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'Health' must be redefined in late term abortions

by Cindi Baxter, '05


In 1973, Sandra Cano and Norma McCorvey, plaintiffs of two of the most significant cases on abortion, didn’t realize they were putting themselves into a position of sparking an ongoing national controversy over women’s right to choose.

In the case of Roe v. Wade, state laws prohibiting abortion were revoked. In 1973, laws had prohibited an abortion except when necessary to protect the life or health of the mother. Roe v. Wade revoked those laws, legalizing abortion with particular restrictions for each of the three trimesters.

Doe v. Bolton, however, substantially broadened the circumstances under which abortions could be performed in any trimester right up until delivery.

During the first trimester, there are no restrictions on terminating the pregnancy. During the second and third trimesters, a woman must have a health-related reason to abort her baby, but there were otherwise no real restrictions.

In both cases, the court declared that then current abortion statutes violated the “Due Process” Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which protects one from state action against privacy, including a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy.

Although the states were allowed to put restrictions on abortion in the second and third trimester to protect the potential human existence, women would still have access to abortion if their health was an issue.

The major issue for narrowing or broadening restrictions on abortion is the definition of health. When the cases were decided, health was defined as anything that would impact the woman’s physical, emotional, psychological, or financial well being. Basically, this means the woman can have an abortion for any reason, including birth defects, money problems, stress, or even gender selection. Health still, to this day, hasn’t been defined for a late term abortion, and this has created multiple controversies over a woman’s right to an abortion.

Legalizing abortion has given women an opportunity for choice. Abortion is a personal and private decision that a woman must make. She must take into account many risks in aborting a fetus, including mental and physical damage to herself. However, if a mother-to-be is not ready, a full pregnancy can lead to many other risks such as abandonment, post-traumatic stress, or even child abuse.

Abortions were being performed long before they were legalized, and they were very risky, expensive, and unsafe. Legal abortions have saved women from the emotional trauma of an unwanted pregnancy and the physical dangers associated with illegal abortion. Abortions done by licensed physicians aren’t completely safe, but the patient is made aware of the risks, and is put under the care of the physician.

Extending an abortion right throughout the entire nine months of a pregnancy due to issues such as social or financial well being, however, is absurd. By the end of the second term, there is a fully developed baby inside the womb. Non-life-threatening health decisions should be made prior to the fetus achieving this advanced state of development.

Women should have the right to choose whether or not they will carry a pregnancy past the first trimester. There should be a newly defined meaning for the restrictions based on the health of the mother during later terms of the pregnancy. It is a woman’s choice to keep or abort a first trimester pregnancy. During the second and third trimesters, abortions are more complicated, painful, and dangerous, so later term abortions should be more restricted, due to the development of the baby and the health of the mother. There should be a better reason for aborting a baby during the last trimester than finances or gender selection.

Doe v. Bolton has benefited women, but has also taken advantage of the situation. “Health” must be redefined for late term pregnancies, so the baby and the mother are protected. And recent legislation outlawing late term abortions should be revoked or amended so that the health care of both mother and child is returned to the doctors.

If the mother’s life is in danger and delivery of the baby might terminate the mother’s life during a late term pregnancy, physicians should think first of the mother. If both the baby and the mother die because of dangers to the health of the mother, what good does restricting all abortions do?

Everyone, including pro-choice supporters, agree there should be fewer abortions. If the restrictions on late term abortions are more clearly defined, there would be fewer abortions and the health of the mother would be protected.




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