Every time a woman is pregnant and is not sure whether or not she wants to have a baby, she has to make up her mind what she is going to do. Whatever her decision, the chances are that it can never be 100% satisfactory like most things in real life. What women and those trying to help them attempt to do is to ensure the best outcome in each particular case. Understanding the issues involved can help you prepare for making similar decisions, or in helping friends trying to make such difficult decisions, or simply in shaping your attitudes towards women who have faced this dilemma.
Is abortion murder?
Abortion can only be thought of as \'murder\' if you believe that the fetus is a person. And even if you believe that it may be a person, with the same rights as the mother, abortion can be viewed as self defence on the part of the woman who decides to have an abortion she does so because she believes that the pregnancy threatens her in some way.
Even before abortion was made legal under certain circumstances, it was not legally murder and was treated differently under the law.
People have different views about the \'personhood\' of the fetus. Politicians, religious leaders, doctors, scientists and philosophers have never been able to agree. There is no \'right\' answer. Sometimes, antiabortionists argue that, therefore, we should give the \'benefit of the doubt\' to the fetus and assume that it is a person.
The problem with this argument is, first, that this will not prevent women having \'back street abortions\' and these are likely to be dangerous and may be lifethreatening and, second, it assumes that we are prepared to impose our beliefs (or, in this case, doubts) on others, however strongly they disagree with us. So at the end of the day, it must be the individual\'s choice.
Of course the fetus is alive, and it could develop into a human being, but research shows that about 50 - 70% of all conceptions end in early miscarriage, often even before the woman is aware that she is pregnant. Clearly, the fetus is a potential human being, not an actual one.
Many women who have abortions have mixed feelings about what they are doing. It is seldom an easy decision and for some women it is a fact that under different circumstances they would not have the abortion. Sometimes women may regret having had an abortion, and sometimes women who decide not to have an abortion regret that decision too.
Doesn\'t the fetus / baby have any rights?
Of course it does. It has the right to be born wanted. There is ample evidence that throughout history women have tried to control the number of children they have and when they have them, through using contraception and abortion, often at great risk to their own lives and health. They know that if they are to be able to look after their children properly, they must control the number they have, both from the point of view of their own health and the resources they have their income, housing, etc. Often it is only because of pressure from men in their society and family who may want them to have more children, especially boys that women have as many children as they do. A survey by the World Health Organization showed that in many parts of the world women want smaller families than is the custom for their society.
Some research has been done into what happens to children who are born unwanted. In this country, like many where abortion is legal, a great many statistics are kept about women who have abortions, but none at all about those whose request is refused, so we don\'t know how many of them there are and how many go on to have babies, or what happens to those babies. In Sweden before the second world war abortion was legal, but women had to go before hospital boards and plead their case, so there were records of women who were turned down. Some of them went on to have illegal abortions, but a study was made of a group of women who continued with their pregnancies after being refused abortion, and they, their families, and the children born as a result were compared to a similar group of women who had not sought abortion. It was found that the children born after their mothers had heen refused an abortion generally did worse on every count education, jobs, even their marriages did not last as long! And this disadvantage extended to their families, because their parents\' marriage was also more likely to break up. Boys in particular were more likely to die in their teens or early twenties. A later study done in Yugoslavia found similar results.
Recent research into children who are adopted or taken into care shows that many of them have particular problems as well; children in care in this country are likely to have many foster families or endup going from one institution to another. Many of the homeless young people causing concern at the moment have been in care or have been fostered.
In considering whether or not to have an abortion, most women take the quality of life of their future child into consideration. For each woman, in each society, this will he different, but throughout the world women want the best for their children. For most women, they think of this as a basic right for any children they may have, and this is why they try so hard to plan their families.
But isn\'t it better to have been born than not to be?
This is really a nonsense question. If you haven\'t been born, you don\'t know you might have been born, do you? In any case, even many of those who have been born wish they had not, and take their own lives - including many very young people.
This question is asked by antiabortionists to make us feel insecure, but in fact your existence as YOU is not dependant simply on the fact that your mother decided not to abort you, but on all sorts of factors which determined which particular egg from your mother met a particular sperm from your father and of coursc, THEIR existence depended on similar factors, right back to the start of the human race. Throughout that time, women have used abortion to control the size of their families, but you still got born, as did many cillions of otlhers, good, bad, famous, unknown, those who lived to be a hundred and those who barely drew breath before dying.
Don\'t handicapped babies have the right to live?
The National Abortion Campaign does not believe that the fact that a baby may be born with a disability, however severe, is in itself a ground for abortion. In fact we believe there should be only one ground - that the woman does not want to continue with the pregnancy. Her reasons are her own business, but the fact is that some women do so because of a diagnosis of disability in their expected baby.
This diagnosis is made as a result of various tests during the pregnancy. Women have the right to refuse to take the tests and even if the decide to have them and it turns out that they are very probably carrying a baby with a disability , they should not be pressured into have an abortion - it must be their decision. Every woman is different and she alone knows what she and her family can cope with. She may already have a child or other relative with a similar handicap if it is hereditary, and so she knows what to expect. If she already has a child with a disability, she may feel that both children suffer if she has to take care of a second baby with the same problem. In some cases, the disability may be so severe that the baby may be born dead or be very likely to die at or shortly after birth.
Women who decide to continue with their pregnancies despite knowing that they will have a baby with a disability have the right to all the support they need, and this does not include being told that they have no right to give birth to such a baby and that they should have had an abortion. Women who are themselves disabled have the right to have babies and all disabled people have the right to a full life.
There is no evidence that countries where abortion is illegal take better care of their disabled citizens quite the opposite if anything. Sweden, for example, has a very liberal abortion law, but it also has much better laws and practice on rights for disabled people than most other countries. In Romania, when abortion was completely illegal, mentally and physically handicapped children and adults were shut up in the most disgusting conditions, and no resources were devoted to caring for them or to their education.
I would like to address some of the arguments used in favour of abortion, and see how they stand up to scrutiny when compared to published medical data. These are:
1) Legal abortion is needed to prevent women dying from backstreet abortions.
2) Abortion to save the mother\'s life.
3) Abortion in cases of severe fetal handicap, especially those which are so severe that the baby will die at or sonn after birth.
4) Abortion where there is a risk of suicide by the mother.
5) Abortion so that the woman can receive treatment for cancer.
Mortality from back street abortions
. Abortion to save the mother\'s life
This argument can only properly be considered if it is examined in the context of how commonly it occurs in practice. In a parliamentary answer it was revealed that of the 3.6 million abortions carried out in England and Wales since the introduction of the Abortion Act, in only 151 abortions did the doctor declare that it was done to save the life of the mother The fact that a doctor has declared that the abortion was done to save the mother\'s life does not prove that she would have died without the abortion.
. Abortion on the grounds of severe fetal handicap
It is often argued by doctors that when a diagnosis of severe fetal malformation is made, abortion avoids the additional physical risks of continuing to term, and it lessens the emotional burden.
However, a recent paper in the prestigious American journal (New England Journal of Medicine) summarises the evidence and states:
a) Because such diagnoses are usually made after 16 weeks of pregnancy, the risk of maternal death from the abortion is greater than if the mother continued to term.
b) Many babies with such severe handicap will miscarry spontaneously between the diagnosis and the end of term.
c) There is no evidence, and in fact evidence to the contrary, that abortion helps the resolution of grief in these cases.