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The Pro-Choice and Women’s Rights movement of the late 20th Century was founded due to inadequate medical treatment for women, often leading to infection or death as the result of a poorly executed, illegal abortion. The rhetoric employed by the Pro-Choice movement to combat widespread, undue government interference with personal liberties relies on several arguments: the argument from value, claiming that the health and welfare of the mother of a fetus is always the primary concern – outweighing the needs of the unborn fetus; the argument from quantity, as there is an extremely large amount of support for the pro-choice movement and their provision that some abortions are morally acceptable; and the argument from quality, saying that women had a right to medically-licensed abortions instead of back-alley, ‘coat-hanger’, abortions. Women’s right to choose what happens to their own bodies, the need for viable healthcare options, and the moral battle between giving women complete freedom of their own bodies and choosing the fate of a being that has yet to be born, and as such cannot be said to be alive or dead, played a large role in the rhetorical strategies that were employed by the Pro-Choice movement in the 1980s.
The Argument for Value is one of the main rhetorical devices used by the Pro-Choice movement. The argument for value places the health of the mother as the highest priority, with her well-being and her personal decisions being of more importance than the best-interests of the unborn fetus growing inside the woman. According to a Romanian-based study on the public health consequences of outlawing abortion by Stephenson, Wagner, Badea, and Serbanescu, “When access to safe abortion has been introduced into a country, maternal mortality has decreased” (1328). This argument prioritizes saving lives; and safe, legal, abortion as an option has been proven to result in a significant reduction of the mortality rate seen in pregnant women. On the other hand, without access to safe alternatives, these women may likely have suffered infection or death after a ‘coat-hanger’ abortion in a dark alley. Any child-bearing woman suffering from life-threatening, pregnancy-related, complications should be afforded the right to seek adequate medical attention which views her life as more valuable than that of the fetus growing within her, and the vast array of medical treatments – up to and including abortion – should be at the woman’s disposal regardless of what affect it may have on the possible person being formed. In countries where safe abortion options are available to the public, the maternal mortality rate has been noted to decrease in a significant manner. In contrast, Romania’s outlawing of abortion had an unsurprisingly disappointing result; “Before the 1966 law went into effect, the Romanian maternal mortality rate was similar to those of other Eastern European countries. Afterward, abortion-related maternal mortality increased to a level 10 times that of any other European country” (Stephenson, Wagner, Badea, and Surbanescu 1329). Access to safe abortion procedures directly impact the maternal mortality rate according to this study of Romania, and the value of the mother’s health is the top priority according to pro-choice proponents using the Argument from Value. A related issue in many of these health-related abortions is the question of if the situation allows for an abortion to become morally permissible.
The Argument from Quantity deals in the realm of size; big versus small, less versus more, and the like. Proponents of the Pro-Choice agenda are arguing that there is widespread support for abortion under morally permissible circumstances, and a study titled “Canadian Attitudes on Abortion”, by Boyd and Gillieson, provided the following information: In June of 1965, 72% of respondents approved of abortions performed for the health of the mother. This study goes on to encounter similar results into the mid-1970’s, with acceptance rates high for abortions in general – and resting near 80% acceptance when the mother’s health was placed in danger. This claim is echoed by Stewart, Smith and Denton Jr., in “Persuasion and Social Movements” when the book claims that the pro-choice movement “has the ‘overwhelming support’ of the ‘vast majority’ of Americans… the offer polls that show four out of five Americans… support the pro-choice position that ‘there are situations in which abortion may be a moral alternative” (276). “Persuasion and Social Movements” goes on to discuss pro-choice marches, acceptance statistics, and reinforces the claim that pro-choice is the heavy majority, calling pro-life supporters the “tiny, fanatical minority” (Stewart, Smith, Denton Jr 277). Pro-Choice rhetoric emphasizes the value of the mother and her health, the moral permissibility of some abortions, the widespread belief that abortion is not inherently immoral, all of which help to setup the argument that women should inherently have high quality medical care available to them so that they can be afforded the freedom to make their own choice.
The Argument from Quality is this argument for good medical facilities and the luxury to make personal health decisions without undue interference from anyone, especially the government. There are several benefits to high-quality healthcare facilities that can perform abortions. In a study on the implementation of high-quality abortion facilities in Nepal, Samandari finds that “abortion complications at essential obstetric care facilities decreased significantly to 28% from 54% of all complications in 1998” (7). Along with a substantial decline in maternal mortality rates, Nepal also saw an increase in individuals seeking out treatment, because locals were now safe from imprisonment due to recent legal reforms. Arguments by pro-life proponents often refer to an issue known as the ‘partial-birth’ issue. This argument refers to fetuses that are aborted while within the third trimester of development, as opposed to within the first two trimesters as required by the law. However, those arguing that abortion should be banned because of third-trimester abortions are overlooking the facts and focusing squarely on the disgusting truth that some people are okay with killing a child for their own ease, but Stewart, Smith and Denton Jr. tell us that of all abortions, “only 1.5 percent after the first 21 weeks. ‘On the rare occasions when women have third-trimester abortions they do so because their fetuses have severe or fatal anomalies or because the pregnancy endangers their lives’”(272). This study occurred in 2006, proving that high-quality abortion facilities being made available to the general population resulted in lower mortality rates, lower rates of abortion and non-abortion-related complications, and a very low rate of illegal third-trimester abortions.
All of the discourse written on the topic of abortion from the viewpoint of the pro-choice proponent is based upon the basic arguments of value, quantity, and quality. Women’s right to choose what happens to their own bodies, the need for viable healthcare options, and the moral battle between giving women complete freedom of their own bodies and choosing the fate of a being that has yet to be born, and as such cannot be said to be alive or dead, played a large role in the rhetorical strategies that were employed by the Pro-Choice movement in the 1980s. The argument for value regards the health of the mother of a fetus as being worth more than that of the fetus itself, and also values the mother’s decision over anyone else’s as it pertains to her body. Authors like Stephenson, Wagner, Badea, and Serbanescu recognize the value of a woman’s health and decision-making and immerse it into their rhetoric, while Stewart, Smith, and Denton Jr. emphasize the beneficial impact of adequate facilities to enhance their rhetoric, and Boyd and Gillieson used the popularity of abortion, and the popular perception that abortions can be morally performed under the correct circumstances to argue their pro-choice viewpoint.
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