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Albert Wynn and Gloria Feldt on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court to rally for abortion rights on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade

Pro-choice describes the political and ethical view that a woman should have control over her babies life and the choice to continue or terminate a pregnancy. This entails the guarantee of reproductive rights, which includes access to sexual education; access to safe and legal abortion, contraception, and fertility treatments; and legal protection from forced abortion. Individuals and organizations who support these positions make up the pro-choice movement.

On the issue of abortion, pro-choice campaigners are opposed by pro-life campaigners who generally argue in terms of fetal rights rather than reproductive rights.



Pro-choice advocates argue whether or not to continue with a pregnancy is an inviolable personal choice, as it involves a woman's body, personal health, and future. They believe that both parents' and children's lives are better when abortions are legal, thus preventing women from going to desperate lengths to obtain illegal abortions. More broadly, pro-choice advocates frame their beliefs in terms of individual liberty, reproductive freedom, and reproductive rights. The first of these terms was widely used to describe many of the political movements of the 19th and 20th centuries (such as in the abolition of slavery in Europe and the United States, and in the spread of popular democracy) whereas the latter terms derive from changing perspectives on sexual freedom and bodily integrity.

Pro-choice individuals often do not consider themselves "pro-abortion" because they consider abortion an issue of bodily autonomy, and find forced abortion to be as legally indefensible as the outlawing of abortion. Indeed, some who are pro-choice consider themselves opposed to some or all abortions on a moral basis, but believe that abortion bans imperil women's health. Others have a practical acceptance of abortion, arguing that abortions would happen in any case but that legal abortion under medically controlled conditions is preferable to illegal back-alley abortion without proper medical supervision.

Some who argue from a philosophical viewpoint believe that an embryo has no rights as it is only a potential and not an actual person and that it should not have rights that override those of the pregnant woman until it is viable.[1]

Pro-choice supporters frequently oppose legislative measures that would require abortion providers to make certain statements (some of which are factually disputed) to patients, because they argue that these measures are intended to make obtaining abortions more difficult. These measures fall under the rubric of abortion-specific "informed consent" or "right to know" laws.[2]

Many pro-choice campaigners also argue that anti-abortion policies would deny women access to comprehensive sex education and contraception, thus increasing, not decreasing, demand for abortion.[3] Proponents of this argument point to cases of areas with limited sex education and contraceptive access that have high abortion rates, either legal, illegal or de facto exported (i.e., where a high proportion of abortions from a state occur outside that state in another country with a more liberal abortion regime). Irish women who visit the United Kingdom for abortions are one example, as were the Belgian women who travelled to France (before Belgium legalized abortion).

Some people who are pro-choice see abortion as a last resort and focus on a number of situations where they feel abortion is a necessary option. Among these situations are those where the woman was raped, her health or life (or that of the fetus) is at risk, contraception was used but failed, or she feels unable to raise a child. Some pro-choice moderates, who would otherwise be willing to accept certain restrictions on abortion, feel that political pragmatism compels them to oppose any such restrictions, as they could be used to form a slippery slope against all abortions.[4]

Pro-choice campaigns worldwide

International status of abortion law      Legal on request (In China, some abortions are mandated.)      Legal for rape, maternal life, health, mental health, socioeconomic factors, and/or fetal defects      Legal for or illegal with exception for rape, maternal life, health, fetal defects, and/or mental health      Illegal with exception for rape, maternal life, health, and/or mental health      Illegal with exception for maternal life, health, and/or mental health      Illegal with no exceptions      Varies by region      No information

The issue of abortion remains one of the most divisive in public life, with most political parties in democracies divided on the issue, and continuing battles to liberalise or restrict access to legal abortion. Pro-choice groups are active in all states, campaigning for legal abortion with varying degrees of success. Few states allow abortion without limitation or regulation, but most do allow various limited forms of abortion. Pro-choice campaigners themselves are frequently divided as to the types of abortion that should be available and to what extent access is to be restricted.


South Africa allows abortion under its Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act of 1996. Most African nations, however, have abortion bans except in cases where the woman's life or health is at risk. A number of pro-choice international organizations have made altering abortion laws and expanding family planning services in sub-Saharan Africa and the developing world a top priority.[5]


Most European countries have legalized abortion (in at least some cases) through certain laws (United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Netherlands, Poland, etc.). Russia, which has one of the highest rates of abortion in the world, legalized the procedure in 1955.[6]

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, the Abortion Act 1967 legalized abortion, except in Northern Ireland. In Great Britain, the law states that pregnancy may be terminated up to 24 weeks[7] if it:

  1. puts the life of the pregnant woman at risk
  2. poses a risk to the mental and physical health of the pregnant woman
  3. poses a risk to the mental and physical health of the fetus
  4. shows there is evidence of extreme fetal abnormality i.e. the child would be seriously physically or mentally handicapped after birth and during life.

