Yesterday (July 18th), Texas became the twelfth US state to pass newly restrictive abortion laws; Grace Gawn makes the case for abortion rights.
Abortion, the termination of a pregnancy, is an issue that continues to spark emotive debate as to its morality, even 46 years after it was made legal in England following the Abortion Act of 1967. Unless the mother’s life is at risk or there is danger of permanent injury to the mother or child, an abortion can only be carried out up to 24 weeks of pregnancy under current UK law. There are a number of reasons why people decide they are against abortions, for example religious belief, and those who advocate full legal protection of embryos and foetuses describe themselves as ‘pro-life’. However, despite the many arguments against it, I strongly believe that women should have the right to decide for themselves whether an abortion is right for them. There are many reasons that a woman could decide to have an abortion; alongside their physical and mental wellbeing there are many other social, economic and emotional factors to take in to account.
It is an unfortunate truth that not every woman who falls pregnant feels as though they are in the right circumstances to raise a child, be it on an emotional or financial level. The reality is that having a child will affect every aspect of a parent’s life; the dedication and time required from a parent is essential to raising a happy and healthy baby, and, if they do not have that dedication to give at a certain time in their life, then it would be unfair on both the child and the parents to disallow the option of abortion. According to a 2013 study, it costs, on average, £222,458 to raise a child, not taking in to account the commitment and sacrifices that also need to be made by any thoughtful parent. In light of these responsibilities, a mother should not be made to feel guilty about wanting to wait until she can provide a good quality of life for her child, and she should certainly not have the choice to wait taken away from her by legislation against abortion. In the words of Sister Joan Chittister, Benedictine nun and co-chair of the Global Peace Initiative of Women: “I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born, but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth.”
Aside from social factors, there are many health issues that could cause a woman to seek an abortion in the best interests of all concerned. For example, the physical and mental burden of raising a child could cause a relapse in a woman with a mental disorder. Also, cancer therapies such as radiation and chemotherapy may adversely affect the growing foetus. Alcoholism can cause Foetal Alcohol Syndrome, potentially leading to deafness, speech defects (including being mute), and vision impairment. Another circumstantial case in which many women feel the option of abortion should remain available to them is after rape; if a woman falls pregnant after sexual assault it is extremely likely that she will want to terminate the pregnancy. Aside from not knowing the father’s history, mental or otherwise, the psychological damage that comes with being raped can often leave victims in a state where they would feel unable to care for a child.
History has shown that, if abortions are made illegal, then this would not necessarily stop them from being carried out. Those that truly believe it is in their best interests to terminate a pregnancy might resort to ‘backstreet’ clinics, forcing them to break the law and in some cases undergo a potentially unsafe abortion. Legalised abortions eliminate the risk this poses and ensures that all pregnancies are terminated in a safe and clinical environment.
Many pro-life believers offer the alternative of adoption instead of abortion. However, very often part of the reason why an abortion is felt necessary is because of the unwanted physical and mental stresses that pregnancy puts on a woman’s body. Although putting a child up for adoption is a solution for those who have decided not to raise the baby when it is born, it does not change the fact that for nine months a woman will have to share her body with a foetus. Pregnancy is stressful on any woman’s body, causing morning sickness and back pains for example, and there are significant risks in carrying a child, such as hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, which are common and associated with increased risk of both adverse maternal and foetal outcomes. Pregnancy is a hard enough experience even when the mother is rewarded with a son or daughter at the end of it, let alone for them to then give away the baby. This is further complicated by psychological issues that can be caused by having to give away a child after carrying it for the full term. Adoption can, in many cases, be as difficult a decision to make as deciding to terminate a pregnancy, and especially if the reason a woman is looking to abort is because she is not mentally ready to care for a child then she equally may not be in an emotional position to give away a child either.
This article was originally published in Portsmouth Point Magazine, July 2013
Read Dan Rollins' article, "Why Abortion Should Not Remain Legal"