Abortion refers to the practice of terminating a pregnancy so ensure that there is no baby born. The practice applies various methods such as use of herbs, sharpened implements, and abdominal pressure among others (Reagan, 1996). Abortion has been a legal practice in many western countries including the United States of America, although its legality has faced numerous challenges from pro-life groups. Abortion has a rich and complicated history in the United States of America, dating back to the ancient days when the topic was a taboo. The history starts before 1973 when the Supreme Court listened to a case Roe vs. Wade that legalized abortion and changed the course of the Public Health Policy. Abortion is one of the issues that have been stirring up the sediments of cultural wars in America (Reagan, 1996). The practice is several thousands of years old and studied differently in various societies. Studies show that almost a half of the women population in the united states have endured an abortion at least once, while millions of the both sexes have given them assistance in enduring the process (Reagan, 1996). However, between mid 1800s and late 1800s, different states in America started passing legislations that condemned the practice. The biggest boost to this move of criminalizing abortion came from doctors in the United States who attempted to establish exclusive medical practice rights for themselves. The rights would prevent competition for patients and patient fees from untrained practitioners (Reagan, 1996). This move made abortion illegal and only necessary if a doctor passes that it can save the life of a mother. This marked a period from 1800 to 1973, when abortion was illegal in all except one state in America.
History of the Law
The United States of America followed the English Common Law, which highly forbids abortion. Under the laws, abortion applied as a violation if performed before the fourth month of pregnancy, and as an offense if performed after the fourth month of pregnancy (Reagan, 1996). The American law on abortion is a complicated scene involving states that disagree on whether the laws should protect the unborn or the mother (Reagan, 1996). The scene also contains advocates on abortion rights who seek the least possible control on the abortion option from the government. Abortion laws have been moving in a rising and falling manner through various eras. As earlier mentioned, several states across America passed laws criminalizing abortion in the 1800s. These laws allowed the American Medical Association to have the exclusive rights to medical practice in the country (Reagan, 1996). This also aimed to protect women from any harm inflicted to them by the untrained practitioners. Many women lost their lives or endured serious medical problems through attempted abortions conducted through primitive methods. Although abortion at this time was a crime, studies indicate that, women continued to practice abortion. This prompted a call for liberalization of the laws. This saw several states legalizing abortion in the period from 1967 to 1973 when the court passed the first case challenging the criminalization of the practice (Olasky, 1995). Several cases challenged abortion laws applied the United States of America. The cases made noticeable contributions to the condition of American law on abortion as discussed below.
Roe vs. Wade
This was a case heard in the Supreme Court in 1973. The case relates to Texas law that outlawed permissible abortion unless with an intention to save the life of a woman (Olasky, 1995). These are the laws that encouraged women to seek illegal abortions. The two main characters in this case were Jane Roe and Henry Wade. Jane Roe was a pregnant woman aged 21 who represented women supporting legal abortions but could not access the services legally and with safety. Henry Wade was the Attorney General in Texas who defended the position of the law to criminalize abortion (Hoffer, 2010). The court said that roe never had any basis for suing as well as criticizing Texas law for its vague nature of the laws. After listening to both sides and considering their positions, the Supreme Court passed a ruling that part of Americans correct to solitude encompasses the right of a woman to make a decision on whether to have children. A woman also has a right to make the appropriate decision with her doctor without having any interference from the state (Hoffer, 2010). This decision received mixed reactions among different groups that held opposing positions about the issue (Olasky, 1995). Individuals who agreed with legal abortion were overjoyed and welcomed the ruling as a battle fairly won. There was a group formed in California called The Society for Humane Abortion that spoke out against limitations on abortion as wounding and mortifying to women (Olasky, 1995). Groups and individuals opposed to legal abortion started campaigns to prevent any funding from the state with the intention to fund the practice (Hoffer, 2010). Some turned to demonstrations that targeted clinics offering the services, people seeking the services and vandalizing property in clinics. This ruling formed the base for development of state abortion laws and the course of the public health policy.
