Induced abortion is the termination of pregnancy through a procedure that involves the removal of an embryo or fetus from the uterus of a pregnant woman. Modern methods include administering oral medications or through surgery.
A study by Gilda Sedgh et al. that looked at abortion incidence around the world from 1990 to 2014 concluded that 56 million abortions were performed each year during the entire period. About 45 percent of these instances were done precariously.
Despite the prevalence of the procedure and specific incidents of procedures carried out by untrained individuals, abortion for whatever reason remains illegal in several countries while the scope of its legality remains restrictive in more countries.
Adherents of the abortion-rights movement or pro-choice movements across the world have long been advocating for decriminalizing induced abortion and providing a legal basis that would help women access safe and proper abortion procedures.
What are Abortion Rights: The Argued Importance of Promoting and Protecting the Right of Women to Abortion
Note that abortion rights represent a collection of different rights, guarantees or legal protections, and privileges pertaining to induced abortion. These rights do not simply represent the right of a pregnant woman to abortion. Instead, it includes specific arguments that rationalize why it is important to promote and protect the right of women to abortion.
The major arguments in favor of abortion are as follows:
1. Bodily Integrity and Self-Ownership of Women
One of the main arguments for legalizing abortion and advancing abortion rights centers on the need to promote and protect the right of a woman to make decisions about her body. This is called bodily integrity and it emphasizes the importance of autonomy or self-ownership and self-determination of human beings over their own bodies
For a woman, having autonomy over her own body includes personal control over when and whether to have children without undermining her need for sexual intercourse. A woman should enjoy her sexual life and have the freedom to do so even though she does not plan to bear a child. This autonomy is a key element of reproductive rights.
Both the United Nations and the World Health Organization define reproductive rights as the collective recognition of the basic right of all couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children, as well as the right to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women of the U.N. also considers the criminalization of abortion a violation of the sexual and reproductive health rights of women and a form of gender-based violence. This has been expressed in Paragraph 18 of the General Recommendation No. 35 on Gender-Based Violence Against Women.
The U.N. and the WHO noted that individuals have the right to make decisions concerning reproduction free of discrimination, coercion, and violence. Hence, when it comes to abortion rights, these include the freedom to terminate unwanted or unplanned pregnancies and access to safe and high-quality abortion procedures.
2. Socioeconomic Implications of Unwanted Pregnancy
Another important argument in favor of abortion and against the criminalization of abortion is the socioeconomic implications that come from unwanted or unplanned pregnancy. Economist and the 78th United States Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen explained at a Senate hearing that ending access to abortion will have damaging effects on the economy.
She explains that there is a sizeable amount of unwanted pregnancies involving Black teenage women in low-income households. These individuals are not in the position to rear children due to their socioeconomic status. Furthermore, unwanted pregnancy deprives them of their ability to continue their education and participate in the workforce in the future.
A landmark longitudinal study by the Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health program of the University of California in San Francisco called the “Turnaway Study” examined the effects of unwanted pregnancy in the lives of women. Note that a multidisciplinary team of researchers pursued the research for 10 years.
Results and further details are expounded in several publications. These include a book authored by demographer Diana Greene Foster. One of the salient findings revealed that women who were denied access to abortion and went on to give birth experienced an increase in household poverty that lasted at least four years relative to those who received an abortion.
Most of these women did not have enough money to cover basic living expenses such as food, housing, and transportation. The study also found out that being denied an abortion lowered the credit score of a woman, increased the amount of her debt, and increased the number of her negative public financial records leading to bankruptcies and evictions.
The financial wellbeing and overall development of children of women who were denied abortion suffered as well. To be specific, children born as a result of abortion denial were likely to live below the federal poverty level. In addition, existing children of women who sought an abortion but went on to give birth had poor development.
3. Promotion of Reproductive Health and Overall Health
Gilda Sedgh et al. showed that 45 percent of 56 million abortions done from 1990 to 2014 involved unsafe procedures carried out either by the pregnant women who accessed unsupervised medications or by unqualified providers. A WHO study also revealed that about 25 million unsafe abortions occurred each year based on data from 2010 to 2014.
