In every country around the world women try to terminate their pregnancies, if they are convinced this is the only solution left. An abundance of research data indicate that the decision to do so is largely independent of tradition, religion, legal status of abortion, or medical risks involved. In the past decades, it has been accepted in an increasing number of countries that the need for termination of pregnancy can be greatly reduced through offering good family planning information and services. Several countries show very good results in this respect.
But at the same time, there is rapidly growing recognition that abortion is needed, to a far more limited extent, as a back~up method in cases of contraceptive failure. Therefore, safe medical abortion services have been made available in an increasing number of countries. By 1992 almost two thirds of all women had relatively easy access to such services, but on the other hand one quarter of all women are still forced to seek help from unskilled back street abortionists. They pay a heavy, sometimes fatal, toll. This overview presents and discusses some of the main universal trends.
LEGAL STATUS OF ABORTION
There are raughly four types ot abortion laws:
1 Very strict
Abortion is not allowed on any grounds, or only if the pregnancy poses an immediate threat to the woman\'s life.
2 Rather strict
Only some narrowly defined circumstances justify performing an abortion. Specified grounds are often a threat to the woman\'s physical or mental health, fetal defects and legal indications (rape or incest).
3 Rather broad
Abortion is not only permitted for medical, but also for socio-medical or social reasons. These reasons may include low income, poor housing, young or old age, and having a certain number of children.
4 On request
Women have a legal right to decide on the termination of pregnancy. In most cases this right only applies to the first three months of pregnancy, although there are notable exceptions.
Excluding small countries with less than a million inhabitants, there are now 50 countries where the abortion law is very strict, and a further 44 countries where it is rather strict. Thirteen countries have rather broad laws, and in 22 countries women have a legal right to decide for themselves. Most of the latter countries are situated in Europe, whereas in Africa and Latin America very or rather strict abortion laws are still most common.
During the past decades many countries have liberalised their abortion laws. In Japan, abortion has been legal since 1948. During the 1950s abortion was legalised in Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union and China. This trend was followed in the 1960s and 1970s by most Western European countries, the United States and a few other countries. Although it sometimes seemed that this universal trend would be reversed, the worldwide process of liberalisation continued after 1980. In an increasing number of countries women are no longer forced to seek help from illegal and unskilled abortionists.
It should be emphasised that in countries with restrictive legislation, medically safe abortion services are sometimes readily available and, conversely, in countries where abortion is legally permitted, it may be difficult to find a medical practitioner who is willing to perform an abortion. Quite often safe abortion services are only available to the rich.
Although a majority of countries have very or rather restrictive abortion laws, most women live in countries where abortion is available on request of the woman, or on broadly defined grounds. This is because the most populous countries tend to have liberal laws. In the four largest countries of the world abortion is legal on request (China, the former Soviet Union, and the United States), or on social grounds (India). Most of the smaller countries, in terms of population size, have restrictive laws. As a result, only a quarter of all women in the world do not have any access to legal abortion, and 41 per cent of women have a legal right to decide for themselves.
According to recent estimates made by the World Health Organization, about one quarter to one third of maternal deaths are due to complications of (illegally) induced abortion. Almost all these 150,000 deaths occur in countries with very strict abortion laws. In other words, repressive abortion legislation does not prevent abortion, it just prevents safe abortion, and turns abortion into a major killer of women.
In countries where abortion is legal, death rates are usually below 1 per 100,000 procedures. The main factors explaining this increasing safety are:
. Medical doctors, instead of unskilled practitioners, perform the operation.
. Proper facilities and equipment can be used.
. Doctors can be trained in performing the operation.
. Services become better accessible to women, thereby reducing the duration of pregnancy at the time of abortion.
. Proper information can be given to women, which also prevents them from coming late.
In fact, if the proper conditions exist, abortion is a very safe operation. If these conditions were to be met worldwide, the death toll of abortion could be reduced from the current 150 000 to no more than 250 anually, which is 5 per million operations.
Deaths due to clandestine abortions constitute only the tip of the iceberg. Other, often serious complications, such as permanent infertility, are much more prevalent. Treatment of complications of clandestine abortion often poses a heavy burden on the health care system. Particularly in poor countries with scarce medical resources, this may cause insoluble problems.
LIFE OR DEATH
. What are we to think of a woman who aborts her child?
Let\'s be very clear. We understand the agony of her decision. We want to stand with her, not against her. We want to help her explore other loving alternatives like adoption. We want to help her. Why can\'t we love them both?
. But adopted children have serious problems.
Not so at all. Compared, across the board, to children born into families, adopted children are more stable, more healthy, more educated and lead more stable lives as adults, than biological children they are, that is, if placed in the adoptive home as young infants. These problems are not from adoption; however. Rather they bring the problems with them and sometimes the adoptive parents are unable to cope with them.
