“Continuing the Battle for Women’s Reproductive Rights”

4 Nov

Abortion is one of the most contentious issues in the United States today. Stemming from a long and complex history, society’s reactions to and perceptions of the procedure have varied over time. Early on, there were virtually no restrictions, either religious or legal, for abortion. Only in the nineteenth century did laws and churches begin to regulate the use of abortion. Long was the battle to regain reproductive rights, but in 1973, Roe v. Wade established a woman’s “right to choose” as a personal, medical decision which did not merit the interference of government (Shaw 320). Since that Supreme Court decision, the issue of abortion has dominated discourse in political, religious, and educational settings. Despite the work of anti-choice advocates across the country, abortion has remained legal, though not as easily accessible as in the past. Abortion should continue to be legal, with no restrictions, because legality does not affect rates of abortion; women who undergo illegal abortions are much more likely to face complications; and because women should be trusted to make the best decisions for themselves, their bodies, and their families.

In the United States, we have a tendency to believe that if something is outlawed, it will stop occurring. The fact that we continue to act based on this assumption shows a lack of institutional memory, as history has shown us repeatedly that people in desperate situations make choices in spite of laws to the contrary. This trend holds true for those seeking abortions. Studies have shown that, worldwide, rates of abortion do not decrease where the procedure is illegal. In a “comprehensive global study” conducted by the World Health Organization and the Guttmacher Institute, findings suggest that “outlawing the procedure [abortion] does little to deter women seeking it” (Rosenthal 1). Although some criticize these conclusions as hasty and biased, the World Health Organization serves as a relatively objective institution, and thus a balancing factor when considering an issue as controversial as abortion. Additionally, as we’ve seen in When Abortion was Illegal and I Had an Abortion, the desperation some women feel when faced with the financial and emotional responsibility of a child often outweighs the possible legal consequences of having an abortion. Based on both comprehensive, unbiased studies and individual stories and experiences, one can conclude that the legality of abortion has little to no impact on a woman’s desire to get an abortion and ability to carry out that desire.

Although legality does not deter women from seeking or obtaining abortions, it does impact the safety of the procedure. When forced to secure an abortion through illegal channels, a woman risks severe medical complications, which oftentimes result in death. In fact, globally, “125,000 to 200,000 women die each year from complications related to unsafe and illegal abortions” (Shaw 322). Had those women had access to education, contraception, and legal abortion, they would not have died. This points to one of the most infuriating parts of “pro-life” rhetoric; if anti-choice advocates truly valued life, they would spend more time working to save the lives of thousands of women all over the world. Instead, they choose to prohibit women from seeking a potentially life-saving procedure, and shame them for placing value on their own lives. Again, the films we screened for class offer individual accounts of how dangerous and psychologically damaging an illegal abortion can be, and how important it is to recognize a woman’s personal medical decisions, for those decisions are often truly a matter of life and death.

The evidence presented above is compelling in that it quantifies the importance and relevance of safe, legal abortions for women all over the world. However, offering numbers will accomplish nothing if the root cause of the controversy over reproductive rights is not enumerated. Ultimately, the fight to keep abortion legal is a fight for women’s autonomy. Over the course of the last two centuries, women have fought for equality and fair treatment. We gained many rights, including the rights to vote, to divorce, to own property, and to attend institutions of higher education. Despite these incredible victories, we continue to battle for the right to own our bodies. Women must be trusted to make decisions that are correct for their health, their lives, and their families. The reasons given by women who have had an abortion overwhelmingly indicate a strong consideration of responsibilities to others and to themselves. Approximately “three-fourths of women cite concern for or responsibility to other individuals” and “three-fourths say that having a baby would interfere with work, school or the ability to care for dependents” (“Induced” 1). These statistics demonstrate how careful and considerate women are about their decision to abort, and underscore the importance of having faith in women’s personal choices. The best people to make decisions for women’s bodies are women themselves. Dr. Tiller, a Kansas abortion provider who was assassinated in May of 2009, understood this better than most. His motto – “trust women” – continues to ring through the pro-choice movement (Goldberg 2).

Abortion has served as a wedge issue in political debates, religious settings, and even among friends. Ultimately, however, there is only one right answer. Abortion should remain legal, because the legality of the procedure has no impact on the rate of abortion; complications and death often accompany illegal abortion; and women need to be trusted to make the best decisions for themselves. If we lose the right to abortion, we lose the right to our own bodies. We lose the right to rule our own lives. We lose ourselves.


Author’s note: Please do not use my words without assigning proper credit. That’s called plagiarism.


Works Cited


Goldberg, Michelle. “The Compassion of Dr. Tiller.” The American Prospect. The American Prospect, Inc., 2 June 2009. Web. 3 Nov. 2010.

“Induced Abortion: Facts in Brief” (2010). The Alan Guttmacher Institute. http://www.guttmacher.org/

Rosenthal, Elizabeth. “Legal or Not, Abortion Rates Compare.” The New York Times 12 Oct. 2007. Print.

Shaw, Susan M., and Janet Lee. “Health and Reproductive Rights.” Introduction. Women’s Voices, Feminist Visions: Classic and Contemporary Readings. 4th ed. Boston: McGraw- Hill Higher Education, 2009. Print.

Speak Out: I Had an Abortion. Dir. Gillian Aldrich and Jennifer Baumgardner. SpeakOut Films, 2005. DVD.

When Abortion Was Illegal: Untold Stories. Dir. Dorothy Fadiman and Beth Seltzer. Prod. Daniel Meyers. Concentric Media, 1992. DVD.



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