Doe vs. Bolton
This case was between a woman called Mary Doe and Arthur Bolton. The first argument of the case was in 1971 and reargued in 1972. The ruling for the case took place in 1973. The case challenged the abortion law in Georgia (Hoffer, 2010). The challenger was doe, a married woman, who could not access abortion services for failing to meet the requirements set in Georgia. The law in Georgia only permitted abortion in cases of rape and severe deformity or injury to the mother (Olasky, 1995). The ruling passed in the case gave a broader definition to health. The court’s opinion stated that a woman has a correct to abortion after confirmation of the practicability and usefulness of the activity towards protecting her health (Hoffer, 2010). The definition also included the physical, emotional, and psychological wellbeing.
Planned Parenthood vs. Danforth
This was a 1976 case challenging abortion laws in the state of Missouri. The courts opinion held belief in the right of abortion by throwing out the requirements of parental consent for minors and spousal consent for married women (Olasky, 1995). This ruling was complimentary to an earlier decision by a lower court that held the same believe. However, the court upheld the statue requiring facilities and practitioners offering abortion services to keep their service records (Hoffer, 2010).
Planned Parenthood vs. Casey
The supreme court of the United States of America decided this case in 1992. The case challenged the position of several regulations on abortion in the states within Pennsylvania. The case was between the planned parenthood of Pennsylvania and Robert Casey. The issue was a provision in the states law it was necessary for spousal awareness before a married woman went ahead to abort was invalid (Hoffer, 2010). However, the court granted validity to the provision on the requirement for parental consent, informed consent and a 24-hour waiting period. The case also challenged provisions in the state’s Abortion Control Act of 1982 (Olasky, 1995). The first provision was the informed consent rule that required practitioners to update women about damages to their health during abortion procedures. The second provision was the spousal notice rule that required married women to inform their husbands of intent to abort prior to the procedure (Hoffer, 2010). The third provision was the consent provision that required minor with an abortion intent, to have the consent of their parents or guardian. The fourth provision was an imposition of a mandatory I day wait after a verified abortion intent, to undergo the procedure. The fifth provision was the imposition of record keeping for facilities providing abortion services (Hoffer, 2010).
Gonzales vs. Carhart
This is the last case in the history of American abortion laws argued at the supreme court of the United States of America. The case decided in 2007, upheld a 2003 ban by the congress on an abortion procedure called intact dilation and evacuation. The congress ban was in response to an earlier ruling in a case called Stenberg vs. Carhart in 2000 that the interpretation by Roe and Casey had violated the Federal constitution (Hoffer, 2010). The United States attorney general, Alberta Gonzales, who was appealing a decision on a ruling in favor of Leroy Carhart, presented the case. The decision made in this case was historical in the abortion laws of the United States of America because; for the first time since the 1973 ruling legalizing the activity, a ruling applied to ban any form of abortion (Hoffer, 2010).
The abortion law in America has grown through the years to bring a clear understanding of the beginning of life and our responsibilities. The current interpretation of abortion laws in the constitution of the United States of America follows the landmark ruling of 1973 in the case Roe vs. Wade (Olasky, 1995). The law explains that the states should not enforce laws that abridge the privileges of American citizens. Efforts to pass legislation regulating partial birth abortion failed severally since they begun in 1995. Despite measures on the same getting approval twice by the senate and House of Representatives, President Bill Clinton blocked them for ignoring the concept of health expectations (Hoffer, 2010). However, the issue was passed as a bill in 2003 after numerous changes and signed into the same year by the then President George W. Bush on fifth of November. Several states in America have attempted to pass legislations aimed at banning abortion. The state of Colorado had a proposal in 2008 turned down for attempting to change the meaning of a person as any human being from fertilization (Hoffer, 2010). In the state of North Dakota, a bill called Personhood of Children Act aimed to provide equal rights to all human beings in different developmental stages. This would eliminate all forms of abortion within the state (Hoffer, 2010). The law on abortion in the United States of America will continue to experience numerous amendments especially at states level with an aim to protect human rights, as well as human integrity on the meaning and value of life.
Hoffer, C. (2010). Roe vs. Wade: The Abortion Rights Controversy in American History. New
York, NY: University Press of Kansas.
Olasky, M. (1995). Abortion Rites: A Social History of Abortion in America. New York, NY:
Reagan, L. (1996). When Abortion Was a Crime: Women, Medicine, and Law in the United
States, 1867-1973. California, CA: University of California Press.