History Of Abortion In The USA

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Abortion has been one of the most controversial issues in the USA. Since 1900 or so, different anti-abortion laws have been in force in different states. Keeping pace with the changing times and attitudes, they have been modified from time to time, giving fresh impetus to the controversy.

Towards the end of the 18th century, almost all the States in the USA had passed anti-Abortion laws and banned abortion with two objectives – to save the lives of women from the quacks who used to perform abortion by unsafe procedures and to stop the falling the birthrate among whites. However, women facing a threat to their lives in advanced stage of pregnancy were out of the scope of the ban.

Consequence of ban                                                 

The anti-abortion legislation did not put an end to the practice. On the contrary, it made things worse. Solvent women obtained abortion by paying high fee to physicians while their poor counterparts went to midwives to have it done by hazardous procedures. Some of them even went for self-abortion that often led to dangerous consequences including death.

Illegal safer abortion

Concerned about the growing number of women falling victim to unscientific abortion, some trained doctors took up the cause of safe abortion in secrecy, often at the risk of imprisonment. Sharing their concern, some feminist groups along with some pastors also took the initiative in 1960s to provide referral services to women seeking abortion. Some abortion counseling agencies were also set up in Chicago and other places to suggest safe and affordable abortion.

Efforts to make abortion legal      

Movement to make abortion safe and legal gained momentum in the 1960s and women played an active part in connecting the issue to the larger perspective of civil rights and gender equality. Rallies were organized to highlight the danger of illegal abortion and demand made for suitable legislation to this effect. The anguish of unsafe abortion was brought to the fore by millions of sufferers across the USA, leading to four states repealing the abortion laws and fourteen reforming them between 1967 and 1973. As a result, abortion was allowed in cases of pregnancy being caused by rape and incest.

In subsequent years, different states went for legalizing abortion in different measures. In Hawaii, for instance, abortion was allowed to its own residents. But instead of solving the problem, it created a new scenario where women from other states either continued to obtain abortion illegally or moved to states where it was made legal. It was quite an expensive proposition and was not within the means of the majority of women seeking abortion.

Historic verdict

Finally, on January 22, 1973, the USA Supreme Court revoked all the existing abortion laws in its historic Roe vs. Wade decision. The verdict was based on its findings that a woman’s decision to terminate pregnancy in the first trimester was protected under the right to privacy founded in the Fourteenth Amendment’s concept of liberty.

However, the states were allowed to restrict abortion in the second trimester to protect a woman’s health and in third semester to protect a feasible fetus. But in circumstances where a woman’s health or life was in danger, pregnancy could be terminated at any stage.

The Roe vs. Wade verdict provided a uniform framework upon which the states were asked to have their own legislation. The Bellotti vs. Baird decision in 1979 allowed the states to insist that a minor obtain parental consent before abortion. In the Gonzales vs. Carhart decision in 2007, doctors were barred from performing the procedure of intact dilation and evacuation of fetus with no instrumentation.

Even after so many legislations, Americans are still divided on the abortion issue. It became evident in a Gallup.com survey where it was found that 46% of the participants belonged to “pro-life” and 47% belonged to “pro-choice” group.

 

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