Pro-Choice Movement: Benefits of Women’s Abortion Rights

Subject: Sociology
Pages: 14
Words: 3960
Reading time:
15 min
Study level: Undergraduate


The subject of abortion in the United States has been recurrent and continues to generate controversies. While moralists have always argued against an-all-full measure legalization of abortion, there are many reasons why it should be permitted. In spite of the many different oppositions registered against abortion, there have been a number of positive health outcomes witnessed by Americans since Roe versus Wade was concluded in 1973 (Cassidy, 2000). However, it is important to note at the outset that abortion was not invented by the Roe versus Wade. At any rate, birth control measures and abortion were under certain circumstances acceptable even back in the Greco-Roman world (Naden, 2008). Regardless of these facts and improved ways of conducting it, many Americans still see abortion as a dangerous and decadent practice (Cassidy, 2000).

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Indeed, the subject of abortion is a highly discussed socio-political issue. In the United States, the discussions have revolved around whether or not abortion should be a legal right for all women (Solinger, 2001). Taken together, pro-life groups argue that abortion should be restricted to safeguard the rights of unborn children while pro-choice groups believe that women should be afforded the opportunity to make independent decisions on whether or not to terminate their pregnancies (Naden, 2008). Even more important are the benefits associated with legalization of abortion such as reduced abortion deaths and other reproductive health outcomes (McBride, 2008).

Background of the Study

Historically speaking, the abortion ‘‘war’’ is a fascinating issue of conflicting ideologies resulting in sharp accounts of historical records. In a broader sense, the pro-life movement has, in many ways, claimed that its opposition to abortion has been propelled by ideas based on the often-mentioned notion of sanctity of human life (Cassidy, 2000). In this regard, abortion debates date back to the medieval times where it was regarded as socially repugnant. Conversely, pro-choicers like John Noonan’s have stemmed their arguments on the ‘‘value’’ such of history (McBride, 2008). To be exact, the abortion debate was not unknown before the 20th century and exceptions were often made when a person’s life was in danger (Cassidy, 2000).

In terms of the history of policies and pro-abortion protests, most of the Medieval English laws advocated for abortion, even if ‘‘silently.’’ For example, under the English law in medieval times, pregnancy begun at quickening—when the woman first felt movements from the fetus (Naden, 2008). This way, the law did not recognize a woman as being pregnant before that time and sending the pregnancy away was not considered a criminal act (Schroedel, 2000). Following the then English law, abortion was legal at least to quickening in the colonial America as well. However, there were little public discussions of the reproductive processes or the control of it (Ravid, 2011). At that time, abortions were condemned publicly both by legal authorities and the church. In these contexts, the English midwives were made to take oaths not to conduct abortions and the Common Council of New York ratified a decree that prohibited abortion in 1716 (Cassidy, 2000).

Progressively, two issues stood out when one evaluates the abortion-based attitudes in relation to the growth of the pro-choice movement. These included a total lack of a structured opposition to various new abortion-based legislations and the support for abortion that was manifested by the early supporters of women’s rights (Naden, 2008). More disturbing, however, are the recent trends of imposition of restrictions on abortion by some American states. While there are notable breakthroughs on full-through legalization of abortion measures, prohibitive tendencies are still widespread in some states (Jones & Kooistra, 2011).

The creation of the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (NARAL) in 1969 and Planned Parenthood both played important roles in anchoring the pro-choice movement as protest organizations. Over the years, both of these organizations have been devoted in the fight for legal and safe abortion just as they have protested against unscientific moralists’ point of view. Viewed together, both Planned Parenthood and NARAL’s activities and ideologies have been tied to the essential values of freedom and individual responsibility.

Over the last five years, many states have experienced a rise in the number of proposed, passed and enacted legislations designed to restrict the reproductive choices of women and their ability to carry out abortions. Conceivably, such legislations infringe on the rights of women to have full control over their reproductive health and choices (Bowman & Ladd, 1999). Amidst all these negativities, however, one of the states that have enjoyed progressive abortion-based reforms even as most states pass restrictive laws is California (Atsuko, Henderson, Hwang, Suellen, & Taylor, 2011).

