So, with the whole debate on the table again because the election is near, I'm driven back to my research, this time on public opinion and policy on abortion in America. How did we get to where we are today? I read several articles (see here and here and here and here), and two of the sources did most of their their research in a book on the topic by Marvin Olavsky.
In early American history (much as in church history), abortion certainly happened at times, but there were no methods for women to be sure they were pregnant until quickening (the movement of the baby felt by the mother), which was pretty far into pregnancy. Lack of medical knowledge at the time meant a high death rate for women who did attempt abortions, so abortion was rare.
Public Opinion and Law:
As medical knowledge and the population of America grew, the practice and public knowledge of abortion grew with it. Especially in the biggest cities where prostitution thrive with little access to birth control, abortion doctors began to make a business out of the practice. Surprisingly by modern day standards, the practice was condemned not only by the church, but also by an outright campaign in the press, and eventually by state laws. By 1860, "Eight-five percent of the then-present U.S. states had laws that made all abortions a felony." (source) Because it was illegal, abortions were still a very medically risky procedure for women who quietly sought them out.
60's and Social Change
Doing this research really made it hit home how much of a "revolution" the sixties really were in terms of an incredibly fast change of culture and public opinion. The civil rights movement, women's lib, the sexual revolution, hippies, war protests. So much shifted in our society. Of course, these changes blew in with some things happening in the decades before, but it's striking how quickly it all rolled in.
With the women's lib movement, the development and promotion of contraception, and a sea change in sexual behavior, much changed in attitudes towards pregnancy and women. The emphasis on the ability of a woman to control her own story was on the rise. Initially even Margaret Sanger (founder of Planned Parenthood) touted birth control as a way to do away with the evil of abortion.
Public opinion began to shift from seeing abortion as evil to seeing illegal abortion as evil. Media reports on the horrors of botched back-room procedures and the deaths that resulted began to have an impact. In 1967, Colorado and California both became the first states to formally legalize abortion in the cases of incest or rape or medical emergencies. Other states followed.
Legalization and Roe v. Wade
From 1967 above, things moved faster than I ever realized. There was a build-up of protest against the criminalization of abortion, saying the policies resulted in terrible back-room abortions, humiliation of women, and discriminatory effect on minority women. In 1970 New York was the first state to allow unrestricted abortion in the first 24 weeks. This same year, two lawyers filed a lawsuit in Dallas on behalf of a woman who had sought and failed to find a legal abortion. In '73 the Supreme Court ruled to overturn Texas's law on abortion on the grounds that:
"Right of privacy, whether it be founded in the Fourteenth Amendment's concept of personal liberty and restrictions upon state action, as we feel it is, or, as the district court determined, in the Ninth Amendment's reservation of rights to the people, is broad enough to encompass a woman's decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy."
This is what shocked me. The first step for one state to allow unrestricted abortion in the first trimester was only three years before the US not only legalized abortion but effectively made it illegal for any state to not allow abortion.
Dang. Within 10 years we went from nearly completely condemning abortion to nearly completely condemning all opposition to abortion.
Maybe it's just me, but I found that really shocking.
And the language in Roe v. Wade talks all about the mother and the rights of women, but on the other side only talks about the "potentiality of life" and "viability". There was zero discussion that the fetus might already be alive.
Where does this leave me? Final post coming.