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Controversial debates surrounding abortion — the termination of a pregnancy by discharge of an embryo before it can grow to survive outside the uterus — is much more complex than the definition entails; the issues run deeper, with varying opinions both within the U.S. and around the world. Recently, the rising wave of abortion restrictions in America has stirred up a storm of intense dispute, both on political and social grounds. In the middle of it all lies moral and medical ethics: the right of life versus the right of choice. Arguments stem from the differing bureaucratic standings of the two parties that neither see eye to eye or are willing to concede. Due to this, the divide is ever growing, and there’s no end to this age-old disagreement. Even so, everyone is entitled to their own ideas and thoughts; this freedom of speech and freedom of choice to voice beliefs can never be wrong; the fault lies in irrational reasoning, not in opinion. This essay will seek to discuss the positions on abortion, both for and against, to offer a view of perspectives on this topic of matter and the reason behind each.
Within the U.S., the history of abortion has always been inconclusive, cycling around prohibition and warrant, without ever establishing a common ground. It wasn’t until 1973 when Roe v. Wade overturned laws of the illegality of abortion that there was a turning point for this act. Before that, Connecticut had passed the first law banning abortion in 1821, followed by twenty states that followed in the same footsteps of limiting access to the procedures a few decades later in 1860. In the wake of the landmark decision aforementioned, Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey also supported the right of women to abort in 1992. Despite the federal ban in 2003, the NAF (National Abortion Federation) wins against the restriction the following year, upholding the rights for abortion. 2019 would shake up the cycle once again, with many states passing laws that forbid taking any action to terminate pregnancies. Called “heartbeat” bills, once a fetal heartbeat — as the name states — is detected, intentional removal is considered illegal. Morality and justice are called into question, both inside and out of law and order. Democrats, pro-choice and Roe v. Wade supporters, argue that the ban violates a “woman’s right to make decisions regarding her own pregnancy”, and that it is “discriminatory and a barrier to health care access”; more so in instances of rape and incest, where victims can’t “be free from inhumane and degrading treatment.” This also brings up gender inequality in politics — as it’s male-dominated — wherein men are making the laws about what women should do with their bodies. Republicans, on the other hand, are pro-life, holding their ground that allowing abortion would breach the self-evident portion of the human life amendment in the Constitution: “the sanctity of life which cannot be infringed.” Instead, adoption and abstinence are promoted in place of abortion. This is easy to say — in words alone — but when pitted against social standings, the same can’t be said for the inclination of acceptance; many see politics and public spheres as separate realms that the opposite shouldn’t transgress.
From a religious perspective, it’s evident that divine sentiments possess a negative attitude towards the act, for it’s a matter believed to concern both body and soul — not of one — but two entities. Most, if not all, of the major religions, Christianity, Buddhism, Jewish, and Hinduism abhor the act, offering nearly no exceptions of any kind. Without a doubt, Christianity advocates for life, on the grounds that from the moment of conception, the embryo already has a “spirit,” alive within the mother’s womb. The fetuses are inherently innocent, “bearing the image and likeness of God”; they are the fruit of God’s love and creation. It is a sin to cease life, and although God readily forgives all sins, nothing can be done about the evil that surrounds daily life, denoting to immoral acts. Buddhism as well, “morally condemns abortion”, as it’s considered to be homicide — an infraction of the first Buddhist moral precept of non-violence. Doctrines such as karma, rebirth, existence, and the value of life guide the thoughts surrounding the issue. Human life is considered a sacred opportunity — from one life to the next — as with reincarnation, there is “vital continuity between lives”. Like Christianity, Buddhism also reflects on life beginning at fertilization. Jewish teachings state that “right and wrong…are defied by human intuition or expediency” and that above all, the mother’s life comes first. The only exception, and what sets this religion apart from the others, is that if the mother’s mental health is at risk. Rape and incest are not offered the same understanding. With that being said, the fetus, until birth, is not alive, but to “destroy a child” is corrupt and “modern rabbis are unanimous that abortion, feticide, and infanticide are unconscionable attacks on human life”. As for Hinduism, though there is no explicit, unique or dogmatic point of view on abortion or other bioethics, many Indian women disapprove of it — going so far as to label it a crime — according to statistics. The womb is referred to as the sacred and “sacrificial fire,” and in aborting a fetus — which should be taken great care of — amounts to “extinguishing the fire”. In doing so, the only punishment is a spiritual one.
