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Abortion, in a technical sense, is any expulsion of the embryo or fetus from the womb before it is able to survive independently. In most non-medical contexts it refers to a range of medical procedures used to deliberately terminate a pregnancy. This article focuses on this debate about the legality of induced abortion, specifically within modern "Western" culture.
Whether and to what extent induced abortion should be encouraged, permitted, or discouraged is a social issue that has long divided theologians, philosophers, and legislators. In most parts of the world these issues continue to be debated, especially over what specific legal limits should be placed on abortion throughout the pregnancy, how late into a pregnancy induced abortions are legal, and what rights minors have to access abortions.
The debate about the legality of abortion generally divides into two camps. People who believe that abortion should be legal (sometimes with exceptions) are most often called "pro-choice" or "pro-abortion", and are often called "anti-life" by their opposition. People who believe that abortion should be illegal (sometimes with exceptions) are most often called "pro-life" or "anti-abortion", and are often called "anti-choice" by their opposition.
It is likely that the desire to terminate a pregnancy has been around as long as women have understood the cause of pregnancy, basic anatomy, and basic herbalism. It is known that every culture studied has some form of abortifacient, or at least something they believed to be and accepted as an abortifacient. The first recorded cases of the use of abortifacient are from Egypt, 1500 BCE. Chinese writings from 700 BCE contain lists of herbs that will end a pregnancy, as well as several references in Chinese folklore to centuries-old practices; both suggest the knowledge for ending pregnancies goes back 5000 years. The Old Testament says abortion or killing of a child under 5 is less serious than murder. The father of the child or fetus should be compensated (not the mother). The compensation is higher if a boy is killed than if a girl is killed. Aristotle, the Jewish Midrush, and 1st century Christian texts discuss the moral aspect regarding how far into a pregnancy it was acceptable to have abortions, and when not. The most common conclusion from antiquity (and one that is generally shared by most people today) found among "medical" people, theologians and legislators was that before there was appreciable movement, (40 days to 3 months, depending on the culture in question) abortion was considered to be an acceptable choice for women.
There are two types of abortion performed by the medical establishment. "Medical" abortion, which is the administering of two drugs over several days to cause the uterus to expel the fetus, and surgical abortion which manually removes the fetus from the mother. Medical abortions must be done within 50 days of conception, obviously limiting its use to first term abortions. In the US, 17% of abortions are "medical". In Europe and the UK, the percentage of medical abortions ranges from 50 to 75%. Surgical abortions are the only method which can end a pregnancy in the second trimester or later, and include dilation and curettage, dilation and evacuation, and intact dilation and extraction (often referred to in U.S. politics by the emotionally-charged buzzword "partial-birth abortion") .
Legality and morality
The morality and legality of abortion are hotly contested issues, certainly within the United States but also across many countries of the world.
Generally, debate will focus on when life starts, whether rape or incest or other complications justify abortion, and the competing interests of the woman and/or her spouse (or more), and the baby.
Effective response to the Zika virus is compromised in the United States because Republicans are reluctant to fund organisations like Planned Parenthood to do management and screening. Also Republicans do not like abortions as an option in the case of severely affected and disabled fetuses.
Most recently, Ohio lawmakers tried to pass a bill that would criminalise not reimplanting an ectopic pregnancy in the woman's womb, despite doctors stating that this procedure was 'impossible'. Dr. Daniel Grossman described the idea as 'pure science fiction'. Ohio obstetrician and gynecologist Dr. David Hackney posted on Twitter, saying “I don’t believe I’m typing this again but, that’s impossible. We’ll all be going to jail”.
Reasons women have abortions
There are so many reasons women decide to have an abortion that it is difficult to know them all, and of course these reasons can vary among different countries and different groups. Most anti-abortion people don't take the time appreciating the reasons behind abortion, of course.
A 2004 survey on 1,209 U.S. women who had abortions showed that their main reasons were the following:
- 74% said that having a baby would dramatically change my life, because would interfere with education (38%), would interfere with job/employment/career (38%), or have other children or dependents (32%).
- 73% said that can't afford a baby now, because unmarried (42%), student or planning to study (34%), or can't afford a baby and child care (28%).
- 48% said that don't want to be a single mother or having relationship problems, because not sure about relationship (19%), Partner and I can't or don't want to get married (12%), not in a relationship right now (11%), relationship or marriage may break up soon (11%), or husband or partner is abusive to me or my children (2%).
- 38% said that have completed my childbearing.
- 32% said that not ready for a(nother) child.
- 25% said that don't want people to know I had sex or got pregnant.
- 14% said that husband or partner wants me to have an abortion.
- 13% claimed possible problems affecting the health of the fetus.
- 12% said physical problem with my health.
- 6% said that parents want me to have an abortion.
- 1% said was a victim of rape.
- <0.5% said that became pregnant as a result of incest.
Percentages overlap because of multiple reasons.
It is known that abortifacients[note 1] were known in the ancient Middle East so it is likely they existed in ancient Israel. Yet neither the Torah, nor the Bible, as it developed over history mentions the practice. Only through interpretation can any link be drawn.
