Table of contents
- Abortion Law in Mississippi
- The Supreme Court Ruling: Roe v Wade
- Politics of Abortion
- Pro-Life Movement and Religion
- Pro-Choice Movement
- The Abortion Divide
- Current Abortion Laws in Mississippi
- People’s Attitudes towards Abortion
- International Policies around Abortion
- Works Cited
Abortion Law in Mississippi
Since the U.S. Supreme Court recognized the constitutional right to abortion in the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, abortion issues have surfaced in every election both locally and statewide. Abortion is not a priority but it certainly has helped shape policies and attitudes in the U.S political landscape. Approximately 862,320 abortions occurred in the United States in 2017. The resulting abortion rate of 13.5 abortions per 1,000 women of reproductive age (15–44) represents an 8% decrease from the 2014 rate of 14.6 (Jones RK et al). In 2017, the abortion incidence in Mississippi shows that 2,550 abortions were provided to state residents. Such data on abortion help, in the end, to serve as a measure of access to reproductive health.
Most states across the U.S have set restrictions on abortion rights. Among common state laws touches on the parental notification or consent requirements for minors, limitations on public funding, mandated counseling designed to discourage individuals from obtaining an abortion, required waiting periods before an abortion, and unnecessary and overly burdensome regulations on abortion facilities. Mississippi is among many states that have adopted restrictive and hostile laws to abortion rights with recent changes effected in September 2019. The affected laws could lead to an overturn of the Roe v. Wade decision thus making abortion illegal in Mississippi.
The Supreme Court Ruling: Roe v Wade
This case ruling in 1973 is the reference point that effectively legalized abortion in the United States. The court ruled that a woman’s right to abortion is implicit in her right to privacy, which is protected by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. Until the 19th Century, abortion was permissible before the second trimester. Drugs and medication to induce miscarriage were sold and advertised to women, though some proved to be fatal.
In the late 1850s, the newly established American Medical Association started a campaign to criminalize abortion in a bid to remove native doctors and homeopaths. This campaign took effect and eventually, the Catholic Church banned abortion in 1865. This move set the precedent for abortion being outlawed in most parts of the country.
Prior events leading up to the Roe v. Wade decision, included the women’s rights movement and issues around contraception in the 1960s. With the decision, the court divided the pregnancy into three parts. In the first trimester, the woman had a right to terminate the pregnancy. In the second trimester, in order to protect the woman’s health, the government could regulate abortion though they could not rule out the possibility to end the pregnancy. In the last trimester, the state could prohibit abortion to protect a fetus that could survive on its own outside the womb, except when a woman’s health was in danger.
Though the ruling still holds, many restrictive laws have been imposed in the past years thus crippling abortion rights. This has been fueled by what Ziad Munson calls “ the making of the abortion controversy.”
Politics of Abortion
In his book, Abortion Politics, Ziad Munson traces the history of abortion and the part played by different forces in its construct affecting the political, social, and economic spheres of Americans. Munson traces the social movements that have been at the forefront of the abortion debate: pro-choice and pro-life movements.
Pro-Life Movement and Religion
The National Right to Life Committee made up of Catholic Church Leaders and other secular leaders, steered a nationwide movement to oppose the legalization of abortion in 1967. After the Roe v. Wade decision, this was rebranded to the pro-life movement. This provided the cause with infrastructure, funding, and people power that has evolved since then.
“The U.S. Pro-Life Movement underscores the important way that religion’s impact on pro-life protest is not limited to being a source of motivational beliefs. The Catholic Church as a formal organization played a key role in facilitating the mobilization of the movement.” (Ziad Munson).
From the above, it is clear that the pro-life movement merges two distinct perspectives on abortion, the religious perspective, and the moral perspective. The church is against abortion under any circumstance. All life is sacred and abortion terminates life; therefore, this idea must be rejected. (Raquel Lopez, p. 513).
The unborn, as a matter of moral subject, has been debated by several scholars with the question of whether the unborn should be given full rights and moral status. Philosophical considerations by (Tooley, Wolf-Devine, Devine, & Jaggar, 2009) through a set of questions has also been used to debate about the morality of abortion.
The set of questions is around
- the moral value of the embryo
- ethical abortion, what is it, and is it permissible
- the process in which the abortion is to be handled from banning to the provision of abortion services provided.
From the above areas of concern raised, it becomes unethical to carry out abortion according to the pro-life movement, This is because the unborn is considered human and this entitles it to rights and moral values. Because the unborn cannot make the choice for him, it is the right of the state and society to speak on its behalf. Banning abortion at any stage is core to the movement.
“The core belief at the center of the pro-choice movement is that a woman’s life is of equal value to a man’s and the ability to make decisions regarding medical care is key to achieving equality.” (Ziad Munson, Abortion Politics).
