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Jack Sisson's Life Ethics Blog

We must find new ways through many ethical issues, especially regarding bioethics, medical ethics, and criminal justice. Jack Sisson's 'Life Ethics' blog focuses on numerous areas of concern, including the philosophical and ethical dilemmas surrounding stem-cell research, abortion, medical research, and health care.

Let me state clearly right up front -- I do not like abortions. I wish desperately that they were never needed (or wanted). I wish every single pregnant woman in the world planned and conceived her baby with love, wanted it desperately, and was old enough, physically healthy enough, mentally competent enough, and financially solvent enough to give birth to and raise a healthy, happy child.

Okay, that's the fantasy. Trouble is, we live in a real world, with real problems, where nothing's easy, much is complicated and, as Gilda Radner used to say, "It's always something." Yes, it is. And often that something is an unwanted pregnancy that a woman feels she just cannot, for any of a multitude of reasons, continue. So she chooses to have an abortion. Not an easy choice for most women. But it's a choice that only they should be able to make. Take away that choice and you force women into a) breeding for the state, or b)having illegal and possibly unsafe abortions that may cost them their lives.

Women have had (or have induced) abortions for centuries. From The Hope Clinic for Women, Ltd.:
2600 BC –First recorded recipe for an abortion producing drug.
1850 BC –Egyptians record recipe for contraceptive pessaries, one made from crocodile dung.
4th Century AD –St.Augustine lays down Catholic dogma sanctioning abortion up to 80 days for female fetus and up to 40 days for male fetus.
13th Century AD -St.Thomas Aquinas states Catholic dogma justifying sexual intercourse only for procreation.
1564 AD -Italian anatomist, Fallopius, discoverer of Fallopian tubes, publicizes condoms as anti-venereal disease devices.
1588 – Pope Sixtus forbids all abortions. [I plan to return to the Catholic Church's varying positions on abortion in a future post.]
1591 – Pope Gregory XIV rescinds Pope Sixtus’ edict against abortion.
1803 – Great Britain makes abortion a misdemeanor.
1821 – Connecticut outlaws abortion after quickening, early abortions are legal.
1860’s – All states pass comprehensive, criminal abortion laws. Most remain until 1973.
Some of the methods reportedly used include:
* physical exertion designed to bring about a miscarriage
* abdominal massage
* receiving blows to the abdominal area
* attempted removal of the fetus with a coat-hanger or similar device inserted into the uterus through the vagina
* attempted piercing of the fetus with a knitting needle or similar device inserted into the uterus through the vagina
* ingesting abortifacients, high quantities of vitamin C, or other substances believed to induce miscarriage.
* douching with substances believed to induce miscarriage (beginning in the 1960s, many women used Coca Cola for this purpose, although its utility is at least dubious)
It should be obvious that "many of the above named methods present significant dangers to the life or health of the woman."

So, long before Roe vs Wade, women had abortions. They found sympathetic doctors, they found unscrupulous doctors, they found criminals pretending to be doctors. Through word of mouth (a friend of a friend) they heard about this doctor or that method. In the early 1940s, my aunt was one of those women.

Unlike many who sought illegal abortions at that time, my aunt was married. She was just 21 , beautiful in the old family photos, and the favorite of her five siblings. She was also married to a man who hit her, often. After much anguish and many secret conversations with one of her sisters, she decided that she couldn't safely bring a child into such a volitile situation. (Like many women married to abusive men, she still loved her handsome husband and believed he could change.)

Her sister loaned her some money and took her to the appointment with one of those "doctors," who, like drug dealers, could always be found by people who needed them. He performed the procedure and sent them on their way. Later that night, it became obvious that something was wrong, but my aunt was too scared to tell anyone what she'd done and wouldn't let her sister seek help. She bled through the night. In the morning her sister, by then quite fearful, ignored her pleas and phoned for an ambulance. She died on her way to the hospital, several years before I was born. While I was growing up, I was told I looked just like her. I was also told she'd died of a throat infection.

Just one little story out of the hundreds, the thousands, that illustrate what women endured in this country before Roe vs Wade. I do not like abortions. But I will always defend a woman's right to make decisions regarding her own body. To me, it's not only a question of keeping the government's hands off women's bodies, it's also a question of prioritizing actual life over potential life. And that brings us full circle to this blog's original question: when does human life begin?

Tomorrow: Roe vs Wade and the War on Crime.

I'm still back and forth with the beginning of human life issue. But you get a "HI 5" from me for "One Way or Another!
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