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Should Abortion Be Legal?
Should abortion be legal?
The debate over whether or not abortion should be a legal option continues to divide Americans long after the US Supreme Court’s 7-2 decision on Roe v. Wade declared the procedure a "fundamental right" on Jan. 22, 1973.

Proponents, identifying themselves as pro-choice, contend that choosing abortion is a woman's right that should not be limited by governmental or religious authority, and which outweighs any right claimed for an embryo or fetus. They say that pregnant women will resort to unsafe illegal abortions if there is no legal option.

Opponents, identifying themselves as pro-life, contend that personhood begins at conception, and therefore abortion is the immoral killing of an innocent human being. They say abortion inflicts suffering on the unborn child, and that it is unfair to allow abortion when couples who cannot biologically conceive are waiting to adopt. Read more...

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Abortion ProCon.org is a nonpartisan, nonprofit website that presents research, studies, and pro and con statements related to abortion. This pro-con debate revolves around whether or not abortion should be a legal option for terminating pregnancies that do not involve rape, incest, or when a mother’s life is in danger. For brevity we have abbreviated that issue down to the core question "Should abortion be legal?”
Did You Know?
  1. From Roe v. Wade in 1973 through 2011, nearly 53 million legal abortions were performed in the United States – an average of about 1.4 million abortions per year. [84] At 2008 abortion rates, three in ten US women will have an abortion before age 45. [13]

  2. Although the Catholic and Lutheran churches oppose abortion, more of their members believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases versus illegal in all or most cases (51% vs. 45%, Lutheran; 48% vs. 45%, Catholic). [151]

  3. A woman's risk of dying from having an abortion is 0.6 in 100,000, while the risk of dying from giving birth is around 14 times higher (8.8 in 100,000). [3] The mortality rate of a colonoscopy is more than 40 times greater than that of an abortion. [122]

  4. 9.3% of abortions reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2011 were undergone by women who had three or more previous abortions. [161]

  5. More US state abortion restrictions were enacted between 2011 and 2013 (205 in total) than were adopted during the whole previous decade (189). [105]
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Pro & Con Arguments: "Should Abortion Be Legal?"
PRO Legal Abortion

  1. The US Supreme Court has declared abortion to be a "fundamental right" guaranteed by the US Constitution. The landmark abortion case Roe v. Wade, decided on Jan. 22, 1973 in favor of abortion rights, remains the law of the land. The 7-2 decision stated that the Constitution gives "a guarantee of certain areas or zones of privacy," and that "This right of privacy... is broad enough to encompass a woman's decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy." [49]

  2. Reproductive choice empowers women by giving them control over their own bodies. The choice over when and whether to have children is central to a woman's independence and ability to determine her future. [134] Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote in the 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, "The ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives." [8] Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in her dissenting opinion in Gonzales v. Carhart (2007) that undue restrictions on abortion infringe upon "a woman's autonomy to determine her life's course, and thus to enjoy equal citizenship stature." [59] CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, JD, stated that Roe v. Wade was "a landmark of what is, in the truest sense, women’s liberation." [113]

  3. Personhood begins after a fetus becomes "viable" (able to survive outside the womb) or after birth, not at conception. [31] [32] Embryos and fetuses are not independent, self-determining beings, and abortion is the termination of a pregnancy, not a baby. A person's age is calculated from birth date, not conception, and fetuses are not counted in the US Census. The majority opinion in Roe v. Wade states that "the word 'person,' as used in the Fourteenth Amendment [of the US Constitution], does not include the unborn." [49]

  4. Fetuses are incapable of feeling pain when most abortions are performed. According to a 2010 review by Britain's Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, "most neuroscientists believe that the cortex is necessary for pain perception." The cortex does not become functional until at least the 26th week of a fetus' development, long after most abortions are performed. This finding was endorsed in 2012 by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, [1] which stated that that there is "no legitimate scientific information that supports the statement that a fetus experiences pain." [142] A 2005 University of California at San Francisco study said fetuses probably can't feel pain until the 29th or 30th week of gestation. [166] Abortions that late into a pregnancy are extremely rare and are often restricted by state laws. [164] According to Stuart W. G. Derbyshire, PhD, Senior Lecturer at the University of Birmingham (England), "...fetuses cannot be held to experience pain. Not only has the biological development not yet occurred to support pain experience, but the environment after birth, so necessary to the development of pain experience, is also yet to occur." [10] The "flinching" and other reactions seen in fetuses when they detect pain stimuli are mere reflexes, not an indication that the fetus is perceiving or "feeling" anything. [135] [145]

