A Legal Right?

Planned Parenthood's website gives 9 reasons why abortion should be legal. Abortion opponents claim that their arguments are not always set out factually and sometimes simply fall back on rhetoric. PPFA's reasons are...
  1. Laws against abortion kill women.
  2. Legal abortions protect women's health.
  3. A woman is more than a foetus.
  4. Being a mother is just one option for women.
  5. Outlawing abortion is discriminatory.
  6. Compulsory pregnancy laws are incompatible with a free society.
  7. Outlaw abortion, and more children will bear children.
  8. "Every child a wanted child."
  9. Choice is good for families.
Planned Parenthood has, on its website, a list of nine reasons why abortions are, and why they should remain legal. Those opposed to abortion claim that, as abortion advocates and activists, it is only to be expected that their reasons do not always address the issues fully.

The following commentary takes these nine reasons and addresses them from an opposite perspective (a "Pro-lifer's Commentary").

Reason 1 Laws against abortion kill women.

PP: "To prohibit abortions does not stop them. When women feel it is absolutely necessary, they will choose to have abortions, even in secret, without medical care, in dangerous circumstances. In the two decades before abortion was legal in the U.S., it's been estimated that nearly a million women per year sought out illegal abortions. Thousands died. Tens of thousands were mutilated. All were forced to behave as if they were criminals."

Comment: In the decades before abortion was legalised around the world, women were also injured, and died, from legal abortions in public hospitals. Many illegal abortionists were in fact medical professionals. Before legalisation, abortion mortality and morbidity rates had decreased dramatically in both legal and illegal abortions. The main reason for this was due to advances in medicine. As abortion was at that time a crime, those involved in the practice were criminals, as are all who break the law. Read more here.

Reason 2 Legal abortions protect women's health.

PP: "Legal abortion not only protects women's lives, it also protects their health. For tens of thousands of women with heart disease, kidney disease, severe hypertension, sickle-cell anemia and severe diabetes, and other illnesses that can be life-threatening, the availability of legal abortion has helped avert serious medical complications that could have resulted from childbirth. Before legal abortion, such women's choices were limited to dangerous illegal abortion or dangerous childbirth."

Comment: Alan Guttmacher, former head of Planned Parenthood, said in his book "Abortion Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow" The Case for Legalized Abortion Now which was published in 1967: "Today it is possible for almost any patient to be brought through pregnancy alive, unless she suffers from a fatal disease such as cancer or leukemia, and if so, abortion would be unlikely to prolong, much less save the life."

Only about 1 percent, or less, of abortions are performed to save the life of the mother. Read more about this  here. A list of health conditions that do not require abortion can be found here.

Reason 3 A woman is more than a fetus.

PP: "Some people argue these days that a fetus is a "person" that is "indistinguishable from the rest of us" and that it deserves rights equal to women's. On this question there is a tremendous spectrum of religious, philosophical, scientific, and medical opinion. It's been argued for centuries. Fortunately, our society has recognized that each woman must be able to make this decision, based on her own conscience. To impose a law defining a fetus as a "person," granting it rights equal to or superior to a woman's - a thinking, feeling, conscious human being - is arrogant and absurd. It only serves to diminish women."

Comment: When Planned Parenthood claims that "...our society has recognized that each woman must be able to make this decision, based on her own conscience..." they are deliberately ignoring not only those who are totally opposed to abortion, but also hundreds of thousands of people who believe that abortion should be restricted to cases of rape, incest and/or where the life of the mother is threatened. If we acknowledge that a woman is more than a foetus, it seems logical to consider that the foetus is 'more than the mother.' Read more about the controversy over 'rights' here.

Reason 4 Being a mother is just one option for women.

PP: "Many hard battles have been fought to win political and economic equality for women. These gains will not be worth much if reproductive choice is denied. To be able to choose a safe, legal abortion makes many other options possible. Otherwise an accident or a rape can end a woman's economic and personal freedom."

Comment: It is an undisputed fact that motherhood is "just one option for women."

The comment that follows, however, is disputed by those opposed to abortion, who believe that the mother and child are inextricably intertwined. They reject the abortion-rights stance that women cannot achieve social and economic equality without having an abortion if they become pregnant. Most women can, and do, continue to work during pregnancy.

In the past, women's needs were largely ignored and women were expected to adjust to a male-oriented workplace. Companies today, unwilling to lose competent and ambitious female workers, are offering schedules and benefits that accomodate women.