The stand-by pro-choice movement raises many ethical, moral, and philosophical questions. An example would be that pro-choice supporters argue that the unborn is not intrinsically valuable because of a lack of ability to reason and self-awareness (Beckwith, 2007). Here it raises the question about mentally retarded adults, does the law allow termination of such persons, based on that argument?
Other perspectives of pro-choice focus on couples who do not want to have a child, considering the implications of an unwanted child. This is strengthened by the change in lifestyle where women who traditionally were seen as nurturers and caregivers now choose to focus on their careers and other hobbies instead of birthing. Future implications of unwanted children experienced by children include cases of depression, drug and alcohol abuse, self-mutilation, psychosis, and finally suicide. This brings the idea that nonsensical pregnancies should be terminated. This idea is supported by both pro-choice and pro-life. Such circumstances agreed upon include girls and women falling pregnant and having tested positive for drugs, and alcohol. These babies may be born with deformities and mental challenges.
The philosophical considerations for a pro-choice supporter answering the three areas of concern posed by (Tooley, Wolf-Devine, Devine, & Jaggar, 2009) above would lead to a philosophy that states that the fetus is not yet a person and does not have a moral value yet. This sets the pace for the ethical reasoning proposed as presented by (Boonin 2003).
For pro-choice supporters, abortion is ethical in particular circumstances including a situation where the father or mother does not want the child. This could spring from the fact that the couple has various reasons including social, emotional, and economic. Another circumstance is that the mother could be a drug or alcohol abuser and may not be fit to raise the unborn child. The pro-choice movement also advocates for abortion to be ethical in case one got pregnant through rape or there is a high chance of the mother dying when she gives birth. The fundamental value is that the mother should choose what she wants to do at any stage no matter the circumstance.
The Abortion Divide
Liberals are of the pro-choice ideology, propagating freedom to be exercised by the individual. Conservatives for the pro-life ideology believe freedom should be exercised by institutions such as churches and communities. In recent years, to say one is pro-life is a signal that one identifies with the Republican Party; to say one is pro-choice is to identify with the Democratic Party. (Ziad Munson). The public opinion of Americans favors abortion to be legal with restrictions. Not everything is black and white for the majority. Unfortunately, the pro-choice and pro-life movements increasingly have divergent views with no middle ground to be found. These make it difficult for people to differentiate movement beliefs, motivations, and activities from party beliefs, motivations, and activities.
The different beliefs about abortion have spanned to different worldviews around three key areas: gender, sexuality, and identity. These have further sprung to affect beliefs around these areas, which have been explained through feminist and Marxist approaches to map out responsibilities and freedoms to be enjoyed by a woman and man.
From the feminist point of view, the woman must be in control of her body and what she does with it. In the past, women’s bodies have been controlled to the extent of being owned and enslaved for sex by the men in society. The woman did not have rights over her reproduction and sexual health. With the feminist movement, reproduction and sexual health are in the control of the woman. She has a right to access information and services inclined to help her take control of decisions around this as she is her own person with rights.
The Marxist approach to abortion points to the need for society to evolve to such a place that raising a child is both the responsibility of the father and mother. This stems from the understanding by the Marxists that personality and human value are imparted by the external and economic environment. (Rosalind P. Petchesky, 1986).
National institutions have a major part to play in the discussions and influencing policies around abortion. The playfield consists of an independently powerful Supreme Court, strong private medical professionals, weak political party elites, and a decentralized political system where controversies can live on and issues can be raised repeatedly. (Drew Halfmann).
Current Abortion Laws in Mississippi
Abortion in Mississippi is legal as long as it is performed before 20 weeks of pregnancy. Like other states, restrictive laws on abortion rights have been increasing forcing many residents to move out of state to get the procedure done. There was a 13% increase in the abortion rate in Mississippi between 2014 and 2017, from 3.8 to 4.3 abortions per 1,000 women of reproductive age. Abortions in Mississippi represent 0.3% of all abortions in the United States (Jones RK, Witwer E and Jerman J, 2019).
Abortion laws in Mississippi fall under Mississippi Code, Title 41. The statutes highlight the medical procedures, women’s health protection, how to obtain abortion services, and the exceptions to abortion crimes.
Some of the restrictions on abortion effective 1st September 2019 include the following:
- The patient must receive counseling by the state designed to discourage the patient from having an abortion. The patient then has a 24-hour wait period before having the procedure.
- Public funding is available for abortion only in cases of life endangerment, rape, incest, or fetal impairment
- Prohibition of use of telemedicine to administer medication abortion.
- In case a public employee gets pregnant through rape and incest or faces a fetal anomaly, the abortion procedure will be covered by the insurance.
- The use of a safe, effective, and commonly used method of second-trimester abortion is prohibited. Abortions using dilation and evacuation are permitted only in cases of life endangerment or severely compromised physical health.
