Biology, History & the Politics of Abortion

We all hear a lot of rhetoric about abortion these days, but we don't get many facts. Facts are less strident than bumper sticker slogans and require a bit more thought. The facts listed below came from many sources: women telling their personal stories, doctors, ministers and theologians, historians, pro-choice groups, "pro-life" groups, and others.

Abortion and the Bible:In the Bible, there are many specific rules regulating behavior, but there is absolutely no mention of abortion. Some pagan neighbors of the ancient Hebrews (the Assyrians) had a law against abortion, but the Hebrews did not prohibit it. There is no commandment against abortion in the Old Testament nor in the New.1

Birth Control and Family Planning: The American Life League, The National Right to Life organization, and many other groups that wish to outlaw access to abortion are also against "artificial" birth control (the pill, condoms, diaphragm, foam, etc.) even for married couples. In the American Life League newsletter, Professor Charles Rick acknowledges that the Human Life Amendment would allow state legislatures to outlaw the pill. 2 In statements covered in the National Catholic Reporter, Monsignor Caffarra, the Pope's theologian, urges the condemnation of contraception as "homicide."3

Conception: Conception occurs when a fertile egg implants itself in the uterus wall (five or six days after fertilization). Scientists estimate that about half or one-third of all fertilized human eggs, or zygotes, are discarded by the body before they can implant.4

Eight Weeks after Fertilization: 77% of all abortions occur within eight weeks after fertilization, when the embryo is less than an inch long and weighs no more than an aspirin tablet. At this point there is no neocortex, i.e. no higher brain function.5 The "wiring" of the neurons in the conscious areas of the brain does not begin until the 28th week.6

Fake Clinics: Some "Pro-Life" organizations set up fake clinics (facilities that appear to be abortion clinics) in order to mislead women who are seeking an abortion or information about abortion. Fake clinics are not medical facilities. There are fake clinics in Georgia and in most states. Instructions for setting up a fake clinic include using a "neutral name such as:... 'Pregnancy Problem Center.'"7 One "Pro-Life" leader warns against using a name identifying the facility as pro-life, because the only women who would be reached are women who want to continue the pregnancy "but just need help." The aim of the fake clinic is to persuade, frighten, or intimidate a woman into continuing her pregnancy. Fake clinics operate just within the law by not charging a fee and by not giving a medical diagnosis (i.e. they say "the test shows positive" instead of saying "you are pregnant"). They offer a free pregnancy test... essentially the same test you can buy in the drugstore. Women are told it will take at least 30 minutes for test results, and during that time they are shown misleading films designed to discourage them from seeking an abortion. "Do recommend a second test" the fake clinic instruction book says, "if the client tends to still favor abortion... In order to make the client feel more obligated... make the test more clinical this time."7 Many fake clinics advertise on billboards.8, 9

Late Term Abortion: refers to an abortion done after six months of pregnancy. Third trimester abortions are extremely rare; 6/100ths of one percent are performed after 24 weeks nationwide.10 Late term abortions are only performed when a woman's life or health is endangered or because of severe, often fatal, fetal abnormalities. Most often, a couple are looking forward to a birth, but discover that that the woman's body can't support the pregnancy or that the fetus has no chance of survival. A Cesarean is usually not an option because there's a higher mortality rate for C-sections, and having one before the pregnancy is full-term weakens the uterus, making future pregnancies riskier.11 Because of the medical difficulties involved, and because of terrorism by anti-choice groups, there are only about six doctors in the United States who perform late term abortions. The U.S. Congress passed a bill to make one type of late term abortion illegal, even if the procedure is necessary to save a woman's child-bearing capacity, or if the fetus is already dead; President Clinton vetoed the bill. In Georgia there are no doctors providing late-term abortions.12

Mandatory Waiting Period: Several states have passed laws that require a woman to hear a lecture written by anti-choice politicians and then return to the clinic 24 hours later before she can get an abortion. Besides being disrespectful to women who have made a tough decision, this law places extra expense and hardship on women and their families who have traveled to the clinic from out of town. At present, there is no 24-hour waiting period in Georgia. "Pro-life" (anti-choice) activists introduce such a bill in the Georgia legislature every year. There is no mandatory waiting period for any other type of medical procedure anywhere in the country.

Religion: Most people of faith support conscientious choice. Many churches and religious groups have issued statements calling for prayerful consideration and reflection in coming to a decision and affirming that the decision whether or not to continue a pregnancy must be made by the woman herself. A partial list of these groups include: American Baptist Churches, American Friends Service Committee (Quakers), American Jewish Congress, American Lutheran Church, American Protestant Hospital Association, Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, B'nai B'rith Women, Catholics for a Free Choice, Church of the Brethren, The Episcopal Church General Convention, Episcopal Women's Caucus, Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church in the U.S. General Assembly, Reformed Church in America General Synod, Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly, United Church of Christ General Synod, United Methodist Church General Conference, United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. General Assembly, Young Women's Christian Association of the U.S. A. National Convention.13 Some of these churches and groups belong to Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, an organization which believes that women have the right to make their own decisions regarding when to have a child and that abortion can be a "moral, ethical and religiously responsible decision."14

Roe v. Wade: Roe is the Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal in all states. Roe says that during the first 3 months of pregnancy, the government cannot interfere with a woman's right to have an abortion, except to require that it be performed by a licensed doctor. In the second 3 months, the government may make regulations designed to preserve the woman's health. In the last 3 months, the government is allowed to ban abortion altogether unless it is necessary to preserve the life or health of the woman.

