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Nature intends that an offspring should begin and develop in the mother's baby until it is mature enough to be delivered and live on its own. Those nine months of gestation in the mother's womb pose a long-standing controversy, which pits the rights of the unborn child against the rights of the mother. One side, called pro-life, holds that the embryo or fetus has full and distinct rights to life while in the womb as a separate entity from the mother and, that therefore, the termination of pregnancy through abortion as a birth control method violates its rights. The other side, called pro-choice, argues that pregnancy can be terminated as a method of birth control under certain conditions, that the fetus or embryo does not have the same full rights as the mother and that the mother has a right to her own body.
Gleaning from these opposing views, abortion as a method of birth control is generally and fundamentally not morally permissible. Although a woman has a right to her own body and her own choice, there are limits to her right to choose and abortion should be resorted to only in certain conditions and under strict regulations.
Not only does nature ordain that a mother must bring her pregnancy to full term, but also that respect for human life must cover the beginnings of that life. As the pro-life movement advocates, human life begins at conception, the very moment when the offspring acquires a full and distinct personhood with an identity and rights of its own apart from those of the mother. Scriptures also teach that human life is sacred and that the human soul forms at conception, not at a later time. Abortion or the termination of pregnancy at any time constitutes murder, transgresses the fifth Commandment of God and is, therefore, inherently wrong (Callahan 1998).
The U.S. Declaration of Independence of July 4, 1776 further recognized that all men are created equal and endowed with certain inalienable rights, such as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (Independence Hall Association 2005). It emphasized that governments were instituted for the securing of these rights and it became the people's right to change or abolish their form of government if it became destructive of these rights. The people then had the right to form a new government according to these founding principles and organize powers that would bring about their safety and happiness. The inalienable right to life belongs to all men, including the unborn child from the time of conception, for whose welfare governments are instituted.
The pre-existing English common law was the law in effect in most of the colonies until the mid-19th century (Touro Law Center 2005). Connecticut was the first State to enact an anti-abortion law in 1821 until it became a crime in 1860. The New York legislation of 1828 served as a model for the first anti-abortion laws, which only excused abortion when therapeutically necessary to preserve the life of the mother or had the advice of two physicians on the therapeutic necessity. Texas received Britain's common law and after the Civil War, initial laws dealt severely with abortion after the fourth month or the time of quickening, or when the mother could sense the fetus move or "quicken." In the middle and late 19th century, the degree of the offense and penalties were increased. Towards the end of the 1960s, most of the jurisdictions banned all forms of abortion (Touro Law Center).
The medical profession shared the anti-abortion mood of early legislations (Touro Law Center 2005). Widespread ignorance among mothers themselves about fetal life before quickening, the carelessness of medical practitioners towards fetal life and the defects of laws concerning the independent and actual existence or personhood of the child before birth led them to take this position. At the time, the law acknowledged the existence or life of the fetus in the womb and its inherent rights for civil purposes, while failed to extend that protection in the practice of abortion. The 1861 Committee on Criminal Abortion concluded that it dealt with human life for which no compromise could be entertained and recommended that it was unlawful and unprofessional for any physician to induce abortion or premature labor without the concurrent opinion of at least one respectable consulting physician and with the end-view of keeping the child safe, if this was possible. The Committee also called the attention of the clergy of the different denominations to the then current and perverted morality. It was not until 1967 that the Committee on Human Reproduction urged for the exemptions of documented medical evidence of a threat to the health or life of the mother, the probability of physical deformity or mental deficiency of the child or a legally established statutory or forcible rape or incest that threatened the mental or physical health of the patient. The rapid changes in state laws and judicial decisions led to the tendency to make abortion more freely available since 1970. The House of Delegates of the American Medical Association shifted its focus from the life and safety of the child to the best interests of the patient, sound clinical judgment and informed patient consent. It merely required that abortion should be performed by a licensed physician in an accredited hospital and only after consulting with two other physicians and without violating state law or one's personal moral principles (Touro Law Center).
The pro-choice side claims that anti-abortion sentiments historically evolved from 19th century Victorian social concern over and prohibition of illicit sexual conduct (Touro Law Center 2005). This was the condition until the late 60s until 1973 when the Supreme Court ruled in the Roe v Wade that most of these laws violated the constitutional right to privacy of a mother, as provided by Amendments 1, 4, 5, 9 and 14 to the U.S. Constitution. It outlawed all state laws that banned or restricted abortion. Roe was Jane Roe, the pseudonym of Norma McCorvey, a pregnant but unmarried rape-victim-client of Atty. Sarah Weddington. She challenged the validity of the then existing abortion laws as violating her right to privacy and her right to her own body. In his decision, Justice Harry Blackmun noted that abortion laws were of recent vintage; that abortion in early stages is safer than childbirth; that the "persons" identified and protected by the Constitution do not include the unborn. This landmark decision recognized and acknowledged every woman's right to decide whether to continue a problem pregnancy. It violated the provisions of the First Amendment, which respects the establishment of religion and its free exercise; the Fourth Amendment, which guarantees the people's right to be secure in their persons; the Fifth Amendment, whereby no person shall be deprived of life or liberty without due process of law; the Ninth Amendment, which states that the enumeration of certain rights shall not deny or disparage other rights retained by the people; and that the citizens of the United States are persons who are born (Doerr 2003).
It moved the right and power to decide from the state to the mother. In setting the limits of state power and individual freedom, the Supreme Court ruled that medical judgment of the mother's qualified physician shall be the basis for abortion in the first trimester of pregnancy; the regulation of the abortion procedure in the second trimester in favor of maternal health; and the State's interest in the promotion of potential life of the unborn child or the prohibition of abortion in preserving the life or health of the mother (Doerr). Rather than be restricted to certain circumstances, such as rape, incest, physical or mental deformity, this 1973 Supreme Court ruling re-established the coverage of a mother's rights to all circumstances but that her right to her own body or privacy was not unlimited but must be weighed against state interests in regulation (Touro Law Center 2005).
Scientific evidence lends support to the contention of pro-choice followers that the unborn child is not yet a person and not yet a being. In 1989, the Americans for Religious Liberty submitted the brief of 12 Nobel laureates and more than 150 other scientists that brain function in the unborn child was not possible until after 28 weeks of gestation (Doerr 2003). Brain function establishes personhood. Records show that more than 90% of abortions are performed during the first trimester, more than 99% by the 20th week.
Pro-choice denies that personhood begins at conception in the fertilized ovum, embryo or fetus (Doerr 2003). It asserts that the idea was a mere Vatican invention in the 19th century and that neither Jewish nor Christian scriptures condemn abortion but describe a person as one who breathes or is born. One plain reason why pro-life groups insist on their ground is male dominance. Men do not want women to be ordained and want to subordinate them. Latter developments demonstrate the influence of the political agenda of the overzealous but highly organized religious right,…[continue]
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