  5. Access to legal, professionally-performed abortions reduces maternal injury and death caused by unsafe, illegal abortions. According to Daniel R. Mishell, Jr., MD, Chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, before abortion was legalized women would frequently try to induce abortions by using coat hangers, knitting needles, or radiator flush, or by going to unsafe "back-alley" abortionists. [150] In 1972, there were 39 maternal deaths from illegal abortions. By 1976, after Roe v. Wade had legalized abortion nationwide, this number dropped to two. [7] The World Health Organization estimated in 2004 that unsafe abortions cause 68,000 maternal deaths worldwide each year, many of those in developing countries where safe and legal abortion services are difficult to access. [11]

  6. Modern abortion procedures are safe and do not cause lasting health issues such as cancer and infertility. A peer-reviewed study published by Obstetrics & Gynecology in Jan. 2015 reported that less than one quarter of one percent of abortions lead to major health complications. [159] [160] A 2012 study in Obstetrics & Gynecology found a woman's risk of dying from having an abortion is 0.6 in 100,000, while the risk of dying from giving birth is around 14 times higher (8.8 in 100,000). The study also found that "pregnancy-related complications were more common with childbirth than with abortion." [3] The American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists stated "Abortion is one of the safest medical procedures performed in the United States." They also said the mortality rate of a colonoscopy is more than 40 times greater than that of an abortion. [122] The National Cancer Institute (NCI), the American Cancer Society (ACS), and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists all refuted the claim that abortion can lead to a higher probability of developing breast cancer. [22] A 1993 fertility investigation of 10,767 women by the Joint Royal College of General Practitioners and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists found that women who had at least two abortions experienced the same future fertility as those who had at least two natural pregnancies. [14]

  7. Women who receive abortions are less likely to suffer mental health problems than women denied abortions. A Sep. 2013 peer-reviewed study comparing the mental health of women who received abortions to women denied abortions found that women who were denied abortions "felt more regret and anger" and "less relief and happiness" than women who had abortions. The same study also found that 95% of women who received abortions "felt it was the right decision" a week after the procedure. [158] Studies by the American Psychological Association (APA), the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges (AMRC), and researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health all concluded that purported links between abortion and mental health problems are unfounded. [152]

  8. Abortion gives pregnant women the option to choose not to bring fetuses with profound abnormalities to full term. Some fetuses have such severe disorders that death is guaranteed before or shortly after birth. These include anencephaly, in which the brain is missing, and limb-body wall complex, in which organs develop outside the body cavity. [12] It would be cruel to force women to carry fetuses with fatal congenital defects to term. Even in the case of nonfatal conditions, such as Down syndrome, parents may be unable to care for a severely disabled child. Deborah Anne Driscoll, MD, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Pennsylvania, said "many couples... don’t have the resources, don’t have the emotional stamina, don’t have the family support [to raise a child with Down syndrome]." [9]

  9. Women who are denied abortions are more likely to become unemployed, to be on public welfare, to be below the poverty line, and to become victims of domestic violence. A University of California at San Francisco study found that women who were turned away from abortion clinics (because they had passed the gestational limit imposed by the clinic) were three times more likely to be below the poverty level two years later than women who were able to obtain abortions. 76% of the "turnaways" ended up on unemployment benefits, compared with 44% of the women who had abortions. The same study found that women unable to obtain abortions were more likely to stay in a relationship with an abusive partner than women who had an abortion, and were more than twice as likely to become victims of domestic violence. [114] [73]

  10. Reproductive choice protects women from financial disadvantage. Many women who choose abortion don't have the financial resources to support a child. 42% of women having abortions are below the federal poverty level. [13] A Sep. 2005 survey in the peer-reviewed Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health asking women why they had an abortion found that 73% of respondents said they could not afford to have a baby, and 38% said giving birth would interfere with their education and career goals. [19] An Oct. 2010 University of Massachusetts at Amherst study published in the peer-reviewed American Sociological Review found that women at all income levels earn less when they have children, with low-wage workers being most affected, suffering a 15% earnings penalty. [136]

  11. A baby should not come into the world unwanted. Having a child is an important decision that requires consideration, preparation, and planning. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment stated that unintended pregnancies are associated with birth defects, low birth weight, maternal depression, increased risk of child abuse, lower educational attainment, delayed entry into prenatal care, a high risk of physical violence during pregnancy, and reduced rates of breastfeeding. [75] 49% of all pregnancies among American women are unintended. [50]

  12. Abortion reduces welfare costs to taxpayers. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO), a nonpartisan federal agency, evaluated a proposed anti-abortion bill that would ban all abortions nationwide after 20 weeks of pregnancy, and found that the resulting additional births would increase the federal deficit by $225 million over nine years, due to the increased need for Medicaid coverage. Also, since many women seeking late-term abortions are economically disadvantaged, their children are likely to require welfare assistance. [129] [130]

