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Abortion Essay, Research Paper

Abortion: Whose choice?

Abortion in today’s society has become very political. You are either pro-choice or pro-life, and there doesn’t seem to be a happy medium. As we look at abortion and research its history, should it remain legal in the United States, or should it be outlawed to reduce the ever growing rate of abortion. A choice should continue to exist but the emphasis needs to be placed on education of the parties involved.

James C. Mohr takes a good look at abortion in his book Abortion in America. He takes us back in history to the 1800s so we can understand how the practice and legalization of abortion has changed over the year. In the absence of any legislation whatsoever on the subject of abortion in the U.S. in 1800, the legal status of the practice was governed by the traditional British common law as interpreted by the local courts of new American states. For centuries prior to 1800 the key to the common law’s attitude towards abortion had been a phenomenon associated with normal gestation as quickening. Quickening was the first perception of fetal movement by the pregnant woman herself. Quickening generally occurred during the mid-point of gestation, late in the fourth or early in the fifth month, though it would and still does vary a good deal from one woman to another (pg.3).

The common law did not formally recognize the existence of a fetus in criminal cases until it had quickened. After quickening, the expulsion and destruction of the fetus without due case was considered a crime, because the fetus itself had manifested some semi-balance of a separate existence: the ability to move (pg3).

The even more controversial question: Is the fetus alive? Has been at the forefront of the debate. Medically, the procedure of removing a blockage was the same as those for inducing an early abortion. Not until the obstruction moved would either a physician or a woman regardless of their suspicions be completely certain that it was a “natural” blockage-a pregnancy-rather than a potentially dangerous situation. Morally, the question of whether or not the fetus was “alive” had been the subject of philosophical and religious debate among honest people for 5,000 years.

Single pregnant woman used abortion as a way to avoid shame. The practice of aborting unwanted pregnancies was, if not common, almost certainly not rare in the United States. A knowledge of various drugs, potions and techniques was available from home medical guides, from health books for woman, for mid-wives and irregular practitioners, and trained physicians. Substantial evidence suggest that many American women sought abortions, tried the standard techniques of the day, and no doubt succeeded some proportions of the time in terminating unwanted pregnancies. Moreover, this practice was neither morally nor legally wrong in the vast majority of Americans, provided it was accomplished before quickening.

The important early court cases all involved single woman trying to terminate illegitimate pregnancies. As late as 1834 it was axiomatic to a medical student at the University of Maryland, who wrote his dissertation on spontaneous abortion, that woman who feigned dysmenorrhea in order to obtain abortions from physicians were woman who had been involved in illicit intercourse. Cases reported in the medical journals prior to 1840 concern the same percentages (16,17).

Samuel Jennings quoted Dr. Denman, one of the leading obstetrical writers of the day to reassure his readers, “In abortions, dreadful and alarming as they are sometimes it is great comfort to know that they are almost universally void of danger either from hemorrhage, or any other account.” Again, the context was spontaneous by the then induced abortion, but in a book with such explicit suggestions for relieving the common cold, woman could easily conclude that the health risks involved in bringing on an abortion were relatively low, or at least not much worse than childbirth itself in 1808, when Jennings wrote in his book (18).

Mohr continues with the first dealings with the legal statues on abortion in the United States. The earliest laws that dealt specifically with the legal status of abortion in the U.S. were inserted into Americans criminal code books between 1821 and 1841. Ten states and one federal territory during that period enacted legislation that for the first time made certain kinds of abortions explicit statute offenses rather than leaving the common law to deal with them. The legislation 13, 14 and 15 read.

Every person who shall, willfully and maliciously, administer to, or cause to be administered to, or taken by, any person or persons, any deadly poisons, or other noxious and destructive substance, within an intention him/her/them, thereby to murder, or thereby to cause or procure the miscarriage of any woman, then being quick with child, and shall be thereof duly convicted, shall suffer imprisonment, in the newgate prison, during his natural life, or for such other terms as the court having cognizance of the offense shall determine (21).