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Key Pro-choice Organizations: History and Influence

There have many been a number of organizations supporting abortions and other reproductive health issues for women. Some of them are the Planned Parenthood and the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (NARAL).

Planned Parenthood

Planned Parenthood is one of the main pro-choice organizations in the United States. The organizations philosophy is anchored on reproductive and maternal health services. For many years, it has been one of the major providers of abortion services in the United States (Johnson & Freeman, 2009).Historically, Planned Parenthood was formed by Margaret Sanger established the first birth control medical facility in New York. Because Sanger’s efforts were seen as morally repugnant and a protest endeavor, she was arrested and jailed together with her colleagues (McBride, 2008). Interestingly, the trials of the three created controversies and established a cause for supporting abortion rights (Johnson & Freeman, 2009). In fact, the campaigns brought significant legislative changes on birth regulation and sex-based education in America.

Progressively, the clinic became the only nationalized birth regulatory organization in the United States and its operations were spread across many centers (Belanger, 2002). Later in 1960, Planned Parenthood had provided various family-based and reproductive counseling services to different communities in the United States.

To date, the organization ahs advocated for birth control measures and remains one of the greatest champions for reproductive issues including abortion rights. In many ways, Planned Parenthood advocates for abortion rights occasions and ‘‘trying’’ newly introduced contraceptives (Johnson & Freeman, 2009). Based on the death of Becky Bell as a result of back-alley abortion, Planned Parenthood ideology is tailored around the opposition of restrictive reproductive health laws and services (Solinger, 2001). In addition, Planned Parenthood has registered its opposition to ultrasounds prior to abortion and parental notifications before an abortion are conducted on minors (McBride, 2008). This is because such measures are seen to prohibit abortion.

Besides, the organization believes in anti-conscience clauses. In this regard, Planned Parenthood advocates for emergency contraception (EC) strategies regardless of a pharmacist moral attitude. Based conflicting historical accounts, the organization advocates against abstinence-only sex teachings in learning institutions (Johnson & Freeman, 2009)

National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (NARAL)

The formation of the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (NARAL) in 1969 became a significant step in making the pro-choice as a protest movement. Members of NARAL became dedicated to the championing of legal abortion in relation to family planning and demographic control (McBride, 2008). While there was some of level of disagreement among the organization’s top leadership before 1973, the decisions that they came up with neutralized actions against professionals who were involved in abortion-related activities. Following legalization of abortion in many states, NARAL became conflict-ridden as it made efforts to set up itself as a lobby organization in Washington and increase its functions by forming state partners (Johnson & Freeman, 2009).

Overall, however, NARAL have been one of the major advocates for personal privacy and the face of women’s right of choice on abortion issues. In fact, long before the legalization of abortion, NARAL has raised awareness for reproductive freedom. In addition, there have been key developments in NARAL’s activities that have propelled pro-choice protests (Johnson & Freeman, 2009). In 1976, for instance, the attempts by NARAL together with other organizations generated various mails to legislative organs to oppose the Hyde amendment. Although the amendment was passed in 1977, NARAL continued to lobby organizations against the resolutions passed by the American Congress (McBride, 2008).

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In 1985, NARAL launched the ‘‘Abortion Rights’’ campaign centered on abortion as a choice that women should be allowed to make. Later in 1987, NARAL together with other pro-choice movements succeeds in overturning the nomination of Robert Bork as judge of the Supreme Court (Johnson & Freeman, 2009). More interesting was NARAL’s emphasis that the pro-choice activities were tied to the fundamental values of freedom and personal accountability. In this regard, the organization issued its memo challenging the then president, George Bush, against anti-abortion crusades (McBride, 2008).