  13. Abortion reduces crime. According to a study co-written by Freakonomics co-author Steven D. Levitt, PhD, and published in the peer-reviewed Quarterly Journal of Economics, "legalized abortion has contributed significantly to recent crime reductions." Around 18 years after abortion was legalized, crime rates began to drop abruptly, and crime rates dropped earlier in states that allowed abortion earlier. Because "women who have abortions are those most at risk to give birth to children who would engage in criminal activity," and women who had control over the timing of childbearing were more likely to raise children in optimal environments, crime is reduced when there is access to legal abortion. [20]

  14. Abortion is justified as a means of population control. Philosopher Peter Singer, MA, Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University, defended abortion as a way to curb overpopulation. [137] The United Nations estimated that the world's population will increase to 9.3 billion by 2050, which would be "the equivalent of adding another India and China to the world," according to the Los Angeles Times. [131] Malnutrition, starvation, poverty, lack of medical and educational services, pollution, underdevelopment, and conflict over resources are all consequences of overpopulation. [21] With 43.8 million abortions performed worldwide in 2008 [74], the population increase if abortion were unavailable could be substantial. [132]

  15. Many religious organizations and people of faith support women's reproductive choice. Although many religious groups oppose abortion, the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church, and the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations are all officially pro-choice. [139] [140] [141] The Bible, despite interpretations to the contrary, contains no explicit condemnation of abortion, and does not portray the killing of a fetus as equivalent to the killing of a human being. In Exodus 21:22-25, the crime of causing a woman to miscarry is treated as a property crime, whereas killing the woman is considered murder and is punished with the death penalty. [33] While the Catholic and Lutheran churches oppose abortion, more of their members believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases versus illegal in all or most cases (51% vs. 45%, Lutheran; 48% vs. 45%, Catholic). [151] Joe Biden, 47th US Vice President, stated in Oct. 2012 that "I accept my church’s position on abortion... But I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews, and I just refuse to impose that on others..." [138]
CON Legal Abortion

  1. Abortion is murder. The killing of an innocent human being is wrong, even if that human being has yet to be born. Unborn babies are considered human beings by the US government. The federal Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which was enacted "to protect unborn children from assault and murder," states that under federal law, anybody intentionally killing or attempting to kill an unborn child should "be punished... for intentionally killing or attempting to kill a human being." The act also states that an unborn child is a "member of the species homo sapiens." [126] At least 38 states have passed similar fetal homicide laws. [127]

  2. Life begins at conception, so unborn babies are human beings with a right to life. Upon fertilization, a human individual is created with a unique genetic identity that remains unchanged throughout his or her life. This individual has a fundamental right to life, which must be protected. Jerome Lejeune, the French geneticist who discovered the chromosome abnormality that causes Down syndrome, stated that "To accept the fact that after fertilization has taken place a new human has come into being is no longer a matter of taste or opinion... The human nature of the human being from conception to old age is not a metaphysical contention, it is plain experimental evidence." [15] [16]

  3. Fetuses feel pain during the abortion procedure. Maureen Condic, PhD, Associate Professor of Neurobiology and Anatomy and Adjunct Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Utah School of Medicine, explains that the "most primitive response to pain, the spinal reflex," is developed by eight weeks gestation, and adds that "There is universal agreement that pain is detected by the fetus in the first trimester." [18] According to Kanwaljeet J. S. Anand, MBBS, DPhil, Professor of Pediatrics, Anesthesiology and Neurobiology at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, "If the fetus is beyond 20 weeks of gestation, I would assume that there will be pain caused to the fetus. And I believe it will be severe and excruciating pain." [24] Bernard N. Nathanson, MD, the late abortion doctor who renounced his earlier work and became a pro-life activist, stated that when an abortion is performed on a 12-week-old fetus, "We see [in an ultrasound image] the child’s mouth open in a silent scream... This is the silent scream of a child threatened imminently with extinction." [145]

  4. Abortion is the killing of a human being, which defies the word of God. The Bible does not draw a distinction between fetuses and babies: the Greek word brephos is used in the Bible to refer to both an unborn child and an infant. [30] By the time a baby is conceived, he or she is recognized by God, as demonstrated in Jeremiah 1:5: "Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee..." [133] The Sixth Commandment of the Bible's Old Testament, "Thou shalt not kill" (Exodus 20:13), applies to all human beings, including unborn babies. [23] In the Hindu religion, the holy text Kaushitaki Upanishad states that abortion is an equivalent misdeed to killing one’s own parents. [148] The BBC states that "Traditional Buddhism rejects abortion because it involves the deliberate destroying of a life." [149]

