The problem of abortion is one of the hardest issues humanity faced. Can an abortion be considered as a standard private surgery procedure? The addressing of the issue of abortion faced discrepancy in the human rights context. On one hand, the question arises to what extent an unborn baby has a right to life. On the other hand, can people talk about human rights of a fetus? At what point a fetus is considered to be a human being? To strangle a baby who is born is a pure murder; and what about the destruction of a fetus? What is more, the highest court institution in the case of “Roe vs. Wade” explained to the public that the women’s right to privacy includes the right to abortion. In fact, only a woman has the right to decide whether or not to become a mother. As a result, this case allowed the feminists to achieve another victory. The Conservatives have refused to accept the law, as they said, to “a legalized infanticide” (Cates et al., 1998). Since then, the U.S. has repeatedly attempted to reverse the ruling on the case “Roe vs. Wade”. James Wilson, a supporter of conservative views, even wrote in one of his articles that the case “Roy vs. Wade” did more harm than good. Since then “no one can become a Democratic candidate if he does not support abortion, and no one yet has become a Republican candidate, not being their enemy in regards to abortion” (Hull, 2004). It only more alienated one party from another, while the majority of the Americans continue to hold moderate views on the issue. In Europe, the issue of abortion does not carry an ideological burden, and Wilson attributes this to the fact that abortion there has been legalized as initiated by the legislature, and not as a result of high-profile court decisions. Still, the issue remains to be open even despite a scandalous court case called “Roe vs. Wade”: should abortion be legalized or not?
“Roe vs. Wade” is the historic U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on the legality of abortion. Case “Roe vs. Wade” is one of the most controversial and politically significant decisions in the history of the United States. A brief history of this high-profile case should be analyzed. Jane Roe is a nickname of Norma McCorvey who challenged the law in Texas on abortions to be allowed only in case of the threat to the mother’s life (Critchlow, 1999). In September 1969, working far from home, Norma McCorvey discovered that she was pregnant. On her return to Dallas on the advice of friends, she reported being raped since the laws of the State of Texas allowed abortion only in cases of rape. Unfortunately, she failed to prove being raped. After the failure of the first plan, Norma planned criminal abortion, but again this time it did not work – a specialist to whom she was going was arrested by police. Roe insisted on her right to address this issue without government interference. At the same time, lawyers Linda Coffee and Sarah Weddington were looking for a plaintiff, whose name would be to file a lawsuit against the State of Texas – “We will do it for other women” (Critchlow, 1999).
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One of the main issues raised in the pleadings, was “How to act in accordance with the rights of an unborn child?” In the debate by a lawyer of Jane Roe, Sarah Weddington, answered a question of the court, as follows, “The Constitution, as I understand it, aims to protect people from the moment of their birth. Citizens are born individuals. The Constitution, in my view, provides protection to people after they are born” (Critchlow, 1999). The Judge Torgud Marshall with a lawyer Jay Floyd, who defended the interests of the Government of the State of Texas, could not confirm that the origin of life was at the time of fertilization with scientific data. The lawyer admitted that he did not know, “when a soul is settled in an unborn child” (Critchlow, 1999). As a result, Texas lost the case. The Court declared the state law unconstitutional and, therefore, similar laws in other states. However, the Constitution says nothing about abortion. This was the revolutionary decision: the Court ruled in favor of a plaintiff on the basis of broad interpretation of the Fourth Amendment, which guarantees the inviolability of a person.
By the early twentieth century, almost all the U.S. states had laws that considered abortion as a criminal offense. However, illegal abortion was common. The annual number of illegal abortions in 1950-1960-s was, as estimated, 200,000 (Tietze, Henshaw, 1986). Many millions of abortions were carried out in inadequate conditions, particularly for poor women who did not have sufficient funds to pay a doctor or to go to the hospital where a procedure was more accessible. This led to increasing in morbidity and mortality among women. Illegal abortions accounted for 17% of maternal deaths in 1965, and among non-white women in New York this share was 50% (Tietze, Henshaw, 1986).
