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Political, ethical, religious, medical and legal almost every branch of human endeavor is impelled to respond. The derivation of the word abortion is from a language root that dignifies the disappearance of sun and moon, primitive symbols of life on earth. It would be a mistake to underestimate the depth of the emotions involved in the controversy around it, or to override one side or the other with the rhetoric of advocacy. One extreme hides the gas chambers efficiently disposing of cripples and Jews. The other masks the self-righteous denial of a health service to those who desire it. Factual information which can shed light on public policy is rare.
In the United States, abortion laws began to appear in the 1820s, forbidding abortion after the fourth month of pregnancy. Through the efforts primarily of physicians, the American Medical Association, and legislators, most abortions in the US had been outlawed by 1900.Illegal abortions were still frequent, though they became less frequent during the reign of the Comstock Law which essentially banned birth control information and devices.
Some early feminists, like Susan B. Anthony, wrote against abortion. They opposed abortion which at the time was an unsafe medical procedure for women, endangering their health and life. These feminists believed that only the achievement of women's equality and freedom would end the need for abortion. Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote in The Revolution, "But where shall it be found, at least begin, if not in the complete enfranchisement and elevation of woman?" They wrote that prevention was more important than punishment, and blamed circumstances, laws and the men they believed drove women to abortions. Matilda Joslyn Gage wrote in 1868, "I hesitate not to assert that most of this crime of child murder, abortion, infanticide, lies at the door of the male sex... Later feminists defended safe and effective birth control, when that became available as another way to prevent abortion. Most of today's abortion rights organizations also state that safe and effective birth control, adequate sex education, available health care, and the ability to support children adequately are essentials to preventing the need for many abortions.
By 1965, all fifty states banned abortion, with some exceptions which varied by state: to save the life of the mother, in cases of rape or incest, or if the fetus was deformed. Groups like the National Abortion Rights Action League and the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion worked to liberalize anti-abortion laws.
Today there are many national prolife organizations which vary in their goals and strategies. The latest major conflict over abortion laws has been over termination of late pregnancies, termed "partial birth abortions" by those who oppose them. Pro-choice advocates do not maintain that, such abortions are to save the life or health of the mother or terminate pregnancies where the fetus cannot survive birth nor...