Abortion in the United States deals with the ongoing debate in the United States of abortion-related issues. Various anti-abortion laws had been on every state statute book since at least 1900. Abortion was prohibited in 30 states and legal under certain circumstances (such as pregnancies resulting from rape, incest, and date drug.) in 20 states. The Supreme Court 1973 decision Roe v. Wade invalidated all of these laws, and set guidelines for the availability of abortion. Abortion remains one of the most controversial issue in United States culture and politics, with the main protagonists most often labelled either as “pro-choice” or “pro-life”, though shades of opinion exist.
The abortion debate does not deal with a spontaneous abortion, which is commonly referred to as a miscarriage. The abortion debate most commonly is in relation to an “induced abortion” of an embryo or fetus at some point in a pregnancy, and this is also how the term is used in a legal sense. Another term sometimes used is that of an “elective abortion”, which is used in relation to a claim to an unrestricted right of a woman to an abortion, whether or not she chooses to have one.
History of abortion law
In 1965, following the Supreme Court’s decision declaring a constitutional right to contraceptives, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) issued a medical bulletin which clarified that conception is implantation, not fertilization. This had the consequence of categorizing birth control methods that prevented implantation as contraceptives, not abortifacients.
In 1967, Colorado became the first state to legalize abortion in cases of rape, incest, or in which pregnancy would lead to permanent physical disability of the woman. Similar laws were passed in California, Oregon, and North Carolina. In 1970, Hawaii became the first state to legalize abortions on the request of the mother, and New York repealed its 1830 law and allowed abortions up to the 24th week of pregnancy. Similar laws were soon passed in Alaska and Washington. A law in Washington, DC, which allowed abortion to protect the life or health of the woman, was challenged in the Supreme Court in 1971 in United States v. Vuitch. The court upheld the law, deeming that “health” meant “psychological and physical well-being,” essentially allowing abortion in Washington, DC. By the end of 1972, 13 states had a law similar to that of Colorado, while Mississippi allowed abortion in cases of rape or incest only and Alabama and Massachusetts allowed abortions only in cases where the womans’s physical health was endangered. In order to obtain abortions during this period, women would often travel from a state where abortion was illegal to states where it was legal. The legal position prior to Roe v. Wade was that abortion was illegal in 30 states and legal under certain circumstances in 20 states.
Roe v. Wade In deciding Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruled that a Texas statute forbidding abortion except when necessary to save the life of the mother was unconstitutional. The Court arrived at its decision by concluding that the issue of abortion and abortion rights falls under the right to privacy. The Court did not recognize a right to abortion in all cases: State regulation protective of fetal life after viability thus has both logical and biological justifications.The Court held that a right to privacy existed and included the right to have an abortion. The court found that a mother had a right to abortion until viability, a point to be determined by the abortion doctor. After viability a woman can obtain an abortion for health reasons, which the Court defined broadly to include psychological well-being.
A central issue in the Roe case (and in the wider abortion debate in general) is whether human life or personhood begins at conception, birth, or at some point in between. The Court declined to make an attempt at resolving this issue, noting: “We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins. When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man’s knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to the answer.” Instead, it chose to point out that historically, under English and American common law and statutes, “the unborn have never been recognized …as persons in the whole sense” and thus the fetuses are not legally entitled to the protection afforded by the right to life specifically enumerated in the Fourteenth Amendment.
Jane Roe and Mary Doe
“Jane Roe” of the landmark Roe v. Wade lawsuit, whose real name is Norma McCorvey, is now an anti-abortion advocate. McCorvey writes that she never had the abortion and became the “pawn” of two young and ambitious lawyers who were looking for a plaintiff who they could use to challenge the Texas state law prohibiting abortion. “Mary Doe” of the companion Doe v. Bolton lawsuit, the mother of three whose real name is Sandra Cano, maintains that she never wanted or had an abortion and that she is “ninety-nine percent certain that [she] did not sign” the affidavit to initiate the suit.
In the 1992 case of Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the Court abandoned Roe’s strict trimester framework. Instead adopting the standard of undue burden for evaluating state abortion restrictions, but reemphasized the right to abortion as grounded in the general sense of liberty and privacy protected under the constitution: “Constitutional protection of the woman’s decision to terminate her pregnancy derives from the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. It declares that no State shall “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” The controlling word in the cases before us is “liberty.”