As regards rape, in the only major study of pregnant rape victims ever done, it was found that 75 to 85 percent chose against abortion. [1] Where the woman does not want to keep the baby, thousands of infertile couples are wanting to adopt but there are too few babies available. Read more about rape and abortion here.

Reason 5 Outlawing abortion is discriminatory.

PP: "Anti-abortion laws discriminate against low-income women, who are driven to dangerous self-induced or back-alley abortions. That is all they can afford. But the rich can travel wherever necessary to obtain a safe abortion."

Comment: This reason makes three assumptions. First, that low-income women do not want children from 'choice' rather than from 'necessity.' Second, that they will be driven to 'dangerous' abortions, and thirdly, that if rich people can get away with breaking the law, the poor should also be permitted to break it.

Our society has reached a desperately low level when the only solution it can offer women living in poverty is to kill their children. Just as some doctors were willing to break the law before legalisation of abortion, some will choose to 'help' poor women if it is outlawed.

In The American Journal of Public Health, July, 1960, Mary Calderone, then Medical Director of Planned Parenthood said the following concerning the safety of unlawful abortions: "... 90% of all illegal abortions are presently being done by physicians .... [A]bortion, whether therapeutic or illegal, is in the main no longer dangerous, because it is being done well by physicians."

Dr Bernard Nathanson, an abortion expert and an obstetrician-gynecologist who once presided over the largest abortion clinic in the world, said the following in his book Aborting America: "The practice of abortion was revolutionized at virtually the same moment that the laws were revolutionized, through the widespread introduction of suction curettage in 1970... Though it is preferable that this be done by a licensed physician, one can expect that if abortion is ever driven underground again, even non-physicians will be able to perform this procedure with remarkable safety....As for the self-induced abortion, by thrusting a coat hanger or other dangerous object into the womb, this will also be a thing of the past." Read more about illegal abortions here.

As for the supposed discrimination that allows for the rich to break the law, that applies to the breaking of most laws, not just abortion. As a reason for the legalisation of abortion, this is superficial. The rich can afford to buy many illegal drugs that are too expensive for the poor; they can hire expensive lawyers to get them off criminal charges such as drunk driving, drug possession, theft, rape, manslaughter, etc... decriminalising laws because rich people are getting away with breaking them would soon result in chaos.

Reason 6 Compulsory pregnancy laws are incompatible with a free society.

PP: "If there is any matter that is personal and private, then pregnancy is it. There can be no more extreme invasion of privacy than requiring a woman to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term. If government is permitted to compel a woman to bear a child, where will government stop? The concept is morally repugnant. It violates traditional American ideas of individual rights and freedoms."

Comment: Every pregnant woman has chosen to take the risk of becoming pregnant by engaging in sexual intercourse, except the tiny percentage of those who are the victims of rape and incest. There is nothing "compulsory" about it.

An interesting point is that the legal system is currently oriented towards "compulsory fatherhood." Instead of forcing pregnant women to be mothers, pregnant women can force men to be fathers simply by not aborting. Apart from that, men are denied any 'reproductive rights.' Read more about how men are denied their rights here and here

Reason 7 Outlaw abortion, and more children will bear children.

PP: "Forty percent of 14-year-old girls will become pregnant before they turn 20. This could happen to your daughter or someone else close to you. Here are the critical questions: Should the penalty for lack of knowledge or even for a moment's carelessness be enforced pregnancy and childrearing? Or dangerous illegal abortion? Should we consign a teenager to a life sentence of joblessness, hopelessness, and dependency?"

Comment: This does not say that forty percent of 14-year-olds will become pregnant, although that is how it first seems. It says 40% will become pregnant before they turn twenty. Abortion does not solve the problem of  'children having children.' All it does is cover up the problem that young girls are sexually active.

It is interesting to note that the argument used here calls 14-year-olds children, when in all other literature by abortion rights organisations advocating 'women's reproductive rights,' girls as young as 10 and 11 are constantly referred to as women - when they are sexually active.