However, the criteria of risk to mental and physical health is applied liberally,[citation needed] and de facto makes abortion available on demand, though this still requires the consent of two NHS doctors. Abortions in Great Britain are provided for free by the National Health Service.Official text of the statute as amended and in force today within the United Kingdom, from the UK Statute Law Database

The Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats are predominantly pro-choice parties, though with significant minorities in each either holding extremely restrictive definitions of the right to choose, or subscribing to a pro-life analysis. The Conservative Party is more evenly split between both camps and its leader, David Cameron, supports abortion on demand in the early stages of pregnancy.[8]


Abortion is illegal in the Republic of Ireland except when the woman is threatened by a medical condition or a suicide risk, since a 1983 referendum amended the constitution. Subsequent amendments - the thirteenth and fourteenth - guaranteed the right to travel abroad (for abortions) and to distribute and obtain information of "services" not available in the country, such as abortion, which are lawful in other countries. A proposal to remove suicide risk as a ground for abortion was struck down in a 2002 referendum. Thousands of women get around the ban by privately traveling to the other European countries (typically Britain and the Netherlands) to undergo terminations.[9]

The Labour Party, Sinn Féin, Communist Party and Socialist Party are in favor of liberalizing the laws. For many other parties (such as the Green Party), it is a 'matter of conscience' and they have no official line on the issue.[10]

Abortion is also illegal in Northern Ireland, except in cases when the woman is threatened by a medical condition, physical or mental.

North America

United States

Pro-choice activists before the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C., at the March for Women's Lives in 2004

Prior to 1973, abortion was not subject to United States constitutional law, but was purely a matter for the individual states, all of which chose to apply some level of restrictions. The first legal restrictions on abortion appeared in the 1820s, forbidding abortion after the fourth month of pregnancy. By 1900, legislators at the urgings of the American Medical Association had enacted anti-abortion laws in most U.S. states.[11] In its landmark 1973 case, Roe v. Wade where a woman challenged the Texas laws criminalizing abortion, the U.S. Supreme Court reached two important conclusions:

  • That abortion law was a federal constitutional law issue, not a state one, and was therefore subject to the Constitution of the United States and federal law;[12]
  • That the procurement of an abortion was a constitutional right during the first and second trimesters of a pregnancy based on the constitutional right to privacy, but that the state's interest in protecting "potential life" prevailed in the third trimester unless the woman's health was at risk. In subsequent rulings, the Court rejected the trimester framework altogether in favor of a cutoff at the point of fetal viability (Cf. Planned Parenthood v. Casey).

Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice America, National Organization for Women, and the American Civil Liberties Union are the leading pro-choice advocacy and lobbying groups in the United States. Most major feminist organizations also support pro-choice positions.

In the United States, the Democratic Party's platform endorses the pro-choice position, stating that abortion should be "safe, legal, and rare".[13] Not all Democrats agree with the platform, however, and there is a small pro-life faction within the party, expressed in such groups as Democrats for Life of America.[14] Although the 2004 Republican platform is pro-life, advocating a Human Life Amendment to the constitution banning abortion,[15] there are several nationally prominent Republicans who identify themselves as pro-choice, including former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former New York Governor George Pataki, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and late former President Gerald Ford.

Term controversy

Both "pro-choice" and "pro-life" are examples of political framing: they are terms which purposely try to define their philosophies in the best possible light, while by definition attempting to describe their opposition in the worst possible light ("Pro-choice" implies the alternative viewpoint is "anti-choice", while "pro-life" implies the alternative viewpoint is "pro-death" or "anti-life"). Similarly each side's use of the term "rights" ("reproductive rights", "right to life of every unborn child") implies a validity in their stance, given that the presumption in language is that rights are inherently a good thing and so implies an invalidity in the viewpoint of their opponents. (In liberal democracies, a right is seen as something the state and civil society must defend, whether human rights, victims' rights, children's rights, etc. Many states use the word rights in fundamental laws and constitutions to define basic civil principles; both the United Kingdom and the United States possess a Bill of Rights.) Other examples of political framing frequently employed in this context are: "unborn baby", "unborn child", and "pre-born child".[16][17]

