Choice

Pro-choice

[proh-chois]
Pro-choice describes the political and ethical view that a woman should have complete control over her fertility and pregnancy. This entails the guarantee of reproductive rights, which includes access to sexual education; access to safe and legal abortion, contraception, and fertility treatments; and legal protection from forced abortion. Individuals and organizations who support these positions make up the pro-choice movement.

Some people who are pro-choice see abortion as a last resort and focus on a number of situations where they feel abortion is a necessary option. Among these situations are those where the woman was raped, her health or life (or that of the fetus) is at risk, contraception was used but failed, or she feels unable to raise a child. Some pro-choice moderates, who would otherwise be willing to accept certain restrictions on abortion, feel that political pragmatism compels them to oppose any such restrictions, as they could be used to form a slippery slope against all abortions.

On the issue of abortion, pro-choice campaigners are opposed by pro-life campaigners who argue that the central issue is a completely different set of rights. The pro-life view considers human fetuses and embryos to have the full legal rights of a human being; thus, the right to life of a developing fetus or embryo is considered more important than the woman's right to bodily autonomy, although some pro-lifers believe that abortion should be legal in the case where the woman's life is at serious risk.

Overview

Pro-choice advocates emphasize their beliefs that having a child is a personal choice that affects a woman's body and personal health. They believe that both parents' and children's lives are better when the government allows women to have abortions, thus preventing women from going to desperate lengths to obtain illegal abortions. More broadly, pro-choice advocates frame their beliefs in terms of "individual liberty," "reproductive freedom," and "reproductive rights." The first of these terms was widely used to describe many of the political movements of the 19th and 20th centuries (such as in the abolition of slavery in Europe and the United States, and in the spread of popular democracy), whereas the latter terms derive from changing perspectives on sexual freedom and bodily integrity.

Pro-choice individuals often do not consider themselves "pro-abortion" because they consider abortion an issue of bodily autonomy, and find forced abortion as legally indefensible as the outlawing of abortion. Indeed, some who are pro-choice consider themselves opposed to some or all abortions on a moral basis, but believe that abortion bans imperil women's health. Others have a practical acceptance of abortion, arguing that abortions would happen in any case but that legal abortion under medically controlled conditions is preferable to illegal back-alley abortion without proper medical supervision.

Pro-choice supporters frequently oppose legislative measures that would require abortion providers to make certain statements (some of which are factually disputed) to patients, because they argue that these measures are intended to make obtaining abortions more difficult. These measures fall under the rubric of abortion-specific "informed consent" or "right to know" laws.

Many pro-choice campaigners also argue that pro-life policies would deny women access to comprehensive sex education and contraception, thus increasing, not decreasing, demand for abortion. Proponents of this argument point to cases of areas with limited sex education and contraceptive access that have high abortion rates, either legal, illegal or de facto exported (i.e., where a high proportion of abortions from a state occur outside that state in another country with a more liberal abortion regime). Irish women who visit the United Kingdom for abortions are one example, as were the Belgian women who travelled to France (before Belgium legalized abortion). The statistics on the Irish abortion rate in the United Kingdom remain disputed. A lack of an independent methodology for verification of origins means that estimations as to whether the number of Irish people getting British abortions is higher (i.e., not all those getting abortions are declaring their nationality, with some passing themselves off as British) or lower (with some British women or British women of Irish descent claiming to have traveled from Ireland as a way to ensure that hospitals cannot seek medical information from their doctors, so preserving their complete anonymity). The rival campaigning groups on abortion each use selective interpretations and presumptions to bolster their analysis, in part because the lack of independent methodology makes each other's claims impossible to disprove. As with many issues involving political framing, these claims are controversial.

Pro-choice campaigns worldwide

United States

Prior to 1973, abortion was not subject to United States constitutional law, but was purely a matter for the individual states, all of whom chose to apply some nature of restriction. The first legal restrictions on abortion appeared in the 1820s, forbidding abortion after the fourth month of pregnancy. By 1900, legislators at the urgings of the American Medical Association had enacted anti-abortion laws in most U.S. states. In its landmark 1973 case, Roe v. Wade where a woman challenged the Texas laws criminalizing abortion, the U.S. Supreme Court reached two important conclusions:

  • That abortion law was a federal constitutional law issue, not a state one, and was therefore subject to the Constitution of the United States and federal law;
  • That the procurement of an abortion was a constitutional right during the first and second trimesters of a pregnancy based on the constitutional right to privacy, but that the state's interest in protecting "potential life" prevailed in the third trimester unless the woman's health was at risk. In subsequent rulings, the Court rejected the trimester framework altogether in favor of a cutoff at the point of fetal viability (Cf. Planned Parenthood v. Casey).

Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice America, National Organization for Women, and the American Civil Liberties Union are the leading pro-choice advocacy and lobbying groups in the United States. Most major feminist organizations also support pro-choice positions.

