Social Problems: Hormones, Abortion, and the Supreme CourtOne current social issue that has been heavily debated is abortion and the potential overturning of Roe v. Wade. The issue of abortion is often discussed as if it exists in a vacuum when in reality, it is a component of two other important issues: birth control, sanctity of life, and the freedom to choose. It is also important to understand the Constitutional role of the Supreme Court and how that role has evolved over time.
The debate over abortion is a very personal one for me. As a mother and a person living with infertility, I find the choice to have an abortion unfathomable. I have been pregnant 11 times and seen four of my children survive. I was medically advised to abort the first two of my pregnancies but refused. It was a recommended course of treatment after being treated for possible cervical cancer; the second time was because my son had a congenital disability that was visible in utero.
I have publicly spoken out against hormonal birth control and abortion. I have taught and spoken at Sanctity of Life meetings and gatherings. I support the right to life and am very vocally adamant about it.Before looking at the consequences the Roe v. Wade ruling has had on America, it is essential to step back and first look at how the role of hormones in the reproductive process became better understood. It was only through the knowledge of hormones that the concept of controlling them became possible. Second, America’s views regarding the sanctity of life have changed and third, the belief that some life is better eliminated than others. Fourth, we must also discuss how the role of the Supreme Court evolved from one of interpretation of the Constitution to one of legislation without Congress. Without first understanding that the role of hormones in the reproductive process was unknown until the 20th century, one cannot understand the invention of birth control and its impact on changing the viewpoint that all life is sacred and deserves protection. Birth control, and subsequently abortions, was developed as an acceptable way of controlling undesirable populations, namely the physically and mentally disabled. Finally, abortion activists would never have successfully petitioned the Supreme Court had the role of the Supreme Court not evolved as it had. If the Supreme Court had rejected the case, as it should have done, the matter would have been brought to Congress, and Federal legislation would have Constitutionally addressed the question.The Role of Hormones in ReproductionThe word hormone was first used by Professor Ernest Starling in June 1905 (Tata, 2005). When hormones were first introduced, little was understood about them other than that they were chemical messengers within the body (Tata, 2005). It wasn’t until the 1930s that the reproductive hormones were identified: estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone; yet, their exact purpose was still being researched (Tata, 2005). By the 1950’s, enough information was scientifically understood about hormones’ roles in reproduction that made it possible for Gregory Pincus to formulate oral contraceptives ” at the urging of Margaret Sanger and with the financial support of Katherine McCormick (Latson, 2016; Nikolchev, 2010; Tata, 2005).When it comes to the truth of abortion, the first question that must be asked is when does life start? According to the American College of Pediatrics, life starts at conception ” when the sperm fertilizes the egg (Miranda & June, 2017). This is extremely important when considering the issue of abortion and, subsequently, hormonal birth control, because they are technically one and the same. What a lot of women do not realize is that it takes three to five days for the zygote, the fertilized egg, to move into the uterus where it will attach itself (Brown & Carter). A woman does not start generating HCG, the hormone that is secreted upon implantation and that pregnancy tests can measure, for up to a week or more (Brown & Carter). This means that a woman can be technically pregnant ” according to the American College of Pediatrics – because life has started, but not know it because her body has not yet generated the hormone and related symptoms. Hormonal birth control methods, such as the pill, implants, and stickers do not prevent conception. Instead, they attempt to prevent ovulation, and attempt to make the female body hostile to the sperm necessary for fertilization and to the zygote, should fertilization happen. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hormonal birth control methods fail nine percent of the time (2017). But according to the Guttmacher Institute, the failure rate may be much higher as 45 percent of U.S. pregnancies were unintentional, and over 80 percent of women use some sort of hormonal birth control (Sundaram, Vaughan, Kost, Bankole, Finer, and Singh, 2017). Yet you only learn this if you read the documentation or research the topic because this is not the type of information that is freely shared by medical professionals. I believe that the failure rate is most likely much higher but goes uncounted because women do not understand how the hormones affect their bodies. In other words, a woman could conceive while on birth control, but then have her body become so hostile that the fertilized egg fails to properly implant and thus is aborted in what is medically coined a spontaneous