  5. The decision in Roe v. Wade was wrong and should be overturned. US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia stated that the right to privacy defended in Roe v. Wade is "utterly idiotic" and should not be considered binding precedent: "There is no right to privacy [in the US Constitution]." [153] [154] In his dissenting opinion in Roe v. Wade, Justice William H. Rehnquist stated that an abortion "is not 'private' in the ordinary usage of that word. Nor is the 'privacy' that the Court finds here even a distant relative of the freedom from searches and seizures protected by the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution..." [49] Furthermore, the 14th Amendment bars states from depriving "any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." [155] The Supreme Court overreached in Roe v. Wade when it excluded unborn children from the class of "persons." [156] [157]

  6. Abortions cause psychological damage. A 2008 peer-reviewed study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Public Health found that "Young adult women who undergo... abortion may be at increased risk for subsequent depression." [44] A peer-reviewed 2005 study published in BMC Medicine found that women who underwent an abortion had "significantly higher" anxiety scores on the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale up to five years after the pregnancy termination. [69] A 2002 peer-reviewed study published by the Southern Medical Journal of more than 173,000 American women found that women who aborted were 154% more likely to commit suicide than women who carried to term. [26] A 1996 study published in the British Medical Journal reported that the mean annual suicide rate amongst women who had an abortion was 34.7 per 100,000, compared with a mean rate of 11.3 per 100,000 in the general population of women. [45] An Apr. 1998 Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology study of men whose partners had abortions found that 51.6% of the men reported regret, 45.2% felt sadness, and 25.8% experienced depression. [27]

  7. Abortions reduce the number of adoptable babies. Instead of having the option to abort, women should give their unwanted babies to people who cannot conceive. The percentage of infants given up for adoption in the United States declined from 9% of those born before 1973 to 1% of those born between 1996 and 2002. [53] As a result of the lack of women putting their children up for adoption, the number of US infant adoptions dropped from about 90,000 in 1971 to 18,000 in 2007. [46] Around 2.6 million American women were trying to adopt children as of 2002, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services. [76]

  8. Selective abortion based on genetic abnormalities (eugenic termination) is overt discrimination. Physical limitations don't make those with disabilities less than human. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 [54] provides civil rights protection to people born with disabilities so they can lead fulfilling lives. The National Down Syndrome Society states that "people with Down syndrome live at home with their families and are active participants in the educational, vocational, social, and recreational activities of the community. People with Down syndrome are valued members of their families and their communities, contributing to society in a variety of ways." [66] The increase in abortions of babies with Down syndrome (over 80% of women choose to abort Down syndrome babies [70]) reduced the Down syndrome population by 15% between 1989 and 2005. [67]

  9. Women should not be able to use abortion as a form of contraception. It is immoral to kill an unborn child for convenience. [116] The Guttmacher Institute reported that half of all women having abortions every year have had at least one previous abortion, [13] while 8.5% of abortions reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2010 were undergone by women who had three or more previous abortions. [83] This suggests that many women are using abortion as a contraceptive method. [78] Freakonomics co-author Steven Levitt, PhD, wrote that after abortion was legalized, "Conceptions rose by nearly 30 percent, but births actually fell by 6 percent, indicating that many women were using abortion as a method of birth control, a crude and drastic sort of insurance policy." [38]

  10. If women become pregnant, they should accept the responsibility that comes with producing a child. People need to take responsibility for their actions and accept the consequences. Having sexual intercourse, even when contraceptive methods are used, carries with it the risk of a pregnancy. [128] The unborn baby should not be punished for a mistake made by adults. If women are unprepared to care for their children, they should at least put them up for adoption.

  11. The original text of the Hippocratic Oath, traditionally taken by doctors when swearing to practice medicine ethically, forbids abortion. One section of the classical version of the oath reads: "I will not give a woman a pessary [a device inserted into the vagina] to cause an abortion." The modern version of the Hippocratic Oath, written in 1964 by Luis Lasagna, still effectively forbids doctors from performing abortions in the line, "Above all, I must not play at God." [25]

  12. Abortion promotes a culture in which human life is disposable. The legalization of abortion sends a message that human life has little value. [144] Pope Francis condemned "'the throwaway culture'" in Jan. 2014, stating that "what is thrown away is not only food and dispensable objects, but often human beings themselves, who are discarded as 'unnecessary'. For example, it is frightful even to think there are children, victims of abortion, who will never see the light of day..." [143] House Representative Randy Hultgren (R-IL) wrote in Jan. 2014 that "When we tell one another that abortion is okay, we reinforce the idea that human lives are disposable, that we can throw away anything or anyone that inconveniences us." [36]

  13. Allowing abortion conflicts with the unalienable right to life recognized by the Founding Fathers of the United States. The Declaration of Independence states that "[A]ll men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." [51] Abortion takes away from the unborn the unalienable right to life that the Founding Fathers intended for all human beings. [115]

