Abortion: an Issue of Morality (Leah Foote) Essay

This essay has a total of 2776 words and 10 pages.

Abortion: an Issue of Morality (Leah Foote)

Leah Foote
Holly Dillard
English Composition 1301
October 27, 2004
Abortion- The Controversy on Morality
Abortion's legalization through Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade, has allowed for one in three
pregnancies to end in abortion. This means that 1.5 million abortions are performed in the
United States each year (Flanders 3). It ranks among the most complex and controversial
issues, arousing heated legal, political, and ethical debates. The modern debate over
abortion is a conflict of competing moral ideas and of fundamental human rights: to life,
to privacy, to control over one's own body. Trying to come to a compromise has proven that
it one cannot please all of the people on each side of the debate.

Many people describe the abortion debate in America as bitter and uncompromising, usually
represented on both sides by people with an intense devotion to their cause, and usually
with irreconcilable positions. Many of those who are pro-choice insist that a woman's
right to abortion should never be restricted, while those who are pro-life maintain that a
fetus has a right to life that is violated at any stage of its development if abortion is
performed. Discussions between both sides are usually very competitive, and sometimes
violent, so any attempt at coming to a mutual agreement is drowned out. How can anyone
hear if they refuse to acknowledge the other side, except to argue? Since the Roe v. Wade
decision legalized abortion, compromises that limit or allow abortion have taken two
forms: those based on the reasons for abortion, and those based on fetal development at
different stages of pregnancy. The first compromise would allow abortion for extreme, or
"hard" cases, which include rape, incest, or risk of the life or health of the pregnant
woman, but not for the soft cases like financial hardship, inconvenience, possible birth
defects, or failure of birth control. Compromises of the second type would allow
abortions, but only until a given stage of pregnancy, which is usually much earlier than
the medically accepted definition of viability- when the fetus can survive outside the
womb (Flanders 8).

Although compromises based on reasons for abortion have been incorporated in laws such as
the Hyde Amendment, which restricts Medicaid funding for abortion to so-called "hard"
cases, many people now focus on time-based restrictions. This idea is more realistic and
practical than banning abortion all together since there would still be many women who
would find a way to have the procedure done even if it became illegal or highly
restricted. Agreeing to a time-based restriction could protect older fetuses and still
safeguard the rights of most of the women seeking abortions, who are usually within 12
weeks of pregnancy. Coming to an agreement as to when the fetus is truly alive, is the
next step to coming to a time-based restriction agreement. Medical science has advanced
the ability of the fetus to survive outside the womb from about 28 weeks to about 23 to 24
weeks. Since the progression of medical technology is always changing, suggestions for
compromise propose a cutoff date for elective abortions at eight to sixteen weeks, which
is well before viability (Flanders 25). One of the strictest proposals includes
prohibiting abortions after approximately the eighth week when fetal brain waves can be
detected. Some say that this is appropriate because this is the same way that doctors
determine the end of a person's life. Some supporters go so far as to say that there
should be a sixteen week allowed time period, opposed to the eight week. Pro-choice people
argue that this restriction would be less objectionable than the eight-week restriction
since ninety percent of all abortions are performed within the twelfth week of pregnancy
(Driefus 101). Millions of pro-choicers and pro-lifers believe that any such compromise
would be impossible. From different ends of the argument, they criticize any proposal of
time limits that would violate the rights of women or violate the rights of fetuses. They
all agree that denying some fetuses life and some women liberty is hardly a solution to
this very heated debate. Since abortion is going to remain a fact of our time, a
compromise based on the time-based restriction should be resolved.

While the abortion debate is continuing and compromises are still being argued over, a new
method of abortion is about to become available in the U.S., Mifepristone (a.k.a. RU 486
or the abortion pill) is an abortion method and medical advance that has created yet
another heated controversy in this debate. The development of a safe and effective
prostaglandin compound has been the goal of researchers in the field of reproductive
biology for decades (Points 106). The ingenious work of French scientists led to the
approval of RU 486 to be used as an alternative to surgical abortion in France in
September of 1988. RU 486 is not a magic pill that allows a woman to have an easy or
painless abortion. In fact, a RU 486 abortion, which can be done up to the forty-ninth day
of pregnancy, requires three office visits over more than two weeks. On the first visit, a
physical exam, medical history and a possible vaginal ultrasound (to determine how far
along the woman is in her pregnancy) is performed. Then she swallows three RU 486 pills to
block the action of the hormone that makes the uterus receptive to an embryo. She waits
half an hour (in case she vomits) and goes home. Two days later, her second visit, she is
given a second drug, a prostaglandin, to trigger contractions that cause a miscarriage.
She waits at the clinic or doctor's office for several hours while the miscarriage occurs.
Between the two appointments, the woman may experience bleeding, cramping, nausea, and
vomiting. A third visit is necessary to confirm that the abortion was complete (Points
106). The long- and short-term effects of using RU 486 are unknown. It would be impossible
to compare the death rate from surgical abortions to that of present RU 486 figures
because only 100,000 RU 486 abortions have been performed (Bender 145). One major
difference is that the majority of RU 486 abortions were performed under strict trial
conditions. Accidents are more likely to happen in less controlled general use. A drawback
to RU 486 becoming legalized in America for general use is that since 30 percent of
fertilized eggs are spontaneously aborted, large numbers of women may be unnecessarily
exposed to the drug. Once approved, this drug should be administered only by physicians
and under strict conditions to protect women from possible extreme reactions. RU 486 does
not seem to make abortion painless, but it would make it more available. Research shows
that doctors who do not perform surgical abortions today would offer the drug to their
patients once it is legalized for use in America (Carlin 6).

Even if it is legalized, many women may still prefer to have a surgical abortion instead.
Surgical abortion may be opted for over RU 486 since many women may be against using drugs
with unknown long- and short-term effects. Surgical abortion requires less time spent at
the hospital or clinic than that of a RU 486 abortion. In a surgical abortion, the doctor
inserts a long tube into the uterus, which is used for suctioning the fertilized egg out
of the womb. The woman will feel some cramping, but the pain should not be intense. The
doctor then checks for any excessive bleeding and instructs the patient to return for a
checkup in two weeks to confirm that the abortion was successful. What kind of abortion to
have is a personal, and often difficult, decision. Some women find that a chemical
abortion is troubling because of the unknown long-term effects the chemicals may have on
the body although, to date, no health problems have been associated with RU 486 (Alcorn
88). Some women prefer surgical abortion because it is more convenient for them since less
time is required at each visit. Other women would prefer RU 486 because they do not want
surgical instruments put inside their uterus. With either procedure, less than one percent
of women suffer serious complications.

Many poor women are having children, many of them illegitimate, simply because they are
unable to afford an abortion. The average unaffordable abortion is $250.00. This social
issue leads the abortion debate down toward another heated debate: should the government
fund abortions for the poor? Charles Murray, an advocate for government funded abortions,
wrote "Illegitimacy is the single most important social problem of our time--more
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