Pro-Choice Philosophies based on History

Seemingly, the changes in abortion-based attitudes upon which the ideas of the pro-choice movement were formulated were tailored around the alterations in the English legislations, the parallel ‘‘thinning’’ of abortion policies and various church ordinances (Ravid, 2011). These were reviewed against the growing acceptance of scientific knowledge on reproductive health (Bowman & Ladd, 1999). Progressively, the pro-choice measure reduced its tendencies towards the biological ideas of Aristotle but increased its focal points on research proof of pregnancy as a steady natural process (Naden, 2008). Even though the movements were not referred with the same names used today, it appears it was at this point that pro-choice and pro-life movements would take different ideological stances.

In fact, American public policy has to a large extent supported the pro-choice ideas over the last four decades. Many pro-choice activists regard the 1973 Roe versus Wade decision as the most significant point in the American’s abortion discourse (Bowman & Ladd, 1999). This decision eliminated most of the legal obstacles against abortion. With time, the breakthrough led to a dramatic increase in the availability of safe abortion services and increased support for abortion measures across the United States (Naden, 2008). On the other hand, available research evidence shows that this support is not unanimous and there are still strong reservations and somewhat conflicting opinions on various pro-choice stances especially by ‘‘moralists’’ (Calhoun, 2012).

In conclusion, it appears that the philosophies of the pro-choice movements, just like the pro-life movement, have deeper roots in the past and the present-day scientific knowledge on reproduction. Traditions which graded the protection of fetus based upon its trimester existed. However, such traditions have been discredited in the light of scientific discoveries of the 19th century and today’s reproductive health reviews (Naden, 2008). The pro-choice movement, both in the United States and elsewhere, has based its arguments on these facts since 1960 to foster their goals.

Analysis and Discussions

The Benefits of Abortion Rights to Women

The choice for all women to regulate their reproductive health and cycle has become one of the most essential indicators of freedom and democracy (Bowman & Ladd, 1999). In a way, pro-choice advocates believe that one of the reasons why moral fascists are against abortion rights is to increase male control on women (Naden, 2008). More critical is that, while abortion is legal in the US following the removal of most of the legal obstacles that existed before 1970, there are still restrictions that prevent the implementation of abortion rights by women. However, it appears that no level of controversy can avert the proof that Americans have obtained reasonable benefits from the now famous judicial decision in the Roe versus Wade. To this end, there is a need to examine both real and potential benefits of extending abortion rights in American states as follows:

Cost Benefit and Accessibility

In many ways, various states where anti-abortion laws are strongest spend considerable amount of money in dealing with unsafe abortion outcomes (Bowman & Ladd, 1999). It seems, then, that an increase in abortion rights is likely to decrease the cost for abortion. Moreover, while clinical abortion is legal in the US, the cost of it is still restraining especially for women from low socio-economic backgrounds. In spite of the increased demand for abortion, providers charge high fees since they do not receive federal funding. Calhoun (2012) notes that due to the Hyde Amendment of 1976, most types of federal funding for abortion are banned. Indeed, since the passage of the Hyde Amendment, many organizations that provide or advocate for abortion could not benefit from Medicaid or Title X funds (Ziegler, 2013).

Unsurprisingly, women who want abortion services have to pay a high price for them. This has made it increasingly difficult for women, especially those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, to obtain abortions. In this regard, an increase in abortion rights will lead to greater integration of abortion into primary health care programs (McBride, 2008). Moreover, legalization of abortion has increased the number of abortions carried out in health centers rather than hospitals and more women are now able to access detailed reproductive health-care services on family planning issues. In any case, abortion procedures are safer if they are carried out in the early stages of pregnancy (Bowman & Ladd, 1999).

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However, many women face difficulties in finding abortion service providers in their counties because of legal restrictions that extends to cost problems for most low-income earners and women from minority groups. This leads to delayed care and later-stage pregnancy abortion. Seen this way, measures aimed at restricting abortion will only have the negative consequence of increasing the number of women who experience late abortions and unintended childbirths (Dehlendorf, Harris, & Weitz, 2013).

Mitigating Genetic-based Childbirth Risks

Medically safe and legal abortion allows American women with profound risks of having children with serious genetic-based disorders to conceive (Bowman & Ladd, 1999). In fact, following legal permissions for abortion, the United States has witnessed a dramatic increase in the number of women willing to conceive regardless of potential genetic disorders (McBride, 2008).