  14. Abortion disproportionately affects African American babies. In the United States, black women are 3.3 times as likely as white women to have an abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute. [68] In New York City in 2012, more black babies were aborted (31,328) than had live births (24,758). [77]

  15. Abortion eliminates the potential societal contributions of a future human being. According to Heisman Trophy-winning football player Tim Tebow, "the reason I'm here" is because his mother ignored the advice of doctors who recommended an abortion. [117] It has also been reported that the mothers of entertainers Celine Dion, Cher, and Justin Bieber were either advised to have abortions or were considering the procedure, but chose to give birth to their babies instead. [118] [120] [119]

  16. Abortion may lead to future medical problems for the mother. A June 2003 study published by the peer-reviewed International Journal of Epidemiology estimated that about 15% of first-trimester miscarriages are attributed to a prior history of induced abortion, and stated that "Induced abortion by vacuum aspiration is associated with an increased risk of first-trimester miscarriage in the subsequent pregnancy." [34] A 2013 Chinese study published in the peer-reviewed Indian Journal of Cancer found an association between breast cancer and a history of abortions [71]. A Feb. 2014 study published in the peer-reviewed Cancer Causes and Control found that abortion "is significantly associated with an increased risk of breast cancer" and that "the risk of breast cancer increases as the number of [abortions] increases." [72]
Comment Comment
Background: "Should Abortion Be Legal?"
Pro-choice and pro-life demonstrators 2004 March for Womens Lives
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Pro-choice and pro-life demonstrators during the 2004 Washington, DC March for Women's Lives protest
Source: Declan McCullagh Photography, www.mccullagh.org (accessed Apr. 1, 2010)
The debate over whether or not abortion should be a legal option continues to divide Americans long after the US Supreme Court’s 7-2 decision on Roe v. Wade [49] declared the procedure a "fundamental right" on Jan. 22, 1973.

Proponents, identifying themselves as pro-choice, contend that choosing abortion is a right that should not be limited by governmental or religious authority, and which outweighs any right claimed for an embryo or fetus. They say that pregnant women will resort to unsafe illegal abortions if there is no legal option.

Opponents, identifying themselves as pro-life, contend that personhood begins at conception, and therefore abortion is the immoral killing of an innocent human being. They say abortion inflicts suffering on the unborn child, and that it is unfair to allow abortion when couples who cannot biologically conceive are waiting to adopt.

Variations exist in arguments on both sides of the debate. Some pro-choice proponents believe abortion should only be used as a last resort, while others advocate unrestricted access to abortion services under any circumstance. Pro-life positions range from opposing abortion under any circumstance to accepting it for situations of rape, incest, or when a woman's life is at risk.

Pro-Choice and Pro-Life Groups

Some prominent pro-choice organizations include Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice America, the National Abortion Federation, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the National Organization for Women. Although many pro-life positions derive from religious ideology, several mainstream faith groups support the pro-choice movement, such as the United Methodist Church, United Church of Christ, the Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church, and the Unitarian Universalist Association. The 2012 Democratic Party Platform endorsed the pro-choice position, stating, "The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to make decisions regarding her pregnancy, including a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay. We oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right." [55] However, 31% of Democrats consider themselves pro-life. [80]

Some prominent pro-life organizations include The National Right to Life Committee, Pro-Life Action League, Operation Rescue, the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, Americans United for Life, the National Association of Evangelicals, Family Research Council, Christian Coalition of America, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormon Church). [6] The 2012 Republican Party Platform opposed abortion, stating, "Faithful to the 'self-evident' truths enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, we assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed." [56] However, 26% of Republicans are pro-choice. [80]

Cartoon When does life begin?
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Bob Englehart's 1981 political cartoon "When Does Life Begin?," originally published by The Hartford Courant
Source: "Cartoon Plagiarism Case Offers a Metaphor for the Abortion Debate," www.ideagrove.com, Nov. 15, 2005
Public Opinion

In May 2014, Gallup reported that 46% of Americans consider themselves pro-life and 47% say they are pro-choice.
[79] Gallup also found that more Americans think abortion should be "legal under any circumstances" (28%) than those who want abortion to be "illegal in all circumstances" (21%). 50% of Americans say abortion should be "legal only under certain circumstances." [79]

In a Gallup poll taken in Jan. 2015, 34% of Americans said they were satisfied with current US abortion policies, which is the lowest level of satisfaction in 15 years of polling. Most dissatisfaction was voiced by Republicans, and twice as many people were dissatisfied because abortion laws are too loose (24%) than the number of people dissatisfied because abortion laws were too strict (12%).

