Abortion is one of the most debated topics in America. People constantly fight back and forth on if they should be legal and if they improve public health. Politicians can be elected solely on their views on abortions. For example, during the 2016 presidential election, 45% of voters considered abortion a ‘hot button issue’ that would factor in when they were voting (Fingerhut, 2016). 45% of the American people all caring deeply about one issue could change the result of the election. There are people on every side of this issue with all different opinions. That being said, according to the Washington Post, “85% of Americans support abortions in the case of the mother’s safety, 75% support in case of rape, 73% support abortions in case of possible birth defects, and 44% support abortions under any circumstances” (Clement, 2015). This means that most Americans support abortions for one reason or another. So, for the purpose of this paper, I am going to assume that abortions are generally supported by the people and focus primarily on why they are important to public health. Scientists have done numerous studies about how legal abortions impact health, both on an individual level and on a community health level. In this paper, if will be proven that legal abortions increase standards of public health through stem cell research, poverty levels, women’s health, and genetic diseases.
Two definitions are needed in the discussion of the relationship between public health: abortion is defined as “the deliberate termination of a human pregnancy, most often performed during the first 28 weeks of pregnancy” (Oxford Dictionary, 2017) and public health is defined as “the science of protecting and improving the health of people and their communities” (CDC Foundation, n.d.). Abortion relates to public health because it is a community provided service used to allow women in those communities to make choices about their own health. Data shows that “75% of abortions are done for women who are poor or very low income according to federal income standards” (Guttmacher Institute, 2017). This means that most fetuses that are aborted would have been born under the poverty line. These babies, if born, would then face malnutrition, higher risks of childhood diseases, and significant lower earning power than a baby born above the poverty line (Ratcliffe, 2015). It is often wondered why poor women have more abortions. Most women under the poverty line have little to no access to birth control, and if they do have birth control, they are much more likely to never have been taught how to use it. In poor school districts, money is often not devoted to teaching children about safe sex or contraceptives. Having no access to birth control means women are significantly more likely to become impoverished (Browne SP and LaLumia S, 2014). Also according to the paper, legal abortions reduce the amount of women that are thrust under the poverty line due to lack of contraceptives. Abortions are not something that people hope to have happen in their in their lives. That being said, “one in every four American women will have an abortion sometime in her life” (Guttmacher Institute, 2017). Everyone knows someone who has had an abortion or who will have an abortion. But most of those people will never admit that they had had one, because people will look down upon them. It is best not to look down on an eighth of the American population.
When abortions come up, most people think of the end of a pregnancy as a result of sexual intercourse. There is another form of abortion that ends the possibility of a baby, but it is not due to intercourse. A couple who has difficulty getting pregnant often consults a fertility specialist. The doctor then takes sperm from the man and an egg from the woman to create a zygote. A zygote is how all babies start out. The only difference is that these babies are formed in a lab and are never intended to see life. After just a few hours, it is clear if there is a reproductive problem in one of the parents. The zygote is only a few hours old and was only made for a test. The parents then have the option to donate the zygote to science. If the parents do decide to donate, the zygote is kept for three days so it can become a blastocyst (The Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity, 2009). Stem cells are unspecialized cells. These cells have not been assigned to any part of the body yet. Scientists use stem cell therapy to regenerate cells that have been damaged as adults. For example, someone who has been paralyzed due to spinal damage could regain movement after stem cell therapy. This is because the stem cells replace the broken cells and allow normal cell function to resume. Stem cells are being used to cure cancer, diabetes, and many other diseases (Mummery, et al., 2003). Scientists tend to universally agree that stem cell research will help improve public health, but some people oppose stem cell research because they see it as an abortion. This group of opposers does not include most of the major religions. “Some religious people are in opposition. Others believe that embryonic stem cell research is pro-life and that it is immoral not to pursue this research, because of its potential to reduce human suffering. Most religious traditions, including Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, and some branches of Christianity do not consider embryonic stem cell research to be immoral.” (University of Michigan- stem cell research, n.d.) The broad definition of abortion does classify stem cell extraction as abortion, but the whole point of stem cells is that they are not anything yet. Just two gametes that met. There is the potential to form a new baby; there is also the potential to form any cell in the body. Stem cells are a tool that greatly improve personal health and the health of a community as a whole. If the cells in the uterus have not decided what they are yet, how could we scientifically consider them a life?