Reducing Cases of Illegal Abortion

The lack of abortion rights rationalizes the prevalence of illegal and harmful cases of abortions. Historically speaking, a high number of illegal abortions were as a result of limited or lack of abortion rights. In fact, illegal abortion operations were performed in unsafe environments and without the help of professionals. The effects of detrimental health and even death in extreme cases were predictable. Calhoun (2012) confirms that up to the 1970s, there were numerous cases of women being hospitalized due to septic abortions incurred as they attempted to terminate pregnancies on their own. However, the steps taken to decriminalize abortion in 1970 made it possible for women to access abortion clinics (Schroedel, 2000).

Increasingly, however, various legislative measures are being enacted to limit the extent to which women can make use of available abortion services. Calhoun (2012) reports that there some states that have passed laws aimed at liming access to abortion drugs by women. States such as Wisconsin have put in place policies that make doctors liable to criminal penalties if they perform abortions without fulfilling some preliminary activities such as interviewing the patient.

Empowering Disadvantaged Women

Abortion services enable women from disadvantaged communities to deal with unintended pregnancies. While the proportion of unintended pregnancies is high for all women in the US, this fact is more prevalent among Blacks, Hispanics, and women with lower socioeconomic statuses (Ziegler, 2013). Indeed, the importance of abortion services to women from disadvantaged communities can be seen from the great disparity in abortion rates among US women.

Most low-income women choose to have an abortion after making candid assessments of the economic and social realities into which their child will be born into (Dehlendorf et al., 2013). The implication of this is that intervention efforts to stop the occurrence of unintended pregnancies should be given priority by the government and health care providers. However, once a woman gets an unwanted pregnancy, the best measure is facilitating her access to high quality and timely reproductive health services.

The Benefits of Pro-choice Measures for Californian Women

The legislative framework and measures adopted in California are some of the most progressive indicators towards pro-choice. Women in California enjoy a number of significant advantages compared to women in other American states. Unlike the states that have legislated against legal and safe abortion, California expends little financial cost in child foster care, adoption, and child welfare (McBride, 2008). In a sense, these benefits have accrued in the state of California because of its significant progress in heightening abortion rights for women. In 2013, the State enacted a bill that allowed a wider range of non-physician practitioners such as nurses, physician assistants and midwives to carry out abortion services (Weitz, 2013).

Indeed, expanding the number of providers that offer early abortion-care is integral to ensuring that the pro-choice objective of providing abortion services to all women who need it is achieved. Presently, the number of physicians available in the health care system is low. Non-physician clinicians play an important role as providers of health care (Weitz, 2013). These professionals are able to proficiently perform complex medical procedures and provide high-quality care. In any case, professional organizations recognize that this group of non-medical practitioners is technically qualified and appropriate to provide abortion care (Atsuko et al., 2011). In retrospect, the Californian bill allowing the non-physician clinicians to perform abortions is a positive move that increases access to abortion services by women in the state.

Moreover, stigmatization affects the decision of doctors to practice abortion. Doctors in many states fail to provide the service due to the stigma and ideological contention that surrounds abortion (Jones & Kooistra, 2011). California provides a safe and conducive environment for such specialists since the majority of the population holds liberal views concerning abortion. Due to the pro-choice values adopted by the State, Californian health care providers can offer abortions without fear of violence or stigmatization (Atsuko et al., 2011).

Advocates of such laws claim that they help prevent the discriminative abortion of female fetus by many women. While such laws appear to have some positive motivation, they are detrimental to the abortion rights of women. Under the Federal Prenatal Discrimination Act (PRENDA), abortion providers are legally obligated to interrogate women about their reasons for choosing an abortion. Ziegler (2013) argues that this makes an already stressful experience even more traumatic for the woman. In addition to this, PRENDA would require abortion providers to deny services to women whose reasons appear to be “suspect”. Since there is no guideline as to what constitutes “suspect” reasons, this law is likely to lead to the denial of abortion services based on the biases of the provider.