abortion. Whether abortion is either medically or pharmaceutically induced, it should still be based on the science of when life starts and our protection of that right, as decreed in the United States Declaration of Independence (1776), which states: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. Changing Perspective on the Sanctity of LifeAmerica was initially founded by Puritan settlers, for whom the Scriptural mandate of go forth, be fruitful and multiply was interpreted as a command from God (KJV, 1611). Children were viewed as a blessing, help in the primarily agrarian society, with very low odds of survival and succession of the family line. Throughout the ages of the Revolutionary War and through the Indian and Civil Wars, the role of women as child-bearing mothers was generally accepted. Theologically, the use of contraceptives was opposed by the Vatican, officially in 1967; an opposition that continues to this day, although it is currently under review by a special commission (Hoffman, 2018). One should note, however, that while the official position on birth control was stated in 1967, the belief that abortion was and is wrong goes back to a much earlier time. According to Cassidy (1995), there is proof of Christian rejection of abortion in the Didache, which is from the second century or even earlier, which states, You shall not kill the fetus by abortion or destroy the infant already born (p. 358).So, what does the term sanctity of life really encompass? According to Ron Paul, it is the establishment of the rights of personhood for all human life beginning from conception (Baranzke, 2012). In a sermon given in 1951, pastor John Sutherland Bonnell stated, Christianity has never ceased to emphasize the sanctity of human life and the value of the individual, even the humblest and lowliest, including the afflicted in mind and body (Baranzke, 2012). Most recently, legislative debates have focused less on women’s rights or the rights of the fetus to encompass the nomenclature of personhood. In an amendment in Mississippi, the term person or persons will include every human being from the moment of fertilization (Lepore, 2011). It was the political manipulation of which life was being saved that made oral contraceptives and subsequently abortions, acceptable.Margaret Sanger is credited with making oral contraceptives available to the public and for the terminology, birth control (Latson, 2016). Her mission was to empower women to make their own reproductive choices (Latson, 2016). Her efforts were focused in the minority areas of the country because she believed that poverty and limited access to health care made women vulnerable to unplanned pregnancies and that enforced motherhood denied women their right to life and liberty (Latson, 2016). Yet, she also believed in eugenics, and that it was important to consider how to limit and discourage the over-fertility of the mentally and physically defective (Latson, 2016). Interestingly, while she is linked to abortion and the founding of the predecessor to Planned Parenthood, her first flyer was anti-abortion, stating, Do not kill, do not take a life, but prevent (Lepore, 2011). While Sanger was no longer involved with the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the organization she founded began to consider abortions starting in 1955, by Mary Steichen Calderone, its medical director (Lepore, 2011). By the 1960s, the abortion movement was in full swing, driven in part by The Feminine Mystique (Friedan, 1963). Friedan is quoted as saying, There is no freedom, no equality, no full human dignity and personhood possible for women until we assert and demand the control over our own bodies, over our own reproductive process (Lepore, 201). Legally, the protection of all life was shifting. When Sanger was first arrested for opening her first clinic, the Judge ruled, that no woman had the right to copulate with a feeling of security that there will be no resulting conception (Lepore, 2011). Discussions with Congress made it clear that the role of women was still perceived to be as a mother, and that it was a serious undertaking. Birth control was accused of eroding the foundation of American civilization and that women should have many children. But the political and legal landscape was beginning to change, setting the course for Roe v. Wade.The Changing Role of the Supreme CourtIn 1837 the Federal Comstock Law was passed, which prohibited the mailing of contraceptives, which were, in essence, French-manufactured condoms, from being processed through the United States Postal Service (Prescott, 2016). Many states had already passed laws that banned the sale or distribution of contraceptives, but only one state made it a criminal act to be in possession of contraceptives ” Connecticut (Prescott, 2016). The use of oral contraceptives, however, did not become a part of the legal landscape until mid- to late-1950s. The first human trials on 50 women from Massachusetts was deemed a success; however, large-scale clinical trials were not possible in the United States due to the various anti-birth control laws in place (Nikolchev, 2010). By 1957, oral contraceptives had been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) but under extremely tight terms: they were only legally able to be prescribed to women suffering from medically diagnosed menstrual disorders. By the 1960’s, the FDA had approved it for use as a