Abortions end the possibility of a baby being born. No matter what a person believes morally, abortions end a zygote’s possibility of life. There are extreme opinions on both side. Religious people scream at women going into a birth control clinic saying they are committing murder, saying they will rot in hell, and saying they are sentencing their baby to hell. Feminists scream right back that it is a woman’s right to choose, it is her body, and it is her life. Neither one of these groups is right. L. W. Sumner explains in his book, Abortion and the Moral Theory, what he calls the “Liberal View” and what he calls the “Conservative View” (L. W. Sumner, 2016). The liberal view is that the mother has a right to abort at any time she wishes. The conservative view is that the mother never has the right to an abortion. In the book, Sumner shows that both the extremes are wrong. He explains that almost nobody believes that women should end a pregnancy for no reason, but that also almost no abortions are like that. He then explains that whether a person is religious or whether that person is not, it is just in good moral standing to not want to kill, and that they way you were raised usually determines your stance on the issue. It is a great book to review both sides of the argument and looking towards the middle ground. Sumner also explains that most people are moderate on the issue, this is because their brains tell them to honor both the life of the baby and the life of the mother (L. W. Sumner, 2016). People are not usually trying to kill, they are just looking out for a life, either the mother’s or the baby’s. Legal abortions are only done when a baby is not able to survive outside of the womb, leading many people do believe it is not truly alive yet. So, people who are pro-choice are more concerned with the life of the mother and people who are pro-life are more concerned with the life of the baby. Are there moral questions on either end? Yes, of course! That mass of cells could become a baby, even if a person does not consider it a baby yet. The mothers are trying to making the right choice for their babies and for themselves. Mothers do not want their children growing up in poverty or growing up with incurable diseases. Most people would rather end that pregnancy to have a baby when the baby will have a good life. Scientists even say “50% of babies are unplanned, and 47% of those pregnancies will end in abortions” (Guttmacher Institute, 2017). That data shows that most American mothers who did not want a baby, will not have a baby. So, why are there so many unplanned pregnancies? This is because, “condoms fail 14% of the time” (American Pregnancy Association, 2016). Condoms and ‘pulling out’ are the two cheapest and most available contraceptive option. The Center of Disease Control and Prevention named ‘pulling out’ (pulling out is defined as the removal of the penis before ejaculation occurs) and condoms as two of the least effective forms of contraceptives (CDC, 2017). Poor, or young, women are often using pulling out or another cheap form of birth control for their contraceptives. The problem is, the contraceptive they are most likely to afford is not very effective. Affordable and effective birth control will vastly reduce the number of women who have to make the tough choice to abort or to not abort.
