Thursday, February 09, 2006

Roe v Wade

I beg your indulgences now, before I begin, for I have not the expertise to discuss the finer legal points of this ruling but must instead resort to its medical implications and mammoth symbolic significance. I have stated that although I consider myself to be pro-life, I do not wish for Roe v Wade to be overturned. My reasons for this relate to the relative safety of legal vs illegal abortion and the fact that legal abortion lends itself to tight regulation. Medically, a legal induced abortion in the first trimester is a relatively safe procedure. Many studies have attempted to estimate the relative risk of abortion-related mortality vs pregnancy-related mortality. All of these studies are limited by a tendency to undereport abortion-related deaths and the universally poorer overall health statistics of abortion recipients. Still most of the data indicate the risk of death related to normal pregnancy is at least an order of magnitude higher than the risk of death from legal induced abortion. Other defenses for the safety of legal abortion point to the high mortality rates for abortion prior to Roe v Wade and the persistently high mortality rates for abortion in countries where the procedure is illegal. Of course there are many confounding variables in this type of data which I can list for you, but I merely wanted to present an argument. I will not belabor the gorry details of procedures involved in performing an abortion unless specifically queried. I will submit, however, that Roe v Wade has tremendous psychological importance for a number of women who probably will never have an abortion. There are issues related to women's power and control over their bodies and their lives that make this ruling an important landmark apart from the specific procedure it addresses. Overturning Roe v Wade may send a damaging signal symbolically about how we have come to view women. I will be the first to say that everything within the power of the law should be done to limit the number of abortions that take place and the ease with which they can be obtained. I also firmly believe in the rights of the fetus, but I think pro-lifers may have more effective tools for fighting the battle against abortion than seeking for the upheaval of a ruling that, in the minds of many, is part of the cultural and legal history of this nation.

14 comments:

Becca said...

Not to be a demogogue, but is it fair to say that there is at least one fatality in every abortion?

Kyle said...

I would like to present several questions and then go on to provide my opinions concerning each question—coming from neither a legal nor medical background. First, if Roe v Wade was overturned would there be a significant decline in the number abortions? What are the consequences—for all parties involved—of having an abortion? In the case of black market abortions, who will be suffering the consequences of having an abortion—whatever they might be? On what grounds should we judge the legality of a practice? I’m sure I could come up with many more but I think those should suffice for now.

So, would there be a significant decline in abortions if Roe v Wade was overturned? I believe there would be. You couldn’t exactly look up abortion clinics in the yellow pages so their availability would decline significantly. As Monkey Lung stated, black market abortions are risky. This would serve as a deterrent—assuming mothers are informed which may not be the case. Still, overall I believe abortions would decline significantly; lives would be saved.

What are the consequences for parties involved in an abortion? As Becca pointed out, with every abortion you have a fatality. The consequences, however, don’t end there. Mothers who undergo an abortion often times experience emotional problems due to their decision. They live the rest of their lives knowing they killed their child. They may try to convince themselves that a fetus is not a child but they know the truth. Single mothers may experience psychological problems as well. I don’t know how they compare but I believe with some help the problems single mothers are confronted with can be overcome. Here I simply wanted to point out that the effects of an abortion don’t end with the abortion; emotional problems live on.

Who suffers the consequences of a black market abortion? First I’d like to point out that the only innocent party in an abortion is the child being killed. Second, there are two parties—could be more—who are guilty of causing the death of the child: the mother and the abortion doctor. With that in mind, a mother who is injured or dies because she consented to an abortion would be similar to a criminal being injured or dieing in the process of committing a crime. Don’t misunderstand me. I don’t desire that women be injured while undergoing abortions but when it occurs it is one of the guilty parties who is being hurt. Always keep in mind who is innocent and who is guilty when an abortion takes place.

On what grounds should we judge legality? Now, understand I have no legal background, but in my opinion facts should be paramount. The fact of the matter is a human being is killed every time an abortion takes place. Most of the things that Monkey lung brought up are side issues—not things that should determine whether or not we should overturn Roe v Wade. Are there other ways to get similar results? Possibly, but by allowing abortion we are sending the message that there is nothing wring with it and I am doubtful any other measure would have as great as impact.

Just a few thoughts that I think are worth considering.

Monkey Lung said...

Good points, all of them. There is no doubt a life is lost with each abortion, nor is there any doubt that, although more women died as a result of abortive procedures prior to Roe v Wade, far fewer such procedures took place (at least those we can document). So in a way, prohibition of abortion saved lives. However, I quoestion the wisdom of outlawing a procedure so widespread in practice, and so entrenched in the American political landscape. So much progress is already being made in the way of parental notifications, waiting periods, and bans on late-term abortion. These are areas of change that can be respected, enforced, and upheld. We don't like abortion, agreed. We think it should stop, agreed. But we must also ask ourselves: why is this procedure so important to so many, and how can we limit its practice without inciting protest, anger, and unsafe medical practice?

Kyle said...

I couldn’t disagree more strongly on the political point. Agreeing to allow babies to be killed purely for political reasons is wrong in every respect. Now, ask yourself: Why are there so many pro-choicers making a fuss over the abortion issue? I would have to say it is because they want abortion to be available as a quick fix for unwanted pregnancies. If there are so many people feeling strongly pro-choice that you feel riots will follow the overturn of Roe v Wade, do you really think any other measure will make a significant impact on the number of abortions? Yes, if we were able to instill in every American a solid code of ethics we might. Kids growing up these days, however, think abortion is right: after all the law says it is. Honestly, I see no other way than through legal means to significantly reduce abortion in the United States and politics shouldn’t have any bearing on that decision.

