
granted. It’s when a society decides that one group is going to
bear burdens and provide services that are expected from no
one else. It’s the societies which ban abortion, now and in the
past, where human rights are not respected, and lives are in
danger, for people besides pregnant women.
4. Compulsory pregnancy laws are incompatible with a free society.
. It is impossible to regulate the private consensual behavior of
people, as the examples of Prohibition and the failed War on
(Some) Drugs show.
Outlawing abortion is discriminatory.
Anti-abortion laws discriminate against low-income women,
who are driven to dangerous self-induced or back-alley
abortions. That is all they can afford. But the rich can travel
wherever necessary to obtain a safe abortion.
Like drinking, drug use, prostitution, and unorthodox sexual
behavior, abortion is a “victimless” (no complainant) crime. In
1965, sociologist and lawyer Edwin Schur looked at existing
laws against homosexuality, drug use, and abortion, and
concluded that the laws were futile, writing:
Shur stated, “Unsatisfactory experience with the laws against abortion
points up some of the major consequences of attempting to
legislate against the crimes without victims. As an English legal
authority writes, unsuccessful laws against abortion illustrate
‘the inherent unenforceability of a statute that attempts to
prohibit a private practice where all parties concerned seek to
avoid the restriction.’ ”
Unenforceable laws do little to regulate people’s behavior, but
do lead to crime and corruption.
To suppress women’s use of abortion would require
dedicated and persistent government vigilance of a kind that
no society has ever seen. The Romanian dictator Ceaucescu
failed to restrict abortion even with all the existing resources of
a totalitarian police state at his disposal-the birth rate went
up briefly, then plunged again as women sought out illegal
abortions. But Romania’s draconian fertility law, which went
so far as to give pregnancy tests to all working women
monthly and require them to explain their miscarriages, did
result in the highest maternal mortality rate in Europe.
In a country like the United States, where individual freedom
and liberty are paramount, it is inconceivable to imagine a
successful campaign to outlaw abortion and prevent women
from obtaining it illegally. The loss of civil liberties would never
If there is any matter which is personal and private, then
pregnancy is it. There can be no more extreme invasion of
privacy than requiring a woman to carry an unwanted
pregnancy to term. If government is permitted to compel a
woman to bear a child, where will government stop?
6. Choice is good for families.
Outlaw abortion, and more children will bear children.
Forty percent of 14-year-old girls will become pregnant before
they turn 20. This could happen to your daughter or someone
else close to you. Here are the critical questions: Should the
penalty for lack of knowledge or even for a moment’s
carelessness is enforced pregnancy and childrearing? Or
dangerous illegal abortion? Should we consign a teenager to a
life sentence of joblessness, hopelessness, and dependency?
“Every child a wanted child.”
If women are forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term, the
result is unwanted children. Everyone knows they are among
society’s most tragic cases, often uncared-for, unloved,
brutalized, and abandoned. When they grow up, these children
are often seriously disadvantaged, and sometimes inclined
toward brutal behavior to others. This is not good for children,
for families, or for the country. Children need love and families
who want and will care for them.
Choice is good for families.
Even when precautions are taken, accidents can and do
happen. For some families, this is not a problem. But for
others, such an event can be catastrophic. An unintended
pregnancy can increase tensions, disrupt stability, and push
people below the line of economic survival. Family planning is
the answer. All options must be open.
At the most basic level, the abortion issue is not really about abortion.
It is about the value of women in society. Should women make their
own decisions about family, career, and how to live their lives? Or
should government do that for them? Do women have the option of
deciding when or whether to have children? Or is that a government
The anti-abortion leaders really have a larger purpose. They oppose
most ideas and programs which can help women achieve equality and
freedom. They also oppose programs which protect the health and
well-being of women and their children.
Anti-abortion leaders claim to act “in defense of life.” If so, why have
they worked to destroy programs, which serve life, including prenatal
care and nutrition programs for dependent pregnant women? Is this
respect for life?
Anti-abortion leaders also say they are trying to save children, but
they have fought against health and nutrition programs for children
once they are born. The anti-abortion groups seem to believe life
begins at conception, but it ends at birth. Is this respect for life?
Then there are programs, which diminish the number of unwanted
pregnancies before they occur: family planning counseling, sex
education, and contraception for those who wish it. Anti-abortion
leaders oppose those too. And clinics providing such services have
been bombed. Is this respect for life?
Such stances reveal the ultimate cynicism of the compulsory
pregnancy movement. “Life” is not what they’re fighting for. What they
want is a return to the days when a woman had few choices in
controlling her future. They think that the abortion option gives too
much freedom. That even contraception is too liberating. That women
cannot be trusted to make their own decisions.
Americans today don’t accept that. Women can now select their own
paths in society, including when and whether to have children. Family
planning, contraception, and, if need be, legal abortion are critical to
sustaining women’s freedom. There is no going back.
Journal of the American Medical Association, July 29, 1939, per
National Center for Health Statistics, quoted in “Induced termination of
pregnancy before and after Roe v. Wade: Trends in the morbidity and
mortality of women,” JAMA December 9, 1992, vol. 268, no. 22, p. 3233.
“Abortion and fertility regulation,” Lancet June 15, 1996, vol. 347, no.
9016, p. 1663.
Pregnancy-induced hypertension and early neonatal death: a
case-control study. Am J Perinatol 1993 Sep;10(5):401-3.
Wantedness of pregnancy and prenatal health behaviors. Women
Pregnancy wantedness and the early initiation of
prenatal care. Demography 1990 Feb;27(1):1-17.
Unintended pregnant and breast-feeding behavior. Am J Public Health 1997 Oct;87(10):1709-11.
The impact of induced abortion on black and white birth outcomes in the
United States. Demography 1987 May;24(2):229-44
Schur, Edwin. Crimes Without Victims: Deviant Behavior and Public
Policy. Prentice-Hall, New Jersey, 1965.