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In modern history, there have been few subjects of political and social interest as divisive as that of abortion. Ideologically, many traditional religions such as Christianity have stipulated that abortion itself is an unethical practice and one that is morally wrong. Many Christians assert that there is some divinely unethical nature of the mishandling of the fetus itself. Most arguments of this kind essentially pertain to the status of the fetus as a person, one that has the right to the same advantages and privileges as its human mother. As such, abortion has come to dominate many discussions and people have found platforms to argue for or against the acceptance of abortion as a norm in our society. Much of the opposition surrounding the ethics of abortion pertains to religious belief, and many ascribe to the notion that abortion contradicts divine command theory. As such, there are many factors to consider in interpreting abortion from a theological standpoint, as well as in addressing the positives and negatives associated with the act itself.
When the United States first began establishing itself as its own country, many of the states simply transferred English laws to their own and used these as a sort of template for how to conduct their own affairs. Abortion was handled much the same in this way, and the structure for how many states began to approach abortion came from how they chose to handle it within this framework. Many states essentially stated that it was not allowed or permitted after around the 15-20 week period immediately following conception. Anti-abortion laws and statutes officially began to manifest themselves in the United States around the 1820s, and these laws expanded upon previous laws to help supplant the notion that abortion was unethical. In the year 1821, one of the first prominent anti-abortion laws came forth from Connecticut, which outlawed medicines that were given to women to help further abortions. In 1829, New York made abortions that
Despite the advances that were occurring in medical science and the developments in these fields, many people in the United States still considered it an unethical dilemma to condone the acts that were associated with abortion, or to facilitate them. As medical sciences grew in support of the belief that fetuses didn’t exhibit the same traits or characteristics as fully-born children, many theological centers and individuals began imposing their own opinions of the matter, to stand in stark contradiction to these claims. Scientists in this era concluded that conception was merely an inauguration point for the development of a fetus and that it was a continuous process of development until the child fully possessed all of its human-like traits and characteristics. Criminalization of abortion became a huge trend in the late 1860s, as various doctors and legislators began doubling down on the act and making it illegal. By the year 1900, abortion had become a felony in essentially every state in the country. Yet, some states had included clauses or provisions which were meant to ensure that abortions could be conducted in a limited nature, when issues such as the health of the mother became a factor, or if the pregnancy was the direct result of incest or rape.
In 1973, the Supreme Court was a group the case of Roe v. Wade, one that would transform the history of abortions in the country and provide a catalyst for a more in-depth examination of the ethical nature of abortions themselves. In this particular case, the Supreme Court came to rule that a statute in Texas which forbade abortion, except when it was necessary to ensure the safety of the mother, was unconstitutional. This decision sparked a tremendous amount of backlash and controversy and has provided a plethora of individuals and groups with a reason to once again oppose the act. Many of these groups and entities have debated on the ethical nature of abortion, and have used the divine command theory to support their claims.
The divine command theory is a theological approach to understanding and interpreting the grounds of morality, as well as establishing what is moral and what is not. Unlike the ethics of natural law, the divine command theory is used to establish a clear and present moral direction, and to help supplant a sense of duty and ethical foundation. The theory is developed on the notion that God is the creator of the world, and that the laws which govern morality and ethics are extensions of the commands that God asserts. Furthermore, the argument among many theological representatives is that God would be against the nature of abortion, as it stands contrary to the Commandments that God gave humans. A direct and implicit interpretation of the morality of abortion may be surmised from the scripture in Exodus 21:22-24, in which the scripture itself discusses a woman who has a miscarriage as a result of two men who are fighting in the passage. (The Bible, Exodus 21:22-24) The scripture does not directly state that she had an abortion at that moment, but it does provide an inference into the miscarriage and states that it was immoral due to the fact a life was lost in this time. As such, it has become a principle Christian belief that a life of a fetus is equivalent to that of an adult human, in terms of the value that God places upon it.
In the passage 44:2, it is stated that “thus says the Lord who made you and formed you from the womb, who will help you. Do not fear, O Jacob My servant, and you Jeshurun whom I have chosen.” (The Bible, Isaiah 44:2) In this bit of scripture, God consults with Jacob and tells him that he should not have any fear because God provided him with life directly from the womb of his mother, which would imply that God has established some level of plan or purpose for Jacob even when he was a fetus. It is this basis that many have used to establish their interpretation of divine command theory. This notion supports the centralized argument that it is humanity’s responsibility to provide the most maximum safety for that of all human life, which these theorists argue starts in the womb and immediately after conception. The moral ramifications of abortion, as this theory postulates, is that God will not condone actions which facilitate the likelihood of abortion or the helping of abortion in any way.
While it can be said that the religious groups believe that the life of a fetus is sacred, many people outside of these mentalities believe that there is an inherent right in the mother to control what she does with her own body, and how she goes about doing it. Many of these individuals argue that their belief systems do not correlate directly with this mentality and that it is unethical in itself to subject a woman to the harsh realities of being a mother if it was never her intention to become a mother in the first place. As such, it is worth understanding abortion itself and what it can entail, to better interpret the ethical nature of the act and which side presents a more sound argument.