In Jan. 2013, Pew Research found that most Americans (63%) "say they would not like to see the court completely overturn the Roe v. Wade decision." 29% would like Roe v. Wade to be overturned. [94] A 2013 Pew Research survey found that 70% of people who attend religious services at least once a week say abortion is morally wrong, compared with just 32% of people who rarely or never attend services. [2]

Abortion Procedures

Surgical abortion (aka suction curettage or vacuum curettage) is the most common type of abortion procedure. It involves using a suction device to remove the contents of a pregnant woman's uterus. Surgical abortion performed later in pregnancy (after 12-16 weeks) is called D&E (dilation and evacuation). [81] [82] The second most common abortion procedure, a medical abortion (aka an "abortion pill"), involves taking medications, usually mifepristone and misoprostol (aka RU-486), within the first seven to nine weeks of pregnancy to induce an abortion. [39] The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 64.5% of abortions performed in 2011 were performed at or less than 8 weeks gestation, and 91.4% were performed at or less than 13 weeks gestation. 79.6% were performed by surgical procedure, while 19.1% were medical abortions. [161] In 2009, the average amount paid by US women for a surgical abortion at 10 weeks gestation was $451. For a medical abortion, the average amount paid was $483. [146] Abortions performed in physicians' offices are generally more expensive than those obtained at an abortion clinic, and abortions performed later in pregnancy are usually more expensive also. Abortions after 20 weeks gestation can cost over $1,000. [147]

Early History

Abortion techniques were developed as early as 1550 BC, when the Egyptian medical text Ebers Papyrus suggested that the vaginal insertion of plant fiber covered with honey and crushed dates could induce an abortion. Abortion was an accepted practice in ancient Greece and Rome. Greek philosopher Aristotle (384–322 B.C) wrote that "...when couples have children in excess, let abortion be procured before sense and life have begun..." [86] In the latter days of the Roman Empire, abortion was considered not as homicide but as a crime against a husband who would be deprived of a potential child. [87] [86]

Throughout much of Western history, abortion was not considered a criminal act as long as it was performed before "quickening" (the first detectable movement of the fetus, which can occur between 13-25 weeks of pregnancy). [86] [88] American states derived their initial abortion statutes from British common law, which followed this principle. [106] Until at least the early-1800s, abortion procedures and methods were legal and openly advertised throughout the United States. [89] [91] Abortion was unregulated, however, and often unsafe. [90]

In 1821, Connecticut became the first state to criminalize abortion. The state banned the selling of an abortion-inducing poison to women, but it did not punish the women who took the poison. Legal consequences for women began in 1845 when New York criminalized a woman's participation in her abortion, whether it took place before or after quickening. [41] In the mid-1800s, early pro-life advocate Dr. Horatio Robinson Storer (1830-1922) convinced the American Medical Association to join him in campaigning for the outlawing of abortion nationwide. [92] [90] By the early 1900s, most states had banned abortion. By
Demonstrators holding pro-choice and pro-life signs
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Demonstrators holding pro-choice and pro-life signs
Source: "New Pew Poll Shows Support for Legal Abortion Drops to Lowest Level in 15 Years," LifeNews.com, Apr. 29, 2009
1965, all 50 states had outlawed abortion, with some exceptions varying by state. [42]

The motivation behind these early abortion laws has been disputed. Some writers argue that the laws were not aimed at preserving the lives of unborn children, but rather were intended to protect women from unsafe abortion procedures [90], or to allow the medical profession to take over responsibility for women's health from untrained practitioners. [86] Others say that pro-life concerns were in fact already prevalent and were a major influence behind the efforts to ban abortion. [93]

Roe v. Wade

Federal action on abortion didn't occur until Roe v. Wade, which declared most state anti-abortion laws unconstitutional. The high court’s 7-2 decision established rules based on a pregnancy trimester framework, banning legislative interference in the first trimester of pregnancy (0-12 weeks), allowing states to regulate abortion during the second trimester (weeks 13-28) "in ways that are reasonably related to maternal health," and allowing a state to "regulate, and even proscribe" abortion during the third trimester (weeks 29-40) "in promoting its interest in the potentiality of human life," unless an abortion is required to preserve the life or health of the mother. [49] [95] The decision also allowed states to prohibit abortions performed by anyone who is not a state-licensed physician. [49]

The initial Roe v. Wade lawsuit was filed at the Dallas federal district courthouse on Mar. 3, 1970 by pregnant Texas resident Norma McCorvey, named in court documents as "Jane Roe." Henry Wade, Dallas County District Attorney from 1951 to 1987, was the named defendant. McCorvey was seeking to end her pregnancy, but abortion was illegal in Texas except to save the mother's life. [96] [97] McCorvey said the pregnancy was the result of rape, but she later retracted that claim, admitting she lied in the hope of increasing her chances of procuring an abortion. The baby was eventually delivered and given up for adoption. [123] McCorvey later abandoned her support of abortion rights, becoming a pro-life activist and an evangelical Christian in 1995. She then converted to Catholicism and took part in silent prayer vigils outside abortion clinics. [100]

Federal Regulation

Immediately following Roe v. Wade, pro-life proponents pushed for federal legislation that would restrict abortion. In 1976, Congress passed the appropriations bill for the Departments of Labor, Health, Education, and Welfare (now the Department of Health and Human Services) which included an amendment ending Medicaid funding for abortions. Known as the "Hyde Amendment," this provision banning federal funding for abortions has been renewed with various revisions every year since its inception.

