Group B


The Abortion Debate



Group Members:


Eddie Hopely


Alexandra Carr


Susanna Chon


Rafael Harari


Juwita Chavez
















The on-going conflict over abortion in America has been a major social problem that first emerged as an issue in our nation over two centuries ago. However, in the 1960's and 70's with the coinciding civil rights movement and women’s rights movement, abortion became the new national issue we still see today between two opposing ideologies, grouped into sides coined as pro-life and pro-choice. It is this struggle over whose deep rooted morals and beliefs are adequate for our society that make the abortion issue such a controversial and divisive one. First it is important to understand each side, their beliefs, the organizations tied to them, and their wishes for policies in our nation.  Then it may be possible to take a course of action that will benefit the American public as a whole. We must look at the evolving nature of abortion throughout history, each significant issue in conflict between each side, the profiles of the people within the group, as well as relevant statistics that provide empirical evidence to the research. It is then with this analysis that the foundation for a well-structured abortion policy best suited for America can be enacted.

While it may seem that abortion has always been an issue, it really only became one in the middle of the 19th century. In the early1800s, abortions were permitted in the United States if they were done before the mother could feel fetal movement [1]. Abortions were for the most part morally accepted at the time, but a number of state laws limiting abortion were soon passed due to an effort by medically trained doctors to put “illegal doctors” out of business who practiced without any formal training. By opposing abortions on moral and scientific grounds, the formal doctors were lacking in what the untrained doctors provided, and therefore, formal doctors had an incentive to attempt to ban abortion. Prior to 1847 though, the doctors were mostly unsuccessful in their ban as they could not rally much support for their cause; even organized religion seemed disinterested.[2]

In 1847, the American Medical Association (AMA) was founded, and through this group, the doctors were able to conduct a hard-hitting campaign. With the help of the anti-obscenity movement and the Comstock Laws, which banned the distribution of birth control related materials, as well as the fear of a declination of the white population and increased birth rate of immigrants, the anti-abortion campaign was successful. All states passed comprehensive criminal abortion laws by the end of the 19th century. [3]

Because of the rise in illegal abortions during the Great depression, doctors, social workers, and professionals alike made initial actions for reform of the abortion laws in the 1950s. They believed that under certain circumstances abortions were justified, and a doctor’s inability to perform them was seen as a harp on their own medical jurisdiction. Doctors discussed abortion as “an act of desperation by women who did not deserve to die in a back alley and who should be dealt with more humanely.” [4] Further into the 1960s, as a response to incidents of a rubella measles epidemic causing fetal deformity, and the consumption by one Sherri Finkbine of a drug thalidomide which also caused fetal deformity, the abortion issue hit the media spotlight. The Zero Population Growth Movement and the Women’s Movement also raised abortion issues and generated greater action. The Women’s Movement of the 1960s saw many reform and repeal groups form, including the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (NARAL) in 1969, and the rise of civil liberties groups and family planning activists. It was during the revolutionary 1960’s when abortion’s definition was widely accepted among “pro-choice” people as a “women’s right” necessary for women’s “control of their own bodies.” [5]

The abortion issue continued to grow when in 1973, the Supreme Court overturned a Texas interpretation of abortion laws and made abortion legal in the United States in Roe v. Wade. Based primarily upon the Constitution’s Ninth Amendment protecting a person’s right to privacy, the decision held that a woman has the right to an unrestricted choice of abortion in the first trimester of pregnancy, that the state has the right to regulate abortion in the second trimester, and that in the third trimester, abortion should be performed only to save the life of the woman.[6] From this point on, the fight between “pro-choice” activists, who seemed to have “won” in the case of Roe V. Wade, and “pro-life” activists, who were more rallied to action than ever before, exploded with passionate and oftentimes violent enthusiasm that remains constant to this day.


Taking a look at the demographic profiles of the women who actually have abortions will give us an idea of who are these people are in the nation, enabling us to make better judgments about what direction the nation is heading in this issue.

1.) Pro-life Profile:

 Pro-life advocates vehemently oppose abortion.  They believe there is no justification for it and current laws should be changed to declare it an illegal practice.  Some pro-life groups and organizations include the National Right to Life (NRL), Prolife America and the Pro-Life Action League.  All these groups and their members share the same beliefs and goals, and they usually utilize the same arguments to support their position. 