The Supreme Court continues to grapple with cases on the subject. On April 18, 2007 it issued a ruling in the case of Gonzales v. Carhart, involving a federal law entitled the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 which President George W. Bush had signed into law. The law banned intact dilation and extraction, which opponents of abortion rights referred to as “partial-birth abortion,” and stipulated that anyone breaking the law would get a prison sentence up to 2.5 years. The United States Supreme Court upheld the 2003 ban by a narrow majority of 5-4, marking the first time the Court has allowed a ban on any type of abortion since 1973.
Current legal situation
Federal legislation. Since 1995, led by Congressional Republicans, the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate have moved several times to pass measures banning the procedure of intact dilation and extraction, also commonly known as partial birth abortion. After several long and emotional debates on the issue, such measures passed twice by wide margins, but President Bill Clinton vetoed those bills in April 1996 and October 1997 on the grounds that they did not include health exceptions. On October 2, 2003, with a vote of 281-142, the House again approved a measure banning the procedure, called the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. Through this legislation, a doctor could face up to two years in prison and face civil lawsuits for performing such an abortion. A woman who undergoes the procedure cannot be prosecuted under the measure. The measure contains an exemption to allow the procedure if the woman’s life is threatened. The current judicial interpretation of the U.S. Constitution regarding abortion in the United States, following the Supreme Court of the United States’s 1973 landmark decision in Roe v. Wade, and subsequent companion decisions, is that abortion is legal but may be restricted by the states to varying degrees. States have passed laws to restrict late term abortions, require parental notification for minors, and mandate the disclosure of abortion risk information to patients prior to the procedure. Thus, the [Judiciary] Committee observes that no significant legal barriers of any kind whatsoever exist today in the United States for a mother to obtain an abortion for any reason during any stage of her pregnancy.
One aspect of the legal abortion regime now in place has been determining when the fetus is “viable” outside the womb as a measure of when the “life” of the fetus is its own (and therefore subject to being protected by the state). In the majority opinion delivered by the court in Roe v. Wade, viability was defined as “potentially able to live outside the mother’s womb, albeit with artificial aid. Viability is usually placed at about seven months (28 weeks) but may occur earlier, even at 24 weeks.” When the court ruled in 1973, the then-current medical technology suggested that viability could occur as early as 24 weeks. Advances over the past three decades have allowed fetuses that are a few weeks less than 24 weeks old to survive outside the mother’s womb. These scientific achievements, while life-saving for premature babies, have made the determination of being “viable” somewhat more complicated. As of 2006, the youngest child to survive a premature birth in the United States was a girl born at the Baptist Hospital of Miami at 21 weeks and 6 days’ gestational age. Because of the split between federal and state law, legal access to abortion continues to vary somewhat by state. Geographic availability, however, varies dramatically, with 87 percent of U.S. counties having no abortion provider. Moreover, due to the Hyde Amendment, many state health programs do not cover abortions; currently 17 states (including California, Illinois and New York) offer or require such coverage.
The Guttmacher Institute found that state restrictions on abortion greatly increased in 2011.
Various states have laws on abortion, some of which refer to as feticide. On March 6, 2006, South Dakota Governor Mike Rounds signed into law a pro-life statute which made performing abortions a felony, and that law was subsequently repealed in a November 7, 2006 referendum. On February 27, 2006, Mississippi’s House Public Health Committee voted to approve a ban on abortion, and that bill died after the House and Senate failed to agree on compromise legislation. Several states have enacted “trigger laws” which “would take effect if Roe v. Wade is overturned.” North Dakota HB 1572 or the Personhood of Children Act, which passed the North Dakota House of Representatives on February 18, 2009, but was later defeated in the North Dakota Senate, aimed to allocate rights to “the pre-born, partially born”, and if passed, would likely have been used to challenge Roe v. Wade. On February 15, 2012, the Virginia House of Delegates passed House Bill 1 in a vote of 66-32, that effectively outlaws all Virginia abortions by declaring that the rights of persons apply from the moment sperm and egg unite. It also passed a second bill in a 63-36 vote, that requires women to have a transvaginal ultrasound before undergoing abortions.
