Abortion refers to the termination of a pregnancy resulting in the removal of fetus and has been legalized in all the fifty states by the Supreme Court of America in 1973, for medical or social reasons (Roe v. Wade, 1973 and Doe v. Bolton, 1973). Whether morally accepted or not, abortion today is a large part of society and provides an alternative and a choice to women whether they want to have a baby or not. While it is the moral responsibility of couples or partners to ascertain that appropriate contraceptive measures are taken in order to prevent unwanted pregnancies, there may be numerous reasons for undergoing an abortion, ranging from personal to societal to medical. In certain situations like rape or incest or during medical uncertainties in which pregnancies pose a risk to the life of the mother, abortion is necessary; but some people deem it wrong if the life of an unborn child is unnecessarily terminated.
Abortions have been the topic of regular debate in societies, with respect to the right of the fetus to live. Opponents of abortion state many religious, moral, and ethical reasons for banning the practice of abortion. What they do however tend to forget most of the time, is that abortion is the matter of personal choice of the mother who has the entire right to decide whether she wants to continue with the pregnancy or terminate it, since it is the mother who knows the situation in which the child is likely to be born. In view of these special situations, abortion should be admissible.
Opponents of abortion argue that by the time the mother realizes she is pregnant, the fetus’s heart has already begun to beat, and as such, abortion is the destruction of a living child (Moore K., 1988) and therefore the act of abortion is like murdering a living entity, who is in no position to defend itself. Opponents also debate regarding the negative effects of abortion on the body of a woman since the harmful effects of abortion on women, are physically and in some cases even psychological. They state that the pain and suffering that women undergo during an abortion is highly intense and is very similar to a fracture of a bone or even the pain experienced when one is afflicted with cancer (Wells N., 1991; Bélanger E., Melzak R. & Lauzon P., 1989). Women do not know about this pain until they experience it, and are very often not informed by the performing doctors regarding this aspect. Apart from this, opponents show concern about the possibility of several complications following abortion, including hemorrhage (Schulz, et al., 1983), infection, (Danforth D., 1986), disturbances in the menstrual cycle (Stubblefield P., 1993), inflammation (Roht L.H., et al, 1977) and in some cases increased risks of future miscarriages (Tzonou A., et al, 1993) and even breast cancer (Janet Daling, et al, 1994).
However, opponents should consider the fact that the mother plays a very crucial role in rearing the child and that her physical and mental health, along with her medical status will have a very strong impact on the development of the child. Some pregnancies may be a result of rape which may cause negative societal implications and problems for women, especially young girls (Bankole et al. 1998). No matter how modern the society may become, there is always a questioning look towards unwed or teen mothers. Of course, this may not be the case in every society, but in a majority of societies, even today.
Apart from the societal reasons why women and females prefer to undergo abortion, there are a number of medical factors due to which many women choose abortion as an alternative to giving birth. Besides, in cases of late pregnancies, where women conceive relatively late in their lives when they are between thirty-five to forty-five years of age, there are chances of a defective fetus. In such cases of a faulty fetus, women may face not only physical but also psychological problems following the birth of an abnormal child. Not only would this negatively impact the child but more importantly the mother who has to look after an abnormal offspring. The retarded or defected child will obviously have to bear innumerable problems in the world. Additionally, if the child is physically disabled, there will be tremendous mental stress and pressure on the child with respect to his relative disability in coping with the challenges of the world. The child will also suffer from depression and low self-esteem. All this is bound to have an effect on the parents, and the mother in particular.
In case of a mental abnormality, the pressures on the mother are numerous. It is not only difficult to physically handle such children but the trauma of having a mentally retarded child is also immense. Thus, in cases where there is knowledge of disabled fetuses, which is a strong medical reason, abortion should be used effectively to not only reduce the burden on the mother but also the mental and physical stress the children may have to bear if they come into the world. In such cases, couples do generally opt for abortion to terminate the pregnancy (Kolata 1992).
There are also other cases when the life of a woman is in grave danger, and abortion is the only way to then save her life. Such cases are common among diabetic women who experience incessant nausea, putting them at an elevated risk of heart failure. Diabetes also increases the risk of being genetically transferred to the child from the mother. Moreover, if the health of the woman is already unstable and the pregnancy is likely to put her at an elevated risk, it is most prudent to undergo an abortion. For, if the mother is in a bad shape with regard to medical health, then the advanced years of pregnancy increase her risks to further complications and sometimes may even prove fatal, for her as well as the child.
