Legal and Ethical Views on Abortion

The debates regarding abortion in the United States are influenced by certain legal and ethical views of pro-life and pro-choice supporters. Three main stages are determined in these debates: Debate 1 developed before the decision in Roe v. Wade (1973), Debate 2 as the discussion on the federal funding for abortions, and Debate 3 related to the consequences of the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act. In spite of the fact that Roe v. Wade contributed to legalizing abortion in the United States, pro-life activists still emphasize the unethical nature of abortion that is similar to murder and influence the practice of gynecologists and obstetricians.

The issue of abortion as the intended termination of pregnancy is one of the most debatable topics in the United States that allows for connecting such areas as the law, ethics, and health care. Currently, a variety of contradicting ethical and legal views regarding abortion exists in US society despite the fact that the Supreme Court legalized abortion according to its decision in Roe v. Wade in 1973 (Doan, 2007). Therefore, currently, it is important to understand how Roe v. Wade and the associated decision influenced the practice of obstetrics and gynecology in the United States and the overall interpretation of the abortion issue in society (Reagan, 2008). Although Roe v. Wade contributed to legalizing abortion in the United States, accentuating the rights of women to make decisions regarding their body, pro-life activists still emphasize the unethical nature of abortion, similar to murder.

Ethical Issues Associated with the Question of Abortion

The issue of abortion combines the elements of ethical, healthcare, and legal problems. In this context, ethical issues and people’s beliefs regarding the life are most influential as they influence the adoption of laws and policies to regulate abortion services, as well as specific procedures in medical settings. The following key ethical issues and questions have a direct impact on interpreting abortion in ethical and legal terms today: Should the unborn fetus be discussed similarly to individuals? Who has the right on deciding regarding the pregnancy termination? What are the limits of the state’s and society’s impact on abortions and decisions regarding the life of a mother and the fetus? Should people view abortions as murder? These questions demonstrate how closely the problem of abortion in society is related to both ethics and law (Boonin, 2003). The controversial nature of this problem explains the existence of two opposite points of view represented by pro-choice and pro-life supporters, where pro-choice supporters accentuate the necessity of abortions, and pro-life supporters are against abortions. Therefore, the moral status of abortion is still a topic for a heated debate in US society and worldwide.

The Pro-Choice Perspective and Roe v. Wade

The decision in Roe v. Wade was made according to the ethical perspective shared by pro-choice activists. Thus, women’s rights to privacy and making choice and decisions were declared according to the decision that challenged the Texas statute that restricted abortion. As a result, it was stated that a woman should have the right to end her pregnancy in the context of the right to privacy (Stetson, 2001). This decision contributed to guaranteeing that abortion services would become widely accessible and safe for all American women. Possible abortion restrictions and cases in which the decision regarding abortion was regulated by the government were also formulated in the context of discussing Roe v. Wade. According to Reagan (2008), the decision in Roe v. Wade became a logical outcome of developing the abortion rights movement. The problem was that non-legalized abortion procedures were frustrating for both women, who were limited in their choices, and physicians, who were interested in promoting women’s health and well-being.

It is important to note that the debate regarding the “choice” and “life” (Debate 1) became extremely active before the 1970s because the conditions in which women could have an abortion were inappropriate and unsafe from a medical perspective. As a result, people became focused on determining the constitutionality of illegal abortions, and this question determined the subject for the first debate (Stetson, 2001). The overall situation in which women were required to choose an illegal abortion procedure were rather discriminatory (Boonin, 2003). Therefore, the decision in Roe v. Wade provided women with rights to decide regarding their private life and their body, as well as physicians with the right to deliver high-quality care. The provision of this right was important for female Americans because they received an opportunity to legally control their body and take care of it.

As it is noted by researchers, the decriminalization of abortion was important in order to determine how the law could regulate legal decisions regarding abortion at different stages of pregnancy. It is possible to state that the government did not lose all the opportunities to regulate abortion cases from a legal perspective. Thus, the trimester framework was adopted, and the states were not allowed to restrict an abortion before the third trimester of pregnancy, and during the third trimester, the decision should be regulated by the law (Stetson, 2001). This court decision addressed both ethical and medical issues, saving the lives of mothers and unborn children. The next stage (Debate 2) in the discussion was associated with arguing on the federal funding for abortions, and the third stage (Debate 3) was related to the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act (Stetson, 2001). At these stages, during the period of 1974-2000, pro-life supporters became more influential and able to promote the anti-abortion movement in the United States.

An Opposite Legal and Pro-Life Ethical Perspectives

The ethical perspectives of the representatives of the pro-choice movement were influential during the first stage of debates. However, the views of pro-life activists related to religious, social, and political organizations became stronger during the second stage, and the key step in restricting abortion was associated with limiting funding for related medical operations (Stetson, 2001). The decision in Roe v. Wade made pro-life supporters effectively organize their movement and influence the discussion of the problem in media, political spheres, as well as affect the practice in hospitals (Doan, 2007). In several cases, the court rejected the right for women to financial assistance to perform an abortion. This was an indirect approach to accentuate the lack of women’s right to privacy, and it was a chance for pro-life activists to strengthen their position (Boonin, 2003). The development of Debate 2 demonstrated the shift in priorities, and the legal, political, and financial perspectives became more influential than the ethical one related to women’s right to have abortions depending on their choice.