contraceptive, but it was still illegal in eight states (Nikolchev, 2010). While the Supreme Court eventually overruled a case that was initiated in Connecticut, it did so only for married couples; unmarried men and women were still unable to purchase or receive contraceptives (Prescott, 2016). At the same time, the abortion debate was about to take over the country. President Nixon, in 1971, spoke of his personal belief in the sanctity of human life”including the life of the yet unborn (Lepore, 2011). It was not until 1972 that the same rights of privacy afforded to married couples were extended to those that were not married (Prescott, 2016). And Roe v. Wade was decided, legalizing abortion on demand, in January 1973.What was the argument that was so persuasive that it provided legal protection for the use of contraceptives and was extended to cover abortions? It came down to an alleged protected right to privacy ” a right to privacy that extended the initial rights long-held between a patient and his or her physician (Mansnerus, 1989; Steinem, 1998). In general, the Roe v. Wade decision was based on the Constitution’s concept of personal liberty found in the 14th Amendment, which forbids a state from depriving any person of life, liberty or property without due process of law, (Mansnerus, 1989). This right of privacy, Justice Harry A. Blackmun wrote, is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy (Mansnerus, 1989). Mansnerus (1989) presents some good arguments for why there are some flaws in the Court’s decision. For example, there is no fundamental right to abortion. There is no support for a fundamental right to abortion in the text of the Constitution or from history (Mansnerus, 1989). Roe v. Wade is based on uniquely controversial moral judgments that the Constitution does not make (Mansnerus, 1989). The Challenges of the Abortion DiscussionMany disagree with the way the current landscape is positioned legally, morally, and socially as it pertains to abortion, and this makes the topic more challenging than most to discuss. There are objections to policies that include parental notification laws, mandatory waiting periods, or counseling services (Ely & Dulmus, 2010). The issues grow and become a tangled mess of various rights being questioned because no one item is entirely singular. The rights of parents to make medical decisions on behalf of their minor children are juxtaposed with the rights of the unborn child and most recently, the laws of HIPAA. Waiting periods are considered limitations for what is a life-altering decision, which many come to regret. And what is wrong with providing counseling, especially considering that there is now a new medical diagnosis known as Post Abortion Syndrome?Further compounding the issue is the lack of historical insight or even understanding of the Government process and the checks and balances put in place in the Constitution. One common argument is that limiting access to abortion violates the principles of the separation of church and state (Ely & Dulmus, 2010, p. 659). This is a problem that is identical to the issue with the Roe v. Wade decision ” it is not in the Constitution! The phrase separation of church and state is not in any of the founding documents but is from a personal letter written to the Danbury Baptist Association of Connecticut in 1801 by Thomas Jefferson (Lankford & Moore, 2018). Second, the American Government was developed with a series of checks and balances. One of those checks is the Supreme Court, who is tasked with determining the Constitutionality of the laws passed by the legislative branch of Government, namely Congress. The original intent was that the Constitution be the measuring stick upon which all statutes were gauged; but, now the debate is over whether the Supreme Court can make laws by applying a more liberal, interpretive approach to the Constitution or whether the Constitution must be understood as it was originally written (Segall, 2016). This is the crux of the debate about Roe v. Wade and the 14th Amendment. A Conflict Between the ClassesAccording to Tischler, (2013), the conflict theory is defined as The groups who own or control the means of production within a society obtain the power to shape or maintain aspects of society that favor their interests. They are determined to maintain their advantage, (p. 8-4b). The conflict becomes one between genders (male vs. female) as well as income (middle class and higher vs. poverty-stricken), and race (Caucasian vs. Hispanic or African-American). Ely and Dulmus (2010) claim that abortions should be legal for all women and that anything less is discriminatory. If that is the case, then why is the CDC reporting that the rate of abortions among black and Hispanic women is significantly higher than any other demographic (Pazol, Creanga, Burley, & Jamieson, 2011)? Why is the Guttmacher Institute reporting that women living below the poverty level are five times more likely to have an abortion? Did you know that women that have chosen abortion are three times more likely to commit suicide and 81 percent more likely to suffer from a mental illness (HRF, 2015)? The statistics are even worse if the woman was a teenager (HRF, 2015). And then there is the one group of society that no one speaks about ” the fathers. Since 1973, over 50 million fathers have lost the right to raise a child due to abortion (Williams, 2016). Who speaks for them?