At the Aug. 1984 United Nations International Conference on Population held in Mexico City, Mexico, President Ronald Reagan announced the Mexico City Policy, [60] which restricted all non-governmental organizations funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) from performing or promoting abortion services. President Bill Clinton rescinded the policy on Jan. 22, 1993, and on Jan. 22, 2001, President George W. Bush reenacted it. On Jan. 23, 2009, President Barack Obama issued a
Pro-choice symbol
(Click to enlarge image)
A coat-hanger is a frequently used symbol for abortion rights
Source: "Celebrating 25 Years of Decriminalized Abortion in Canada, gender-focus.com,
Jan. 26, 2013
memorandum again rescinding the policy, stating that its conditions "undermined efforts to promote safe and effective voluntary family planning programs in foreign nations." [61]

On June 29, 1992 the US Supreme Court case Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey [57] (5-4) upheld the constitutional right to have an abortion, but it abandoned the "rigid trimester framework" outlined in Roe v. Wade and adopted a less restrictive standard for state regulations. The decision allowed states to impose waiting periods before a woman can obtain an abortion, allowed some legislative interference in the first trimester in the interests' of a woman's health, and permitted parental consent requirements for minors seeking abortions. [107] The Court ruled that none of these conditions imposed an "undue burden" upon women seeking abortions, but some pro-choice advocates warned that Roe v. Wade had been significantly weakened and that states would limit abortion access. [108] [109]

On Nov. 5, 2003, after passing in the US House of Representatives (281-142) and the US Senate (64-34), the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 [58] was signed into law by President George W. Bush. This federal legislation banned physicians from providing intact dilation and extraction (aka "partial-birth" abortion), a late-term (after 21 weeks gestation) method which accounted for 0.17% of abortion procedures in 2000. [43] The act defines a "partial-birth abortion" as "an abortion in which the [provider] deliberately and intentionally vaginally delivers a living fetus until... the entire fetal head is outside the body of the mother, or... any part of the fetal trunk past the navel is outside the body of the mother, for the purpose of performing an overt act that the person knows will kill the partially delivered living fetus." Pro-choice advocates challenged the constitutionality of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003; however, the Apr. 18, 2007 US Supreme Court case Gonzales v. Carhart/Gonzales v. Planned Parenthood [59] upheld the act, ruling 5-4 that it did not impose "an undue burden on a woman's right to abortion."

The topic of abortion was raised during the 2009-2010 US Congress health care debate. Some pro-life advocates said the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act would allow federal funding for abortions, a claim denied by abortion rights supporters. To ensure passage of the bill, President Obama signed an executive order "to establish an adequate enforcement mechanism to ensure that Federal funds are not used for abortion services," re-affirming Hyde Amendment restrictions and extending them to cover the newly created health insurance exchanges. [63]

State Restrictions

State restrictions on abortion access increased sharply after the 2010 midterm elections, in which Republicans gained at least 675 state legislative seats, the biggest gain made by any party in state legislatures since 1938. [162] The number of new restrictions rose from 23 in 2010 to 92 in 2011, and more restrictions (205) were enacted between 2011 and 2013 than were adopted during the whole previous decade (189 between 2001 and 2010). [103] [104] [105] In 2014, states enacted 26 new restrictions. [163] As of Jan. 2015, 57% of women live in states the Guttmacher Institute considers either "hostile" or "extremely hostile" to abortion rights, based on the number of restrictions they impose (four or five kinds of restrictions equals "hostile," while six or more equals "extremely hostile.") [163]

Pro-life sign
(Click to enlarge image)
Anti-abortion sign and wooden crosses placed outside the Whole Woman's Health abortion provider in McAllen, TX
Source: "Anti-Abortion Groups Push New Round of Abortion Rules in Texas," nytimes.com, Nov. 22, 2012
On Apr. 13, 2010, Nebraska's Republican Governor Dave Heineman signed a law banning abortions at or after 20 weeks gestation on the theory that a fetus can feel pain by that time. The law was the first in the United States to restrict abortions based on fetal pain. [47] After Nebraska's law was passed, several other states enacted similar laws. [101] On Mar. 6, 2013, Idaho's fetal pain law was the first to be struck down by a federal court. On Jan. 13, 2014, the US Supreme Court declined to review a similar ruling made against Arizona's fetal pain law. [102]