The Associated Press and Reuters encourage journalists to use the terms "abortion rights" and "anti-abortion", which they see as neutral.[18]

See also


  1. ^ [1] Bioethics: a nursing perspective
  2. ^ "Access to Abortion: Mandatory Delay and Biased Information Requirements". Center for Reproductive Rights. July 2003. Retrieved 2006-07-07. 
  3. ^ Cosgrove, Terry. "So-Called Pro-Lifers Should Stop Promoting Abortion" The Huffington Post October 24, 2007. Retrieved January 22, 2008.
  4. ^ Zandt, Deanna (2005-11-03). "Husband notification laws and Alito". AlterNet. Retrieved 2006-07-07. 
  5. ^ Planned Parenthood, Center for Reproductive Rights, and Population Resource Center
  6. ^ Greenall, Robert (2003-09-16). "Russia turns spotlight on abortion". BBC News Online. BBC News. Retrieved 2006-07-07. 
  7. ^ BBC NEWS | Politics | MPs reject cut in abortion limit.
  8. ^ David Cameron supports abortion on demand, Catholic Herald, 20 June 2008.
  9. ^ BBC News - Irish teen wins abortion battle
  10. ^ Choice Ireland - Irish political parties: Where do they stand?
  11. ^ Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Abortion History: A History of Abortion in the United States". Women's History section of Retrieved 2006-07-07. 
  12. ^ "Overview". Abortion Law Homepage. Retrieved 2006-07-07. 
  13. ^ "The 2004 Democratic National Platform for America". United States Democratic Party. 2004-07-24. Retrieved 2007-02-12. 
  14. ^ Fineman, Howard; Evan Thomas (2006-03-20). "The GOP's Abortion Anxiety". Newsweek Politics. MSNBC. Retrieved 2006-07-07. 
  15. ^ "2004 Republican Party Platform: on Abortion". United States Republican Party. 2004. Retrieved 2007-02-12. 
  16. ^ Chamberlain, Pam and Jean Hardisty. (2007) "The Importance of the Political 'Framing' of Abortion" or "infanticide". The Public Eye Magazine Vol. 14, No. 1. Retrieved January 18, 2008.
  17. ^ "The Roberts Court Takes on Abortion". New York Times. November 5, 2006. Retrieved January 18, 2008.
  18. ^ Goldstein, Norm, ed. The Associated Press Stylebook. Philadelphia: Basic Books, 2007.

Sources & additional reading


  • Ninia Baehr, Abortion without Apology: A Radical History for the 1990s South End Press, 1990.
  • Ruth Colker, Abortion & Dialogue: Pro-Choice, Pro-Life, and American Law Indiana University Press, 1992.
  • Donald T. Critchlow, The Politics of Abortion and Birth Control in Historical Perspective University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996.
  • Myra Marx Ferree et al., Shaping Abortion Discourse: Democracy and the Public Sphere in Germany and the United States Cambridge University Press, 2002.
  • Marlene Gerber Fried, From Abortion to Reproductive Freedom: Transforming a Movement South End Press, 1990.
  • Beverly Wildung Harrison, Our Right to Choose: Toward a New Ethic of Abortion Beacon Press, 1983.
  • Suzanne Staggenborg, The Pro-Choice Movement: Organization and Activism in the Abortion Conflict, Oxford University Press, 1994.
  • Raymond Tatalovich' The Politics of Abortion in the United States and Canada: A Comparative Study M.E. Sharpe, 1997.

Articles & Journals

  • Mary S. Alexander, "Defining the Abortion Debate" in ETC.: A Review of General Semantics, Vol. 50, 1993.
  • Appel, Jacob M. "The Paradox of Anti-Abortion Violence", May 31, 2009.
  • David R. Carlin Jr., "Going, Going, Gone: The Diminution of the Self" in Commonweal Vol.120. 1993.
  • Vijayan K. Pillai, Guang-Zhen Wang, "Women's Reproductive Rights, Modernization, and Family Planning Programs in Developing Countries: A Causal Model" in International Journal of Comparative Sociology, Vol. 40, 1999.
  • Suzanne Staggenborg, "Organizational and Environmental Influences on the Development of the Pro-Choice Movement" in Social Forces, Vol. 68 1989.

External links

Simple English

Pro-choice is the view that a woman should have the right to decide whether or not to have an abortion and that there should not be laws that stop people from getting abortions. People who are pro-choice believe that people should be able to use contraception to avoid becoming pregnant. The view that abortion should be against the law is called pro-life.

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