The topic of abortion sparks a proverbial storm of frigid discourse between pro-life and pro-choice proponents. Contrary to popular belief, being ‘pro-choice’ is not the same as being ‘pro-death.’ Pro-choice simply means that a mother, rather than the state, has the right to determine whether or not she desires to abort an embryo or fetus. Pro-life proponents tend to argue that abortion is an act of murder and that, if abortion were legal, it would be harmful to women’s health. In order to combat this claim, the following argues in favor of pro-choice on the grounds that the legality of abortion helps protect women’s health.
Ever since Roe v. Wade, thousands of American women’s lives have been saved by having access to abortions that are both safe and legal. In recent years, however, there have been a growing number of restrictions and superfluous regulations instilled upon women’s reproductive rights. A recent example is Governor Rick Perry who signed the House Bill 2 in the summer of 2013. The House Bill 2 does not allow clinics to provide abortions to women who are 20 weeks pregnant or more in Texas. This is four weeks earlier that the cut-off mark set by Roe v. Wade. The bill could reduce the abortion clinics available in Texas to only five. This would require women to travel across the Mexican border in order to gain access to pills that initiate miscarriage in the first trimester.
The claim that women will go to extremes to attain abortion pills and procedures whenever it is severely restricted is not just wild conjecture, but is readily manifest in history. In 1977, for example, Rosie Jimenez was a 27 year old mother who was too poor to afford an abortion that was both safe and legal (The Safety of Legal Abortion, p. 7). At the time, the Federal Hyde Amendment prohibited abortions except under circumstances of rape, incest or whenever the mother’s life was in jeopardy. In an effort to attain a miscarriage, Jimenez underwent an abortion in a back alley. She shortly died after the procedure, making her the first women ever to die from a self-induced abortion.
The problem with reproductive restrictions is that they do not actually prevent abortions from occurring. In some instances, anti-choice regulations actually kill more people than they save. Pregnant teenage girls, due to the underdevelopment of their bodies, are approximately five times more likely to die or suffer health complications while pregnant in comparison to fully matured women. Approximately 70,000 girls 15 to 19 years of age die from pregnancy or childbirth each year. In addition, the babies of teenage mothers are about 60 percent more likely to die or suffer deformities in comparison to fully, matured mothers (Roth, Incarcerated Women and Reproductive Justice). Denying teenage girls the right to an abortion merely escalates the death rates of teenage girls.
Furthermore, denying young women the right to an abortion increases the likelihood of poverty by denying them certain job opportunities and hopes of a college education. An estimate one billion of the poorest people on the planet are female. Women in sub-Saharan Africa and west Asia, for example, tend to have anywhere from five to six children. The financial burden of raising a child prevents women from pursuing their hopes and dreams.
There is further evidence that suggests that the illegality of abortion was detrimental to women’s health prior to Roe v. Wade. When abortion was illegal in 1973, an estimated 1.2 million women had an illegal abortion in California and about 5,000 women died from these procedures. Yet the death toll from illegal abortions is not a somber fact scrapped to the relics of history. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 21 million women resort to have an illegal abortion. About 50,000 of those women die from the procedure whenever it is illegal. A provocative study released by The Center for Disease Control found that abortion-related mortality rates are ten times greater whenever abortion is illegal versus whenever it is legal. Wherever abortion is illegal, it merely pushes the practice underground where health complications, infections and death are more likely to prevail.
Rather paradoxically, rates of abortion and mortality both decrease whenever abortion is legal. Ever since certain types of abortion became legal in the Unites States, abortion-related death rates between 1973 and 1997 have decreased from 4.1 per 100,000 abortions to 0.6 per 100,000 abortions. In addition, the great majority of these abortions—approximately 99 percent—were conducted within the first twenty weeks of pregnancy (The Safety of Legal Abortion, 2-3). The American Medical Association’s Council on Scientific Affairs contributes this decline in mortality rates to the legalization of abortion since Roe v. Wade. Similar statistics hold true in other countries where abortion is legal, such as Canada and the Netherlands.
One of the arguments made against abortion is that the procedure leaves women psychologically scarred for life. There are a variety of problems associated with this claim. First, many times a procedure is not necessary to conduct an abortion. In 2001, the Food and Drug Administration approved the medical abortion pill, Mifeprex. Consuming the pill instigates a natural miscarriage. An estimated one-million women have used the drug safely in the Unites States and have experienced very few, if any, mild side effects.
For women who have undergone an abortion procedure, very few have reported experiencing any sort of long lasting psychological damage. In the year 2000, a study was published in the journal Archives General Psychiatry that questioned women two years after they had an abortion. The researchers found that approximately 72 percent of the women in the study reported they did not regret having an abortion. An additional 69 percent of women reported that they would have another abortion if necessary, and another 72 percent reported that having the abortion produced more good than harm (Major, Psychological Responses of Women, p. 77-80). In short, there is no scientific data that links abortion with severe, psychological trauma.
As has been illustrated, outlawing abortion does not prevent abortions from occurring, it merely punishes those who do have an abortion. Whenever abortion is illegal, the practice is pushed the underground where medical complications and mortality rates drastically increase. In addition, denying women the right to an abortion places a financial weight on their shoulders that prevents women from furthering their education and employment opportunities. Whenever abortion is legal, abortion-associated mortality rates decline. Claims that abortion causes psychological trauma have been shown to be scientifically unwarranted. Thus, in consideration of these points, we can quit debating the morality of abortion and focus on how to reduce abortion rates while preserving the right to choose.
- Anonymous. “The Safety of Legal Abortion and the Hazards of Illegal Abortion.” 2014. PDF .
- Control, Center for Disease. at http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/ss5202a1.htm . 11 October 2011. 15 April 2014.
- Major, Brenda. “Psychological Responses of Women After First-Trimester Abortion.” Archives General Psychiatry (2000): 777-84.
- Roth, Rachel. “Incarcerated Women and Reproductive Justice .” Protect Choice 2004.