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Abortion Debate in the United States

Abortion Debate in the United States

By Kanika Wadhwani

Abortion is the ending of a pregnancy by eviction or ejection of an embryo or fetus before it can sustain outside the uterus. An abortion that occurs without intervention is known as a miscarriage or spontaneous abortion. The unmodified word abortion generally refers to an induced abortion.

Abortion or termination of pregnancy has been one of the most contentious issues in the American society, in recent months; several US states have passed laws that restrict a woman’s access to abortion. Nine states have passed laws banning abortion early in pregnancy, often without exceptions for rape or incest. Alabama has criminalized abortion from the moment of fertilization, and Georgia’s “heartbeat” statute, outlawing abortion at six weeks, declared the “personhood” of the unborn child.

On the other side of the debate, supporters of abortion rights have also been active, with laws passed in New York, Vermont, Illinois and Maine that authorize the procedure later in pregnancy and allow medical professionals other than doctors to execute abortions.

Technically, the fate of abortion in United States was decided in the landmark judgment of Roe v. Wade in 1973 wherein, Supreme Court of United States recognized a Federal Constitution a Right to choose Abortion. Basically, there are two phases in the history of United States if it comes about abortion, first, before this case and second after the above landmark judgment.

What was Abortion debate like before Roe v. Wade?

For much of American legal history, states did not regulate abortion before “foetal quickening” – the point at which movement could be detected in the womb. By the mid-19th century, abortion had become a booming business and many women ending their pregnancies were married, white, and middle-class. In 1857, the recently formed American Medical Association (the AMA) began an ultimately successful campaign to criminalize abortion in all cases except when a woman’s life was at risk. By fighting to criminalize abortion, doctors could claim a moral edge over the competition. This campaign was a stunning success; by 1880, every state in America had introduced criminal abortion laws (they kept very narrow exception, when the woman’s life was endangered). But the reality of abortion in America differed from the letter of the law. Some doctors still performed abortions, despite the fact it was illegal to do so, and prosecutors enforced the laws unevenly and unpredictably.

What led to the Roe decision in 1973?

By the mid-1960s, a movement had begun to loosen American abortion laws. During the 1930s and 1940s, improvements in obstetric and gynecological care had made it hard for physicians to justify abortion as a means of saving a woman’s life. Convinced of the wrongful nature of abortion laws that made the procedure illegal even when women would suffer adverse health consequences by continuing with the pregnancy, some doctors demanded reform. In 1959, the American Law Institute (ALI), a group of legal experts, released a draft proposal that would make abortion legal in cases of foetal abnormality, rape or incest, or when there was a threat to the woman’s health.

States from California to Georgia began passing the ALI model law in the mid-1960s. But some doctors, worried that they would fall outside of the narrow ALI exceptions, still refused requests for abortion.

In mean time, antagonists of abortion – many of whom were tied to the Catholic Church – mounted a state-by-state campaign. To attract a more religiously diverse group of supporters, these activists began defining themselves as defenders of a right to life based on the US Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Those who supported repeal responded that the Constitution protected a right to choose abortion.

Constitutional developments encouraged those demanding repeal. In Griswold v Connecticut (1965), the Supreme Court struck down a Connecticut law prohibiting married couples from using birth control. The Court based its decision on a right to privacy that the majority believed was implied in the text of the Constitution: Griswold relied on the idea that the text of the American Constitution had “penumbras” – rights implied by the protections spelled out in the document. In 1972, in Eisenstadt v Baird, the Court invalidated a Massachusetts law allowing married, but not unmarried, people to purchase contraceptives.

And hence, the stage was all set for the precedent.

Actual Roe v. Wade Case

Roe began when Norma McCorvey, a 21-year-old woman from Texas, learned that she was pregnant with her third child. McCorvey wanted to end the pregnancy, and her friends advised her to claim she was raped (so that she could have an abortion). But Texas law did not allow for abortions in cases of rape or incest, and the illegal clinic that McCorvey hoped to use had closed. She eventually found her way to Sarah Weddington, a 25-year-old attorney who herself had had an abortion several years earlier. Weddington and another attorney, Linda Coffee, sought a declaration that Texas’s law – which allowed for abortion only if a woman’s life was at risk – was unconstitutional. A three-judge panel of a Texas district court held that the law was unconstitutional, and the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. The Court also took a second case, Doe v Bolton, which involved a version of the ALI model law. Issued in January 1973, the Roe v Wade judgment affirmed that access to safe and legal abortion was a constitutional right. It became a landmark case that effectively legalized abortion across the United States. ndeed, the Court held that in the first trimester, states had to leave abortion to the “medical judgment of the pregnant woman’s attending physician”. The Court developed the trimester framework: regulations were impermissible in the first trimester; while in the second trimester the government could regulate only to advance an interest in women’s health, and only after the viability of the foetus had been established could the government advance an interest in foetal life.

After the Roe’s Judgment

Since the final decades of the 20th century, abortion has become a major political issue. While politicians from both parties could at one time be found in the pro-life and pro-choice camps, the parties’ positions had diverged by 1980. Both Republicans (who generally oppose abortion) and Democrats (who generally favour a right to choose abortion) helped to polarize American debate even further.

Pro-lifers continued to chip away at Roe, passing laws that criminalized specific abortion techniques or required women to hear dubious statements about the dangers of abortion before deciding whether or not to proceed. Pro-choice groups, meanwhile, often pushed beyond protection for freedom, instead campaigning for reproductive justice – shorthand for a platform that would not only give women the power to decide when to have children, but also provide women with financial support, jobs, health care, and other resources to raise the children they wished to have.

Not only this, but also this debate is still continued in United States as its President, Donald Trump recently, outlined his "strongly pro-life" views on abortion amid controversy over strict new laws passed in several states. Mr. Trump spoke he was against abortion except in cases of rape, incest or a "serious health risk" to the mother.

Conclusively, though United States in its landmark precedent in 1973 decriminalized abortion, but, in its certain states still Abortion is a crime, and till now debates are being continued in this regard. In my view this should be a female’s innate right and therefore should not be criminalized as its about her body, her capacity to bear because it is she who has to bear the child in her womb besides has to nurture the baby. So, it should only be hers decision because if she is forced to carry a baby than there are probabilities that the child may face abnormalities whether physical or emotional, thus for the future it is better to let woman decide.

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