Consequently, it is not surprising that the period was not one of vigorous anti-abortion activity in state legislation. One of the exceptions was Ohio. In 1834 legislators there made attempted abortion a misdemeanor without specifying any stage of gestation, and they made the death of either the woman or the fetus after quickening a felony (39,40),

Alabama enacted a major code revision during the 1840/1841 session of its legislature that made the abortion of “any pregnant woman” a statuate crime for the first time in that state, but pregnant meant quickened (40).

A code revision in Maine in 1984 made attempted abortion of any woman “pregnant with child” an offense, whether such child be quick or not.” Regardless of what method was used (41).

The first wave of abortion legislation in American history emerged from the struggles of both legislatures and physicians to control medical practice rather than from public pressures to deal with abortion per se. Every one of the laws passed between 1821 and 1841 punished only the “person” who administered the abortifacients or performed the operation; none punished the woman herself in any way. The laws were aimed, in other words, at regulating the activities of apothecaries and physicians, not at dissuading woman from seeking abortions (43).

The major increase in abortion in the U.S. start in the early 1840’s three key changes began to take place in the patterns of abortion in the United States. These changes profoundly effected the evolution of abortion policy for the next 40 years. First, abortion came out into the public view; by the mid-1840’s the fact that Americans practiced abortion was an obvious social reality, constantly visible for the population as a whole. The second overwhelming incident of abortion, according to the commentary observers began to rise in the early 1840’s and remained at high levels through the 1870’s. Abortion was no longer marginal practice whose incident probably approximated that of illegitimacy, but rather a wide spread social phenomenon during that period (46).

Third, the types of woman having recourse to abortion seem to change; the dramatic surge of abortion in the U.S. after 1840 was attributed not to the increase in illegitimacy or a decline in marital fidelity, but rather to the increase use of abortion by white, married, Protestants, native born woman of the mid and upper class who either wished to delay their child bearing or already had all the children they wanted (46).

The increased public visibility of abortion as stated by Mohr may be attributed largely to a process common enough in American history: commercializations. Several factors were involved in the commercialization of abortion, but the continued compensation for clients among members of the medical profession stood out because that compensation was so intense many marginal practitioners began in the early 1840’s to try and attract patients by advertising in popular press their willingness to treat the private ailments of woman in terms that everybody recognized as significantly their willing to provide abortion services (47).

During the 1840’s Americans also learned for the first time not only that many practitioners would provide abortion services, but that some practitioners had made the abortion business their chief livelihood indeed, abortion became one of the first specialties in American medical history.

The popular press began to make abortion more visible to the American people during the 1840’s not only in its advertisements, but also in its coverage of a number of sensational trials alleged to involve botched abortions and professional abortionists (47).

One indication that abortion rates probably jumped in the United States during the 1940’s and remained high for some 30 years thereafter was the increased visibility of the practice. By the 1950’s, then, commercialization had brought abortion into the public view in the United States, and the visibility it gained would effect the evolution of abortion policy in American State Legislatures. At the same time, a second key change was taking place: American woman began to practice abortion more frequently after 1840 then they had earlier in the century (50).

During the week of January 4, 1845, Boston Daily Times advertised Madame Restell’s Female Pills; Madame Drunette’s lunar pills which were sold as “a blessing to mothers . . . and although very mild and prompt in their operations, pregnant females should not use them, as they may invariably produce a miscarriage”: A second piece of evidence for high abortion rates for the period of was existent during that time of flourishing business and abortifacients medicine (53).

The East River Medical Association of New York obtained an affidavit form the Commissioner of Internal Revenue in 1871 declaring that a single manufacturer had produced so many packages of abortifacient pills “during the last twelve months” that 30,841 federal revenue stamps had been required of him(59).

Beginning in 1840 several Southern physicians drew attention to the fact that slave women used cotton root as a abortifacient, and they considered it both mild and effective. Although regular physicians never prescribed cotton root for any purpose in normal practice, druggists around the country were soon beginning to stock it. By the late 1850’s, according to the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal, cotton root had “become a very considerable article of sale” in New England pharmacies. In 1871 ” a druggist in extensive trade ” informed Van de Warker “that the sales of extract of cotton-wood had quadrupled in the last five years” (59).

