In England, the issue of abortion was dealt with on the basis of mental and physical health, a medical basis. But in America, abortion has been dealt with on a right to choice basis. In America, the issue of abortion is about the rights of women, their right to make decisions about their lives against the intervention.
Before 1870, abortion in state was largely legal but, state after state begun enacting legislation making it illegal. The spirit of the Ellenboroughs Act was introduced to the laws of many states and by then 1950’s a large majority of the states banned abortions unless performed for the sole purposes of saving the life of the mother. Then in 1973, the American Supreme Court handed down the decision known as Roe-V-Wade.
John Roe was a pool, unmarried, pregnant woman, who wanted to have an abortion. But the Texas criminal statutes forbade it. She went to court seeking for an injunction against Henry Wade from the district attorney to forbid him from enforcing the statutes against her on the grounds that they were unconstitutional. She argued she had a right to choose whether to have a baby or not.
The Texas District Court ruled in her favor and declared that her right to choose whether to have children or not was protected under the American constitution and the Texas Criminal Abortion statues were unconstitutional for being vague and broad in their prohibition.
The case went up to the Supreme Court which held that:
a) States have a legitimate interest in seeing to it that abortions are performed under circumstances that insure maximum safety for the patient.
b) The right to privacy encompasses a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.
c)A woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy is not absolute and may to some extent be limited by the states legitimate interest in safe guarding the woman’s health in maintaining proper medical standards and in protecting potential proper human life.
d)Prior to the end of the first trimester of pregnancy, the state may not interfere with or regulate an attending physicians decision reached in consultation with his patient, that the pregnancy should be terminated.
e)From and after the end of the first trimester, and until the point in time when the foetus becomes viable, the state may regulate the abortion procedure only to the extent that such regulation relates to the preservation and protection of maternal health.
f) From and after the point in time when the foetus becomes viable, the state may prohibit abortion altogether.
The decision in Roe V Wade was one made from a freedom of choice basis. In it, the court was striking a balance between the freedom of the woman to determine what to do with her body and any other pregnancy therein and the right of the government to interfere with her body and any pregnancy therein. The supreme court was saying that a woman has a right to deal with her body in any way she pleases in so far as that was safe. From the moment it begins to become unsafe, then the government acquires a right to regulate that dealing in order to fulfil its obligation to safeguard the life of that woman and if possible the potential human life.
Over the last twenty two years that this decision has been in existence, the right to abort in America has become as unalienable as the freedom of religion. It remains controversial as it was when pronounced, and in several instances, has resulted in violent demonstrations and conflicts between pro and anti – abortionists.
Whichever side of the abortion debate one may take, the bottom line of the issue is; what right does grant us, the government, or the church for that matter, have to sit in judgement about what a woman decides to do with her body? What right do we have to charge her in court of law for terminating her pregnancy that only? Our right, if any can only be found in our own moral bigotry.
Of all things that we as a society allow to go on in our midst, abortion is one of those that concerns us least due to its essentially personal nature. As a society, we allow prostitution, lots and lots of it. We allow people to worship what and who they please, even the devil himself. We allow all drinking and gambling, however excessive and destructive. We allow almost everything so long as it does not hurt the next person. But when it comes to abortion, we are so righteous that we cannot stand the thought of a terminated pregnancy.
On that basis alone, the state would have no justification to legislate on abortion. Such legislation can only be based on the false presumption that the government is the spiritual judge of what is right and wrong. The God – anointed monitor of moral standards in society. The reality is that governments are usually more immoral than all the citizens put together.
The legislation could also be based on the false presumption that the government has a right to protect unborn foetus. This right, of course, would mean a derogation of the right of the woman over the pregnancy. By natural extension or reason, the government would have a right to interfere with how the woman handles the pregnancy, whether she drinks or smokes, whether the child will be delivered by natural birth or surgery, whether the woman should cease working after eight months e.t.c. If the government has a right to prohibit the abortion of the foetus, then it has the right to insist on how the foetus is dealt with. A right of the government to insist that a pregnant woman must give birth to that foetus is a right over the woman, her pregnancy, her reproductive systems and her entire future life.
On a totalitarian basis, it is a waste of time and in fact a danger to illegalise abortion because it will never end and will continue existing dangerously. An article by the International Planned Parenthood Federation states: “Abortion is never an easy decision but women have been making that choice for thousands of years, for many good years. Whenever society has sought to outlaw abortions, it has only driven them to back alleys, where they become dangerous, expensive and humiliating. For this reason, women and men fought for and achieved women’s right to make their own decision about abortions.”
But it is best summed up by the words of an American woman who narrated her experience with abortion. “I have been married for 35 years. I am a mother of five children, a grandmother of three. In the mid – 1950, I was brutally raped and left for the dead. I later discovered I was pregnant. I was horrified. I would not have that child. Our family doctor could not help. An abortion could have cost me and him 20 years in prison. I tried home remedies – like scalding myself and falling downstairs – but they did not work. Finally, I found a local abortionist. I will always remember walking up those dark stairs. The incredible filth. The man had a glass of whiskey on one hand and a knife in the other. The pain was the worst I have ever felt, but the humiliation was even worse. Haemorrhage and hospitalization followed. I thought I would never live with my family again. I had no choice but I resent what I had to go through to terminate the pregnancy. And I resent people who now say that women should be forced to endure such experience.”