The Abortion Controversy: A Documentary History

The Abortion Controversy: A Documentary History

The Abortion Controversy: A Documentary History

The Abortion Controversy: A Documentary History


This collection brings together, for the first time, the key primary documents in the history of the abortion controversy in the United States. Organized by historical period, these 92 documents tell the story of this highly charged issue. An explanatory introduction geared to the needs of high school and college students accompanies each document. The collection emphasizes the political and social aspects of the debate, and many voices and conflicting views resound--in congressional hearings, Supreme Court decisions, government reports, party platforms, position papers, statutes, biographical accounts, and news stories. The heart of the work is the drama of Roe v. Wade--the cases that led to it, the Supreme Court decision and dissenting opinions, the reaction in Congress, public opinion, political consequences, and the most recent court tests. Each chapter includes a list of suggested readings. The book concludes with a chronology of events in the abortion controversy and a list of decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court relating to abortion.


Abortion is a controversial and emotional subject over which people are deeply divided. At this time--the last decade of the twentieth century-- compromise between contending factions seems to be impossible because of the passion with which conflicting views are held. Even the terms that partisans of each position use to describe their views bear emotional freight. Anti-abortionists label themselves pro-life; they are not just opposed to abortion, they believe that the fetus is a complete, living person, deserving of legal protection. Those in favor of legalized abortion deny that they are pro abortion, for indeed most believe that abortion is undesirable, even though it is sometimes necessary. They call themselves pro-choice; they believe that women should be able to decide for themselves whether or not they should bear a child, and should not be subjected to the dictates of the government.

In this volume the editor will use the different terms describing each side--anti-abortion and pro-life, or pro-abortion, pro-choice, and pro- abortion rights--interchangeably.

The opinion of the general public, as measured by public opinion polls, appears to be neither wholeheartedly pro-life nor pro-choice. Since the 1970s, public opinion has been fairly constant in supporting legal abortion under some circumstances. But the polls show that the public also agrees that there should be some restrictions on abortion, and does not believe it should be completely unregulated.

In reading public opinion polls it is necessary to look carefully at the questions being asked, as some questions are ambiguously worded and some are designed to produce the answers the pollster wants to hear.

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