On Apr. 27, 2010, the Oklahoma legislature signed a law requiring pregnant women seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound and listen to a detailed description of the fetus's heart, limbs, and organs. While other states had passed laws requiring women to undergo an ultrasound before having an abortion, Oklahoma's law was the first that required women to watch the monitor and listen to a detailed description of the fetus. [48]

On Mar. 29, 2011, Arizona became the first state to criminalize abortions based on the sex or race of a fetus. The bill, signed into law by Republican Governor Jan Brewer, was opposed by Democrats, who said there was little evidence that sex- or race-selection abortions were taking place in the state. [64] In Mar. 2013, North Dakota outlawed abortions as early as six weeks after a woman's last menstrual period, when a fetal heartbeat can first be detected. Like several other state abortion laws, the North Dakota law has been stayed by a federal judge, pending appeals. [110]

As of Mar. 27, 2014, one third of Texas' abortion clinics were forced to close following the enactment of a controversial 2013 Texas law that requires doctors performing abortions to have hospital admitting privileges, among other restrictions. Six abortion providers were expected to remain open in Texas by the end of 2014, down from 36 before the law was passed. The Texas law gained extra media attention when state Senator Wendy Davis (D) tried unsuccessfully to block the bill with an 11-hour filibuster in June 2013. [111] [112]

Abortion Statistics

From Roe v. Wade through 2011, nearly 53 million legal abortions were performed in the United States – an average of about 1.4 million abortions per year.
[84] One out of five pregnancies (excluding miscarriages) end in abortion, and each year 1.7% of women aged 15-44 have an abortion. At 2008 abortion rates, one in ten US women will have an abortion before age 20, one in four by 30, and three in ten by 45. 18% of women having an abortion are teenagers, while most women having abortions are in their 20s: 33% aged 20-24 and 24% aged 25-29. [13] The US abortion rate fell 29% between 1990 and 2005, from 27.4 to 19.4 abortions per 1,000 women of childbearing age, before leveling out from 2005-2008, according to a Mar. 2011 Guttmacher Institute study. [65] Between 2008 and 2011, the abortion rate dropped again by 13% to its lowest point since 1973: 17 abortions for every 1,000 women. Pro-choice supporters credited an increased use of new birth control methods such as Mirena (an intra-uterine device that can last for several years) as one of the reasons for the decline. Pro-life groups credited an increase in anti-abortion laws at the state level amongst other factors, although abortion rates dropped faster than the national average in some states that had not enacted abortion restrictions, such as Illinois, where the rate dropped by 18%. [13] [85] [121]

World's Abortion Laws map
(Click to enlarge image)
The world’s abortion laws as of Sep. 2011
Source: Center for Reproductive Rights,
www.reproductiverights.org, Sep. 2011
There were 1,720 abortion providers and 839 abortion clinics (facilities where 50% or more patient visits are for abortion services) in the United States in 2011. However, 89% of US counties did not provide abortion services, with 38% of women living in those counties.
[124] From 2011 to 2013, at least 73 abortion clinics closed. About half of those clinics were forced to close as a result of new state laws restricting abortion, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. [125] However, the number of abortion providers has been declining since 1984, after it reached a peak of 2,908 providers in 1982. Pro-choice advocates believe increased clinic violence has contributed to this downward trend. According to the National Abortion Federation, a professional association of abortion practitioners, at least 222 arson attacks/bombings were committed against abortion providers between 1977 and 2012, with at least another 99 attempted arson attacks/bombings. Additionally, at least eight abortion providers were murdered during that time and there were at least 17 attempted murders of clinic staff and physicians. [99] Mainstream pro-life leaders and organizations have publicly denounced violence committed against abortion providers and clinics. [98]
Video Gallery

CBS Evening News broadcast hosted by Walter Cronkite, reporting on the Roe v. Wade decision.
Source: "1973 CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite (1/22/73)," YouTube.com, Jan. 22, 1973
PBS NewsHour report on the increase in state abortion restrictions, featuring a debate between Charmaine Yoest, President of Americans United for Life, and Ilyse Hogue, President and CEO of NARAL Pro-Choice America.
Source: "Five States Move to Restrict Access to Abortion Services," YouTube.com, Apr. 30, 2013
NARAL Pro-Choice America video commemorating the organization's 40th anniversary and reaffirming support for Roe v. Wade.
Source: "40 Years of NARAL Pro-Choice America," YouTube.com (accessed June 1, 2011)
Abortion commentary from Brit Hume, Senior Political Analyst for FOX News Channel, on the program Special Report.
Source: "Hume Reflects on the 41st Anniversary of Roe v. Wade," YouTube.com, Jan. 22, 2014

Notices for Abortion and Other ProCon.org Information (archived after 30 days)

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