Reflection Essay on Abortion Policy
Recently the abortion policy has been pushed into the spotlight as states across the country seek to pass new laws. Although the central protests from pro-life actors may come across as an issue over an unborn fetus, the right to have an abortion proves to be much more. This is what Alesha Doan explains in “Shifting Contexts: The History of Abortion in America” (2007), that Margaret Sanger’s work as the mother of the birth control movement was far more than just for women to have access to birth control. In her report, Doan illustrates the origins of abortion policy, critics of it, and how it’s continued to be a controversial topic of discussion for over two centuries. Opponents of the birth control movement such as religious sectors, the medical community, politicians, and many more have tried to cast abortion discussion into the shadows before.
However, there were several key events that helped push abortion back into the spotlight in the 1960s. These events will be briefly highlighted and then I will give my reflection on the significance of these events and how it has made abortion policy what it is today. In addition, a changed status of women emerged as a result of protest for equal rights. Finally, I will be discussing the framing of the abortion debate in the 1960s and how it compares to today’s issue framing. First, we must look at the brief origins of abortion policy.
As mentioned before, Doan explains how Margaret Sanger’s work in attempting to change the laws prohibiting the distribution and use of birth control medicine was far more than just for the money or to avoid pregnancies for “any reason”. Instead, “Sanger wanted to support individual rights and eliminate governmental influence over women’s private lives” (Doan p. 52). By 1936, Sanger and the ABCL received recognition in the “One Package” ruling, which ultimately declared that contraception could be used for benefits and shouldn’t just be recognized as an obscene act. After reading about Sanger and listening to her in class on her contribution to the creation of the pill, it is apparent to me that the origins of the pill were designed under good measure. We talked about in class how the original “pioneers” of the pill did not make much money off of their product and designed it quickly due to high demand from women across the United States. This just shows that the creators were not in it for the fame or wealth but instead for the greater good of women across the United States. Next, we will be looking at the two major events that pushed abortion back into the spotlight in the 1960s.
According to the General Social Survey 2012 Final Report, “Trends in Public Attitudes toward abortion” (2013), one of the top three proponents of abortion approval being highest is when there is a serious defect in the baby (77%). This is why Sherri Finkbine’s story and the German measles outbreak proved to be groundbreaking events in abortion discussion. In class we discussed how Sherri Finkbine was a popular television personality that discovered in her 5th month of pregnancy that she had taken the drug thalidomide. Thalidomide causes serious defects in the baby, so her doctor and her agreed that she should have an abortion. However, since Finkbine couldn’t find an abortion clinic that would accept her in the United States, she flew to Sweden to obtain a legal abortion. Once Finkbine’s story went public, views on access to abortion began to change. Then, from 1962-1965, there was an outbreak of German measles, which causes serious defects among embryos. This resulted in approximately 15,000 babies being born with defects and further pushed the need for reform to abortion laws. Next, I will give my analysis of the significance of these two events and how it reflects abortion policy today.
In class we highlighted the importance of these events, but I truly did not realize just how important and how perfect of timing these events occurred in. We touched on this a little bit in class but didn’t go into great depth on the fact that Sherri Finkbine was one of the most pivotal actors in the abortion debate. Finkbine was a well recognized figure on television and was also a mother of four. Therefore, it was easy for women to relate to Finkbine because she promoted family values. Using her status to her advantage, Finkbine made the matters of her abortion public so that people could see that legal abortion clinics should be accessible to women with similar cases to hers (not everyone can just fly to another country and get a recommended abortion).
So, the abortion topic was now an issue that received media attention. That same year, the outbreak of German measles began and lasted for three years. Now, in the matter of three years, abortion began appealing to people for its benefits that it can bring (“One Package” ruling design) to families and especially women and began recruiting a wide range of supporters. In 1967, the AMA issued a statement supporting the liberalization of abortion laws and by 1971, 14 states allowed abortions under certain conditions (Doan p. 56). As I touched on earlier, the top three tenets of approval for abortion being the highest is when the woman’s health is seriously endangered (87%), the pregnancy resulted from rape (78.3%), and when there is a serious defect in the fetus (77.1%). So, these events are why abortion was pushed back into the spotlight in the 1960s. I find it a little troubling that people were fine with women suffering and pleading for years over necessity for birth control but were completely on board once the baby is defected. I believe this is so because newborns are supposed to represent life and purity; but, when faced with a defect, all people see is their flaws. If people were true supporters than they would argue that all life is equal no matter what. Furthermore, I will be discussing the changed status of women and how they reframed the abortion debate in the 1960s to promote equality among men and women.
The changed status of women was due to “the emerging conception of individualism” that promoted individual’s rights and freedoms as opposed to the familial unit (Doan p. 57). Women began standing up for themselves and “began breaking tradition by delaying marriage, attending college and entering the labor force in unprecedented rates” (Doan p. 57). Due to the changing roles of women, abortion culture evolved. What I enjoyed so much about this policy topic was that when we first started it, I believed that abortions shouldn’t really take place and that they are usually performed by people that didn’t have the money to support their baby. However, I quickly learned that the main area of focus for pro-choice groups was for the equality of women. I remember listening to Coffee in class in the US Supreme Court hearing saying that pregnancies can “disrupt her life”, such as her education, employment, maternity leave, etc. Although pro-life groups would argue that pregnancy is a gift and not a disruption, it made me realize just how lucky men are and that women too should have the “right to determine the course of their own lives.”
That is why in the 1960s the Society for Human Abortion (SHA) became the first abortion rights organization and “reframed the issue as a rights issue in order to reduce the criminal and immoral representations of abortion” (Doan p. 58). The SHA modeled their actions similar to those of the civil rights movement and student movements’ tactics and found great success in their appeal to the general population. Their strategies of linking abortion to women’s equality allowed them to challenge traditional arrangements through peaceful protest. The SHA perfectly modeled the goals of Margaret Sanger and were able to gain a wide range of supporters throughout the 1960s and officially brought abortion back into the spotlight.
Since the early 19th century, abortion has been a controversial topic of discussion and will probably be for a very long time. Although the credit for the rise of abortion culture dates back to the early 1800s, I believe that these events and actions that took place in the 1960s proved to be some of the most influential. National media attention, an outbreak, and strategic issue framing pushed abortion into a category of necessity and became viewed as an issue of morality and equality. However, currently with legislators trying to limit abortion access, it is unknown where abortion policy will lead in the future. As I stated before, I was not a firm believer in accessible forms of abortion; however, by putting myself in those women’s shoes, I now understand that everyone should be given the choice with what they want to do with their body. In conclusion, a decision made by a female is just as important as a decision made by a male in today’s society and access to abortion only further promotes equality among both genders.
Doan, A. E. (2007). Shifting Contexts: The History of Abortion in America. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
General Social Survey 2012 Final Report (2013), Trends in Public Attitudes toward abortion