The right to abortion is one of the most controversial rights in American politics today. The question of whether there really is a woman’s right to have an abortion has in recent history focused on religious, constitutional, and theoretical personhood arguments. However, arguments are emerging that center on the social implications of restricting abortion and the scientific evidence of personhood. What is means to be a person has long dominated abortion discussions, with religious arguments being strongly in favor of personhood upon or just after conception. With the focus of this debate being on such personal and private matter, how has the debate become so politicized, pitting the political left against the political right? Additionally, what are the issues that have taken this debate deep into the political sphere? These are the preliminary research questions for this project.
Through a literature review of relevant abortion topics, I discovered that recent arguments concerning abortions that were not centered on religious discussion concerned the constitutionality of abortion and social issues, such as the impact that availability of abortion clinics and a lack of abortion clinics are having in different areas. This led me to the line of reasoning that, aside from the persistent religious issues, the social issues will soon be driving the political debates. I suspect that the health of women who seek abortions will be one of the primary and highly contentious social factors that will soon be driving political debates concerning abortion. The greatest challenge in answering the research question will be determining which of the many factors actually contributed to the politicalization of the abortion debate. With so many possible social factors affecting the debate, it may be difficult to sort through the data and correctly choose the most influential factors. I most look forward to learning about the many great arguments on both sides of this debate.
My research first began focused on the legal aspect of the abortion rights debate. After all, the U.S. Constitution, the Supreme Court, and state law each seem to play a significant role in how a woman’s right to an abortion was developed and is respected. This led to a recent work by Warren on the current state of abortion rights, as interpreted by the Supreme Court. Warren suggests that the legal status of abort, currently, is one in which states have a substantial say over how limited the number of abortion clinics are in any given area, despite the Supreme Court ruling that limiting abortion in such a way is unconstitutional (13-15). In a 2008 Supreme Court case, Casey v. Carhart, the Court limited the restrictions placed on abortion clinics by the states (Siegel 1694). While such restrictions, in theory, limit what laws states can enact to restrict abortions, pragmatically, the ruling allows states to levy a number of restrictions on abortion clinics that are related to the health of the mother. These restrictions only apply to cases of abortion and not to any other medical practices. It would seem, then, that the Supreme Court would quickly strike down such laws.
However, the Supreme Court takes relatively few of such cases. For now, consequently, states are going unchallenged in their attempts to restrict the availability of abortion services. This legal research has helped guide my efforts to narrow my topic. This project is certainly feasible, given the already abundant research that I have located that concentrates on social issues concerning abortion. My interest in answering the research question is that with so many different aspects to the abortion debate it would be great to find an interesting thread and even be able to predict the content of future political debates centered on abortion. The importance of the preliminary research questions and the findings of this project concern our societal understanding of the abortion debate itself. Currently, the debate is in a tumultuous state, with the amount of issues making it very difficult for political debates to focus on the most relevant issues. I have already collected a number of articles, of which I will likely only use around six or seven, given the overlap in data between them. I plan on continuing reviewing relevant literature to locate the most important social issues, especially those concerning the health of mothers who get abortions, both legal and illegal.
The method that I will use to answer my research question is a literature review. I have already discovered numerous articles that are highly relevant. The challenge will be narrowing the search only to the most relevant topics and data. I will determine how the abortion debate become so politicized recently by examining the relevant literature on abortion and social issues. It is my preliminary conclusion that certain social issues have politicized the abortion debate, though this conclusion can, of course, be amended upon further investigation into the literature. The first task for proceeding with the literature review is locating the best available search terms for the online databases and source guides. Next, I will seek out the most relevant and objective articles, books, and publications to use in the review. Finally, upon examining all of the gathered evidence, I will construct the research paper using the best available data and information.
The significance of this project is that the results may can help future researchers focus on and gather the most relevant data and information. If my preliminary conclusion is correct, future studies should focus on the specific health outcomes of women getting abortions. These studies should pay careful attention to the differences in outcomes between illegal abortions and legal abortions. Answering my research question will lead to a better understanding of the current state of abortion rights in the United States. Most importantly, future Supreme Court rulings on a women’s right to abortion may depend on the results of empirical research. It is, thus, crucial that researchers begin focusing on the most important and relevant aspects, which I argue are social, rather than religious. While public policy development may only be indirectly affected by the results of this project, Supreme Court rulings and constitutional interpretations may be much more directly affected. An improved understanding of women’s health and rights may be a favorable outcome of this project.
- Siegel, Reva. “Dignity and the politics of protection: abortion restrictions under Casey/Carhart.” Yale Law Journal 117 (2008): 1694-1802.
- Warren, Mary Anne. “On the moral and legal status of abortion.” (2009).