The progress of Debate 3 was associated with the discussion of the legal character of the partial-birth abortion procedure. Pro-life supporters actively accentuated the unethical character of such a medical procedure that was discussed as being extremely close to the murder (Stetson, 2001). The Catholic Church began to play a critical role in the further development of the anti-abortion movement during this period, emphasizing the value of a human life and the impossibility to kill the fetus (Doan, 2007; Miller, 2014). The struggle of the pro-choice majority in the White House and the pro-life majority in the US Congress made this debate acute in 1995-1998 (Stetson, 2001). Thus, the main argument of the supporters of the pro-life movement was that abortion was almost equal to killing an individual, and the evidence was associated with the specifics of the partial-birth abortion procedure.

However, it is important to state that the women’s movement became rather strong again in order to support female interests regarding their decisions related to abortion. The problem is that both pro-life and pro-choice perspectives are based on certain ethical and legal norms. As a result, the success of this or that position and its adoption in society highly and primarily depends on the representation of the proponents of opposite views in the court or in the White House and Congress (Stetson, 2001). This aspect makes the discussion and analysis of the abortion issue close not only to ethics and health care but also to such spheres as the law and politics. In this context, it is possible to speak about inter-professionalism in interpreting this issue.

Impacts of Abortion Debates and Roe v. Wade on Obstetrics and Gynecology

In spite of the fact that the practice of gynecologists regarding an abortion was influenced by each stage in debates, the most remarkable changes became observed after 1973. The reason is that women got an opportunity to legally have an abortion in healthcare settings and receive appropriate care, counseling, and treatment as a result of Roe v. Wade. In this context, the authorities’ and medical control over abortion procedures became limited in terms of affecting women’s decisions. At this stage, the key focus was on providing women with information on their conditions during the first and second trimesters, and physicians’ reasoning was highly involved at the third trimester to determine the medical necessity of an abortion (Stetson, 2001). It was legally determined that gynecologists and obstetricians should provide the support for all women who want to receive abortion services that need to be safe and effective (Doan, 2007). The specifics of conducting the procedure of an abortion were selected by gynecologists and obstetricians depending on an individual case, and the overall procedure should be agreed with a woman.

The second stage of the debates made gynecologists and obstetricians concentrate on the cases of medically necessary abortions because their decisions could directly influence women’s access to funding. At this stage, gynecologists received some authority and control regarding the decisions to perform an abortion or not. The third stage influenced gynecologists and obstetricians’ views regarding the application of a specific partial-birth abortion procedure that provoked much debate in US society (Stetson, 2001). Thus, it is possible to state that, due to the prevalence of these or those views in society regarding abortion, the practice of physicians, gynecologists, and obstetricians becomes highly regulated by the law and ethical norms. In this context, decisions and procedures offered by health care professionals can be judged by patients and community members in their context of specific views and beliefs shared in a certain state or region of the US. Health care providers need to balance between addressing female patients’ interests and following the regulations regarding the abortion services that have changed in some way since 1973 and Roe v. Wade.

Today, more attention is paid to finding an ethical balance between providing women with the choice and decreasing the abortion rate in the country. In this context, it is possible to speak about the development of a certain code of ethics for gynecologists and obstetricians to guarantee their decisions and support for women choosing an abortion are as ethical as it is possible in a certain situation. The positive aspect in these debates that significantly influenced the medical practice regarding abortions was that a woman’s health was still a primary concern. Furthermore, a woman’s health and well-being was a key priority for the state and medical staff to regulate decisions regarding the necessity of an abortion (Doan, 2007; Stetson, 2001). However, the adoption of the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act could change this situation as it did not include wide exceptions related to a woman’s health to perform an abortion during the third trimester. The trimester framework is still applied in the states to regulate the legality of abortions despite differences in views among researchers and practicing gynecologists and obstetricians regarding the safety of abortions during different periods of pregnancy.


Roe v. Wade contributed significantly to changing perspectives regarding the nature of abortions and to legalizing this procedure in the United States. It was an important step toward accentuating the rights of women to make decisions regarding their body, and it was the accentuation of their right to privacy. However, the debate regarding the role of abortion in the United States are still acute, and pro-life activists continue to emphasize the unethical nature of abortion, which is regarded as similar to murder. The prevalence of pro-life or pro-choice supporters in the US Congress and White House influences the progress of pro- and anti-abortion movements in the country, and changing regulations and policies directly influence the practice and decisions of gynecologists.


Boonin, D. (2003). Non-rights-based arguments. In D. Boonin (Ed.), A defense of abortion (pp. 282-324). Cambridge University Press.

Doan, A. (2007). Shifting contexts: The history of abortion in America. In A. Doan (Ed.), Opposition and intimidation: The abortion wars and strategies of political harassment (pp. 38-69). University of Michigan Press.

Miller, P. (2014). Good Catholics: The battle over abortion in the Catholic Church. University of California Press.

Reagan, L. J. (2008). Radicalization of reform. In L. J. Reagan (Ed.), When abortion was a crime: Women, medicine, and law in the United States, 1867-1973 (pp. 216-245). University of California Press.

Stetson, D. (2001). US abortion debates 1959-1998: The women’s movement holds on. In D. Stetson (Ed.), Abortion politics, women’s movements, and the democratic state: A comparative study of state feminism (pp. 247-266). Oxford University Press.

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