To address the argument of progress currently being made to reduce abortion in the United States—“parental notifications, waiting periods, and bans on late-term abortion”—I pose this question: Have any of these “advancements” been made without demonstrations taking place? Pro-choicers have been fighting against every restriction placed on abortion and they will continue to fight every additional measure that is taken to reduce abortion and their freedom to choose. Why not make the process as quick and easy as possible by overturning Roe v Wade?

Becca said...

Can we start with a tiny facet of the topic that maybe I can start to wrap my mind around? In purely descriptive terms, what would happen IF Roe v. Wade were to be overturned? We talked a little about the actual likelihood of that happening on the Chemerinky post, but let's for the moment assume that it will (just for fun). What happens next?

First, it does NOT automatically make abortions illegal. It merely gives states that option. Will states take the option? If so, which ones? Will Congress eventually claim that the resulting women crossing state lines to get abortions constitutes interstate commerce, thus allowing Congress to make a pronouncement on the issue? What would that pronouncement be? Will there still be a Republican Congress when that happens? Would a Democratic president veto it (claiming he [or she!] beleives it's unconstitutional--still a possibility)? I think it's fairly safe to assume our next president will NOT be Republican...

Monkey Lung said...

Something interesting I learned in class today: Many argue the fetus is not a human being but rather the potential to form a human being. To defend this idea that human rights begin at birth they cite the high number of spontaneous abortions in the first trimester. Actually, less than 50% of all miscarriages contain an embryo. Most represent the body's erroneous determination that it is pregnant when no fertilization has taken place. This would seem to suggest conception is a less capricious process than we are led to believe by some. Just food for thought.

Becca said...

I have heard it asserted that early in pregancies the embryo sometimes splits into twins, then remerge into, um, not twins, maybe more often than we realize. Any foundation to this? Interesting implications, if so - like, if the fetus has a soul, is it one, or two, and what happens to one when they remerge?

Becca said...

Embryo, excuse me. Isn't the term "fetus" reserved for a later stage of development (yeah, like I paid attention in HS biology...)?

Monkey Lung said...

Embryo is used to refer to the stage of development before impantation in the wall of the uterus, fetus thereafter. The twins thing came up in our ethics class too. I don't really know much about embryos splitting and then fusing again. Trying to make determinations about how many viable beings are present at such an early stage is kinda fuzzy anyway, what one scientist may call twins another might call an unusually prominent plane of cleavage. What is true is that identical twins can arise from a single embryo anytime from fertilization up to the formation of the primitive streak. Many have used this to argue for embryonic stem cell research. The idea being that if an embryo could possibly give rise to one or two individuals, it does not possess identity and therefore is not worthy of protection under the law. This doesn't really hold water for me. If the embryo might develop into two people instead of one doesn't that increase, rather than decrease, its value? By that kind of logic we ought to feel worse about terminating a two week old embryo than a three month old fetus since the embryo might have represented more than one life.

Monkey Lung said...

Woops, I mispoke. Medically, embryo refers to the preiod from two weeks post-fertilization to seven or eight weeks, fetus there-after. Before that we use a variety of terms depending on the number of cell divisions and morphology (zygote, blastula, morula, etc.) Ok, TMI.

Monkey Lung said...

So...as luck would have it I'm studying obstetrical pathology right now so I'll continue to post new fun facts/corrections here as I learn about them. Feel free to post questions if I throw in too much medical mumbo jumbo. A correction to my earlier post: All pregnancies represent a conception event. Many of these conceptions are not viable and the embryo does not successfully implant even though a viable placenta develops. This is termed anembryonic pregnancy. It's estimated as many as 50% or more of miscarriages represent this kind of event, likely due to gross chromosomal abnormalities in the conceptus.

Monkey Lung said...

Here's anothoer one. If a pregnancy terminates for any reason prior to 20 weeks its called an abortion. If the pregnancy terminates after 20 weeks it's termed livebirth/stillbrith depending on whether the baby shows signs of life upon delivery. Despite this apparent medical distinction between human baby and undeveloped fetus at 20 weeks, most legal limits on elective abortion are still at the beginning of the third trimester (27 weeks). It seems like a double standard to start calling something a birth at 20 weeks but reserve the right to kill it until 27.

Chris said...

Is anyone following what's happening in South Dakota? They appear to be taking the "outlaw abortion" approach--we'll see how far it gets them.

Becca makes a good point (and one largely unknown by most of the right): overturning Roe will not in and of itself do anything to abortion rights. It will merely kick the determination back into the state forum. All the states on the west coast and in the northeast will immediately pass laws making abortion completely legal under all circumstances; Alabama, Mississippi and other southern states will outlaw it entirely. Although the number of abortions would probably drop somewhat, those who really wanted them would still be able to get them. The most dramatic decrease would concern minors and poor people, who couldn't travel to states where it was legal.

I agree with Kyle that sanctioning an evil practice just because it's politically popular is indefensible. That said, I think Monkey Lung has it right that attrition might be the better way to go about ending the practice. If abortions are more difficult to acquire (only up to certain trimester, waiting period, etc) and if alternatives are publicized, people's mindsets will change. Already, I think this is happening somewhat. Given that subtle shift in public opinion, overturning Roe might have exactly the opposite effect intended--it might galvanize otherwise uncaring people and lead widespread state legalization.

Becca said...

I agree, Chris. It would be far better to convince people that they don't want abortions than tell them they can't have them. Too, I think it says something about us as a society when we openly sanction something like that. It confuses people: "Well, it can't be wrong--it's legal and easy." There are ways to not really sanction it as a society without totally outlawing it--like we've done with smoking. Friend of mine smokes occationally, but hates buying cigarettes because she has to go to the specially little counter at the grocery store and show her ID. It's a little humiliating she always hopes no one sees her there. It's legal--just not really embraced.