- The state requires abortion clinics to meet unnecessary and burdensome standards related to their physical plant, equipment, and staffing.
- Health plans offered in the state’s health exchange under the Affordable Care Act can only cover abortion in cases of life endangerment, or in cases of rape or incest.
- The parents of a minor must consent before an abortion is provided.
- In cases of life endangerment, severely compromised health, or there is a lethal fetal anomaly, abortion is permissible after 18 or more weeks. (Guttmacher Institute)
People’s Attitudes towards Abortion
As discussed earlier, the abortion debate seems to be pro-life vs pro-choice. Deeper research into the debate shows that people’s opinions are more complex than this and mostly deviate from either of the aforementioned ideologies. The dichotomy sprung right after the Roe v. Wade decision and this has been the viewpoint taken by researchers and public polls. The research conducted has always been around gender, race/ethnicity, political views, and religion.
In the case of gender, several research studies show that men and women differ in the matter of abortion with men being more pro-choice inclined than women (Craig and O’Brien,1993). Men tended to have more traditional and conservative views on abortion and as (Finlay 1996) found in his study, they would only allow abortion in what they considered crucial circumstances, rape and the woman’s life being in danger.
According to (Jelen and Wilcox, 2003), African Americans/ Blacks were more supportive of legal abortion compared to Whites in research done between 1989 and 1993. In the case of different races obtaining an abortion, Hispanics had a higher likelihood to undergo abortion compared to non-Hispanic white women but less likely than their African American counterparts (Henshaw & Kost, 1996). Political views and religion were covered earlier.
When people are given different scenarios, and circumstances, and asked whether they think a woman should have access to safe, legal abortion, the complexities emerge. According to a national survey by General Social Survey (GSS) on seven specific scenarios, 61.8% said that women could have an abortion under some circumstances and not others, 31% said they should have an abortion under all circumstances and 7.2% said, the women should not have an abortion under any of the circumstances (Smith and Son, 2012). The circumstances mentioned include a defect in the baby, marital status, a woman’s life at risk, socio-economic difficulties, and rape.
International Policies around Abortion
Abortion is considered a human right protected under several international and regional human rights treaties and national-level constitutions around the world. Restrictive abortion policies have been condemned repeatedly as it goes against the human right norms already agreed upon. The right to have a safe abortion is embedded in a myriad of rights including the right to life, right to liberty, right to privacy, freedom from inhumane treatment, equality, and non-discrimination.
The treaties and policies touch on many topics within abortion including legal grounds for abortion, gestation limitations, the right to information, medical abortions, and criminality. The abortion laws have been categorized as what is prohibited altogether, to save a woman’s life, to preserve health, on broad social or economic grounds, and on request.
With such a framework, the reproductive rights of a woman play a major role as societies deepen their understanding and role of politics and policies in their day-to-day lives. Legalizing abortion reveals the need for education and information on matters of sexuality. Thus participation of women and girls is key in its advocacy.
The rise in the abortion rate as seen in the U.S is an indirect indicator that women have gained power. An unwanted pregnancy no longer stops a woman from pursuing her education or career. Most of all, she has control of her sexuality and identity. Medical practitioners are also winners in this debate as they have a major influence on abortion decisions.
“The abortion debate is, and always has been, defined by the changing connections between the issue and other social and cultural divides in the American social fabric. It is in the end, a surprisingly empty vessel into which movements, politicians, and regular Americans have poured their anxieties and concerns.”(Ziad Munson).
More research should be done to identify perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors of people towards the abortion debate. The constructed dichotomous approach should break down to let other viewpoints be incorporated or allowed to spring up.
- Butler, Lindsey K. “Complexity of People’s Attitudes towards Abortion.” ScholarWorks@UKAR, 2015, pp. 1–35., https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/17cf/1369dea637f0853ccee730cf78a66c1ef461.pdf?_ga=2.11944049.494253355.1575171466-1280011807.1575171466.
- Drew Halfmann, Doctors and Demonstrators: How Political Institutions Shape Abortion Law in the United States. University of Chicago Press, 2011.
- Jones, Rachel, et al. Abortion Incidence and Service Availability in the US 2017. Sept. 2019, https://www.guttmacher.org/report/abortion-incidence-service-availability-us-2017.
- Lopez, Raquel. “Perspectives on Abortion: Pro-Choice, Pro-Life, and What Lies in between.” European Journal of Social Sciences, 2012, pp. 511–517., https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/bbdc/b17b6616460d58ecb0efab1e31da8507329a.pdf.
- Munson, Ziad W. Abortion Politics. Polity, 2018.
- Petchesky, Rosalind Pollack. Abortion and Woman's Choice: the State, Sexuality, and Reproductive Freedom. Verso, 1986.
- Tooley, Michael, et al. Abortion: Three Perspectives. 2009.