Abortion laws have evolved throughout history, reflecting changing social norms and medical advancements. Many countries still criminalize this procedure to preserve life and may only allow exceptions under certain conditions. However, the push for gender equality and women’s rights continues to call for legalized abortion and fuel heated debates. Although legalization raises ethical concerns about fetuses’ rights and devaluation of life, it is a more beneficial choice that supports women’s self-determination and health.
Pro-life advocates argue that fetuses are children because life begins at conception, so intentionally ending a pregnancy is equivalent to murder. Mother Theresa wrote a letter to the US Supreme Court in opposition of Roe v. Wade because of her lifelong commitment to saving children’s lives. She stated that “the right to life does not depend, and must not be declared to be contingent, on the pleasure of anyone else” (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). This perspective insists that neither parents nor the government should be able to decide whether an unborn child will live because the sacredness of life is superior to other concerns. Religion can support this argument, such as when Christian communities declare that only God has the authority to decide who should be born. They warn the public against playing god and rejecting higher moral authority in pursuit of self-interest. However, the problem with this argument is that ethical and religious views can vary greatly across the population. This is a subjective metric for decision-making because not all people may agree that fetuses are the same as children.
Pro-life advocates also express concerns about a slippery slope where the acceptance of abortion could lead to a broader devaluation of human life. They worry that legalizing and normalizing abortion could pave the way for justifying other actions that involve taking life, such as euthanasia or assisted suicide. As a result, people may lose all respect for life and become desensitized to outright violence. Mother Theresa’s criticism of Roe v. Wade addressed this concern with the argument that legal abortion sows “violence and discord at the heart of the most intimate human relationships” (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). The author believes that any country that passes such laws seeks to justify the use of violence to get what it wants instead of investing in society’s well-being. Nonetheless, this argument was made several decades ago, and it appears that Mother Theresa’s predictions have not come to pass. While some may argue that modern society is desensitized to violence, there is also a constant push toward human rights and equality. The idea that legal abortion will devalue human life in general deserves acknowledgment, but it lacks evidential support.
On the other hand, pro-choice advocates argue that women have an inherent right to decide what happens to their bodies, including the decision to terminate an unwanted or harmful pregnancy. They believe that denying the option of legal abortion inevitably violates bodily autonomy and personal freedom. If society forces women to carry pregnancies to term against their will, it implies that a woman’s life is worth less than that of a fetus and she has no control. These dangerous implications exacerbate if pregnancies lead to significant physical or psychological harm, such as when they threaten women’s survival or when they result from traumatizing events. For example, a ten-year-old rape victim was forced to travel outside the state to terminate her pregnancy (Burga). This case demonstrates the importance of prioritizing the living over the unborn because the victim had already suffered and her body was not mature enough to handle a pregnancy, so abortion helped to protect her. Ultimately, legal abortion can be seen as an extension of human rights and a step forward to liberating women from external controlling forces in a patriarchal society.
Moreover, pro-choice advocates argue that legalizing abortion can lead to safer medical procedures and improved public health outcomes. Abortions in unregulated settings are associated with high maternal mortality rates due to severe health risks like infection, injury, heavy bleeding, and incomplete procedures (World Health Organization). These unregulated settings can range from self-induced abortions to seeking help from untrained practitioners. Legalizing abortion provides a safer alternative, allowing qualified medical professionals to perform controlled procedures in sterile environments. At the same time, legal abortion often comes with reproductive healthcare services, including counseling and information about available options. This support can help women make informed decisions, such as choosing an early intervention to avoid the risks associated with later-stage abortions. In the long term, legal abortion provides a source of accurate data on procedures, demographics, and outcomes for public health research and policymaking. This information can empower governments and healthcare providers to pinpoint areas for improvement and develop public health strategies. Since abortion bans do not always prevent abortion but often push women toward unsafe procedures, legalization can help to save lives.
In conclusion, the arguments for and against legal abortion highlight the intricacies of balancing individual liberties with the protection of life. On one hand, pro-life arguments emphasize the sanctity of life from conception and express concerns about the potential erosion of human values. On the other hand, pro-choice advocates emphasize a woman’s right to self-determination and the importance of safeguarding her well-being. The broader advantages of reproductive autonomy and improved public health outcomes suggest that legalizing abortion offers a more beneficial approach that overshadows ideological disagreements.
Burga, Solcyre. Rape Victim, 10, Forced to Travel for Abortion, Time, 15 July 2022, time.com/6198062/rape-victim-10-abortion-indiana-ohio/.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Mother Teresa’s Letter to the US Supreme Court on Roe v. Wade, 2023, groups.csail.mit.edu/mac/users/rauch/nvp/roe/mothertheresa_roe.html.
World Health Organization. Abortion, 25 Nov. 2021, www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/abortion.