In the dark ages before January 22, 1973, abortion was illegal in the United States. Never mind whether the mother’s health was in danger, or if the pregnancy was the result of rape, abortion was illegal. As a result the procedures were relegated to back rooms, unsanitary conditions and questionable practitioners.
Forty years to the day, the U.S. Supreme Court changed all of that. A woman now has the opportunity to have the procedure performed in a medical facility, by a trained practitioner and as a matter of choice. While the legality of abortion has been approved by the nation’s highest court, its morality remains a subject of heated discussion.
The Roe v. Wade decision held that a woman, with her doctor, could choose abortion early in her pregnancy without legal restriction. The court upheld the use of restrictions later in the pregnancy. This was all based on the right to privacy.
It all seems pretty simple, but just as in the days before Roe v. Wade the battle lines, and the arguments on both sides, remain the same. One side, referred to as Right to Lifers, hold that life begins at conception and it is morally unacceptable to take that life for any reason. On the other hand there is the Pro-Choice movement. The stand here is that no outside party has the right to tell a woman how she may, or may not control her body.
Largely the fight is defined along both religious and political party lines. Those seen as staunch supporters of religion are generally in the Right to Life camp, as are Republicans who have staked out the “religious right” as their turf. Pro-Choicers include the more liberal Democrats, women’s groups and a broad range of secular humanists. But even these definitions are flexible.
So why, after 40 years, is abortion still a hot issue? The Pro-Choice people would likely say that it’s a matter of protecting an individual’s rights. They would likely use the slippery slope argument to ask what rights would be the next to be taken away. The slippery slope could be cited by the Right to Life people. However, theirs might question that if it is alright to kill a 12 week old fetus, what would prevent the killing of a 36 week old fetus.
The Right to Life side of the coin will often say a nation’s morality is evidenced by how it treats its children. And killing defenseless, unborn children is as immoral as it gets. Therein lies part of their justification in seeking to get Roe v. Wade overturned.
As a rule, the Pro-Choice movement is just that, in favor of giving a woman a choice. One that is safe, medically proven and private. Pro-Choicers are not suggesting that in any instance should an abortion be mandatory. Rather, many recognize electing to undergo the procedure is a life-changing and difficult decision. But they want to protect a woman’s right to make and follow through on that decision.
In recent years the Right to Life movement has made headway in tightening restrictions through changes in state laws. And the debate continues to be heard as loud and as hard as ever. Will Roe v. Wade ever be overturned? That remains to be seen. But for now, a woman’s right to get the safe medical procedure known as an abortion is Constitutionally protected, and Americans will continue, as is their right, to differ on the issue and press the government to act in their interest.