Abortion can be a tremendously devastating act, psychologically. A study that was amassed from approximately 56,000 public records in California concluded that women who had abortions were 160 percent more likely to be sent to the hospital for psychiatric care, as opposed to women who had chosen to see the pregnancy through and deliver the child. (Barlett, 2004, 729) Furthermore, it was noted that the rates of treatment for psychiatric issues were higher by a large margin for upwards of four years, in women who had abortions. Further studies indicate that many women experience psychological issues as early as eight weeks after they have an abortion. These studies have found that approximately 44 percent of women have some level of nervous disorder and that 36 percent note that they have some level of disturbance in their sleep patterns and in their overall regular sleep cycles. (Barlett, 2004, 731) Over 30 percent of these women also note that they openly regret the decision that they made, and approximately 11 percent of people are prescribed some type of medication to help them cope with the stresses associated with their decision. (Barlett, 2004, 731) Women who have abortions are more prone to visit psychiatrists than those who have delivered children to full term.
Researchers have concluded that there is only one real positive emotion that is correlated with abortions, being that of relief. Yet, this can quickly be supplanted by feelings of numbness or a sense of emotional paralysis. It is often the case that women who have abortions are left with a general inability to express their emotions after the procedure, correlating whatever feelings they have to just a general appreciation for having been able to survive the procedure, with little more being reported. This can lead to a more stable, concurrent level of negative reactions which can continue to manifest themselves throughout the next several months following an abortion-related procedure. Significant studies have concluded that approximately 50 percent of women question their decisions after the procedure, and over 55 percent express some sort of guilt within the 8 weeks that follow the abortion. (Barlett, 2004, 735) Furthermore, approximately forty percent of women who abort report to having sexual complications or dysfunctions, which can last for a short or long period of time in most cases. These can include increased pain or a loss of pleasure from the acts of sex and an aversion to the genitals of their partners, or to males in general.
Psychological issues aren’t the only ones that can manifest themselves after an abortion. Approximately one hundred complications have been associated with the induction of abortion, and all of these have the capacity to affect the women undergoing these processes. Statistics on abortion state that 10 percent of women who are undergoing some type of abortion-related procedure have some type of immediate physical or mental issue that occurs during or after the process and 20 percent of these can be seen as major factors and health-related issues. (Barlett, 2004, 737) Among many of the complications that can physically happen are infections, fevers, abdominal pain, bleeding, vomiting and intestinal disturbances. The most commonly identified major issues that can happen are serious infections, embolism, convulsions, cervical injury, hemorrhaging, perforation of the uterus, bleeding, and shock during the process. A study which cataloged the effects of 1,180 abortions concluded that over 27 percent of the patients had some type of infection that lasted more than 3 days after the process. (Barlett, 2004, 741) While it can be said that many of these issues can be immediately treated, a large percentage of them can lead to long-term, more serious results and damages to the reproductive system and other attributes of the woman’s body and health. 3 to 5 percent of women who have aborted are accidentally left sterile as a result of the effects of the process, and this is even greater when venereal diseases are introduced into the equation. (Barlett, 2004, 740)
Despite these factors, there are many potential ethical positives to abortions. Regardless of the health risks associated with abortion, it should ultimately be left to the woman to decide what she will do with her own body. Many experts argue that pregnancies should not be enforced upon the acts of sex. In 2008, a study concluded that 41 percent of all pregnancies that happened in the United States were not planned, or indirectly accidental in some way. (Finn, Moore, 2008, 112) When one considers the size of the population in the United States, there are over 85 million women who identify with this claim. The number of reasons that a woman should be able to cancel a pregnancy should not be so limited, and this affects a large percentage of the population in the United States. Delineating these decisions and the freedom for a woman to have her own say over her body does not pose a significant level of intrinsic value in the life of the woman.
Furthermore, the issue becomes more complex when one looks at the availability of contraception. It is often the case that many women who have sex and their partners are not able to readily find contraception, nor do they have the means to ascertain it themselves. Since 1980, there has been a 61 percent decrease in the funds that are available through the Title X program, which helps to provide affordable services to people to help them dictate their family planning. (Finn, Moore, 2008, 110) Many socially-charged issues and the dissemination of anti-abortion materials have catalyzed a scenario in which women do not have the proper access to the resources that they often need to ensure that they do not get pregnant. When this is considered, enforcing abortions does not have much of an ethical foundation in itself, supplanting the notion that women’s bodies and their decisions are not valid or hold the same level of importance as the livelihood of fetuses.
Abortion is a tremendously important social issue, and one that has manifested itself in many different ways throughout the course of modern American history. Many opponents of abortion believe that the act is against God’s will, and that God has ordained the value of a fetus’ existence as comparable to the lives of humans. This coincides with the principles of divine command theory according to many of these individuals, and their belief system is built around the notion that abortion is a fundamentally unethical issue to God. Many ideologies have used this as a principle justification for their unwillingness to understand or accept abortion, which has led to a significant level of controversy in the United States between the groups of people who oppose it and those who support it. As a result, the United States has had a turbulent history with the subject of abortion, which has led to much debate in terms of a woman’s right to her own livelihood and body. While it can be said that abortion can be a potentially harmful action in terms of the effects it can have psychologically and physically, a woman should still be given the freedom to choose how she goes about her own body, and what she chooses to do with it. Socially, it is the responsibility of a nation such as the United States to provide the most adequate resources that it can to help facilitate these processes and the decisions that women make.
Bartlett, LA. “Risk factors for legal induced abortion-related mortality in the United States”.Obstet Gynecol.Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2004. p. 729-745.
Finer, Lawrence B.; Moore, Ann M. “Reasons U.S. Women Have Abortions: Quantitative and Qualitative Perspectives” Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health. 2008. pp.. 110–128.
The Bible: Contemporary English Version, 2000. London: Harper Collins.
Weingarten, Karen. Abortion in the American Imagination: Before Life and Choice, 1880-1940, 2000.New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. p. 176.