Additional studies and data from WHO showed that 4.7 to 13.2 percent of maternal deaths can be attributed to unsafe abortion. In developed regions, about 30 women die for every one hundred thousand unsafe abortions. The situation in developing regions is worse because the death rate is as high as 220 maternal deaths per one hundred thousand unsafe abortions.
The WHO emphasized the fact that the prevalence of unsafe abortion is a leading albeit preventable cause of maternal deaths and morbidities. Those who survived unsafe procedures can experience physical and mental health complications while resulting further in social and financial burdens for women, communities, and health systems,
Note that the United Nations concluded and pronounced in 2016 that repealing anti-abortion laws will save thousands of lives of women each year. These laws are prevalent across the world and they apply to and affect over 40 percent of the total global population. Furthermore, the problem with these laws is that they do not reduce the number of abortions.
A key argument for abortion and abortion rights is that women have different reasons for terminating their pregnancy. Some also need similar medical assistance in cases that involve miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy. When legalized and performed by competent professionals, abortion is essentially a life-saving and socially-benefitting medical procedure.
In a 2021 briefing, Dr. Sarah Prager, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Washington in Seattle, explained that the death rate for legal abortions is 0.7 deaths for every 100000 abortions. However, to put things in perspective, there are 2 deaths for every 100000 plastic surgeries while childbirth has 9 deaths for every 100000 deliveries.
Should Abortion Be Legal: A Rundown of Arguments for Abortion Rights and A Quick Look at the Counterarguments
The major arguments against abortion or the specific anti-abortion arguments revolve around the notion that life begins at conception, thus making abortion similar to murder, that legalizing the procedure promotes a culture in which people would treat life as disposable, and that increasing access to birth control, health insurance, and sex education make abortion unnecessary.
Abortion is undeniably one of the most contentious and polarizing topics of modern sociopolitical discourse. However, despite the counterarguments, a sizeable number of pregnant women around the world intend to terminate their pregnancy for several reasons. The trend will continue to remain even in regions where abortion is illegal.
In a nutshell, the arguments for legalizing abortion and protecting abortion rights center on the supposed inalienable rights of women to decide on what they want to do with their bodies. Furthermore, these arguments have banked on the socioeconomic implications of unwanted pregnancy and that the lives of women are at risk because of unsafe abortion.
FURTHER READINGS AND REFERENCES
- Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. 2017. General Recommendation No. 35 on Gender-Based Violence Against Women, Updating General Recommendation No. 19 Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, United Nations. Available via PDF.
- Foster, Diana Greene. 2020. The Turnaway Study: The Cost of Denying Women Access to Abortion. Scribner. ASIN: B0831S4XB2
- Lawder, D. 2022. “Yellen Says Ending Abortion Access Would Be ‘Damaging’ To U.S. Economy, Women.” Reuters. Available online
- Sedgh, G., Bearak, J., Singh, S., Bankole, A., Popinchalk, A., Ganatra, B., Rossier, C., Gerdts, C., Tunçalp, Ö., Johnson, B. R., Jr, Johnston, H. B., and Alkema, L. 2016. “Abortion Incidence Between 1990 and 2014: Global, Regional, and Subregional Levels and Trends.” The Lancet. 388(10041): 258-267. DOI: 1016/s0140-6736(16)30380-4
- Thompson, D. 2021. “Abortion Remains Medically Safe For U.S. Women.” WebMD. Available online
- United Nations. 2016. “Repealing Anti-Abortion Laws Would Save The Lives Of Nearly 50000 Women A Year—UN Expert.” N. News Services. The United Nations. Available online
- United Nations. n.d. “Reproductive Rights.” United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. United Nations. Available online
- World Health Organization. 2021. “Abortion.” Fact Sheets. The World Health Organization. Available online
- World Health Organization. 2017. “Worldwide, An Estimated 25 Million Unsafe Abortions Occur Each Year.” The World Health Organization. Available online