Safety: Legal abortion is one of the safest of all medical procedures. More women die in childbirth than die from legal abortions, and 97% of women who have an abortion within 13 weeks of pregnancy have no complications or post-abortion complaints; 2 1/2% have minor complications. Less than one half of 1% require some additional surgical procedure and/or hospitalization.15 Anti-choice people claim that having an abortion may cause sterility. There is no scientific evidence that sterility may occur as a result of abortion.15 Fertility rapidly returns after an abortion; most women menstruate within five weeks.16 This is one reason clinic counselors discuss contraception with clients. Recently, anti-choice people have been claiming that abortion can cause breast cancer. There is no scientific evidence to prove that abortion has any effect on breast cancer. Researchers have found a human gene that seems to indicate a susceptibility to breast cancer, indicating that in some cases a tendency to the disease may be inherited.17 Breast cancer researchers are also studying diet, environment, lifestyles, and many other possible links.

Sex Education: Most groups that want to outlaw abortion also want to do away with sex education. "Resist, expose or stop immediately every public school or group sex education program..." says Father Paul Marx.18 "Even former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop admitted that 'we are at a very strange place in history where the people most opposed to abortions are also most opposed to the one thing that would stop them, which is contraceptive information.'"19

State Regulation of Private Lives: Until 1965 it was against the law to provide birth control information to married couples in the state of Connecticut. In Griswold v. Connecticut, the Supreme Court of the United States said that the Connecticut law was unconstitutional and that Americans have the right to privacy in their family planning. However, some states, including Georgia, still have laws regulating sex acts between consenting adults, even married couples.

Spontaneous Miscarriage: An estimated one-third of all fetuses spontaneously miscarry.20

Voting: One thing that everyone can do to ensure reproductive rights for all women is to VOTE. Support candidates who are pro-choice. People who are anti-choice have long been organized to bring out the vote for their candidates; we who are pro-choice must do the same ... on the local level as well as the national. If you are not registered to vote, go to your local library and register now.


Footnotes:

  1. Paul D. Simmons, Professor of Christian Ethics, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky, "The Fetus as Person: A Biblical Perspective," Abortion Rights and Fetal "Personhood," ed. Edd Doerr and James W. Prescott, 2nd ed., (Long Beach California, Centerline Press, 1990), p. 27.
  2. Professor Charles Rice, "The Human Life Amendment What It Will Really Do," American Life League Newsletter, March 1981.
  3. P. Habblewaithe, "Meetings Celebrate 20 Years of Humanae Vitae," National Catholic Reporter, Dec. 18. 1988.
  4. K.L. Moore, The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology, 3rd Ed., (Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders & Company), pp. 46-47.
  5. Barbara Santee, Ph.D., "Whose Freedom Is It?," Tulsa Tribune, Tulsa, Oklahoma, Dec. 28, 1991.
  6. Robert T. Francoeus, "When Does a Human Become a Person, and Why?" Abortion Rights and Fetal "Personhood," p. 115.>
  7. Robert J. Pearson, How to Start and Operate Your Own Pro-Life Outreach Crisis Pregnancy Center, (St. Louis, Missouri, The Pearson Foundation), pp. 4-6.
  8. L. A. Kauffman, "Abortion Clinics that Aren't," Mademoiselle, June 1995.
  9. Jan Gehorsam, "'Bogus Clinics' Questioned by Abortion-Rights Advocates," Atlanta Journal/Constitution, September 23, 1991.
  10. The Alan Guttmacher Institute, September 25, 1996.
  11. Susannah Hunnewell (as told to), "They're Going to Ban the Abortion that Saved My Life," Marie Claire, February, 1996.
  12. David Kindred, "Couple's decision heart-rending," Atlanta Journal/ Constitution. Nov. 22, 1995.
  13. Appendix B, Statements About Abortion Rights by National Religious Organizations, Abortion Rights and Fetal "Personhood."
  14. Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice Newsletter, Volume 20, Number 2, Fall 1993.
  15. Centers for Disease Control, Abortion Surveillance: Annual Summary 1981, issued 1985.
  16. Howard I. Shapiro, M.D., The Birth Control Book, (Avon Books, New York, 1978), p. 168.
  17. "Gene map offers new keys to disease," Atlanta Journal/Constitution, Dec. 22, 1995.
  18. Father Paul Marx, "From Contraception to Abortion," Human Life International brochure.
  19. Catherine Whitney, Whose Life?, (New York, William Morrow & Co., 1991), p. 212.
  20. K.L. Moore, The Developing Human, 4th Ed., pp. 47-48.




Are You Pro-Choice?

Pro-Choice means that you believe each woman has the right to make her own decision. Pro-Choice means you believe the government has NO right to force a woman to continue a pregnancy, nor to force a woman to terminate a pregnancy. Pro-Choice people may disagree on the circumstance in which an abortion is indicated, but they agree that only the woman involved can make such a personal decision. Pro-Choice does not mean pro-abortion. . . reasonable people simply want safe and legal abortion services available should they be needed.

Would you want someone else deciding for you? Probably not. That's why the overwhelming majority of Americans are Pro-Choice.

Call or write your state legislator and tell him or her that you are one of the majority of the people in this country who believes that family planning decisions must be made by the people directly involved. Reproductive decisions and responsibilities are personal and private, and should not be dictated by the government.

Atlanta Pro-Choice Action Committee

P.O. Box 57104 ... Atlanta, GA 30343

Members of the Atlanta Pro-Choice Action Committee have worked as volunteer escorts at Atlanta's women's clinics since 1988. They also lobby the Georgia legislature on behalf of women's and children's health issues, child protection and education, and individual liberties.

This publication funded by a grant from Atlanta Women's Fund.



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