Abortion Debate: Social Work Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

Social Work: The Abortion Debate

The controversy surrounding the issue of abortion rights has been in existence since the early decades of the 19th century. Like is the case in many other countries, the pro-life and pro-choice movements are the two opposing sides in the abortion debate in the UK. Members of the pro-life movement hold the view that abortion is not justifiable under any circumstances, particularly because it amounts to murder, and only God has the right to give and take life. The pro-choice profile, however, refutes this claim, arguing that fetuses are not recognized as persons on the legal front, and hence, they are not subject to enjoyment of constitutional rights like other legal persons. This text reviews the evolution of the abortion debate and abortion policies in the UK, and explores the fundamental issues at conflict from the perspective of both sides before giving a set of recommendations that, if adopted, could guide policymakers towards formulating effective abortion policies.

Table of Contents

Executive Summary 2

Table of Contents 3

Introduction 4

Aims and Objectives 4

Background 5

The pro-life movement 5

The pro-choice movement 5

Discussion 5

Evolution of the Abortion Debate 6

Abortion Statistics 8

The Issues 8

Conclusion 11

Recommendations 11

References 13


The field of human services covers a broad array of occupations whose common objective is to improve communities' quality of life by devising and implementing effective strategies for responding to human needs. Human services professionals work to improve the efficiency of community service delivery systems by making them accountable, accessible, and better coordinated to respond effectively to the service needs of the community. Social work professionals are among the many workers within the sphere of human services. Like all other human service workers, their core objective is to help communities and individuals cope effectively in the various domains of social life; however, theirs is not a smooth run -- their decisions, lives, and job operations are affected by various controversial issues that though unavoidable, can still be dealt with appropriately, professionally, and compassionately. One of these is the issue of abortion rights, which has been a controversial subject in the UK since way back in the 19th century. There is a popular notion that the abortion issue was partly settled in the case of R. Vs. Bourne (1938), and it, hence, does not stir as much controversy as it did then. However, judging from recent happenings, such as when the long-awaited all-male debate on abortion rights organized by the pro-life campaign at Oxford had to be cancelled following bitter exchanges between conflicting campaign groups, it is quite evident that consensus is yet to be reached, and consequently, the abortion debate is far from over (Mashhour and Murphy, 2014) .

Aims and Objectives

This report presents an overview of the abortion debate, the political motivations and history of abortion, as well as a critical analysis of the main issues at play, and their effect on healthcare policy. It aims at providing a sound basis for policy-makers on how abortion policy ought to be structured to ensure that the cultural, moral, and religious beliefs that have made the abortion issue a divisive and controversial one all these years balance out effectively. Doing so will, however, require us to first understand the arguments and beliefs of each side, the evolving debate, as well as the conflicting issues, and analyze the relevant statistics that give this report its empirical basis. Only then can we develop a course of action that is beneficial to the British public (Gillon, 2001).


The abortion debate is merely a tug of war between pro-life activists and their pro-choice counterparts (Munson, 2010; Maxwell, 2002).

The Pro-Life Movement: this group has demonstrated its strong opposition to abortion rights. Those inclined to it believe that no circumstance or situation justifies abortion, and hence, laws ought to be changed to wholesomely recognize the same as an illegal practice (The UK Health Center, 2015; Munson, 2010). Spearheaded by such organizations as Pro-Life Alliance, Pro-UK Better Together, and Abort67, the pro-life movement bases its opinion on the deep-rooted religious beliefs of its members. To them, abortion is a threat to religious morals because it entails terminating a human being's life -- a privilege that only God has (The UK Health Center, 2015).

The Pro-Choice Movement: the main argument of pro-choice campaigners is that abortion ought to be legalized in all or most situations because women deserve a chance to make personal decisions concerning their bodies and reproductive systems without any form of interference from the state. Led by such organizations as Pro-CAN, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and IPAS, the pro-choice movement bases its support for abortion on the strong belief that a woman ought to have the right and privilege to control her body in any way she deems suitable for herself. Towards this end, its members advocate for the use of contraceptives and other family planning techniques, as well as the introduction of sexual education in the school curriculum. Similarly, they have put up a strong campaign against abstinence-only programs, twenty-four hour waiting periods, and mandatory parental consent (Watts, 2000).