Seeing the negative effects of illegal abortions, many lawyers, doctors and priests began to call for changes in legislation. They were joined by a growing number of civil society organizations, which gradually convinced politicians of the need to review the law on abortion. The first state to legalize abortion on certain grounds was Colorado – in 1967. By 1972 it was followed by 13 other states. By 1973, when Supreme Court announced its historic decision in Roe vs. Wade case, four out of ten American women of reproductive age were living in states that abolished or reformed legislation on abortion (Cates et al., 1998). The Supreme Court in Roe vs. Wade case held that a woman’s right to privacy, including abortion, was protected by the Constitution, and thus it legalized abortion nationwide.
Since then abortion legalization conflict between opponents and supporters of the right to abortion only increased. To this day, the U.S. holds real struggle between advocates of so-called “right to life” (pro-life) and defenders of the “right to choose” (pro-choice) (Cates et al., 1998). Abortion is the topic of the election programs of political parties. The conservatives of the Republican Party have been fighting for the review of the Supreme Court decision in 1973 for over thirty years. According to some data, more than a half of clinics doing abortions faced abuses, including picketing clinics and doctors’ houses, vandalism and even bomb threats. However, the effects of the legalization of abortion are difficult to overestimate. Mortality among women as a result of the termination of pregnancy was reduced by an order of magnitude compared to the 1960s and now is virtually eliminated (Tietze, Henshaw, 1986). Today abortion in the United States is made by a qualified technician and is considered one of the safest medical procedures when performed in early pregnancy – with almost no harmful health effects. All in all, history proved that abortion legislation brought more good than harm. For instance, the current abortion legislation in the U.S can be examined. In 1992 the Supreme Court reaffirmed its decision of 1973, according to which an American woman has a right to the abortion performed under the supervision of a specialist (Cates et al., 1998). However, at the same time, the Supreme Court somewhat weakened legal protection of the right to abortion, giving states the right to impose limitations on the timing and circumstances of abortions, provided that it does not create insurmountable obstacles for women who want to terminate a pregnancy.
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- In 46 states doctors are allowed to refuse to perform abortion procedures; in 43 states medical institutions are permitted to follow the same procedure;
- 36 states prohibit abortion after a certain period of pregnancy (usually after a period when a fetus becomes viable), except for cases of threat to the life and health of a woman;
- In 34 states parental involvement is required if a minor decides to terminate the pregnancy;
- The U.S. Congress does not allow using federally-funded Medicaid to pay for abortions, except for cases of rape, incest or threat of a woman’s life;
- 17 states use their own funds to pay for abortions for poor women with health insurance. Only 13% of all abortions in the U.S. are paid from the state funds (usually by state governments);
- 87% of all U.S. counties do not have appropriate services for abortions; 34% of women of reproductive age live in these areas. 16% of the patients have to go for 50-100 miles and 8% of patients – more than 100 miles to get an abortion;
- In 24 states a woman seeking an abortion must wait a certain period of time (usually 24 hours) between the first consultation and the procedure itself (Cates et al., 1998).
Despite all evidence of the positive effects of abortion legislation, there are opponents who keep arguing that this is a real murder. Their main argument is connected with a question: When does the life begin?
One of the main issues in the dispute process delineated in the course of the trial. Mr. Robert Flavers (representative of Texas) speaking of the Christian values and continuation of the ban on abortions, stated that “the position of the State of Texas is that from the moment of conception, we are dealing with a human being, a person within the understanding of the Constitution” (Critchlow, 1999). The judge asked how he knew that a fetus was indeed a person. Flavers replied that the matter was submitted for decision in the legislature. The judge and disagreeing asked him whether Flavers knew any precedent in which a fetus would be considered a person, but Flavers admitted he did not know. Texas representative admitted that he did not know, “when a person acquires a soul” (Critchlow, 1999). The judge pointed out that the Fourteenth Amendment clearly defines personality as “born or naturalized”. Hence, this was argued by the abortion defendant and the case was won by the last one.
