Elective abortion continues to be a highly controversial political issue in the United States and many other countries (Kulczycki, 2011). Beliefs regarding the beginning of life, women’s right to reproductive choice, and the role of government influence the stand individuals take regarding elective termination of pregnancy.

Abortion: Historical Overview

Laws regulating abortion have changed over time. In ancient China and Europe, abortion early in pregnancy was legal. In the 13th cen­tury, St. Thomas Aquinas delineated the Catholic Church’s view that the fetus developed a soul after conception—after 40 days for males and 90 days for females. Centuries later, in the late 1860s, Pope Pius IX declared that human life begins at conception and is at any stage just as important as the mother’s. The Roman Catho­lic Church still maintains this position, although 58% of American Catholics believe one can be a "good Catholic" and disregard the church’s teachings on abortion (L. Miller, 2008).

Early American law, based on English common law, allowed abortion until the preg­nant woman felt quickening, or movement of the fetus. During the 1860s, abortion became illegal in the United States, except when necessary to save the woman’s life. Reasons for this change included the belief that population growth was important to




Abortion Restrictions at the State Level

Action League, 2009). One columnist has stated, "Mothering is so critical and so chal­lenging that to force anyone into its service is immoral" (Quindlen, 2003, p. 26). Many prestigious organizations, including many associated with religious institutions, have made public statements opposing anti-abortion legislation: Catholics for Choice, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Public Health Association, the American Medical Association, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Of the American public, 64% want Roe v. Wade to remain in place (Marcus, 2009).

Antichoice advocates believe that once an ovum has been fertilized, it is a human being whose right to life supersedes the woman’s right to choose whether to continue

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her pregnancy. Consequently, advocates believe that abortion is immoral and constitutes murder of a "pre-born" child. Anti-abortion organizations and advocates want to see Roe v. Wade overturned and want Congress to pass the Life at Conception Act or to amend the U. S. Constitution with the Paramount Human Life Amendment, both of which establish the fertilized egg as an independent being entitled to equal protection under the law (National Pro-Life Alliance, 2009). Another anti-abortion group continues to attempt to pass "personhood" amendments in several states that define a fertilized egg as having legal rights (Cohen, 2012b; Raasch, 2012). All of the 2012 Republican candi­dates for the U. S. presidency ran on platforms to overturn Roe v. Wade and to eliminate federal funding for abortion (White, 2012).

Extreme anti-abortion activists have gone beyond legal means to restrict abortion— blocking clinic entrances; harassing patients, physicians, and staff; and burning or bombing clinics. In 2008, about 57% of non-hospital facilities that provide abortion experienced some kind of harassment. Levels of harassment are highest in the Midwest and the South (Jones & Kooistra, 2011). Pro-life extremists have resorted to killing physicians and staff who work in abortion clinics, believing that these murders are justified to save unborn babies. In May 2009 a pro-life extremist shot and killed Dr. George Tiller as he entered his church for Sunday services. He had previously escaped death in 1993 when an anti-abortion extremist shot him in both arms and claimed at her trial that she had done nothing wrong in her attempt to kill a physician who performed abortions (Kissling, 2009). Doctors and clinics that provide abortions must implement stringent security measures: metal detectors, alarms, and bulletproof glass and vests (Joffe, 2009; National Abortion Rights Action League, 2009). The abortion debate will remain passionate and bitter because of fundamental differences in beliefs and worldviews of people with strong commitments to one side or the other. However, most people experi­ence considerable ambivalence about abortion (Kliff, 2010). Many people who believe abortion is wrong also believe that any woman who wants an abortion should be able to obtain it legally.