Abortions are not just performed for women who do not want their babies. Genetic disorders such as Turner syndrome can be detected when the fetus is just a few months old. Turner’s syndrome is the monosomy of the X chromosome in females (U.S. National Library of Medicine, n.d). Most girls are born with two X chromosomes, one from their mother and one from their father, but girls with only one X can face heart defects, infertility, high blood pressure, kidney malformation, extremely short stature, webbed neck, and other serious conditions. Oxford Academy states, “TS is associated with a 3-fold increase in overall mortality and a life expectancy that is reduced by up to 13 yr. Even after exclusion of deaths from congenital heart disease, the mortality rates remain excessive, particularly in women with 45, X monosomy”. This is assuming that the girl with TS have already survived through childhood. Girls with TS can still go on to have successful lives. They are more likely to be employed adults than the average woman, but it is at a cost. Although intellectual function is not impaired, girls with TS are at a higher risk for depression and for suicide due to bullying (Hong, D; J. S. & Kesler S., 2011). Severe birth defects and bullying lead to a much lower standard of life for girls with TS. Also, TS is not the only genetic disease that can be screened for while the pregnancy is still in its early stages. Downs syndrome, Edward’s syndrome, HIV, sickle cell anemia, and other conditions can all be found by an ultrasound or by a blood test. These tests are not perfect, but they work well. Some parents make a painful decision based on these test results. They may know they cannot afford the increased health care costs, which are up to five times more for families with a disabled child (Elsheikh, M., Dunger, D. B., Conway, G. S., & Wass, J. A., 2002) Some parents choose to abort the baby. This is a terrible decision for parents to have to make, but the option allows parents to decide what they think is best for their baby. Parents get this same option later in their child’s life. If a child is deathly ill, and there is nothing more that doctors can do, parents have the option to stop treatment. They want to do what is less painful for their child. The same theory applies to abortions to avoid genetic diseases or mutations. If there is nothing that a doctor can do, parents are allowed to stop treatment. Babies that are aborted due to mutations are removed before they are viable. The parents, or the mother if the parents’ opinions differ, have the choice to terminate a pregnancy if they believe it is the right thing to do. Legal abortions give the parents the same right that parents have when they choose to stop treatment when the doctors cannot fix the problem or help anymore.
Generally, women do not want to abort unless they have to. It is a tough decision, no matter how the pregnancy occurred. 35 states in America even require that women are discouraged from having an abortion (Guttmacher Institute, 2017). This is to make the choice harder, to shame the woman. Women tend to make the choice early in the pregnancy. Over 90% of abortions take place during the first 12 weeks of a pregnancy. The CDC states in their 2012 pregnancy epidemiology study, “60% of abortions were performed for women under twenty three who were using a form of birth control in 2012” (CDC, 2017). This means that abortions are done for young women who were trying to have safe sex, but somehow something went wrong. Most abortions were reported to happen because the women did not receive proper information and did not have access to contraceptives. Schools teach abstinence above everything else. For example, I am finishing high school without ever being taught how to put on a condom or how to use different methods of birth control. This puts me at a high risk for teenage pregnancy and therefore a higher risk for having an abortion. If I had been taught in school about contraceptives, my risk would be reduced. That being said, women get pregnant daily, even when using contraceptives, even when they have been taught how to use them. Should they be more careful? Yes, but that is not always going to work, and they are not always going to have a choice. Also, there is a social stigma associated with women having sex which causes woman to do it unsafely, resulting in the need for more abortions. Try going into a store as a young woman to purchase birth control, I guarantee you will receive raised eyebrows. The more women are judged for having sex, the more likely they are to have unsafe sex. The rate of death for young unmarried women has gone way down now that abortion is legal. Abortions are safe. If an abortion occurs within the first trimester, the odds of a woman dying are less than 1 in 300,000 (Guttmacher Institute, 2017). For that one woman who will die in an abortion, 72 ‘healthy’ women will die in childbirth (Norton, 2016). Abortions are safer than having a baby. Abortions will happen, legally or illegally. The abortions can be done safely or with coat hangers.
Abortions are a topic fraught with moral and scientific dilemmas. Stem cell research, a type of abortion according to conservatives, is the ending of a possible baby, but it is for the purpose of curing someone of an otherwise incurable disease. Pregnancies can be avoided when birth control is used, but birth control is not always affordable or reliable. Abortions are a moral issue by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a scientific fact that when abortions are legal, the public health is greatly improved. The need for abortions would go down if access to effective and affordable birth control became more common. For every dollar that the federal government spends on birth control, they save six dollars that would have spent on abortion services (Meier, K. J., & McFarlane, D. R, 2011). This means that the government providing birth control options for women, actually saves the government money. Government involvement to supply women with effective birth control is one of the best ways to cut down on the rates of abortions in America. But since the government seems unwilling to do that, if abortions are kept legal, more lives would be saved, and the standard of living would go up. Abortions being legal is one way that helps to raise women out of poverty. Abortions should not be a first choice, but they need to be a choice. The more we do to help women, especially poor women, the less abortions will be needed overall. Until then, legal abortions are fundamental to public health.
