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Nine Reasons Why Abortions Are Legal

Abortion is never an easy decision, but women have been making that choice for thousands of years, for many good reasons. Whenever a society has sought to outlaw abortions, it has only driven them into back alleys where they became dangerous, expensive, and humiliating. Amazingly, this was the case in the United States until 1973, when abortion was legalized nationwide. Thousands of American women died. Thousands more were maimed. For this reason and others, women and men fought for and achieved women's legal right to make their own decisions about abortion. However, there are people in our society who still won't accept this. Some argue that even survivors of rape or incest should be forced to continue their pregnancies. And now, having failed to convince the public or the lawmakers, certain of these people have become violent extremists, engaging in a campaign of intimidation and terror aimed at women seeking abortions and health professionals who work at reproductive health clinics. Some say these acts will stop abortions, but that is ridiculous. When the smoke clears, the same urgent reasons will exist for safe, legal abortions as have always existed. No nation committed to individual liberty could seriously consider returning to the days of back-alley abortions — to the revolting specter of a government forcing women to bear children against their will. Still, amid such attacks, it is worthwhile to repeat a few of the reasons why our society trusts each woman to make the abortion decision herself.

1. Laws against abortion kill women.
To prohibit abortions does not stop them. When women feel it is absolutely necessary, they will choose to have abortions, even in secret, without medical care, in dangerous circumstances. In the two decades before abortion was legal in the U.S., it's been estimated that nearly a million women per year sought out illegal abortions. Thousands died. Tens of thousands were mutilated. All were forced to behave as if they were criminals.

2. Legal abortions protect women's health.
Legal abortion not only protects women's lives, it also protects their health. For tens of thousands of women with heart disease, kidney disease, severe hypertension, sickle-cell anemia and severe diabetes, and other illnesses that can be life-threatening, the availability of legal abortion has helped avert serious medical complications that could have resulted from childbirth. Before legal abortion, such women's choices were limited to dangerous illegal abortion or dangerous childbirth.

3. A woman is more than a fetus.
Some people argue these days that a fetus is a "person" that is "indistinguishable from the rest of us" and that it deserves rights equal to women's. On this question there is a tremendous spectrum of religious, philosophical, scientific, and medical opinion. It's been argued for centuries. Fortunately, our society has recognized that each woman must be able to make this decision, based on her own conscience. To impose a law defining a fetus as a "person," granting it rights equal to or superior to a woman's — a thinking, feeling, conscious human being — is arrogant and absurd. It only serves to diminish women.

4. Being a mother is just one option for women.
Many hard battles have been fought to win political and economic equality for women. These gains will not be worth much if reproductive choice is denied. To be able to choose a safe, legal abortion makes many other options possible. Otherwise an accident or a rape can end a woman's economic and personal freedom.

5. Outlawing abortion is discriminatory.
Anti-abortion laws discriminate against low-income women, who are driven to dangerous self-induced or back-alley abortions. That is all they can afford. But the rich can travel wherever necessary to obtain a safe abortion.

6. Compulsory pregnancy laws are incompatible with a free society.
If there is any matter that is personal and private, then pregnancy is it. There can be no more extreme invasion of privacy than requiring a woman to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term. If government is permitted to compel a woman to bear a child, where will government stop? The concept is morally repugnant. It violates traditional American ideas of individual rights and freedoms.

7. Outlaw abortion, and more children will bear children.
Forty percent of 14-year-old girls will become pregnant before they turn 20. This could happen to your daughter or someone else close to you. Here are the critical questions: Should the penalty for lack of knowledge or even for a moment's carelessness be enforced pregnancy and childrearing? Or dangerous illegal abortion? Should we consign a teenager to a life sentence of joblessness, hopelessness, and dependency?

8. "Every child a wanted child."
If women are forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term, the result is unwanted children. Everyone knows they are among society's most tragic cases, often uncared-for, unloved, brutalized, and abandoned. When they grow up, these children are often seriously disadvantaged, and sometimes inclined toward brutal behavior to others. This is not good for children, for families, or for the country. Children need love and families who want and will care for them.

9. Choice is good for families.
Even when precautions are taken, accidents can and do happen. For some families, this is not a problem. But for others, such an event can be catastrophic. An unintended pregnancy can increase tensions, disrupt stability, and push people below the line of economic survival. Family planning is the answer. All options must be open.

At the most basic level, the abortion issue is not really about abortion. It is about the value of women in society. Should women make their own decisions about family, career, and how to live their lives? Or should government do that for them? Do women have the option of deciding when or whether to have children? Or is that a government decision? The anti-abortion leaders really have a larger purpose. They oppose most ideas and programs that can help women achieve equality and freedom. They also oppose programs that protect the health and well-being of women and their children. Anti-abortion leaders claim to act "in defense of life." If so, why have they worked to destroy programs that serve life, including prenatal care and nutrition programs for dependent pregnant women? Is this respect for life? Anti-abortion leaders also say they are trying to save children, but they have fought against health and nutrition programs for children once they are born. The anti-abortion groups seem to believe life begins at conception, but it ends at birth. Is this respect for life? Then there are programs that diminish the number of unwanted pregnancies before they occur: family planning counseling, sex education, and contraception for those who wish it. Anti-abortion leaders oppose those, too. And clinics providing such services have been bombed. Is this respect for life? Such stances reveal the ultimate cynicism of the compulsory pregnancy movement. "Life" is not what they're fighting for. What they want is a return to the days when a woman had few choices in controlling her future. They think that the abortion option gives too much freedom. That even contraception is too liberating. That women cannot be trusted to make their own decisions. Americans today don't accept that. Women can now select their own paths in society, including when and whether to have children. Family planning, contraception, and, if need be, legal abortion are critical to sustaining women's freedom. There is no going back. If you agree with this, you can help. Circulate this statement among your friends, and support our work by contacting your local Planned Parenthood affiliate. Thank you.

© 2004 Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc. All rights reserved.