Judging by advertisements in the German-language press in New York after the Civil War. Abortion was apparently on a commercialized and relatively open basis in the German community by then. Female specialists, quite candidly announced their willingness to provide for German women the services then touted so openly in the English-language press. Many practitioners offered abortifacient preparations for sale and several made less than subtle allusions to their willingness to operate. A Dr. Harrison, for example, invited German women to his office with the promise that” all menstrual obstructions, from whatever cause they might originate, will be removed in a few hours without risk or pain”(91).

Mohr advises us who was performing the abortions. Only the affluent, generally speaking. Could offer temptations that were worth the risk to a regular of being found out by his colleagues. The two groups of regulars most vulnerable to proffered bonuses for abortions were young men struggling to break into the viciously competitive laissez faire medical market of the 1840s and the 1850s and older practitioners losing their skills and their reputations during the 1860s and 1870s, when modern medicine took long strides forward and physicians unfamiliar with the new breakthroughs began to fall behind (95).

The founding of the American Medical Association in 1847 may be taken as the beginning of this long-term effort, the goals of which were not fully realized until the twentieth century.

Mohr leads us to believe that the physicians were launching a crusade against abortion for there own finical benefit. While the founding of the AMA did not instantly alter the situation, it did provide an organizational framework within which a concerted campaign for a particular policy might be coordinated on a larger scale than ever before. Ten years after its creation a young Boston physician decided to use that framework to launch an attack upon America’s ambiguous and permissive policies toward abortion (147-148).

The young physician was Horatio Robinson Storer, a specialist in obstetrics and gynecology. Storer, an activist who “kept things stirred up wherever he was, “sensed that his elders were growing restive about abortion and that the time was right for a professionally ambitious leaders to take advantage of the still unfocused opposition of regular physicians to abortion.

Horatio Storer laid the groundwork for the anti-abortion campaign he launched later in the year by writing influential physicians all around the country early in 1857 and inquiring about the abortion laws in each of their states (148-149).

Reactions around the country continued to bode well for the success of Storer’s national project. Still another prominent professor of obstetrics, Dr. Jesse Boring of the Atlanta Medical School, who was at the AMA meeting in 1857, when Storer called for action, came out publicly against the ” prevalent laxity of moral sentiment of this subject, as evidenced by the increasing frequency of induced abortions”(155).

Between 1860 and 1880 physicians all around the nation worked hard at the job of “educating up” the public attitude toward abortion in the U.S., and by the end of that period they had made some significant progress (171).

Public opinion is turned to make abortion illegal the popular press and church had joined with the leaders of the charge the physicians. Mohr continues to state that the anti-obscenity movement rose to prominence during the 1870sunder the leadership of Anthony Comstock, the well-known head of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice. In the 1873 Comstock persuaded Congress to pass ” and Act for the Suppression of Trade in and Circulation of, Obscene Literature and Articles of Immoral Use. ” As a result of that law, it became a federal offense to ?sell, or offer to sell, or?give away for offer to give away, or ?have in?possession with intent to sell or give away,?instrument, or other article of indecent or immoral nature, or any article or medicine?for causing abortion, except on a prescription of a physician in good standing, given in good faith?(196).

Under the law of 1873 Comstock himself became a special agent of the national government empowered to enforce the act’s provisions. In this capacity Comstock became the country’s best known pursuer of abortionists for the remainder of the 1870s.

In early spring of 1878 he finally succeed in arresting Madame Restell herself, after purchasing abortifacient preparations from her. The popular press trumpeted the arrest loudly, and when Madame Restell committed suicide on the day before her trial the story became an instant national even international, sensation. As a symbolic act, the Restell suicide of April 1878 may well have marked a turning point in public opinion in the United States (197).