. But isn\'t it cruel to allow a handicapped child to be born to a miserable life?
The assumption that handicapped people enjoy life less than \'normal\' ones has been shown to be false. A well documented investigation has shown that there is no difference between handicapped and normal persons in their degree of life satisfaction, outlook of what lies immediately ahead and vulnerability to frustration. \'Though it may be both common and fashionable to believe that the malformed enjoy life less than normal, this appears to lack both empirical and theoretical support.\'
. What about a woman who\'s been raped?
Pregnancy from forcible rape is extremely rare. The victim must be supported, loved and helped, but we should never kill an innocent baby for the crime of his father.
. But legal abortion is better than dangerous back alley abortions and their toll of women dying, isn\'t it?
Most such stories are false. In 1972, the year before the US Supreme Court decision on abortion, only 39 women died in all 50 states from illegal abortions. ( 25 more died in 1972 from legal abortions ). These were 39 tragedies, but compared to over 5,000,000 pregnancies that year this is a minuscule number. Certainly it shows that claims of 5 10,000 deaths and one million illegal abortions are totally ridiculous. Either there were not many illegal abortions or all illegal abortions were amazingly safe.
. What about her right to choose?
The first question to ask about any action that is morally questionable is not \'Who can choose to do it?\'but \'ls the action right or wrong in the first place ?\' Consider other examples such as rape, stealing, child abuse. Do we first ask who decides, who can choose to do these things? No! We first ask \'Are these actions right or wrong?\' Just so with abortion. The first question must be \'ls abortion right or wrong?\' The \'choice and who decides ?\' question follows. lt is never the first question. Another answer to \'choice\' is, choice to do what? Clearly it is a choice to kill.
. Isn\'t abortion another means of contraception?
No. Do not confuse abortion with contraception. Contraception prevents new life from beginning. Abortion kills the new life that has already begun.
What is an abortifacient then?
Some of today\'s so called \'contraceptives\' are really abortive at times. This is when ovulation is not suppressed, fertilisation does occur, but the one week old living human embryo is unable to implant into the wall of her womb. If the \'contraceptive\' drug or device prevents implantation then it is really an abortifacient.
I\'ve heard abortion compared to slavery.
The analogy is accurate. The Dred Scott Decision in 1857 ruled that black people were not \'persons\' in the eyes of the Constitution. Slaves could be bought, sold, used or even killed as property of the owner. That decision was overturned by the 14th Amendment. Now the court has ruled that unborn people are not \'persons\' in the eyes of the Constitution. They can be killed at the request of their owners (mothers). This dreadful decision can only be reversed by the Court itself or overturned by another constitutional amendment.
Why bring unwanted babies into the world?
An unwanted pregnancy in the early months does not necessarily mean an unwanted baby after delivery. Dr Edward Lenoski (University of South California) has conclusively shown that 90% of battered children were planned pregnancies. Since when does someone\'s life depend upon someone else wanting them ? That is an incredibly evil ethic.
Abortion is onlya religious question, isn\'t it?
No. Theology certainly concerns itself with respect for human life. It must turn to science, however, to tell it when life begins. The question of abortion is a basic human question that concerns the entire civilised society in which we live. It is not just a Catholic, or Protestant, or Jewish issue. It is a civil rights question, a human rights question, a question of who lives and who can be killed.
A civil rights question? How so ?
1) The first question to be asked is: What is this inside of her womb? Is it a human life? The answer is found in natural science, medicine and biology. At the first cell stage, fertilisation, this being is alive, not dead. Human? Yes, not another species. Sexed? Yes, male or female from fertilisation. Complete? Yes, nothing has been added to the single cell, whom each of us once was, nothing except nutrition and oxygen. Science has long since shown conclusively that this is a human life from the beginning.
2) The second question is: Should there be equal protection by law for all living humans, or should the law discriminate, fatally against an entire class of living humans as with abortion, which discriminates on the basis of age (too young) and place of residence (living in the womb). So, abortion is a violation of human rights, of civil rights.
What about emotional after effects ?
Some women have problems soon after the abortion. The big problem, however, is usually many years later. This is now called \'Post Abortion Syndrome\'. by virtue of suppression and denial, such women repress any negative feelings for, on average, at least five years. Then, a variety of symptoms emerge, many of which can be very upsetting and even disabling. It is similar to the posttraumatic stress syndrome seen a decade or more later in some combat veterans.
There is treatment for this but many doctors do not know how. If a woman is troubled, she should seek a referral from a pro-life pregnancy help centre.