Abortion | Definition of abortion in English by Oxford Dictionaries. (n.d.). Retrieved December 16, 2017, from https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/abortion
American Pregnancy Association. (2016, September 02). Birth Control Failure Rates. Retrieved December 15, 2017, from http://americanpregnancy.org/preventing-pregnancy/birth-control-failure/
Bevington, Linda K. . “An Overview of Stem Cell Research.” An Overview of Stem Cell Research | The Center for Bioethics & Human Dignity, Trinity International University, Aug. 2009, cbhd.org/stem-cell-research/overview
Browne, S. P., & LaLumia, S. (2014, Summer). The effects of contraception on female poverty. Retrieved December 05, 2017, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24988652
CDC. (Autumn, 2017). What is Public Health? Retrieved December 05, 2017, from https://www.cdcfoundation.org/what-public-health
Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity. (2009, August 21). An Overview of Stem Cell Research. Retrieved December 18, 2017, from https://cbhd.org/stem-cell-research/overview
Clement, S. (2015, August 07). Yes, Scott Walker, Americans overwhelmingly support legal abortion for rape victims. Retrieved December 16, 2017, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2015/08/07/yes-americans-strongly-support-legal-abortion-for-rape-victims/
Elsheikh, M., Dunger, D. B., Conway, G. S., & Wass, J. A. (2002, February 01). Turner’s Syndrome in Adulthood | Endocrine Reviews | Oxford Academic. Retrieved December 12, 2017, from https://academic.oup.com/edrv/article/23/1/120/2424315
Fingerhut, H. (2016, July 07). 4. Top voting issues in 2016 election. Retrieved December 16, 2017, from http://www.people-press.org/2016/07/07/4-top-voting-issues-in-2016-election/
Guttmacher Institute. (2017, October 20). Induced Abortion in the United States. Retrieved December 04, 2017, from https://www.guttmacher.org/fact-sheet/induced-abortion-united-states
Hong, D., Kent, J. S., & Kesler, S. (2011, June 14). COGNITIVE PROFILE OF TURNER SYNDROME. Retrieved December 12, 2017, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3114458/
Meier, K. J., & McFarlane, D. R. (2011, October 7). State family planning and abortion expenditures: their effect on public health. Retrieved December 04, 2017, from http://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/abs/10.2105/AJPH.84.9.1468
Mummery, C., Oostwaard, D. W., Doevendans, P., Spijker, R., Brink, S. V., Hassink, R., . . . Tertoolen, L. (2003, June 03). Differentiation of Human Embryonic Stem Cells to Cardiomyocytes. Retrieved December 04, 2017, from http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/107/21/2733.short
Norton, A. (2016, August 09). U.S. death rate in pregnancy, childbirth raises “great concern”. Retrieved December 16, 2017, from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/death-rate-is-up-during-pregnancy-childbirth-in-u-s/
Ratcliffe, C. (2015, September). Child Poverty and Adult Success . Retrieved December 12, 2017, from https://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/publication/65766/2000369-Child-Poverty-and-Adult-Success.pdf
Stabile, M., & Allin, S. (2012, Spring). The economic costs of childhood disability. Retrieved December 15, 2017, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22550686
Sumner, L. W. (2016). Abortion and moral theory. Place of publication not identified: Princeton University Pres.
Turner syndrome – Genetics Home Reference. (n.d.). Retrieved December 12, 2017, from https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition/turner-syndrome
U.S. National Library of Medicine. (n.d.). Turner syndrome – Genetics Home Reference. Retrieved December 16, 2017, from https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition/turner-syndrome
University of Michigan. (n.d.). Stem Cell Research. Retrieved December 16, 2017, from http://www.stemcellresearch.umich.edu/overview/faq.html#section1
Wenstrom, K. D., Williamson, R. A., & Grant, S. S. (1994, February). Detection of fetal Turner syndrome with multiple-marker screening. Retrieved December 12, 2017, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7509569