As Munson (2010) points out, the reason why abortion has been such a divisive and controversial global issue is because of the deep-rooted beliefs of these opposing factions.


The Evolution of the Abortion Debate in the UK

Whilst abortion has been considered an ethical issue since time immemorial, it only became a real issue in the UK in the early decades of the 19th century. The UK law on abortion has always been based on the period of 'quickening' (BBC, 2014; Abortion Rights, 2014). Under Common Law, abortion after 'quickening' was a criminal offence punishable by death; however, the penalties were less stiff if the procedure was conducted before 'quickening' occurred (BBC, 2014). These provisions were embodied in the Ellenborough Act of 1803, and were based on the Christian ideology that the soul entered the fetus during quickening, and that hence, that was when the fetus acquired the status of a human being (Abortion Rights, 2014). The Act dominated the legal platform in regard to the abortion question up until 1837, when it was amended to eliminate the distinction in the seriousness of the crime prior to, and after 'quickening' (Abortion Rights, 2014). The death penalty was also abandoned following this amendment (BBC, 2014).

In 1861, the Offences against the Person Act was enacted, making it illegal to use any form of noxious substance, instrument, or poison to induce a miscarriage (Education for Choice, 2011). The Act basically outlawed abortion, and made anyone found liable for the same subject to life imprisonment (Abortion Rights, 2014). High rates of illegal abortions were reported in the years following the enactment of the Act, with thousands of women resorting to unqualified abortionists, who ended up causing either death or irreversible damage to their health (Abortion Rights, 2014). The death toll as a result of poorly-conducted abortion procedures rose dramatically; at some point, a significant number of women went blind after using a low-cost, lead-based abortion pill (Abortion Rights, 2014). By the turn of the new century, it had become apparent that the existing legislation was doing little to eliminate the need for abortion. Women MPs and campaign groups such as the Conference of Cooperative Women were concerned with the high number of deaths resulting from illegally procedures; and they put forth a campaign for the legalization of abortion to curb the same (Abortion Rights, 2014).

A significant 15% of all maternal deaths in the UK between 1920 and 1929 were as a direct result of illegal abortions (Abortion Rights, 2014). This prompted lawmakers to enact the Infant Life Preservation Act (1929), which legalized abortion in cases where the procedure "is done in good faith, for the purpose only of preserving the life of the mother" (BBC, 2014, n.pag). The Act was reinforced in the landmark case of R. Vs. Bourne (1938), where the court ruled in favor of Dr. Bourne, against whom a suit had been brought for his decision to conduct an abortion procedure on a 14-year-old girl who had fallen pregnant after being gang-raped (BBC, 2014). The judges argued that the procedure was justified in this case because the girl's mental health would have been compromised if she had carried the pregnancy to term (BBC, 2014).

ALRA and other organizations in the pro-choice movement put up a successful campaign for reform in the years that followed, prompting the enactment of the Abortion Act of 1967, which justified abortion in certain understandable cases (Abortion Rights, 2014). In 1990, the Human Fertilization and Embryology Act was enacted to amend the 1967 Act. It lowered the acceptable time limit for abortion from 28 to 24 weeks and stipulated that i) the procedure be conducted by a legalized practitioner, in a legalized facility; and ii) that two doctors give their approval that carrying the pregnancy to term would compromise the woman's health (NHS, 2014). Nonetheless, abortion can…

Sources Used in Document:

The Implications of Existing Laws

Abortion Statistics

The UK, contrary to other developed countries such as the U.S. And Canada, has reported increasing rates of both legal and illegal abortions. A 2013 study by the European Life Network, which sought to assess the prevalence of abortion in England and Wales found that the number of reported abortions rose by 0.1 percentage points and 2.1 percentage points respectively between 2012 and 2013, and

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