The average pro-life activist is a married woman in her mid 40s.  She married early in her teens-usually around 17- and has three or more children.  Her father graduated from high school only, and she probably never graduated college.  She is usually not employed, and is married to a small businessman or lower income white-collar worker.  Her family income is less than 30000/yr.  Religion is an integral part of her life.[7]

It is important to understand that the arguments pro-life advocates use in defending their opinion are a cause of their deep rooted beliefs.  These arguments don’t simply arise from people who hold extreme views on abortion and oppose it firmly without prior thought. For pro-lifers, abortions pose a threat to their life values and morals.   Most pro-life activists believe being a mother and a wife is a woman’s most important job.  In their minds, men and women share separate roles in society that compliment each other, and while men should be in the workforce, women should commit their time to their families.

2.) Pro-Choice Profile

According to a national Gallup poll taken this month, also used by CNN and USA Today, approximately 53 percent of Americans regard themselves as pro-choice. 

The Alan Guttmacher Institute is a nonprofit organization focused on sexual and reproductive health research and policy analysis. They regularly undertake demographic research and publish their own and others’ scientifically collected data. According to this data, taken most recently in 2002, the majority of women having abortions are in their 20's (56 percent). The abortion rate among teenagers has declined in recent years (19 percent between ages 15-19), with the Institute arguing it being because of the use of long-acting hormonal contraceptives, mainly the injectable. The largest group of women having abortions in America are non-Hispanic white women at 41 percent, however, Black and Hispanic women together make up more than half. This number is greater than their proportion in the population because they have a “higher rate of unintended pregnancy, and, among black women, because they are more likely to resolve an unintended pregnancy through abortion.” In regards to religious affiliation most women are either Protestant or Catholic. Additionally, more than half of women having abortions in 2000 were poor or low income. In summary, women having abortions are “predominately young, single, from minority groups, and had low-income”

The pro-choice public in America are spearheaded by a few main national interest groups. Among them are the National Abortion Rights Action League, the National Abortion Federation, and Planned Parenthood. These people hold very strong beliefs primarily rooted in what they call a constitutional right for a woman to possess control over her own body. They advocate sexual education programs in schools, access to contraceptives, and no restrictions in obtaining abortions from qualified doctors. Currently they are fighting against restrictions to abortions like mandatory parental notifications, 24-hr waiting periods, a doctor’s right to deny contraceptives, and heavily funded abstinence only programs that are criticized as giving false, misleading or distorted information (Henry Waxman report, proponent of sex ed).


One of the key controversies of the issue of abortion is centered around the question of when life begins.  Pro-life advocates argue that the beginning of life is not a moral, religious or personal debate, but a biological fact, as they understand existence to begin at the moment of conception. If the right to life, that is, the entitlement to exist and develop naturally on our planet, is to be understood as a central privilege of human beings, abortion thus becomes a decision to designate oneself as a higher form of life acting on the capacity to take away this assumed ‘right.’

Pro-choice advocates’ stance on the question of when life begins is often undermined as a religious question, as they adapt their position to be that of a women’s rights issue, not a moral judgment call.  Furthermore, pro-choice advocates believe that the fetus is not a person, but rather a potential person, and as such it is not entitled to the same rights under the law as everyone else is. 

Regarding sex education and/or contraceptives, the pro-life side argues that the most effective and appropriate contraceptive method is abstinence, or in some cases family planning.  Generally, pro-life supporters argue that contraceptives encourage teens to be sexually active in the first place, which in turn leads to a high rate of teen pregnancies.  Statistically, 20 percent of abortions are performed on women under 20, and about all 48 percent of pregnancies are unintended[8]. Pro-life advocates are aware that contraceptive methods are readily available and that they could reduce the number of abortions, yet they reject them on moral and social grounds.

The stance of the pro-choice side is vehemently against the restriction of access to non-surgical abortions and emergency contraceptives to women. In 2000, the FDA approved RU 486, also known as mifepristone, which gives women the option to end an unintended pregnancy without surgery. Proponents of the pill say it could transform abortion in the United States by making it more accessible and more private.9  Anti-choice lawmakers have failed to outlaw it, but are continuing efforts to make it difficult to obtain. Additionally, what is called “perhaps the most controversial legislation proposed” is HB 16, an Act that would give pharmacies the right to refuse to give out emergency contraceptives, like Plan B, popularly referred to as the morning-after pill. Pills such as this do not disrupt existing pregnancies like the RU 486, but prevent them by preventing ovulation, fertilization of an egg or implantation in the uterus. (San Antonio News). Put simply, this drug is a concentrated dose of the birth control pill, and can reduce a women’s chance of becoming pregnant by 89 percent (NARAL).The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists estimate that “greater access to emergency contraceptives could cut the unintended pregnancy and abortion rate in half.” Additionally, The Journal of the American Medical Association published a study, finding that emergency contraceptives do not increase unprotected sex or promiscuity in young women.           

