By Pieter De Wit
Russian feminist, Alexandra Kollantai fought for women’s rights in the Soviet Union, resulting in abortion reform in 1920 and the recognition of the procedure as a human right for the first time in history.
In the famous 1973 Roe vs Wade ruling, the United States Supreme Court declared abortion during the first 6 months of pregnancy, a fundamental right for the women of America. The main arguments centred on the safety of the procedure and the basic right of women to make their own decisions.
Each year millions of woman experience an unplanned pregnancy, and four out of 10 of them decide on terminations, resulting in 20-30 million legal abortions worldwide. In the U.S, 1 in 4 women will have had an abortion by the time they’re 45 years old.
But not everyone agrees on the legalisation of abortion, and the subject has divided countries the world over. On one side are those in the “pro-life” camp, they say abortion is always wrong, while the “pro-choice” stance supports the right to choose, seeing abortion as acceptable in some circumstances. Many reasonable arguments are made on both sides. But I think you can’t definitively state abortion is always wrong. Bear with me, and I will clarify by giving you insight into the three main arguments.
The Right To Life
One of the main arguments against abortion is that it is considered murder. People with this opinion state that life begins at conception, so unborn babies are human beings and have the right to live. On the pro-choice side, people state that fetuses are not independent, and abortion is the termination of pregnancy, not of a baby. Even more, this discussion implies that the right to life is always more important than the right of choice or freedom of women, which is also a fundamental right!
In Ireland until 2018, the unborn baby’s right to life was considered more important than the life of the mother. This led to the sadly infamous case of Savita Halappanavar, who died in 2012. Savita was denied a termination of her pregnancy, despite continuing pregnancy being life-threatening for the mother and a miscarriage inevitable. The refusal to induce the miscarriage due to a foetal heartbeat cost this young woman her life.
Pro-life supporters argue that if women become pregnant, they should accept the responsibility of a child. People need to take responsibility and accept the risk of pregnancy when having sexual intercourse, even when contraceptive methods are used. They should not punish an unborn and defenceless baby.
Yes, abortion should not be used as contraception, but in many cases, the situation is more complicated. Many women who choose abortion don’t have the financial resources to support a child. In 2014, the Guttmacher Institute reported that 75% of women having abortions were categorised as poor or having a low income. Instead of forcing further poverty, vulnerable women should be empowered to follow their path and bring a baby into the world when they’re ready.
And as we know, life is not always a fairytale. What if they’re in a relationship with someone they don’t want a baby with? Or what if the relationship is abusive or she has been sexually assaulted? There may be a myriad of reasons not to have a child from health to safety, making the general argument of “taking responsibility” invalid.
The Health Risks Of Banning Abortion
For some, there is a health risk in continuing a pregnancy. In the first 15 weeks, a medical practitioner might determine that a miscarriage is inevitable by detecting declining blood levels of HCG or the absence of a heartbeat. A miscarriage may carry a greater risk to the mother than abortion, and therefore, termination might be the safest option.
Sometimes medical conditions arise that require immediate treatment that cannot be safely done while pregnant. If something such as an aggressive cancer poses a danger to the mother’s life, an abortion may be necessary so she can access life-saving medical treatment.
Banning them would lead to an increase in illegal abortions. This number already amounts to 10-20 million a year worldwide. They are often unsafe, and because of serious complications, account for 13% of women’s deaths globally.
Legal abortion is a very safe procedure with fewer than 1 in 100,000 deaths occurring from first-trimester terminations. Abortion is generally safer than carrying a pregnancy to term.
The choice to have an abortion is rarely easy and almost always heartbreaking. No woman gets pregnant and chooses to terminate for fun. Living circumstances, poverty, relationship status and medical conditions are some factors that can determine whether continuing a pregnancy is a good idea.
Instead of burdening women with more guilt or shame, we should respect their difficult choice, one that only they can make, and support them as much as we can.