Abortion: A Nation Divided Essay

1968 words - 8 pages

1 Abortion: A Nation Divided Abortion, which means deliberately killing a developing human embryo, is a choice for death, no matter how you look at it. This choice is one that has been both condemned and defended for millennia (Dworkin 3). The war between anti-abortion groups and their opponents is America's new version of the seventeenth century European civil wars of religion (Dworkin 4). You would think that one look at the history of America would have taught our country that there is no clear-cut solution to the problem, yet America seems unable to learn, much less act, on that lesson (Rosenblast 7).The war over abortion seems fiercer and more violent in America than anywhere else. ...view middle of the document...

The religious nature mixes with progressive women's movements, which aim to emancipate women from traditional religious conceptions of their responsibilities and sexuality, and causes debate on women's rights (Dworkin 6).Anthropologist George Devereux made a study of abortion and found it was prevalent in hundreds of primitive societies. Even the "advanced" societies of ancient Greece and Rome practiced abortion with the blessings of both Aristotle and Plato. The philosophers balanced the value of individual life with that of the larger community (Whitney 40). However, the Catholic Church did not see things for the broader picture. They did not recognize abortion or contraceptive use. The only "legal" contraceptive was the use of the rhythm method.It was St. Augustine of Hippo who proclaimed that sex was valid only if it served a procreative purpose. Sex was never suppose to be for pleasure. He condemned sex during pregnancy and in old age, when it was obviously just for pleasure.Thomas Aquinas, the thirteenth century scholar who became the father of accepted Catholic thought, was the first to clearly articulate thinking about when human life begins. He believed life began when is was infused with a soul. He wrote that the soul would enter a male fetus forty days after conception and enter a female fetus eighty days after conception. Aquinas suggested that prior to that point, abortion could not be considered a mortal sin since life did not begin until one had a soul (Whitney 43). His standards were adopted by the church for many centuries. Later, the term "quickening" was used to define the point when a fetus became human--when the mother felt it move.3 Abortion was the dirty little secret of the ages, commonly practiced, but rarely spoken of. Without the existence of reliable birth control, abortion was the only way to keep family size down.Abortion was legal in the United States until the mid-1800s. By the early nineteenth century, there was growing concern in the medical community over the risks of women obtaining abortions from unlicensed abortionists. By mid-century, the newly formed American Medical Association had forced abortion restrictions into being for the sake of women's health (Whitney 45).In the first years of the restriction, most abortionists continued to operate as before. The church came late to its public stand on the sinfulness of abortion and birth control, but eventually joined the medical community and government in public condemnation of these practices. By the second half of the nineteenth century, the medical establishment, the church, and the state had joined forces and mounted a campaign against abortion, calling it the "evil of the ages" (Whitney 45).Abortion was eventually declared illegal in nearly every state. Contraceptive use was even banned. In 1873, the Comstock Law made it a criminal offense to mail or transport any article or medicine for the prevention of conception or causing abortion. Henry Comstock set...

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