Pro-choice advocates call for age-appropriate, medically accurate sexual education programs that promote both abstinence and information on protection advice. NARAL’s research found that 99 percent of Americans believe it is appropriate for young people to have information about sexually transmitted infections and venereal diseases, and 94 percent think it is appropriate to teach teens about birth control. This is further backed by a Scripps Howard Texas Poll commissioned by the Texas Association of Planned Parenthood Affiliates, which found that 90 percent of people polled favor sex education in public schools that is age appropriate and provides accurate information on abstinence, birth control, and sexually transmitted infections and venereal diseases. The Kaiser Family Foundation reported that 61 percent of 12th graders and 35 percent of 9th graders in 2001 have had sex. And Kaiser along with National Public Radio and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government “found Americans want broader sex education in the schools. Only 15 percent say they want only abstinence-only taught in sex education” (San Antonio News).

Another major argument pro-life supporters use is that even though a woman has a right to control her own body, she doesn’t have the right to kill her fetus via an abortion.  Pro-lifers argue there are many other ways a pregnant woman can handle a difficult situation that don’t necessarily resort to abortion.  Though pro-life supporters are quick to point out the numerous options available to a woman in a difficult situation other than abortion, they often ignore the nine months of mental and physical burden necessary to bring a child to term. Essentially, the pro-life argument here is based on moral claims since they offer no substantial evidence on why a woman’s right to control her own body doesn’t include the right to decide whether she wants an abortion or not.

The bottom line to all pro-choice organizations and supporters is not only the notion that it is constitutional to have a “right to privacy”, but also the issue that abortion is fundamentally a fight for a woman’s right to govern her own body. Pro-choice advocates believe in this right to privacy– freedom from unwarranted government intrusion into their personal and private affairs. And they see it not as an ideological fight rooted in religious beliefs, but a civil rights pursuit advocating a women’s “right to choose”. Their studies show abortion to be one of the safest medical procedures that exists today, and they make their point vividly clear by comparing the death rate from legal abortions as less than from a shot of penicillin.        

The next issue that flares the controversy is pregnancy in cases of rape or incest.  Pro-life advocates argue it is humanly cruel to turn these tragic and horrible crimes into a second more deliberate crime: the killing of the fetus.  They also cite cases of mothers who have decided to keep the baby claiming they turned something horrible into something life-giving.  Furthermore, the low statistics involved (only 1 percent of abortions are cases or rape or incest), can hardly justify the legalization of abortion for the other 99 percent. 

Finally, the social implications and reasons behind abortions generate another important point of disagreement between pro-life and pro-choice sides.  Prior to analyzing these social issues, it is important to note that the beliefs of people are usually closely associated with social markers such as race, age, religious affiliation, and sex.  Social issues that relate to the abortion debate often include the following: poverty, overpopulation, abuse, unwanted kids and the risks of illegal abortions.

  We’ll briefly present the argument pro-life advocates have regarding each of the above.  Regarding poverty, pro-lifers argue that the poor mother today, is just as poor tomorrow, regardless of whether she has an abortion or carries the fetus to term.  Problems such as poverty and job security are not solved by killing a fetus.  Based solely on statistics, about 21.3 percent of women who got abortions couldn’t afford the baby.  The other 78.7 percent got abortions for other reasons unrelated to poverty. 

Regarding overpopulation and unwanted kids, pro-life advocates argue the problem is lack of development not overpopulation.  They, however, offer no alternative solution to the problem they introduce.  Unwanted children can always be put up for adoption or in foster care clinics, but killing fetuses is not the answer. 


-Public’s opinion

• 61% believe abortion should not be banned completely

• 37% believe abortion should be banned except when mother’s life is at stake.