In places where the law requires parental notification and consent, young girls are not dying from illegal abortions, they are choosing abstinence in order to avoid pregnancy. here

What young girls need is protection from sexual predators. When a girl under the age of 15 becomes pregnant it is 60 percent more likely that she was impregnated by an adult rather than someone close to her own age. Teenage girls with older partners are more likely to become pregnant than those with partners closer in age. A recent study found that 6.7 percent of women aged 15–17 have partners six or more years older than they. The pregnancy rate for this group is 3.7 times as high as the rate for those whose partner is no more than two years older.[2]

Research has shown that teens are more likely than older women to report feeling pressured into abortion and to see the abortion experience as stressful. They are at higher risk of suicide and other emotional problems after abortion. [3] Females under 20 have twice the risk of medical complications, and a 150% greater risk of cervical injury. [4] [5] 

Compared to older women, teens are more likely to abort because of pressure from their school counsellors, parents or sexual partners. This puts them at higher risk for adverse psychological effects after abortion.[6] Teens are also more likely to report having wanted to keep the baby, higher levels of feeling misinformed in pre-abortion counseling, less satisfaction with abortion services and greater post-abortion stress.[7]  Read about coerced abortions here.

Reason 8 "Every child a wanted child."

PP: "If women are forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term, the result is unwanted children. Everyone knows they are among society's most tragic cases, often uncared-for, unloved, brutalized, and abandoned. When they grow up, these children are often seriously disadvantaged, and sometimes inclined toward brutal behavior to others. This is not good for children, for families, or for the country. Children need love and families who want and will care for them."

Comment: This has been rebutted by opponents to abortion, who point out that there were no unwanted children, only unwilling parents. It was changed to "Every pregnancy a wanted pregnancy." The child was not responsible for the woman becoming pregnant. Permitting a woman to kill her child before birth, for the simple reason that she 'doesn't want it,' paves the way for the justification of infanticide. Some bio-ethicists advocate allowing parents time after birth to change their minds as to whether or not they really want the child.

The argument that aborting unwanted children would prevent child abuse (which in turn results in them being abusive) was used in the early days of the abortion controversy. Another argument was that abortion would reduce the number of criminals in society - for various reasons. The evidence suggests that this is not the case however. There is no evidence that the incidence of child abuse has declined with more readily available abortion. It has been found that unwanted children are not more often abused, but that women who had previous pregnancy losses, were more likely to abuse or neglect their children.

A study conducted by professor Edward Lenoski of the University of California concluded that 91% of abused children were from planned pregnancies. In society, 64% of pregnancies are planned - concluding that among abused children, a significantly higher percentage were wanted children compared to the percentage of wanted children in society at large. Read more about abortion and child abuse here.

With growing numbers of infertile couples wanting to adopt (even physically or mentally disabled babies), there is no substance to the claim that any child is 'unwanted.' Where abortion is restricted, women who give birth to 'unwanted' babies often love them very much and are glad they did not abort.

Reason 9 Choice is good for families.

PP: "Even when precautions are taken, accidents can and do happen. For some families, this is not a problem. But for others, such an event can be catastrophic. An unintended pregnancy can increase tensions, disrupt stability, and push people below the line of economic survival. Family planning is the answer. All options must be open."

Comment: Apart from Planned Parenthood's implication that abortion is an option of 'family planning,' rather than the avoidance of an unwanted pregnancy, abortion opponents point out that killing a family member out of economic necessity or to avoid, or relieve, stress is unthinkable. They point out that there are always other options which worked in previous generations, such as inter-family adoptions or guardianship.

PP: "At the most basic level, the abortion issue is not really about abortion. It is about the value of women in society. Should women make their own decisions about family, career, and how to live their lives? Or should government do that for them? Do women have the option of deciding when or whether to have children? Or is that a government decision?"

Comment: Women should, and do, make decisions as to the ordering of their lives. As pointed out previously, one of these decisions is to have, or not have, sex. They can also make the decision about using birth control. Abortion, at its most basic level is about whether to kill the developing foetus, or give birth to a live child, not about "the value of women in society.".

PP: "The anti-abortion leaders really have a larger purpose. They oppose most ideas and programs that can help women achieve equality and freedom. They also oppose programs that protect the health and well-being of women and their children."

"Anti-abortion leaders claim to act "in defense of life." If so, why have they worked to destroy programs that serve life, including prenatal care and nutrition programs for dependent pregnant women? Is this respect for life?

"Anti-abortion leaders also say they are trying to save children, but they have fought against health and nutrition programs for children once they are born. The anti-abortion groups seem to believe life begins at conception, but it ends at birth. Is this respect for life?"

