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WebSideStory Pick of the Week! 3/16/98

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    by TOY

       In the United States, pro-life and pro-choice movements are both powerful and active. Pro-life groups have been particularly successfully at influencing state legislators to enact laws restricting abortion. But as many such edicts were too broadly worded, they've been declared unconstitutional as soon as they went into effect. Yet, restrictions on abortions have survived public scrutiny in some states; consequently, abortion seekers find that they have to visit another state where laws are less strict.

      Approval of the drug RU-486 will forever change the abortion situation in America, as doctors are now able to prescribe abortion pills which a woman may take at home. As such, women living in rural areas won't have to drive long distances to abortion clinics; nor will they have to run a gauntlet of protesters. But at this time, compromise between pro-life and pro-choice supporters appears to be impossible.

      Most people taking the pro-life position believe that life begins at conception; i.e., when fertilization occurs. Some hold this belief because of their religious faith. Their denomination teaches that a soul enters a fertilized egg at the instant of conception, and the cell becomes a human person at that time because of the presence of the soul. The concept of a soul is religious one; it cannot be located, seen, smelled, or otherwise detected. Others point out that shortly after conception, a unique DNA code is formed which will remain unchanged through the life to the fetus, and throughout the potential life later, after birth. Although everyone agrees that a newborn child is human, some people feel that this transition to "personhood" does not happen at conception. The reason being that a fertilized egg has no limbs, no head, no brain, no ability to hear, feel smell or taste, no self-consciousness, and so on.

       Various questions are being asked and argued over regarding this abortion issue, because many medical problems can occur--during and even after someone has an abortion. Most women are unaware of these dangers; of those who do elect to have and abortion, at least one out of five turn out to be life threatening! Besides being physically affected, some women are severely scarred--emotionally and psychologically--forever.

      Whenever it is said that abortion is just a woman's issue, we're forgetting that there are two people involved in creating a child. Fathers are continually being overlooked and disregarded in these situations; many say that a father is not affected by the choice a woman makes. Legally, fathers are responsible for providing parental support for their pre-born child, but have no legal rights if the mother decides to abort. Many fathers have gone to court and sued trying to stop such an operation. However, again, according to the courts, when it comes to abortion, a mother's rights overrides a father's objections. Following an abortion, a father can also be emotionally and mentally damaged as much as a mother is. Many fathers feel completely responsible for the death of their child and blame themselves; they grieve deeply, even feeling worthless for failing to stop an abortion. To say abortion is just a woman's issue is to deny a father his rights. In short, there are three parties involved in a pregnancy, and each one of them is affected by all decisions made.

      But, is abortion okay in the case of rape? Rape is a horrendous crime, leaving a woman in a state of mental, physical, and emotional turmoil. When a woman becomes pregnant as the result of rape, abortion will not take away the trauma, nightmares, or the pain. It may even add more to them. Because of problems with our justice system, rapists often walk free without punishment, while the child conceived in rape may suffer the ultimate injustice.

      Pregnancy is no longer always seen as a blessing---but as a curse. Parents of large families are often looked-down upon, instead of being held in high esteem. We now seem to place more value on getting big salaries, driving nice cars, and living in big homes. Young married couples nowadays wait years before starting families because they have learned from our society that children will take away their freedoms. So, if a child is conceived at the wrong time--i.e. "unplanned"- -abortion becomes a likely option for couples who cannot see that having children is one of life's greatest blessings.

       An economist, Steven Levitt, of Stanford Law School and co-author, John Donhue III, of the University of Chicago have circulated an unpublished report called "Legalized Abortion and Crime." It suggested that the legalization of abortion might have indirectly caused the lowering of crime rates which were observed during the 1970's. Their reasoning was that abortions prevented the birth of many people who would have been born into poverty and thus be more likely to commit crimes. They suggest that abortion could be responsible for about half of the drop in the crime rates since 1991. Levitt acknowledges that this conclusion is mainly "conjecture" and that it could "never be proven to the degree of certainty that a scientist might demand." Their data showed that those states that legalized abortion prior to 1973 had their crime rates drop sooner than other states. States with very high rates of abortion after 1973 tended to "have particularly high drops in crime during the 1990's."

       Since abortion will likely stay political, perhaps the long-term solution is to pass a federal law that declares abortion to be an essential health service. If we do not have restriction against abortion, we would be able to spend our time working on access and funding issues, instead of fighting oppressive laws, which is what our American friends must do. Restrictions such as consent laws, waiting periods, and the like are simply cruel and unnecessary obstacles that impede a woman's ability to have a safe, early abortion.

       There is no question that the absence of restrictive laws against abortion places the struggle for abortion rights on the fast track to success. Those rights can be compromised if the government is not fully committed to fulfilling them. But I believe that abolishing all laws against abortion is a crucial first step to ensure safety and access, and to promote social and political tolerance of abortion.


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