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Historical Information
Abortion Terminology
Critique Section
The Ethical Question

Historical Information on Abortion

Abortion has always been a controversial matter in society, and may remain that way for many years to come. However, a question that tends to pop up often when first learning about abortion is "How did this entire fiasco all begin?"

Well, we can take a look at the history of abortion. It has been a rough ride during the past thirty years for pro- and anti-abortionists alike. For now, we will look back at the big case that arguably created the abortion debate, dating back to the Roe v. Wade case in 1973.

In the United States, when a woman wanted an abortion, it was difficult for a doctor to grant her one, simply because of the questionablke status of the fetus and the mixed sentiments and beliefs people held regarding its status. Had it developed to the extent that it could feel pain, and, if so, would this pain be very harsh? Or was it not developed enough to feel pain and so aborting it was okay?

Because of these issues, Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun decided that a womanís pregnancy should be divided into trimesters (in essence, divided into three sections), and that no physician can deny a woman of aborting the fetus before the first two trimesters are up. In other words, a woman is allowed to abort her child during the first six months of pregnancy. During the third trimester, the state has the right to restrict abortions unless the womanís life is threatened by the pregnancy. Therefore, it is possible to say that abortion could be legal and easy to access throughout all nine months of pregnancy. This was obviously an issue with anti-abortionists.

Because of this ruling, many anti-abortionists believe that this is what caused abortion on demand in the United States. In another case relating to abortion, Doe v. Bolton, where the litigants were debating the subject of a womanís health during pregnancy, it was determined that if a womanís physical well-being, emotional or psychological health, or familial life was jeopardized because of the pregnancy, then she is to be permitted an abortion. It was also stated that a womanís age may also be taken into account when performing an abortion.

However, the abortion issue did not begin in 1973, therefore the Roe v. Wade case. There was a previous case in 1965, namely Griswold v. Connecticut, where the leader of the Planned Parenthood organization in Connecticut, Griswold, was convicted along with a fellow medical doctor for counseling families into methods of birth control, which was illegal in that particular state at the time. After the conviction, it was decided that the law prohibiting marital counseling on birth control violated the American Constitution, and so the law was ignored. Griswold and her fellow doctor were released from conviction. As with the Roe v. Wade case, this obviously upset some anti-abortionists.

Returning to the Roe v. Wade era, another case was taking place. This case was known as Eisenstadt v. Baird. William Baird ("Baird" in the case name) was charged on counts of felony when he gave Emko Vaginal Foam to a student he taught as a means of birth control. The charge was that he was not permitted to give contraceptives (methods of birth control) to unmarried men or women. In the end, the court ruled that anyone, whether married or single, has the right to not have the government intruding in their personal lives, and so Bairdís charge was dropped. Again, this was another hit to the anti-abortionists when it came to them attempting to rectify their cause.

Another case was sparked in 1986 ( Webster v. Reproductive Health Services ), when the state of Missouri created new laws restricting abortions. These laws stated that life began at conception, and that public employees could not perform abortions in public places unless it was to save the womanís life. It was also declared that encouraging abortion was against the law, and that women had to take viability tests (tests to see the fetus could be born and raised normally) during or after their twentieth week of pregnancy. When it came time for the court to make a ruling on the case, they decided that none of these new laws were unconstitutional, and countered the opposing arguments, saying that the government did not have to help people with their personal lives - in this case, abortion - and they also stated that the laws were not trying to directly prohibit abortions. And so, the new laws of Missouri remained. Therefore, you can tell that, after three important wins in the Supreme Court, the pro-abortionists have taken a hit in the battle of abortion.

In 1992, another case began, this time with a big name abortion-aiding organization, Planned Parenthood Federation of America. This organization had been involved in the previous case, Griswold v. Connecticut, and were involved again in this new case, Planned Parenthood v. Casey. In this case, Pennsylvania changed its laws, making it so that anyone wanting an abortion had to wait twenty-four hours before the procedure. Also, varying age groups needed a signed consent for them to be granted the procedure; therefore, a teenage girl needed her parentsí consent, whereas a married woman needed to have told her husband about what she was doing with the fetus (and, in a sense, needed his consent). Planned Parenthood was one of the abortion clinics who challenged these new laws. The Supreme Courtís decision came difficultly, and so they decided to use a new standard in determining laws as opposed to the old Roe v. Wade case. This new standard was in the form of a question, asking if the state had the right to stop a woman from obtaining an abortion before the fetus is viable. Using this new standard, all the new Pennsylvanian laws were upheld except the consent from the husband. Therefore, another hit was given to the pro-abortionists.