Abortions are also necessary to be carried out in the case of women with other diseases such as hypertension, renal diseases, and the above-mentioned heart diseases, when it is more sensible to abort the fetus, rather than put the life of the mother in danger and risk the future of the unborn child who may have no mother or may have an ailing mother who is unable to look after the wellbeing of her child due to the complications, resulting from her pregnancy. Women are sometimes forced to consider factors like monetary problems and economic restrictions. Finances do play an important role in the physical development of the child and the nutritional needs of the child are directly related to the economic conditions of the family or mother to which it is born. Any medical procedure has certain risks attached to it, and abortion is no exception. Although the risks associated with abortion may be plenty, one cannot rule out the risks associated with some high-risk pregnancies, which if continued may result in grave dangers and sometimes even death of the pregnant woman.
Opponents of abortion have time and again argued that abortion puts the mother at risk not only when she is undergoing the abortion but also in the future when she may want to have a baby, and as a result of her previous abortion and complications, may not be able to do so or which will result in potential risks to her pregnancies, later in life (Hern 1982; Hogue, Cates, and Tietze 1982). However, the proponents debate that an abortion that has taken place in time will have few health problems for the mother. Further, it has been proved that healthy women are able to adjust and adapt themselves reasonably well to all the problems related to pregnancies, whether it is pre-term delivery of the child, a miscarriage, or an induced abortion (Adler et al. 1990).
Abortion is not such a serious hazard and does not endanger the life of the mother. In fact in most cases when it is performed by choice, it is known to solve the numerous problems which would otherwise have to be faced by the mother as well as the child. If it is performed at the hands of qualified professionals, abortion has few side effects on the health of the mother, who with appropriate medication, recovers soon. Mothers who do not want the child might have medical reasons to do so. They may not be prepared mentally as well as physically to rear up a child successfully. In cases when the mother has physical problems such as diseases and poor health, it is highly likely that the child will be neglected and development from the physical as well as mental aspect is then bound to suffer. Even if the mother is physically fit but wants to terminate the fetus due to economic factors, the mental health of the mother will be affected due to the dissatisfaction of not being able to rear up a child in an appropriate manner. Thus, when women decide not to have a child, it is better to terminate the unwanted fetus rather than having an unwanted pregnancy to proceed further as this is most likely to have a psychological effect on the mother in rearing the child as well as the child who has the potential to undergo a number of difficulties in the physical and mental development, during his lifetime (David et al. 1988).
- Adler E., David P., Major N., Roth H., Russo F., & Wyatt E., 1990. “Psychological Responses after Abortion.” Science 248:41–44.
- Bankole A., Singh S., and Haas T., 1998. “Reasons Why Women Have Induced Abortions: Evidence from 27 Countries.” International Family Planning Perspectives.
- Bélanger E., Melzak R., & Lauzon P., 1989, “Pain of first-trimester abortion: a study of psychosocial and medical predictors,” Pain, Vol. 36.
- Daling J., et al, 1994, “Risk of Breast Cancer Among Young Women: Relationship to Induced Abortion,” Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Vol. 86, No. 21.
- Danforth D., 1986, Obstetrics and Gynecology, 5th ed. Philadelphia: J.B. Lipincott.
- David P., Dytrych Z., Matejcek Z., & Schuller V., 1988. Born Unwanted: Developmental Effects of Denied Abortion. New York: Springer.
- Hern M., 1982. “Long-term Risks of Induced Abortion.” In Gynecology and Obstetrics, ed. J. J. Sciarra.
- Hogue R., Cates W. & Tietze C., 1982. “The Effects of Induced abortion on Subsequent Reproduction.” Epidemiologic Reviews 4:66.
- Kolata G., 1992. “In Late Abortions, Decisions Are Painful and Options Few.” New York Times.
- Moore K., 1988, ‘The Developing Human,’ 4th ed., Philadelphia, W.B. Saunders Co.
- Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S.; 113, 163-164 (1973) and Doe v. Bolton, 410 U.S. 179, 191-192 (1973).
- Roht H., et al, 1977, “Increased Reporting of Menstrual Symptoms Among Women Who Used Induced Abortion,” American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Vol. 127.
- Schulz K., Grimes D., Cates W., Jr., 1983, “Measures to Prevent Cervical Injury During Suction Curettage Abortion,” The Lancet.
- Stubblefield P., 1993. “First and Second Trimester Abortion,” in Gynecologic and Obstetric Surgery, ed. David H. Nichols.
- Tzonou A., et al, 1993, “Induced abortions, miscarriages, and tobacco smoking as risk factors for secondary infertility,” Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, Vol. 47.
- Wells N., 1991, “Pain and Distress During Abortion,” Health Care for Women International, Vol 12