Majority want abortion in all or most cases. As the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision takes place in January 2013, a majority of Americans – for the first time – believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. What’s more, seven in 10 respondents oppose Roe v. Wade being overturned, which is the highest percentage on this question since 1989.
Number of abortions in United States
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), since 1973, roughly 50 million legal induced abortions have been performed in the United States.
Mifepristone/RU-486. The use of the abortifacient Mifepristone is a medical (nonsurgical) procedure and as a percentage of total abortions in the United States have increased every year since the approval of Mifepristone: 1.0% in 2000, 2.9% in 2001, 5.2% in 2002, 7.9% in 2003, 9.3% in 2004, 9.9% in 2005, 10.6% in 2006, 13.1% in 2007, (15.9% of those at less than 9 weeks gestation).
Abortions and ethnicity. Abortion rates are much more common among minority women in the U.S. In 2000-2001, the rates among black and Hispanic women were 49 per 1,000 and 33 per 1,000, respectively, vs. 13 per 1,000 among non-Hispanic white women. While White women obtain 60% of all abortions, African American women are three times more likely to have an abortion.
Reasons for abortions.
Reasons for choosing an abortion. Another study, in 1998, revealed that in 1987-1988 women reported the following as their primary reasons. The source of this information, takes findings into account from 27 nations including the United States, and therefore these findings may not be typical for any one nation.
25.9% Want to postpone childbearing.
21.3% Cannot afford a baby
14.1% Has relationship problem or partner does not want pregnancy
12.2% Too young; parent(s) or other(s) object to pregnancy
10.8% Having a child will disrupt education or job
7.9% Want no (more) children
3.3% Risk to fetal health
2.8% Risk to maternal health
According to a 1987 study that included specific data about late abortions at 16 or more weeks’ gestation, women reported that various reasons contributed to their having a late abortion:
71% Woman did not recognize she was pregnant or misjudged gestation
48% Woman found it hard to make arrangements for abortion
33% Woman was afraid to tell her partner or parents
24% Woman took time to decide to have an abortion
8% Woman waited for her relationship to change
8% Someone pressured woman not to have abortion
6% Something changed after woman became pregnant
6% Woman did not know timing is important
5% Woman did not know she could get an abortion
2% A fetal problem was diagnosed late in pregnancy
1% rape or incest
A 2004 study by the Guttmacher Institute reported that women listed the following amongst their reasons for choosing to have an abortion:
74% Having a baby would dramatically change my life
73% Cannot afford a baby now
48% Do not want to be a single mother or having relationship problems
38% Have completed my childbearing
32% Not ready for a(nother) child
25% Do not want people to know I had sex or got pregnant
22% Do not feel mature enough to raise a(nother) child
14% Husband or partner wants me to have an abortion
13% Possible problems affecting the health of the fetus
12% Concerns about my health
6% Parents want me to have an abortion
1% Was a victim of rape
less than 0.5% Became pregnant as a result of incest
The abortion debate has also been extended to the question of who pays the medical costs of the procedure, with some states using the mechanism as a way of reducing the number of abortions. The cost of an abortion varies depending on factors such as location, facility, timing, and type of procedure. In 2005, a nonhospital abortion at 10 weeks’ gestation ranged from $90 to $1,800 (average: $430), whereas an abortion at 20 weeks’ gestation ranged from $350 to $4,520 (average: $1,260). Costs are higher for a medical abortion than a first-trimester surgical abortion.
Medicaid. The Hyde Amendment is a federal legislative provision barring the use of federal Medicaid funds to pay for abortions except for rape and incest. The provision, in various forms, was in response to Roe v. Wade, and has been routinely attached to annual appropriations bills since 1976, and represented the first major legislative success by the anti-abortion movement. Based on the federal law: 32 states and DC fund abortions through Medicaid only in the cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment. SD covers abortions only in the cases of life endangerment, which does not comply with federal requirements under the Hyde Amendment. IN, UT and WI have expanded coverage to women whose physical health is jeopardized, and IA, MS, UT and VA also include fetal abnormality cases.
17 states (AK, AZ, CA, CT, HI, IL, MD, MA, MN, MT, NJ, NM, NY, OR, VT, WA, WV) use their own funds to cover all or most “medically necessary” abortions sought by low-income women under Medicaid, 13 of which are required by State court orders to do so.