The anti-abortion legislation begins Mohr tells us. Between 1860 and 1880 the regular physicians’ campaign against abortion in the Untied States produced the most important burst of anti-abortion legislation in the nation’s history. At least 40 anti-abortion statutes of various kinds were placed upon state and territorial law books during that period. Some 13 jurisdictions formally outlawed abortion for the first time, and at least 21 states revised their already existing statutes on the subject. More significantly, most of the legislation passed between 1860 and 1880 explicitly accepted the regulars’ assertions that the interruption of gestation at any point in a pregnancy should be crime and that ate state itself should try actively to restrict the practice of abortion (200).

Consequently, after four decades of rapid change, American abortion policy re-estabilized during the final two decades of the nineteenth century while legislative responses typical to the 1860s and 1870s wove themselves deeply into the fabric of American law. There they would remain through the first two thirds of the twentieth century (245).

The Roe vs. Wade case is told by Mohr so bring up to today’s law in practice. A single, pregnant woman, assigned the pseudonym Jane Roe by the court to protect her privacy, took action in 1970 against Henry Wade, the district attorney of Dallas County, Texas, where Jane Roe lived, in an effort to prevent him from enforcing the Texas state anti-abortion statute on the grounds that it violated the United States Constitution. The law that Jane Roe wanted struck down dated form the 1850s.

After hearing the case argued in December 1971, and reargued in October 1972, the Supreme Court finally rendered its decision in January 1973. Jane Roe “won” the case in a technical sense, for the majority ruled that Texas anti-abortion sense, for the majority ruled that the Texas anti-abortion statue was indeed unconstitutional as drafted. Moreover, all similar statues then in effect in other stated were likewise declared to be unconstitutional. By itself this portion of the decision would not only have undone all that the physicians’ crusade of the nineteenth century had brought about, but would have left the nation with an abortion policy considerably more tolerant of the practice than the common law had been two hundred years earlier (247).

Roger Rosenblatt gives us his opinion on abortion.

My stand on abortion is conventionally. Pro-choice: Every woman in America, in my opinion, ought to have the legal right to choose an abortion. The belief that a clear-cut intellectual or moral compromise is available to the issue, is wrong. If abortion is considered murder, how can it ever be entirely acceptable to those who oppose it, even though they may allow certain exceptions to the rule. If it’s not considered murder, on what grounds would those who favor abortion rights want them restricted?

Nor do I believe that the question of when life begins, over which there is so much scientific and spiritual haggling, is pertinent or useful to the debate. I would be perfectly willing to concede that life begins at conception, yet I would still advocate a system in which the killing of an unborn child is preferable to forcing an unwilling mother to give birth.

And I do not believe that community rights in this matter are equal to individual rights. While the rights of the community are not to be ignored, the final decision should be the individual woman’s no matter how misguided she may be thought or how strongly the rest of society disapproves (1-10).

Dr. Hodgson said that she did not think abortion constituted killing at all. The obstetrician said, ” I think I have done a humane service for lots of women in this world. I don’t look upon (abortion) as killing, because I do not consider that any embryo or fetus is a person. It is a potential person “(24).

The killer of women is illegal abortion and that is why women should have a choice. The question is, when you have a woman’s life and her needs and her health on the one side and the developing fetus on the other, a choice has to be made. And the choice should be left to the individual.

Father McBrien stated his personal and religious morality forbade his approving of abortion in any situation, but even in this he was willing to accept his role as an American citizen, which requires people to live with several things they dislike (28).

Brian Elroy Mc, tells us the abortion stance of most Christians is one sided. In reality there is merely evidence that most people will listen to their pastors and to Christian radio broadcaster. They merely listen to others who quote a verse to support a view they heard from someone else. By definition, most Christians, rather than reading for themselves, follow the beliefs of a Culture of Christianity – and many of the Culture’s beliefs are based on one or two verses of the Bible, often taken out of context (5-1).

Lets take a look at what God has to say in the Bible. The commandment against murder. Psalms 139:13-16, has been used by Christians and taken out of text to serve the point of ant-abortion. These are used to try and state that the fetus is a human and that abortion is murder. A lot of verses in the Bible can be taken out of text Palms 10:1, could be used to state that God has abandoned us. Also Job 10:18-19, could be used to state that the Bible supports ending a pregnancy in the face of a life without quality.