At what point can people begin to spread human rights? This is the question that cannot be avoided by any candidate for the U.S. presidency. It is such a litmus test by which Republican voters check how the candidate shares the views of his party. It is assumed that the Republican answer would be as following, “Human rights come into force from the moment of conception” (Tietze, Henshaw, 1986); that is, a person is an opponent of abortion, which is called “pro-life”. Meanwhile, Democrats say that women have the right to bear a child or to terminate pregnancy at any time, and state cannot interfere in their personal affairs. Of course, he will act to reduce the number of abortions, still not with legal, but with educational and contraceptive methods. To say that he supports abortion would be an exaggeration; so their position is called “pro-choice” (Tietze, Henshaw, 1986). Religious community represents significant percentage of voters and most of them, of course, are supporting pro-life strategy. Feminists and other human rights groups vote for pro-choice. Not surprisingly, the topic of abortion is called a minefield on the way to the presidency.
Right Christian even sent three presidents to the White House with an aim for them to appoint specific judges who review decision of the case “Roe vs. Wade” to the Supreme Court. These were stubborn and persistent presidents – Reagan and two Bushes – who struggled for changes. Reagan created the Soviet Union and Bushes had two wars with Iraq. Still, a legislative change to abortion was unaffordable. What is more, legalization of abortions brings the Americans disputes to rabies. In the U.S. many people find abortions as a violent crime. One legal scholar in the late 80’s even argued that legalized abortion is worse than slavery (since it always involves the death of a child), and worse than Holocaust (since the number of abortions in the United States by 2004 was approximately 37 million, far more than six million of Jews murdered during the Second World War in Europe).
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Unsurprisingly, nobody was limited with words. During celebration of the 25th anniversary of the historic decision in the case of’ “Roe vs. Wade'”, Attorney Assistant Doug Jones said that in a quarter of century activists of abortion ban arranged 185 explosions in various gynecological clinics of the country. Not counting the dozens of wounded, in those days Reuters asserted that only for the period from 1977 to 1997 five people were killed as a result of such attacks (National Commission on America). Christian doctrine was partly confirmed by laws of some states: murder of a pregnant woman is a double murder. Plus, here and there a woman expecting a baby was forbidden to drive a car – it relies on the fact that children should be carried in a rear seat in a car. Finally, President Bush closed the federal funding of medical facilities that took advantage of stem cell research embryos which were discarded or simply unnecessary for artificial insemination. One of the results of the protest movement demanding new ban on abortions is that “Medicaid” – the federal health insurance program for the poor – does not pay for abortions. In addition, 86% of districts have no surgeon-gynecologists who can handle abortions. Throughout the country there are less than two thousand of such professionals. Most medical schools do not teach future doctors this procedure and generally try not to mention it. Only 12% of the gynecology residency programs include specially trained abortion gynecologists, but only in the first three months (National Commission on America). Up to now, it sometimes happens that in this advanced country gynecologists are killed by religious fanatics.
In conclusion, in 1970 the case “Roe vs. Wade” was transferred to the U.S. Supreme Court. On January 22, 1973 with seven votes to two the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that ban on abortions violates main principle of the U.S. Constitution – the right of American citizens to dispose of their private lives. Thus, abortion was legalized in the United States at the federal level. The case “Roe vs. Wade” was the beginning of the debates in the U.S. which continue till today – this is a dispute about when a human life begins, when pregnancy can be terminated and whether one can do it, who is to decide on the legality of abortions – the federal government or states authority. This issue in the U.S. remains extremely complex and politicized. The leading aspect of the law is not the right to life but the right to respect private life (Article 8), which leaves some freedom of choice. In particular, the article allows restrictions on the right to privacy, which allows evaluating anti-abortion legislation positively. However, this does not preclude the admissibility of various dimensions of abortion, recognizing them in certain specific cases such as the direct continuation of the right to freely dispose of oneself. Thus, the government policy and legislation on abortion vary widely – from the total ban to permission. However, despite the considerable experience, in politics one cannot organically combine the essential principles: a woman’s health, health of a child, individual autonomy and dominant society ethics. Still, taking into account history lessons, a society receives more good from the “pro-choice” position since humans have a right to dispose of themselves.