Some feel that contraception unfairly manipulates the workings of nature, and others that they cannot see the fetus as a child until the umbilical cord is cut. Abortion is one of the most emotionally powerful contemporary political controversies, evoking an almost religious passion on both sides of the issue. Motherhood is a powerful institution in American life, and both pro-choice forces (supporting women's right to choose) and pro-life forces (anti-abortion) see each other as an attack on the other.
Social Analysis strongly advocates the need for safe, legal, and affordable abortions. Approximately 1 million women had abortions annually when abortion was legalized in 1973, and abortion had become the leading cause of maternal death and maiming (40 deaths/100,000 abortions compared to 40 deaths/100,000 live births according to the National Action for the Abortion Rights League.) An estimated 9,000 rape victims become pregnant each year (FBI 1973); 100,000 cases of incest occur annually (National Center for Child Abuse and Neglect, 1978). Two-thirds of teenage pregnancies are unplanned because many do not have adequate access to contraception (NARAL). And the cost to the taxpayer of sponsoring a child on welfare is far greater than that of a Medicaid abortion. But the issue that arouses so much anger concerns the fetus' right to life - its status as a potential human being. Proponents of abortion generally take the position that conception is life and therefore abortion is murder and violates the rights of the unborn child, or that life has inherent value and abortion is murder because it destroys that value.
The Supreme Court ruled in 1973 that the fetus has no constitutional rights until the third trimester (24-28 weeks) as it is unable to function independently of the mother until then. Right-to-life advocates argue that because the fetus develops into a human being, it requires the same paternalistic protections that are extended to animals, children and other exploited and abused individuals. The fetus should be given the same constitutional rights as its mother.
Two arguments describe the problems of giving the fetus these equal rights. The first sees individual rights as products of a social doctrine. Animals and children are inevitably present in society and, to ensure that they remain active members of that society, they must be protected from exploitation by other members of society. Different political platforms defend different rights – the right to free health care, the right to minimal taxation – but all delimit the interaction of the individual within the group. A person's rights protect them from future harassment, but to actually have those rights, they must already be a member of the group that grants them those protections. An Australian cannot claim US rights until they are on US soil (or equivalent). He can be assured that he will receive many of these protections if he enters the United States. But the guarantee depends on its entry into American territory. Likewise, until the fetus is actually, not potentially, a member of society, it has no constitutional rights.
It may be objected that the fetus in the womb is just as present in society as the child in the cradle, that both are equally members of society. Still, the term "member" certainly implies minimal interaction. The fetus responds to companionship from the outside world only through the mother. Strictly speaking, then, society is not legally responsible for the fetus, but for the mother.
This seems like a pretty tough position, but we can distinguish between the rights of the fetus and what the mother feels morally obligated to do. Imagine the following situation: Imagine coming home one day to find a stranger camped out in your living room, peacefully eating the ham sandwich you've saved for dinner. You'd be tempted to throw it out on the street. Almost everyone would agree that you had the right to throw him out.
But suppose he told you he couldn't live outside his house; Perhaps one of his enemies is waiting at his door. He also says he needs food, clothes and someone to talk to - he needs his presence most of the day. It is more and more demanding: you have to work less, earn less, give up racing.
Present a complication: your food is severely rationed, or perhaps your heating, at a single person's subsistence level. If the stranger stays with you, your life will be seriously in danger. You might get really upset, but if it gets to that point, I'd probably throw you out of the house. Again, most people would agree that you are entitled to this.
The difficulty arises, of course, when you could support and care for him, but choose not to. You might agree if the requirement is just for one night, but balk if it's for the rest of your life. Do rights then depend on the time factor? You could claim some moral responsibility towards another human being. But it's hard to say that he has the right to force you to support him. You are under no legal obligation to help an old lady cross the street.
A counter-argument explains that voluntary intercourse implies acceptance of a possible pregnancy - that you really invited the stranger, that you knew what to expect and that he now has the right to demand your help. But a failed birth control is like a broken window. If you go back to your suite and find that your stereo is missing because your window was easily opened, do you give the burglar the right to take it? The issue of abortion thus requires a clarification of the nature of the individual and his social rights. Although we feel a moral obligation to protect the unborn child, the fetus does not have the right to force us to do so. In the traditional dichotomy of church and state, restricting abortion means enshrining morality in law.