According to Elroy, it’s time to stop the one-sided view of abortion being proclaimed by Christian leaders. These leaders do not despite their claims have a biblical mandate for their theologies. It is time to stop preaching that the Bible contain and undeniable doctrine against abortion doctors and upon women who have abortions, especially when it’s done in the name of a God who has no written such condemnations in his Bible. It is time to stop, because the act of making a judgement against people in God’s name, when God is not behind the judging, is nothing short of claiming that our own beliefs are more important than God’s. We must stop, because if we don’t, then indeed the very type of theological argument being used against abortion can be turned around and used to proclaim that abortion is biblical (18).

Effects on an abortion and their ridicule that goes along with it can leave scars that can last a lifetime. These are a lists of questions asked to an unnamed woman who has become a victim of the anti-abortion propaganda. Lets take a look at how her decision to have an abortion has changed her life.

Q: Why did you have an abortion?

A: I was too young, and pressured by parents to have an abortion as their religion did not accept premarital intercourse and the child would be considered illegitamate, even if she and the father were to have wed.

Q: How does it effect you now?

A: I’ve got emotional scars, it’s not a quick fix, it’s a burden that you carry for life. I still think about it.

Q: How often do you think about it?

A: Once or twice a month, especially in June, which was the month I had it done.

Q: Do you remember the day?

A: Yes, June 7th, 1988.

Q: How did you feel right after it was over?

A: Well, after I woke up and came around, I felt like a huge burden had been lifted off my shoulders and I remember my Dad saying “That’s my Tiger, she’s back” I was back to my old bubbly self, or so I thought.

Q: What kind of advice would you give a young girl in the same situation?

A: Think long and hard, you will always have a sense of doubt, did I make the right choice or I wonder if I didn’t.

Q: Which way would you lean towards in trying to direct this girl in the same situation?

A: I would not influence her, it’s her decision. I would tell her my story and how it’s effected my life.

Q: When did you realize it would never go away?

A: When my current child was born.

Q: Did you think it was a fetus or a live child?

A: A fetus, because there was no heart beat.

Q: Are you going to tell your children about it to change their views on premarital sex?

A: When they are old enough to understand, yes, so they won’t be pressured into the same situation.

The suffering caused by abortion can be about many different feelings, such as anger, grief, guilt, shame and spiritual injury. The interview with the victim has clearly shown that these feelings may last a lifetime. This is even more reason why education before conception, pre and post abortion is so important. There’s a book called Peace after Abortion that can help heal some of these feelings she might be experiencing.

A word about Pro-Life from Rosenblatt, the effort to reduce the necessity of abortion, which is the same as an effort to improve much that needs improving in this country, is to choose life as whole-heartedly as it is to be “Pro-life.” By such an effort one is choosing life for millions who do not want to be, who do not deserve to be, forever hobbled by an accident, a mistake, or by miseducation. By such an effort one is also choosing a different sort of like for the country as a whole-a more sympathetic life in which we acknowledge, privileged and unprivileged alike, that we have the same doubts and mysteries and hopes for one another (179).

We’ve got to eliminate the cause of unwanted pregnancies, and if we can work together, liberals and conservatives, religious people and non religious people alike, to eliminate the reasons why young women feel that they must have an abortion when they don’t want to have an abortion, then we can, together, do something constructive and stop this useless and endless debate about whether there’s a baby there with a personality or whether or not it’s simply a woman’s right. It is right that we have the choice, but it would be better if we did not have to make it.


Work Cited

Elroy, Brian Mc. The Bible and Abortion, Why abortion is Biblical


The Every day Bible, ( New century version ) 87-51673.

Peace after abortion, an internet site that offers help for women.


Mohr, James C. Abortion in America. New York: Oxford university Press,1978.

Rosenblatt, Roger. Life Itself Abortion in American Mind. New York: Random House,1992.

Unnamed Interview. A women who experienced abortion first hand.

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