• About 22% believe abortions should be legal in all circumstances

• 41% want current laws to remain the same


-Abortion and Pregnancy Rates

• From 1973 to about 1978 abortion rates per 1000 women steadily increased

• Starting around 1978 abortion rates per 1000 women equilibrated until 1990, when they started to slightly decrease.

• The decreasing trend in abortion rates seems to continue nowadays.

• About 52% of pregnancies are intended, whereas the rest are unintended

• 53% of women who have unintended pregnancies were using contraceptive method during the month they became pregnant, although usually not correctly every time

• Of all the unintended pregnancies, 47% resulted in abortions and only 40% in births. The remaining 13% were miscarriages.


-Reasons for Abortions

• The two most popular reasons for getting abortions were inadequate finances to raise a child and women/couple not being ready for the responsibility of raising a child

• Other popular reasons for getting abortions included woman’s life would be changed too much, problems with relationship/unmarried and women being too young to have a child.

• Abortions obtained for reasons related to woman’s or fetus’ health problems add up to about 4%

• Note: most women give more than one reasons for getting an abortion.

• It is important to note that about 50% of women getting an abortion have previously gotten at least one other abortion.




While implementing a policy that would solve the controversial problem of abortion seems highly unreasonable we can nonetheless elaborate one that will somehow reduce tension over the issue in the general public. Based on our careful analysis of the history of the issue, its social and political implications, data analysis and the elements that make it such a divisive one, we advise adopting the following policy:

 Based on public opinion polls and sexual and reproductive health research we recommend that abortion remain legal under certain circumstances. One restriction on abortion should be parental notification and consent for minors under the age of 18. We also suggest that women getting an abortion and the father of the fetus should attend confidential classes where they would receive information about contraceptive methods and how to prevent unwanted pregnancies. Regarding sexual education, we believe it should be implemented in the public educational system, with objective, age-appropriate classes, in hopes that an informed future generation will reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies as a whole. As previously noted, both the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Journal of American Medical Association stand by their findings which indicate that increased access to contraceptives does not increase promiscuity in women, but may be able to downsize the annual rate of abortions. The current laws permitting contraceptive methods such as RU 486 and Plan B should remain, while the act known as HB 16, which allows pharmacies to refuse access to these contraceptives, should be repealed to allow greater availability, thus potentially reducing the overall number of abortions.  While some citizens may disagree with certain aspects in the above policy, based on public opinion polls such as the CNN/Gallop/USA  Today surveys, we believe that the majority of the American public is in favor of abortion remaining legal in most cases, while simultaneously expanding government efforts to reduce the need for abortion by implementing methods indicated in the aforementioned policy recommendation








Works Cited

1.   Kristin, Luker, “The War Between the Women”, Family Planning Perspective, Vol. 16, No. 3


2.   Alan Guttmacher Institute, “U.S. Institute of Medicine Finds that Legalizing Abortion Greatly Reduces Deaths, Complications”, International Family Planning Digest, Vol. 1, No. 3


3., “What is the Pro-Life Response to Abortionist’s Arguments”,,

4.  Staggenborg, Suzanne. "Abortion as a Social Problem." Sociolgy: Social Foundations of        Public Issues. Rober     Max Johnson. 40-53. McGraw-Hill, Inc. 1995.

5. "Abortion History" 25 January 2006.

6.  PRCH & Guttmacher Institute "An Overview of Abortion in the United States". Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health (PRCH) and The Allan Guttmacher Institute. June 2005. February 2006. Powerpoint Presentation

7. "Debate heats up with approval of abortion pill". Associated Press. 28 September 2000. 10 February 2006.

8.  Mears, William and Bob Branken. "30 years after ruling, ambiguity, anxiety sourround abortion debate". 22 January 2003. CNN Washington Bureau. 10 February 2006.

9. "Abortion Statistics-World-U.S.-Demographics-Reasons". 2006. 10 February 2006.

10. Pisano, Marina. “Conservative Judicial Forces Threaten Cause of
Abortion Advocates.” San Antonio News 23 Jan 2005 

11. “Medical Definition of Conception”, The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company


12. “Life Issues: When Life Begins”, Fred de Miranda, MD, FCP, American College of Pediatricians, 2004






















































[2] Staggenborg, 41


[4] Staggenborg, 43

[5] (Staggenborg, 44).

[6] (

[7] Kristin, Luker, “The War Between the Women”

[8] PRCH and The Guttmacher Institue, June 2005

9 CNN article