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What is the question?: There are really two, different, very active abortion questions: What is the best (or least awful) option? If a woman finds herself pregnant, and does not want to be, what is the best (or least worst) solution for her, the potential newborn that she is carrying, and all the other people involved -- including her boyfriend or husband and their families?

1) To take no action, have the baby and raise it herself (hopefully with support from others).

2) To take no action, give birth, and give the baby up for adoption.

3) To have an abortion and terminate the pregnancy.

Should the state overrule the woman's or couple's decision? If a woman finds herself pregnant, discusses her options with her physician, perhaps her spiritual counselor, and the other people involved, and decides to have an abortion, should the state override her decision and prevent her from proceeding? That is, should the state have a policy of enforced parenthood for all or most pregnant women?

The first decision is a personal one, between the woman, her physician and/or counselor. The second decision has been answered by the U.S. Supreme Court: since 1973 she has the right to obtain an early abortion. It is in this second area where there is a great deal of political activity, at least in the U.S.

How often: In the United States, women choose to end about 25% of their pregnancies through abortion. 1 This number has been gradually declining since 1979. This is similar to the Canadian figure of 21%, 2 but is much lower than that of the former Soviet Union (60%) and Romania (78%) where contraceptives remain in short supply. 3

Opposing beliefs: A consensus exists among both pro-lifers and pro-choicers that when human personhood starts, the person must be protected. Many religions, organizations and individuals have passionately held conflicting beliefs about when this happens. This naturally leads to opposing beliefs about when and under what conditions the state should intrude and deny a woman access to abortion.

In spite of what the media might say, this struggle cannot be reduced to a simple pro-choice vs. pro-life conflict. There are people within each "side" who take many slightly different positions. To most pro-lifers, human personhood begins at the instant of conception. Thus, they view each abortion as a form of murder. They note that at conception, a human life with its own unique DNA comes into being. The platform of the Constitution Party expresses this clearly. It " the only national political party that advocates a 100%, no-exceptions pro-life position in its platform. The Constitution Party platform states, 'The pre-born child, whose life begins at fertilization, is a human being created in God's image. The first duty of the law is to prevent the shedding of innocent blood. It is, therefore, the duty of all civil governments to secure and to safeguard the lives of the pre-born'." 8,9 Pro-lifers generally view an abortion clinic as a place where babies are murdered. Some pro-life groups and individuals have considered abortion clinics the ethical equivalent of a Nazi death camp. They feel that all elective abortions should be prohibited; other pro-lifers feel that all abortions -- no matter what the justification -- should be criminalized, even if they are needed to save the life of the pregnant woman or to prevent permanent disability.

To pro-choicers, human personhood begins later in gestation or at birth. They note that a pre-embryo -- a just-fertilized ovum -- consists of just a grouping of undifferentiated cells. The pre-embryo has no human shape, skin, brain, or other organs; it cannot sense the environment; it has no consciousness. Carl Sagan wrote an essay supporting this position. 4 Pro-choicers view abortion at any time before personhood as a decision that should be left up to an informed woman, possibly with the assistance of her physician, spiritual advisor and/or friends and family. The hold different beliefs about when personhood is achieved. They view abortion clinics as providing a necessary service. If abortions were criminalized, as they were in some states in the early 1970s, then women who wanted to terminate their pregnancies would be forced to give birth against their will. Others would seek an unsafe, illegal, back-alley abortion, or go to another state or country for a legal abortion.

The objectives of both groups are the same: to reduce the number of abortions, and to make any needed abortions safe. However, they have very different methods of achieving their goals, and they have divergent beliefs about the conditions



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