Abortion and Social Change Around the World
Abortion has always been a controversial subject as well as practice. Historically, whether abortion was legal or not, women who were unprepared to become mothers, either financially or emotionally, have attempted to end their pregnancies. The largest difference legalization of abortion has made is that fewer women have died during the process.
In the United States, prior to the famous Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that granted women the right to safe and legal abortion, 5,000 of the estimated 200,000 to 1.2 million women who received illegal and unsafe abortions each year died. Their deaths were often due to complications such as infections arising from non-sterile facilities or hemorrhages caused by the lack of professional medical expertise. Despite legal and medical advances in many developed countries, almost half of all abortions performed worldwide are still unsafe.
As of 2013,
- unrestricted abortion is legal in only 61 countries
- 66 countries forbid abortion except in extreme cases in order to save the mother’s life
- 59 countries permit abortions for reasons related to the mother’s overall health
- 13 countries permit abortion for socioeconomic reasons.
Abortion and Social Change Throughout History
Abortion has been practiced since ancient times. The abortifacient herb silphium, was in such high demand in ancient Greek society that it became extinct. Other techniques for ending unwanted pregnancies included abdominal pressure, strenuous activity, girdles, fasting, and even bloodletting.
During the Middle Ages, many plants, herbs, and unusual concoctions were believed to be reliable ways to effectively end a pregnancy. Even crushed ants and camel saliva were recommended for this purpose.
In the ancient Caledonian society of 1760 B.C. , women were fined for having miscarriages, the amount of the fine depending upon their social status, with the specific amounts for each social class listed in the Code of Hammurabi. Although the first recorded case of induced abortion was in Egypt in 1550 B.C. men continued to exert control over the process. According to the laws of Assyria in 1075 B.C., a woman could receive the death penalty for receiving an abortion against her husband’s wishes.
During the Middle Ages, many plants, herbs, and unusual concoctions were believed to be reliable ways to effectively end a pregnancy. Even crushed ants and camel saliva were recommended for this purpose. Throughout history, rates of abortion have risen during times of economic hardship. For example, Japanese documents from the 12th century show a rise in the number of abortions during a period of famine.
The Controversy Surrounding Abortion and Social Change
The debate regarding the morality of abortion has existed as long as abortion itself and continues the be a source of social and political division regarding abortion and social change. Many people believe that the debate reflects the lesser value placed on women’s rights as well as their lives. For example, the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle believed that the male human embryo gained a human soul at 40 days, while the female human embryo didn’t gain one until 90 days.
The question of at what point an embryo becomes a human being is still being debated, but a general consensus has been reached that late-term abortions are morally objectionable. As a result of this consensus, a number of laws have been passed restricting late-term abortions, with some states requiring that they be performed within the first 20 weeks of pregnancy.
Additional Issues Surrounding Abortion
Governments have historically used abortion laws as a tool for population control. For example, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic was among the first governments to legalize abortion in 1920. However, in 1936, Joseph Stalin, in order to encourage population growth, which some believe was for military purposes, banned abortion, and it remained illegal until 1955. The United States is currently facing a similar decline in population growth.
Other issues in the controversy surrounding abortion and social change cases of rape and incest which result in pregnancy. The religious beliefs of many people hold that all human life is sacred, even if that potential life is the result of a violent act. Further, they believe that abortion itself is a violent act, and that the rights of the unborn must be defended.
Others believe that denying women abortions is a violation of their basic human rights, which should include reproductive rights and control over their own bodies.
An important aspect of abortion and social change is the development of increasingly effective birth control methods that successfully reduce the need for abortions. There is a great deal of evidence that long-lasting and effective birth control methods such as intrauterine devices and hormonal implants, which don’t require daily monitoring, can successfully prevent millions of abortions. In cases of rape and incest , the “morning after pill“, which has become available over-the-counter in the U.S., can prevent pregnancy.
Even a safe and legal abortion is often the most emotionally traumatic choice a woman ever has to make. Although their beliefs may differ, all women envision a future in which all children are valued and are able to provide adequately for them.