In the United States, the Democratic Party's platform endorses the pro-choice position, stating that abortion should be "safe, legal, and rare". Not all Democrats agree with the platform, however, and there is a small pro-life faction within the party, expressed in such groups as Democrats for Life of America. Although the 2004 Republican platform is pro-life, advocating a Human Life Amendment to the constitution banning abortion, there are several nationally prominent Republicans who identify themselves as pro-choice, including former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former New York Governor George Pataki, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and late former President Gerald Ford.

Two polls were released in May 2007 asking Americans "With respect to the abortion issue, would you consider yourself to be pro-choice or pro-life?" A CNN poll found 45% said pro-choice and 50% said pro-life. Within the following week, a Gallup poll found 49% responding pro-choice and 45% pro-life.

Europe

Most European countries have legalized abortion (in at least some cases) through certain laws (the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Poland, etc.). Russia, which has one of the highest rates of abortion in the world, legalised the procedure in 1955.

In the United Kingdom, the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats are predominantly pro-choice parties, though with significant minorities in each either holding extremely restrictive definitions of the right to choose, or subscribing to a pro-life analysis. The Conservative Party is more evenly split between both camps and its leader, David Cameron, supports abortion on demand in the early stages of pregnancy.

Abortion is illegal in the Republic of Ireland, since a 1983 referendum amended the constitution. The Irish Labour Party is in favour of liberalizing the laws.

Africa

South Africa allows abortion under its Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act of 1996. Most African nations, however, have abortion bans except in cases where the woman's life or health is at risk. A number of pro-choice international organizations have made altering abortion laws and expanding family planning services in sub-Saharan Africa and the developing world a top priority.

Worldwide

The issue of abortion remains one of the most divisive in public life, with most political parties in democracies divided on the issue, and continuing battles to liberalise or restrict access to legal abortion. Pro-choice groups are active in all states, campaigning for legal abortion with varying degrees of success. Few states allow abortion without limitation or regulation, but most do allow various limited forms of abortion. Pro-choice campaigners themselves are frequently divided as to the types of abortion that should be available, and whether access to abortion should be unrestricted or restricted, and if the latter, then to what level.

Term controversy

Both "pro-choice" and "pro-life" are examples of political framing: they are terms which purposely try to define their philosophies in the best possible light, while by definition attempting to describe their opposition in the worst possible light ("Pro-choice" implies the alternative viewpoint is "anti-choice", while "pro-life" implies the alternative viewpoint is "pro-death" or "anti-life"). Similarly each side's use of the term "rights" ("reproductive rights", "right to life of the unborn") implies a validity in their stance, given that the presumption in language is that rights are inherently a good thing and so implies an invalidity in the viewpoint of their opponents. (In liberal democracies, a right is seen as something the state and civil society must defend, whether human rights, victims' rights, children's rights, etc. Many states use the word rights in fundamental laws and constitutions to define basic civil principles; both the United Kingdom and the United States possess a Bill of Rights.)

Pro-life and pro-choice individuals often use political framing to convey their perspective on the issues, and in some cases, to discredit opposing views. Pro-life advocates tend to use terms such as "unborn baby," "unborn child," or "pre-born child

See also

References

Sources & additional reading

Books

  • Ninia Baehr, Abortion without Apology: A Radical History for the 1990s South End Press, 1990.
  • Ruth Colker, Abortion & Dialogue: Pro-Choice, Pro-Life, and American Law Indiana University Press, 1992.
  • Donald T. Critchlow, The Politics of Abortion and Birth Control in Historical Perspective Pennsylvania University Press, 1996.
  • Myra Marx Ferree et al, Shaping Abortion Discourse: Democracy and the Public Sphere in Germany and the United States Cambridge University Press, 2002.
  • Marlene Gerber Fried, From Abortion to Reproductive Freedom: Transforming a Movement South End Press, 1990.
  • Beverly Wildung Harrison, Our Right to Choose: Toward a New Ethic of Abortion Beacon Press, 1983.
  • Suzanne Staggenborg, The Pro-Choice Movement: Organization and Activism in the Abortion Conflict, Oxford University Press, 1994.
  • Raymond Tatalovich' The Politics of Abortion in the United States and Canada: A Comparative Study M.E. Sharpe, 1997

Articles & Journals

  • Mary S. Alexander, "Defining the Abortion Debate" in ETC.: A Review of General Semantics, Vol. 50, 1993.
  • David R. Carlin Jr., "Going, Going, Gone: The Diminution of the Self" in Commonweal Vol.120. 1993.
  • Vijayan K. Pillai, Guang-Zhen Wang, "Women's Reproductive Rights, Modernization, and Family Planning Programs in Developing Countries: A Causal Model" in International Journal of Comparative Sociology, Vol. 40, 1999.
  • Suzanne Staggenborg, "Organizational and Environmental Influences on the Development of the Pro-Choice Movement" in Social Forces, Vol. 68 1989.

External links

  • International Organizations

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