'Pro-life' groups cite the numerous injunctions against murder in both the New and Old Testaments, and argue that this forbids abortion — after all, the foetus was not convicted in a fair trial (it is not judicial execution, which many pro-life conservatives support), and it is not an act of war (under which circumstances most Christians might accept killing), and thus it is murder. With the minimum age at which a foetus can survive outside its mother being pushed back further and further, in some cases past cut-off dates for abortion, such groups thus argue that foetuses are being aborted that could survive on their own (albeit with medical help) — to abort them, therefore, is murder, as mentioned above, and is Biblically prohibited. There is also a tenuous argument for distinct personhood before birth in Jeremiah 1:5 which states that, "before I formed you in the womb I chose you"; this is commonly interpreted by pro-life groups as implying separate existence before birth, but, given the context, it is just as likely to refer to divine foreknowledge. (Though wouldn't "before I formed you" imply personhood before conception?)
An argument has developed, on the other hand, that the Bible attaches less 'personhood' to foetuses and very young children. Exodus 21:22, a mere ten verses after the above injunction against murder, states that, if a man hits a woman, causing a miscarriage or premature birth, but no serious injury, he should be subject to a court-mediated fine from the woman's husband. If this was the case, then the act of causing a miscarriage could not be construed as 'murder' (since compensation was not biblically allowed for murder). This, while relying on a fair amount of extrapolation beyond the text itself, would seem to justify abortion, as it does not involve the taking of a human life. Furthermore, Numbers 5:11-31 seems to outline a priest-administered test for unfaithfulness, by administering an abortifacient, 'bitter water', that would show if a woman had conceived (presumably out of wedlock).
There is also some precedent for divinely caused abortions: Hosea 9:11-16 (in which Hosea prays for God to cause Ephraim's women to miscarry). However, there is evidence that the early Christians taught against abortion.
The Unitarian Universalist Church strongly supports abortion rights.
Wiccans similarly have varying views on the issue, with no set precedent.
It seems that the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, known as Pastafarianism, takes no formal position.
Cthulhu worshippers promise that the Great Old One will treat all fetuses equally when he rises from his sleep to eat humankind.
Furthermore, there are claims that food and soft drink companies (Pepsi is usually the target) are using aborted fetuses as ingredients. This scare led to a bill proposed in Oklahoma in 2012 to ban the use of aborted fetuses as ingredients in food products. This is also false, of course. The claim comes from the fact that a company that produces additives, Senomyx, is experimenting with HEK 293 cells, which were derived from an aborted fetus in the 1970s.
Not caring about facts, Oklahoma State Senator Ralph Shortey introduced a bill that would make it illegal to use aborted fetuses in "consumables". Why? "I heard about it somewhere on the internet, that some companies were using aborted fetuses in food, and they had to be stopped". He did clarify on the floor, that it was "more complex than that", though his timing seems to suggest he didn't know the first article he found was a serious misrepresentation of the truth.
- Barnett Slepian, doctor
- Birth control
- Circumventing Roe v. Wade
- Crisis pregnancy center
- Evidence linking abortion to breast cancer
- Fetal pain
- Horton Hears a Who!
- Intact dilation and extraction
- In-utero harm
- Moral panic
- Spontaneous abortion in humans
- Thomas Olmsted
- Abortion Arguments - Side by side
Abortion is an important and emotional topic. Some of our RationalWikians have some things to say you might want to read. Note that they do not necessarily reflect the views of the community as a whole.
- An evaluation of some takes on the subject
- Essay:Where do you fall in the abortion debate? It's RW user against RW user.
- One editor's opposition to abortion explained
More abortion-related essays can be found here.
- The Abortion Debate on Riyarchy (Collaborative argument map for outlining and ending the abortion debate)
- Aspects of Abortion : a generally good start on how, why, and what happens - worthwhile read for anyone considering abortion, talking to anti-abortion types, or just curious about the social, emotional, and medical aspect of abortion. Written by Warren Hern.
- Abortion Policies: A Global Review
- MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: Abortion
- A very personal account from a Canadian abortion doctor of why he performs abortions despite murder attempts.
- 45 Million Voices - stories of abortion
- The Only Moral Abortion Is My Abortion
- I'm Totally Psyched About This Abortion! on The Onion. (Note to our Fundamentalist readers: The Onion is a parody site.)
- See the Wikipedia article on Scientology and abortion.
- Not necessarily effective procedures, but ones everyone understood had the intent if not effect of ending a pregnancy
- How an abortion is carried out — NHS (terms specific to UK)
- <"History of Abortion" JW Dellapenna — U. Pitt. L. Rev., 1978
- "Eve's Herbs" JM Riddle — 1999
- What the Bible says about Abortion
- MD Creinin — Contraception, 2000
- What Zika does to fetal brains
- Extreme Ohio Abortion Bill
- Finer; Frohwirth; Dauphinee; Singh; Moore (2005). "Reasons U.S. women have abortions: quantitative and qualitative perspectives.". Perspective on Sexual and Reproductive Health 37 (3): 110-8.
- Matthew 5:21-22
- Exodus 21:12
- Numbers 35:31
- The Didache
- BBC Religions Buddhism and Abortion
- Flying Spaghetti Monster — abortion
- Ralph Shortey profile, BallotPedia
- Pepsi/Senomyx, Snopes
- Gawker.com: archive.is, web.archive.org