In addition, Californian women are not subjected to pre-abortion protocols that prevent women in other counties from accessing abortion in an easy and timely manner. Most states should follow the legislation that restricts the rights of women to access abortion. Women who seek abortions in most states are subjected to 24-hour waiting periods. In addition to this, there is a mandatory ultrasound viewing and a politically motivated medical counseling for the woman (McBride, 2008). These pre-abortion protocols lead to delays and dissuade women from seeking abortion services. Lack of such hindrances in California has led to more accessibility to abortion by women. Moreover, while many states have attempted to prohibit measures that support sex selection and age-based abortion, California has legalized it in conformity to women’s rights to reproductive freedom and autonomy (Belanger, 2002).

Discussions and Lessons Learnt

A number of discussions and lessons can be drawn from the historical and current debates on abortion. One, both pro and anti-abortion debates have existed even before the 20th century but abortion measures were taken for purposes of protecting life. Two, the prevailing anti-abortion laws are mainly driven by emotional ideologies and not scientific facts. However, what remains clear is that abortion is a critical socio-health measure for many women in the United States. Three, regardless of the restrictive laws on abortion, the probability of an American woman procuring abortion is now higher than previously thought. According to Yanow (2013), one in three women will probably have an abortion by the time she reaches the age of 45. In this regard, it seems that the ever-growing importance of women’s rights on abortion does not create or change the need for it. It simply makes abortion more accessible to women and ensures that death from unsafe abortion is mitigated considerably.

Four, the philosophies of the pro-choice movements have created misconceptions and led to a lack of unanimous support from pro-choice by a majority of Americans. On the whole, assumptions that pro-life members seek to promote the extensive use of safe abortion services by all women is misleading. In fact, the goal of pro-lifers is not to increase the number of abortions carried out by women for any purposes (Ziegler, 2013). In spite of this reality, the growing need for abortion services for women who choose to terminate their pregnancies cannot be overturned.

Five, it should be noted that the legalization of abortion does not always lead the desired outcomes if the move is not accompanied by a reasonable number of abortion services providers (Yanow, 2013). In most parts of the United States, there has been a decline in the number of abortion providers over the years. In a recent article, Jones and Kooistra (2011) report that, while there were 2900 abortion facilities in the year 1982, the number had fallen to 1800 by 2005.

Six, the issue of cost in women-child welfare and overall reproductive health care systems is affected depending on whether or not abortion is permitted (Bowman & Ladd, 1999). Unlike the states that have legislated against legal and safe abortion, the ones that have allowed safe abortion practices such as California expends little financial cost in child foster care, adoption, and child welfare. In addition, states with restricted abortion rights have the lowest level of educated and financially stable women.

Seven, the major factor that has led to the decline in the number of abortion providers is relates to anti-abortion harassments. Most providers are keen to avoid areas where there are strong anti-abortion movements. In the past, anti-abortion protesters have disrupted the activities of abortion providers through acts of violence. Jones and Kooistra (2011) observe that violent tendencies targeting abortion providers have decreased the number of such service providers in some states and counties.


Three broad conclusions can be drawn from the emerging issues. Firstly, the philosophies of the pro-choice movements have created misconceptions that have brought about disjointed support for the pro-choice issues by a majority of Americans. However, amidst various reproductive health concerns, women should have every right to abortion in the US. In this regard, the legalization of abortion in the 1970s should be recognized as a milestone in the fight for improved reproductive health services. Secondly, there are increasing trends of restrictive laws on abortion. These laws reduce accessibility to abortion services by women and the numbers of illegal abortions become more. However, it is seems that the growing recognition that legal and safe abortion measures plays important socio-health roles cannot be overturned. Thirdly, the abortion ‘‘war’’ is an intriguing issue of contradictory ideologies resulting in clear accounts of historical records. In one sentence, until all women are not able to access affordable, safe, and legal abortion services, awareness-creation and the push for legislative policies that support abortion must continue.


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