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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

planning clinics.

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

were criminals.

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

diminish women.

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

be tolerated.

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

Osmo Ronkanen.

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

Health 1997;26(4):29-43.

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.

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