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History of Abortion in America (Term Paper Sample)

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Discussing the history of abortion in America by citing prominent case laws

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History of Abortion in America
Abortion is a contentious social issue that dominates polarized debates and generates varied reactions from political and social cultures in the United States. It also generates headlines based on the ethical, moral and scientific controversies across the world. A historical review of laws and policies demonstrates that physicians borrowed the idea of abortion from women healers (Kathy and Elaine 267). The issue of abortion became a controversial medical issue during the late 19th century. During the 1960s and 1970s, abortion became a policy issue regarding women’s rights. Conservative groups such as the family and religious organizations personalized abortion as an issue that undermines their tenets. Institutional authorities such as courts, parliaments, and medical professions have been instrumental in inventing and implementing rules that prohibit abortion. Such attempts are aimed at controlling the sexual and reproductive lives of women.
Presidential administrations have signaled or opposed practices that encourage the elimination of human embryos. The differences among political decisions shows that public policies that govern abortion are contentious and highly partisan in the United States of America. Virtually, all aspiring and new presidential administrations must make critical decisions regarding abortion during their campaigns. A good example is the adoption of the Mexico City Policy announced by President Reagan’s administration. According to the Mexico City Policy, all nongovernmental organizations with international operations are required to refrain from advising, performing, or endorsing abortion in order to qualify for federal funding. Democratic Presidents Bill Clinton (1993) and Barrack Obama (2009) rescinded the Mexico City Policy while Republican President George W Bush restored it on 22 January 2001 (Bendavid, Avila, and Miller 873). In 1980, Anti-abortion policies helped President Reagan to the presidency in order to implement the right to life policies.
Contemporary Debates
Before digging into the historical background of the issue of abortion in the United States, noting general observations on the contemporary aspect of abortion is worthwhile. There are extensive range of views and attitudes to abortion in the American Society. The absolutist feminist perspective and the absolutist sanctity of life view are the major spectrums behind the abortion debate. Conservative views regarding the roles of men and women is the major driving factor for opposing views against abortion. Abortion opponents view abortion as a threat to the social order and destroys the family buttress. Feminist perceptions of abortion argue that abstract rules should not be imposed on situations that determine the moral justification for abortion. Instead, feminists emphasize on contextual questions such as safety, accessibility, cost, personal circumstances, feelings, and wishes of the woman as the decisive factors that must be used to guide abortion. As a contentious issue in the US, the durability of the abortion debate is based on the level of feelings it generates in addition to the inherent gravity of the concerned issues. However, other individuals and groups are convinced that they have a right to abortion and they make efforts to ensure that their beliefs on abortion are translated to law.
A brief history
The medical profession strongly influenced the history of abortion law in the US. Keown (3) argues that the Anglo-American common law tradition disapproved or punished abortion for over 700 years. It was believed that abortion amounted to assisted suicide. The common law in the mid-thirteenth century punished abortion after fetal formation as homicide. The fetus was believed to be ensouled 40 days after conception because it was believed that it had adopted a recognizable human shape. Mid-seventeenth century laws prohibited abortion on grounds of causing serious misdemeanors and great misprision (Keown 5). Early nineteenth–century common laws introduced the idea of "quickening”, which was believed to occur between 12th-20th weeks of pregnancy. During this period, a pregnant woman experienced fetal movements. The common law prohibited abortion during this period because it marked the beginning of life for the unborn (Keown 5).
Statutory restrictions of the prohibition were witnessed in the nineteenth century due to the emerging discoveries in the medical profession. Findings from medical researchers showed that human life began at fertilization. Quickening distinctions became morally irrelevant. Laws to protect the life of the unborn tightened during this periods. The first legislation on abortion was passed in Connecticut in 1821 with other legislations undergoing significant changes. The New York legislation changed its abortion laws more than 10 times during the period 1828 and 1881. About 13 state laws that forbid abortion at any stage were passed between 1840 and 1850. The Supreme Court in Iowa in 1856 upheld that pre-quickening abortion did not amount to crime. Later, the same Court passed prohibitions on pre-quickening abortions. Despite the existence of such legislations, abortions in the United States continued to increase at alarming rates. This can be attributed to the effects of increased industrialization and prostitution in the US.
In 1858, the American Medical Association launched a successful campaign aimed at criminalizing abortion at all stages of pregnancy. By 1890, nearly all states had passed laws that criminalized abortion. Some states gave physicians the authority to decide situations where abortion was perceived of being medically necessary. Other common laws remained unchanged until the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade 1873 led to the vacation of these laws (Beisel, and Kay 498). The Supreme Court’s ruling in this case granted women a qualified constitutional right to abortion (Peterson 78). The decision stated that all decisions and responsibilities that surrounds the abortion rests with the physician (Peterson 78).
The history of medicine and medical practice are strongly tied to the abortion policy. The main motive that encourages the issue of abortion are professional interests, the health of the woman, and professional interests. The involvement of these individuals led to the enactment of abortion laws that permit physicians to provide regulations to the practice of abortion (Peterson 93).
Roe v. Wade
The Supreme Court ruled that abortion was a constitutional right to women based on grounds of privacy and liberty. The decision on this case led to the Texas criminal abortion statute getting struck down. In delivering the ruling Roe v Wade, Justice Blackmun argued that aborting a quick fetus was not an offence in common law. He doubted the firm establishment of abortion as a crime under common-law despite the practice leading to the destruction of a quick fetus. This decision was in part due to the issue of abortion being an ecclesiastical offence until the 17th century and partly due to the issue of abortion being practiced secretly among midwives and women healers. The visibility of abortion increased in the late 18th century after it was viewed as a social problem. While the Supreme Court’s decision held that abortion amounted to a constitutional right to privacy, the decision did not warrant an absolute right to abortion. The interests in the women were believed to be a preservation and protection of maternal health. The decision in Roe v. Wade also ruled that no State could restrict abortion during the first trimester into the pregnancy. After the first trimester, interests of the State in the mother’s health could be used to provide a justification for regulations that protect the maternal health of the mother. The construction of the trimester framework and the subsequent attachment of weight to each interests provided a balance for the competing claims. As such, the woman was given the right to consult with her doctor regarding the issue of abortion in the first trimester. The Supreme Court also re-affirmed the constitutional right to pre-viable abortion in the Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v Casey of 1992.
Post Roe v Wade
The Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade has since made abortion a thorny issue in the US. There have been intense political, legal, and ideological struggles between pro-choice and pro-life forces concerning the issue of abortion (Peterson 93). Despite the numerous court challenges to appeal the decisions made in Roe v. Wade, anti-abortion activists groups have derided the Supreme Courts authority in attempts to impose "Pro-life" views. While the Supreme Court provided a qualified right to abortion, public funding are highly restricted to limit access to abortion. These state legislatures and restrictions mostly affect the indigent women. The laws and regulations that limit fun...
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