This Saturday marked the 38th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize women’s rights to an abortion through Roe v. Wade, an issue that is still heavily debated today.
National abortion rates had been steadily declining since 1990, but have leveled off in the past few years, according to a report released this month by the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit reproductive health research center. Between 2005 and 2008, the U.S. abortion rate changed only slightly, from 19.4 to 19.6 abortions per 1,000 women ages 15-44.
For anti-abortion and abortion advocates alike, the stalled decline is not a good sign. The Roe v. Wade anniversary was marked by marches across the nation, most notably the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. For abortions to ever stop, awareness must continually be raised and attitudes must be changed.
Far too often, abortion is reduced to a political issue to be endlessly debated by entrenched, rival camps. But the question at the heart of the issue should be a moral one: under what circumstances should it be acceptable in this country to take a human life, especially if that life is innocent?
Abortion advocates probably wouldn’t say they like the procedure but argue that abortions should be available for extreme cases, like rape, incest or when the life of the child or mother is in serious danger.
However, the reality is that 22 percent, or more than one-fifth, of all pregnancies, excluding miscarriages, end in abortion in the U.S., according to the Guttmacher Institute. From 1973, the year of the Roe v. Wade decision, to 2008, the last year for which data was available, nearly 50 million legal induced abortions occurred.
In a 2004 survey by the Guttmacher Institute, the majority of women said their reason for having an abortion was because the child would dramatically change their life or they couldn’t afford to have a baby.
It is hard to put a value on the life of a child, especially if many still fail to recognize that an unborn child is alive and human or worthy of the rights associated with “personhood.”
Biologically, of course, an unborn child is a living person, but some would argue that the child is a human, but not a person. However, the difference between them is semantic. According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, the two words are synonyms. It is only in the legal sense that an unborn child does not qualify as a person deserving the right to life that we all enjoy.
It is purely arbitrary to say that humanity, or even life, begins at birth, which is why so many anti-abortion lawmakers continue to push for stricter abortion laws, despite the fixity of a Supreme Court decision, in an effort to stop the very real deaths of more than one million children per year.
The arbitrary nature of the birth cutoff line became painfully evident last week when a Philadelphia abortion doctor was arrested and charged for a litany of offenses, including performing illegal late-term abortions in unsanitary conditions with untrained employees. The discovery of this filthy clinic full of aborted fetuses and dubbed a “house of horrors” by prosecutors, according to the Associated Press, is an example of the failure of oversight in the worst way and will provide fodder for both sides of the abortion issue in the months to come.
The doctor, Kermit Gosnell, has been charged with the murder of seven babies he delivered alive and then killed “by cutting into the back of the neck with scissors and severing their spinal cord,” District Attorney Seth Williams said, according to the AP. Prosecutors were right in charging Gosnell with murder for such grisly procedures. However, unsanitary conditions aside, his abortions differed only slightly from legal late-term abortions.
In a typical late-term abortion, the cervix is artificially dilated and the doctor uses suction and forceps to dismember the baby and then remove the pieces, sometimes using a drug to kill the baby first. Should it make a difference if the child is dismembered first, then delivered, or delivered first, then dismembered?
Most states, including Florida, recognize the moral quandary associated with killing a viable baby and have rightfully banned or put limits on late-term abortions. However, 12 states have no such bans.
Reducing abortion rates should be something everyone can agree upon, regardless of whether one believes it is murder. Legislation can only go so far, so anti-abortion advocates like those marching in Washington should continue fighting to change minds, so human life can be given the value it deserves.
Michael Hardcastle is a junior majoring in creative writing.