Comment: These claims are ludicrous. The leaders of groups that oppose abortion are, if not themselves women, usually married to women. They volunteer at crisis pregnancy centres, and even take pregnant women into their family homes and care for them until they are able to care for themselves. Many establish a relationship that lasts a lifetime.

Planned Parenthood's website does not give references to support these allegations, nor do they name individuals who have done these things. Opponents to abortion, who generally refer to themselves as 'pro-lifers,' contend that life is sacred from conception to a natural death. This view is inconsistent with the accusations given above.

PP: "Then there are programs that diminish the number of unwanted pregnancies before they occur: family planning counseling, sex education, and contraception for those who wish it. Anti-abortion leaders oppose those, too. And clinics providing such services have been bombed. Is this respect for life?"

Comment: Opponents to abortion advocate natural family planning which, when taught and used correctly, has a 99 - 100 percent effectiveness. In China, a study of 987 couples following the Billings Ovulation Method guidelines for avoiding pregnancy for one year showed no pregnancies, giving the method effectiveness 100%. Benefits of using NFR include no chemicals, no cost, and the divorce rate among couples who use NFP is under three percent, while the divorce rate among couples who use contraceptives (most of which are abortifacient) is well over 50 percent. Read more about the reason for opposition to contraceptives here.

The following quote is from Family Planning Perspectives,  which is published by the Alan Guttmacher Institute, the research arm of Planned Parenthood. "Despite long-standing public support for sex education in the schools, it has been difficult to show concrete effects of sex education on sexual and contraceptive behavior... [D]espite widespread sex education, however, "large numbers of teenagers still engage in intercourse with no protection against either pregnancy or STDs." [8] Read more about the effect sex education has on teen pregnancy and abortion here.  

Clinic bombings are the work of a minority fringe group of extremists. Their actions are condemned by 'anti-abortion' leaders, who hold all life sacred, including that of abortion providers. Read about violence in the abortion controversy here.

PP: "Such stances reveal the ultimate cynicism of the compulsory pregnancy movement. "Life" is not what they're fighting for. What they want is a return to the days when a woman had few choices in controlling her future. They think that the abortion option gives too much freedom. That even contraception is too liberating. That women cannot be trusted to make their own decisions.

When Planned Parenthood suddenly talk about the 'compulsory pregnancy movement,' as if there were an actual movement to forcibly impregnate women, they would appear to be indulging in rhetoric specifically designed to cloud the issue and incite women to anger.

New Zealand writer, Daphne de Jong said in "The Feminist Sell-Out" in the New Zealand Listener:

"If women must submit to abortion to preserve their lifestyle or career, their economic or social status, they are pandering to a system devised and run by men for male convenience. Of all the things which are done to women to fit them into a society dominated by men, abortion is the most violent invasion of their physical and psychic integrity. It is a deeper and more destructive assault than rape ..."[9]

Randy Alcorn, author and founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries has this to say:

"What is legal is not always right. Law doesn't reflect morality - rather the law should reflect a morality that is independent of the law. Case in point: was abortion immoral on January 21, 1973 and moral on January 23, 1973? In the 1940's a German doctor could kill Jews legally, while in America he would have been prosecuted for murder. In the 1970's and American doctor could kill unborn babies legally, while in Germany he would have been prosecuted for murder. Laws change. Truth and justice don't." [10]  

[1] Mahkorn S., "Pregnancy and Sexual Assault," The Psychological Aspects of Abortion, eds. Mall & Watts, (Washington, D.C., University Publications of America, 1979) 55-69.
Darroch et al., 1999
[3] Rue & Speckhard: "Post-Abortion Trauma, Incidence & Diagnostic Considerations", Medicine & Mind, 1991
[4] Canadian Journal of Public Health 1982; 73:396-400
[5] New England Journal of Medicine 1983; 309:621-24
[6] P. Barglow and S. Weinstein, "Therapeutic Abortion During Adolescence: Psychiatric Observations," J. of Youth and Adolescence, 2(4):33,1973.
[7] W. Franz and D. Reardon, "Differential Impact of Abortion on Adolescents and Adults," Adolescence, 27(105):172, 1992.
[8] Jane Mauldon and Kristin Luker, "The Effects of Contraceptive Education on Method Use at First Intercourse," Family Planning Perspectives, Vol. 28, #1, 1-2/96, pp. 19-24
[9] New Zealand Listener, January 14, 1978, page 18
[10] Alcorn R.  Prolife answers to Prochoice Arguments