Private insurance. 5 states (ID, KY, MO, ND, OK) restrict insurance coverage of abortion services in private plans: OK limits coverage to life endangerment, rape or incest circumstances; and the other four states limit coverage to cases of life endangerment.
12 states (CO, IL, KY, MA, MS, NE, ND, OH, PA, RI, SC, VA) restrict abortion coverage in insurance plans for public employees, with CO and KY restricting insurance coverage of abortion under any circumstances. U.S. laws also ban federal funding of abortions for federal employees and their dependents, Native Americans covered by the Indian Health Service, military personnel and their dependents, and women with disabilities covered by Medicare.
Positions of U.S. political parties
Republican Party. Though members of both major political parties come down on either side of the issue, the Republican Party is often seen as being pro-life, since the official party platform opposes abortion and considers unborn children to have an inherent right to life. Republicans for Choice represents the minority of that party. In 2006 pollsters found that 9% of Republicans favor the availability of abortion in most circumstances. Of Republican National Convention delegates in 2004, 13% believed that abortion should be generally available, and 38% believed that it should not be permitted. The same poll showed that 17% of all Republican voters believed that abortion should be generally available to those who want it, while 38% believed that it should not be permitted.
The U.S. Republican Party Platform 2012: “We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children. We oppose using public revenues to promote or perform abortion or fund organizations which perform or advocate it and will not fund or subsidize health care which includes abortion coverage. We support the appointment of judges who respect traditional family values and the sanctity of innocent human life. We oppose the nonconsensual withholding or withdrawal of care or treatment, including food and water, from people with disabilities, including newborns, as well as the elderly and infirm, just as we oppose active and passive euthanasia and assisted suicide.”
The Democratic Party considers abortion to be a woman’s right. Democrats for Life of America represents the minority of that party. In 2006 pollsters found that 74% of Democrats favor the availability of abortion in most circumstances.
The U.S. Democratic Party Platform 2012: “The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to make decisions regarding her pregnancy, including a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay. We oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right. Abortion is an intensely personal decision between a woman, her family, her doctor, and her clergy; there is no place for politicians or government to get in the way.”
The U.S. Green Party supports abortion as a woman’s right.
The U.S. Libertarian Party takes no position on abortion, but the Party opposes any government funding of abortion.
In the United States the abortion issue has become deeply politicized: in 2002, 84% of state Democratic platforms supported the right to having an abortion while 88% of state Republican platforms opposed it. This divergence also led to Christian Right organizations like Christian Voice, Christian Coalition and Moral Majority having an increasingly strong role in the Republican Party. This opposition has been extended under the Foreign Assistance Act: in 1973 Jesse Helms introduced an amendment banning the use of aid money to promote abortion overseas, and in 1984 the Mexico City Policy prohibited financial support to any overseas organization that performed or promoted abortions. The “Mexico City Policy” was revoked by President Bill Clinton and subsequently reinstated by President George W. Bush. President Barack Obama immediately overruled this policy by Executive Order on January 23, 2009.
Risks of the Procedure
The risk of death due to legal abortion has fallen considerably since legalization in 1973, due to increased physician skills, improved medical technology, and earlier termination of pregnancy. From 1940 through 1970, deaths of pregnant women during abortion fell from nearly 1,500 to a little over 100. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the number of women who died in 1972 from illegal abortion was thirty-nine.
Abortion is no longer a dangerous procedure. This applies not just to therapeutic abortions as performed in hospitals but also to so-called illegal abortions as done by physician. In 1957 there were only 260 deaths in the whole country attributed to abortions of any kind …90 percent of all illegal abortions are presently being done by physicians …Whatever trouble arises usually arises from self-induced abortions, which comprise approximately 8 percent, or with the very small percentage that go to some kind of non-medical abortionist… ”
The Roe effect is an hypothesis which suggests that since supporters of abortion rights cause the erosion of their own political base by having fewer children, the practice of abortion will eventually lead to the restriction or illegalization of abortion. The legalized abortion and crime effect is another controversial theory that posits legal abortion reduces crime, because unwanted children are more likely to become criminals.