Essay title - Counseling Women Considering Abortion: An Interdisciplinary Analysis
Women who find themselves in an unplanned pregnancy should have access to information concerning options available to them and the consequences of each, so they can make a comprehensive assessment of the situation and therefore make a well-informed decision. This paper is intended to create a general understanding of such situations in order to aid individuals such as family, friends, coworkers, superiors, doctors etc. in advising women who are in these delicate situations. For a good general understanding of a multifaceted topic such as abortion, an interdisciplinary avenue of approach is called for, to navigate diplomatically, the mental mind-field of emotions and knowledge that is this very human issue (Repko, 2006). The knowledge needed to advise women considering abortion comes from an interdisciplinary understanding of biology, anatomy, physiology, psychology, religion, philosophy, sociology, anthropology, history and political science.
The primary reason for an interdisciplinary approach is that the decisions women make about what to do with an unplanned pregnancy will result in life-long consequences, both positive and or negative, depending on what they choose (Arlington Pregnancy Center, 2008). They should be aware that physically and psychologically the fetus is establishing a deep connection between mother and child through the influence of paternal genes being expressed in early fetal development (Ridley, 2000). Whatever she chooses, the mother will live with the consequences for the rest of her life.
Secondly, the woman’s decision affects the individual developing in this woman’s womb. There is controversy over the rights of this potential individual. Political activists under the banner of “pro-choice” argue that a woman has the right to choose over her own body (for boldface see appendix). Others under the banner of “pro-life” argue for the rights of the potential individual, the fetus. If one subscribes to either argument, the result is still the same in modern America: it is the woman’s choice what to do about this unplanned pregnancy.
Thirdly this decision affects the woman’s family and friends. This situation does not happen to a woman with no relationships in a vacuum. There is at least one other person who has a large genetic stake in the woman’s decision, the baby’s father. But the woman who is making the decision about whether to abort, usually has family and friends that care very much about her.
For these reasons and more it is beneficial for this new interdisciplinary understanding to be achieved so that more can benefit through positive consequences of such knowledge. The woman, the individual inside of her and those who love her will benefit from greater knowledge of the issue the woman faces and her options in what to do now that she has found herself with an unplanned pregnancy. This issue is very human.
This interdisciplinary story will examine the issue of abortion through the biology, psychology and political science against the backdrop of history. Biology is involved; it is the means by which the fetus develops anatomically and explains how physiological functions change for mother and fetus. Psychology deals with the minds and emotions of those involved. It delves deep into the psyche of woman. Political science lays down the legal options available, and it informs the parties involved of their liberties and restrictions. Those are disciplinary epistemologies (Repko, 2006).
Research will be collected from scholarly sources in relevant disciplines, mulled over, rearticulated in the authors’ own , and woven into an interdisciplinary understanding. This resulting understanding better equips persons to give sound counsel to women with unplanned pregnancies. This creation of better-equipped counselors (friends, family and others) is beneficial to women and society.
The Egyptian Ebers Papyrus is thought to be the first record of an induced abortion in human history (Potts, 2002). The Jewish Torah records that the Pharaoh decreed midwives were to kill all Jewish boys at birth in order to control the thriving Jewish population in Egypt. Plato in his Theaetetis mentions the Greek belief in a midwife’s right to induce abortion in the early stages of pregnancy (Depierri, 1968). Ancient Greeks believed the fetus to be plant-like until it breathed its first breath of air and therefore they had no moral objections to abortions, even those performed in the last trimester (Hornblower, 1996).
The second century C.E. Greek physician Soranus prescribed induced abortions for women with health complications or below a certain level of emotional maturity (Lefkowitz, 1992). Most Romans believed abortion to be acceptable, but among those who disagreed with the general consensus were Hippocrates of Cos, Caesar Augustus, and the Christians (Hopkins, 1965). There was no Roman law prohibiting abortion because they did not see the fetus as a separate individual from the mother, the Romans did however have laws that regulated abortion procedures (Hornblower, 1996). Roman women are believed to have sought abortions to control family size, maintain a certain physique, or to rid her body of the fruit of adultery (Hopkins, 1965).
During the Middle Ages the Roman Catholic Church gained power and began condemning induced abortions, but this did not mean an end to abortions all together. It merely meant an end to the blatantly open practice of inducing abortions (Hornblower,1996). This underground abortion community survived the Middle Ages, remained underground during the Renaissance, and began to grow bolder during the industrial revolution.
In the sixteenth century Protestants challenged the Church’s authority and argued that the Church needed to be reformed. The Bible was then translated into the common languages of the people, and those who knew how to read or knew someone who could read, where now able to understand what the Bible said, and not merely trust the Roman Catholic Church to interpret it. This created a more educated public with a greater sense of what is morally right, and wrong, which meant that there was less demand for abortions, especially since abortions of this time were extremely dangerous for both mother and child.
In the eighteenth century both Great Britain and the United States banned abortion after quickening, the point at which the fetus begins to move in the womb (Bracton 1968). Then in the nineteenth century there came many medical advances in surgery, anesthesia and sanitation. It was also during this era that the father of gynecology, Horatio Robinson Storer, and his colleagues at the American Medical Association, lobbied to educate women and law-makers about the evils that they saw in abortion (Dyer, 1999).
By the year 1900 most abortions in the United States had been outlawed. Early feminists such as Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Mary Wollstonecraft opposed abortion, arguing that it is important to protect women against dangerous procedures and medicines pushed on them by quack doctors (O’beirne, 2005). Many Christian groups throughout the United States opened up homes to care for “unwed mothers and homeless girls” which were designed to care for them during their pregnancy and either prepare them for life as a single mother or put the child up for adoption (Ragsdale, 2002).
In contrast to early feminists, modern feminists see abortion, not as a dangerous procedure but as a liberating choice that empowers them to choose what to do with their own bodies. In 1973 the Roe v Wade decision declared most state laws that prohibited abortion were unconstitutional, because they violated the inferred right to privacy found in the “due process” clause of the 14th amendment, and declared that abortions prior to the fetus’ becoming viable are legal. This initially meant that no abortion could be prohibited in the first trimester; second trimester abortions could merely be regulated; and third trimester abortions could be prohibited except in cases where the mother’s health is involved. Since Roe v Wade, debate has raged, laws have been passed, and other court decisions have been made. The trimester framework of Roe v Wade is no longer upheld but the mother’s health clause remains. Now, only in a limited way, are laws able to restrict what abortions are allowed and what procedures are permitted. In 2003 the Partial-birth Abortion Ban Act was passed and signed into Law by President Bush. This law was upheld by the Supreme Court in the case Gonzales v Carhart.
This sticky mess, (of legal complications, ethical dilemmas and emotional midfields) that the abortion issue has become must be navigated if one wishes to counsel a woman considering whether to abort or not. As described above, in the next section of this paper this author will first examine the biological view of the issue, then the psychological view, followed by the legal (political science) view, for later integration (Repko, 2006). The intention of this paper is to better educate the reader so that he or she may give better counsel to women in these difficult situations when called upon to do so.
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Pro-Choice: belief that abortion should be legal so that a woman has the choice over her own body
Pro-Life: belief that abortion should be illegal so that the fetus has a chance at life
Sola Christus: Christ alone
Sola Scriptura: Scripture alone
Sola Fide: Faith alone
Sola Gratia: Grace alone
Soli Deo Gloria: Glory to God alone
quickening: when a fetus begins to move inside the womb
viable: the point at which the baby can potentially live outside the womb, usually about 7 months (26 weeks), or as little as 24 weeks