The most determined opposition comes from those who are absolutely convinced that conception is life. But belief in the inherent value of life is not a banal axiom: it professes a certain belief in the quality of existence beyond the moral injunction "Thou shalt not kill." It becomes easy to see as hypocritical those anti-abortion – particularly men – who condone extramarital (or even intramarital) sex but refuse to provide financial and emotional support for the child conceived through failed contraception. The only morally consistent life value position is to have sex only if one is willing to accept a child as a possible outcome and share in the child's quality of life. This is partly behind the Catholic ban on premarital sex.
As a personal teaching, few would blame those who follow him. But the pragmatist contradicts its application to society as a whole, since rape is the best case where a woman cannot freely choose to conceive. The limitation of state support to cases of rape, incest and probable maternal death suggests an interesting quality of life argument: this possibility is not absolute, but must be calculated pro rata. Because of the social fear of incest, this mother and her son would be spared a psychologically unbearable life. When the mother's life is in danger, we don't hear that the "child" potentially has many more happy and productive years of life than the mother. Rather, it is argued that the mother's life should not be sacrificed for the child, who would carry such a heavy burden.
However, an unwanted child can be born into a household with an equally heavy psychological toll. If the thesis of the possibility of life is based on understanding the intrinsic qualities of life, then abortion is a necessity and not a crime. Those who deny the right to abortion under all circumstances fail to see that their argument is weakened. Abortion offers a unique understanding of the "inherent goodness" of existence. It is morally irresponsible to think that a pregnancy should be carried to term, even if the mother dies, just because it is a matter of nature and beyond our control if we have the medical means to save the mother. The case involves a comparison of the value of life for mother and child: the final decision must assess the process of existence - the value of life as it is lived. The inherent value of life cannot beFirstconstant when making a choice between two lives.
Once the quality of life lived is introduced into the argument, we can say that abortion offers an opportunity to improve this quality. Motherhood is an extraordinarily special bond between mother and child, perhaps the most important relationship we will ever have. It takes tremendous emotional capacity, and raising children must be one of the most conscious decisions we make. Many of those who have abortions when young go on to have children when they are better equipped emotionally and financially. Contraception is at best 99% effective, and abortion must be possible to give women the freedom to create the ideal conditions for their children to grow.
According to a 1978 Clark University study, 83% of Massachusetts residents support women's suffrage. But the bent of recent legislation is clearly anti-abortion, the result of an extremely well organized and funded "pro-life" movement (which some associate with the New Right). At the federal level, the Hyde Amendment of 1976-7, an amendment to the HEW Labor Appropriations Act, stopped state-sponsored abortions except in cases of rape, incest, and "medically necessary" cases, which the Supreme Court defined as prolonged. . permanent physical or mental impairment of the mother's health.
In 1977, this clause cut 99% of all repayments (250,000 to 300,000 annually before the cut); That year, "medically necessary" was replaced by the probable death of the mother. Military women are similarly restricted by the Dornan Amendment; the Youth Amendment does not fund abortions for Peace Corps women. Employers can refuse to include abortion insurance in their workplace health plan as part of the beard change. 15 states asked for a constitutional convention to ban all abortion: 19 more would meet the required number of 34.
In Massachusetts, the Doyle Act would cut state funding in the same way as the Hyde Amendment. Formerly a budget amendment, it was approved and signed into law this year. The bill, challenged by MORAL (Organization for the Repeal of Massachusetts Abortion Laws), is subject to an injunction and pending review by the federal district court based on a Supreme Court ruling requiring all necessary medical services to be available. available to the poor. As of last May, hospitals are no longer required to perform abortions on demand, except in cases where the mother is likely to die. Legislation restricting abortions to full-service obstetric hospitals (instead of women's clinics), now before the Massachusetts House, could get women in trouble. Also under debate in Massachusetts is an "informed consent" law, which essentially amounts to harassment: the law requires that the spouse and parents be notified, with parental or juvenile court approval, of full information about the feasibility and child's appearance. , a description of the abortion technique, and a 24-hour waiting period after the "information session" before the abortion could be obtained.
There is a real danger that anti-abortion legislation will become increasingly restrictive. It already discriminates against women from the lower economic classes. The power of the pro-lifers should not be underestimated: they defeated 12 congressmen in 1980, including Morris Udall and Birch Bayh. We must educate our politicians about their pro-choice voters and reverse the further tightening of overly restrictive and discriminatory legislation.
Tanya Luhrmann '80-3 works for Abortion Rights Action Week.