All About Abortions

In my most recent post I made a few remarks about the Supreme Courts Roe v Wade reversal and its probable effect on the 2022 midterm elections.  My opinion stirred up several responses, both positive and negative.  Because of that, I decided to examine the controversial issue in much greater detail.

Abortions, legal or otherwise, were not uncommon in 19th and early 20th century America.  During the early 1900s more than 200,000 women are believed to have undergone this illegal procedure each year.  The death rate was high, more than 2,000 per annum, but that number fell to under 200 with the introduction of antibiotics in the 1940s.

Abortions were illegal throughout the United State during most of the 1800s, but in the early 1900s there was a rise in the pseudoscience of Eugenics and a push for birth control.   Margaret Sanger and the Planned Parent organization was part of this movement.  As a result, many states modified their abortion laws, and abortions were generally legal in seventeen states prior to 1973. 

In the Supreme Court’s 1973  Roe v Wade decision the essential finding was that a person may choose to have an abortion until a fetus becomes viable.  The Court based its ruling on a right to privacy that the justices somehow discovered in the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution.  Viability means the ability to live outside the womb, which usually happens between 24 and 28 weeks after conception.

Roe v Wade meant that no state could absolutely ban abortion, but they could still impose some limits on the procedure after the first trimester of pregnancy.

There were repeated challenges to Roe v Wade over the years.  Many legal scholars believed that the decision was incorrect and that there was nothing in the Constitution concerning a woman’s right to have an abortion.  Even Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a liberal icon, believed that the case was wrongly decided and that the matter should have been left up the people’s representatives in Congress and state legislatures.   However, she chose to follow stare decisis in her court decisions and thus upheld Roe v Wade.

The entire matter became the subject of. great controversy and bitter political battles between the anti-abortionists and those who favored a woman’s right to choose.  There were countervailing protests and marches on either side. The Christian community was incensed over what it considered to be a slaughter of the innocents.  Those on the left were perhaps equally agitated over anything they conceived to be a threat to a woman’s right to make her own choice..

In 1992 the Supreme Court reaffirmed Roe v Wade  in its Casey decision.  The court ruled that restrictions on abortion are unconstitutional if they place an “undue burden” on a woman seeking an abortion before the fetus is viable.

Even though both court’s rulings permitted states to place some restrictions on abortions after the first trimester, in many states there were no regulations, and in some jurisdictions abortions were obtainable on demand up until the very last days preceding birth.  The rate of abortions skyrocketed, peaking at over 1.2 million in 1972.  In the last decade it has hovered at around 800 thousand per annum.  Horror stories abounded, and the issue was never allowed to die.  The Republican Party, with its strong conservative Christian element, became increasingly pro-life.  The Democrats aligned themselves with the pro-choice movement.  Battle lines were drawn, and over the last two decades a judge’s perceived position on the abortion issue became a critical question in deciding if he or she should be nominated and confirmed as a Supreme Court justice. 

Christian evangelicals and conservative Catholics are very important to the modern Republican Party, and Donald Trump was especially indebted to them for his victory in 2016.  He paid them back by nominating Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Barrett, all conservative Catholic judges, to the Supreme Court.  The confirmation battles were vicious, but the Republicans controlled the Senate.  Once these three were installed in the court, the Roe v Wade decision was destined for a revisit.

I identify myself as an evangelical Christian.  I have been appalled by the actions of Planned Parenthood and the heartless horrors of the abortion industry.  I was pleased by the repeal of  Roe v Wade and the return of the abortion issue to the states. However, I am also a realist.  Putting an absolute ban on abortion is no more achievable than was Prohibition.  The best we can hope for is to discourage it, provide alternatives (low-cost adoptions), and regulate it. Above all, I propose that, unless the woman’s life is endangered, there should be an absolute ban on abortions after the twenty-second week of pregnancy, the earliest time of potential viability. 

Two final comments.

A black woman is four or five times more likely to have an abortion than a white.  The difference may be largely due to economic disparity, but it is only fair to point out that Margaret Sanger, a founder of Planned Parenthood, saw birth control and abortion as means to control the growth of less desirable parts of the population.  Although a reformer, Sanger was also a racist, and Planned Parenthood became the chief provider of abortions in this country – especially to young black women.

The abortion issue undoubtedly influenced the 2022 midterms.  It probably cost Republicans an opportunity to control the Senate.  It is interesting to note, however, with the exception of Georgia, the Roe v Wade reversal had no impact on abortion access in those states where the senatorial contests were most closely decided. 

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