The rest of the world however, holistically, weighs their views based on circumstances and consequences greater than simply opinion, recognizing and acknowledging both mother and the fetus; it’s usually mother or fetus, and never both — one or the other. Rape and incest are exceptions, and especially pregnancies where the mother’s health and or life are at risk. For regular abortions, so long as there is parent or partner authorization, it’s allowed. By no means are all countries the same, but overall, there’s value in the situation and it’s taken into consideration. Regions with a high population — such as Africa and China — differ in that the former mostly consents to preserve health, while the latter opts for sex-selective as the sole exception. Surprisingly, the act is permissible in countries dominated by religions — when comparing the world’s abortion laws with the world religions map — strongly opposed to it; the focus here is that though faith serves as a guide, it doesn’t dictate or influence what people think the laws and public life should reflect.
Another viewpoint on the situation fixates on medical ethics and the doctors who make these decisions a reality. They remain partial, bound by the Hippocratic Oath, which states that doctors follow the principles of “treating the sick to the best of their ability, preserve patient privacy, teach the secrets of medicine to the next generation,” and much more. In this case, the patients — their lives — come first. Before special cases are mentioned, the methods of abortion will be described and examined. Broken into three categories, certain procedures fall under surgical, medical, or chemical means. According to the gestation period, surgical abortions will range from the usage of drugs to dilation of varying degrees. The further along into each trimester, the procedure becomes more complex, even though “most abortions are performed in an outpatient office setting…under local anesthesia with or without sedation”. Those who don’t have access to health care — or simply can’t afford it — and safe abortions, resort to other means such as drinking toxic fluids and trying to perform their own expulsion using twigs, coat hangers, and anything else that can reach far into the uterus. This neither guarantees the mother or fetus’ life. About 36 per 1,000 women have abortions each year from the age of 15 to 44 “in developing regions, compared with 27 in developed regions”. A ban on abortion will only limit access to a legal and safe abortion; it won’t prevent the other side — illegal and self-induced approaches, as “abortions occur as frequently in the two most-restrictive countries…as in the least restrictive”. Patients and doctors both struggle, one with the decision, and one having to witness the decision. NPR released as story following the Weinstein family, well into their second pregnancy and third trimester, “when Dana Weinstein and her husband were given horrible news: A critical piece of the brain had not developed properly”. As a mother, it was her call to make and the decision was certainly not an easy one; either way, the baby would have no chance of survival. Dana says that, “she would have given anything to have been able to help their baby live if she could have lived. But she was going to be incapable of that”. In times of turmoil such as this, doctors can offer a sense of comfort and sympathize with their patients, as presented by StoryCorps. Like the Weinsteins, in this case, the Young family discovers their baby had “developed a brain condition that would make it impossible to survive on their own”. Dr. Tiller, the one the Youngs sought for assistance, and “one of only a handful of doctors in the U.S. to perform late-term abortions”, was murdered. Responsible for helping the couple through their darkest times, as both a father, grandfather, and a man of faith, Natalie Young said that, ‘ “to be able to connect in that way…was really comforting”’. They regret that those who follow in their footsteps won’t ever get to know of the compassion and nonjudgmental nature of Dr. Tiller. No one who wants and chooses to have a baby would wish to kill it; no mother would do so.
Roe v. Wade has since brought forth a sense of freedom — of liberation — for many women in the U.S; around the world, the privilege of choice allows for control in their own lives and their own bodies. While this may be so, the controversies that came with legalizing abortion have grown over the years. Social, ethical, and moral values are questioned, and the debate between right and wrong seems endless. With a topic such as this, one so prominent and garners mass public attention, disagreements are inevitable where contrasting opinions clash. Whatever the case, whether abortion or no abortion, so long as the choice is responsible and carefully thought out — taking all things into perspective — it’s a right that should remain as is. There are some things which fate leaves out of people’s control, but those that can be controlled should rely on the notion that freedom isn’t a privilege to take for granted. All decisions have its respective consequences, but what’s right and wrong is subjective — a question forever answerless.
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