Pro-Choice Movement

The pro-choice movement is supportive of a woman's right to terminate pregnancy. The term was coined in the years after the Roe vs. Wade ruling in 1973, in which the US Supreme Court ruled in favor of largely unrestricted abortion. Advocates adopted the phrase to emphasize the woman's choice and to counter the opposing ‘pro-life' movement. The pro-choice lobby believes that mothers-to-be should have control over their reproductive systems as a fundamental human right.

Hillary Rodham Clinton once said: "I have met thousands and thousands of pro-choice men and women. I have never met anyone who is pro-abortion. Being pro-choice is not being pro-abortion. Being pro-choice is trusting the individual to make the right decision for herself and her family, and not entrusting that decision to anyone wearing the authority of government in any regard."

The roots of the debate can be traced back to the Ancient Greek physician Hippocrates (c.450BCE) who is quoted as saying: "I will not give a woman an abortive remedy. In purity and in holiness I will guard my life and my art". The concept that an unborn baby was not alive until the mother felt it move was commonplace through the Middle Ages and can also be traced back to old English Common Law. In 1869, the British Parliament passed the Offences Against the Persons Act which made all abortions illegal.

The former USSR was the first country to legalize abortions in 1920 and this was followed by Japan in 1948. A number of Eastern European countries followed suit in the 1950s and in 1967, The Abortion Act legalized the practice in the United Kingdom. It made abortion legal up to the 24th week of pregnancy although if there was a major risk to the woman's life or if there were abnormalities in the fetus, there was no time limit. However, the 1967 Act does not apply to Northern Ireland, where abortion is still illegal.

The Women's Rights Movement started in the United States in the 1850s and was against abortion. Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906), a leading figure of the movement, condemned the practice. A news report in The Chicago Times in 1888 put the controversial topic firmly in the public arena and triggered fresh debate in the United States.

Margaret Sanger (1883-1966) and her American Birth Control League (c.1921) did support abortions in certain cases. In the 1930s, doctors began to discuss a change in the law and this led to a wide-ranging debate at medical conferences. In 1959 the American Law Institute suggested broadening the definition of legal abortion, and in 1966 Mississippi became the first US state to legalize abortion for rape cases. California and Colorado soon followed in 1967 and by mid-1970, 16 other states had joined the others and allowed abortion in particular circumstances.

On January 22, 1973 the United States Supreme Court made abortion legal throughout the US following the landmark case of Roe vs Wade. Under the alias of Jane Roe, a pregnant woman brought a class action challenging the constitutionality of the Texas criminal abortion laws, which proscribed "procuring or attempting an abortion except on medical advice for the purpose of saving the mother's life." The court declared the abortion statutes void as "vague and over broadly infringing those plaintiffs' Ninth and Fourteenth Amendment rights."

This ruling prompted a moral and religious debate on issues about the legality of abortion and who should be responsible for the decision. The United States was divided into pro-choice and pro-life camps and a bitter battle still rages. There have been attacks on abortion clinics by some activists, including one on Christmas Day 1984 in Florida and another in January 1998 in Alabama, in which a police officer died and a nurse was injured.

In The Pro-Choice Movement: Organization and Activism in the Abortion Conflict (1994), Suzanne Staggenborg follows the development of the movement from its origins through the 1980s. The author describes how a small group of activists were at the center of the ‘pro-choice' campaign and remained active even after their primary aim was achieved. The American Journal of Sociology has described this widely praised book as: "A meticulously researched exemplar of historical sociology." In From Abortion to Reproductive Freedom: Transforming a Movement (1990), Marlene Gerber Fried, an activist from the Boston Reproductive Rights Network, offers an anthology of 47 articles examining the future of the abortion rights movement. Gerber Fried and other contributors to the book call for a broader agenda of reproductive rights.

Pro-Choice Movement: Selected full-text books and articles

Thirty-Five Years of Legal Abortion in the U.S.: The Unfinished Agenda By Fried, Marlene Gerber Women in Action, No. 1, April 2008
Behind Every Choice Is a Story By Gloria Feldt; Carol Trickett Jennings University of North Texas Press, 2002
'Pro-Choice' Americans Found in Record-Low Minority By Wetzstein, Cheryl The Washington Times (Washington, DC), May 24, 2012
Expand the Pro-Choice Dialogue By Mohottige, Dinushika The Christian Science Monitor, December 2, 2005
Generations, Feminist Beliefs and Abortion Rights Support By Fine, Terri Susan Journal of International Women's Studies, Vol. 7, No. 4, May 2006
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
How Planned Parenthood V. Casey (Pretty Much) Settled the Abortion Wars By Devins, Neal The Yale Law Journal, Vol. 118, No. 7, May 2009
After Ayotte: The Need to Defend Abortion Rights with Renewed "Purpose" Harvard Law Review, Vol. 119, No. 8, June 2006
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Roe V. Wade's 40th Anniversary: A Moment of Truth for the Antiabortion-Rights Movement? By Borgmann, Caitlin E Stanford Law & Policy Review, Vol. 24, No. 1, Winter 2013
The Ethics of Abortion: Pro-Life vs. Pro-Choice By Robert M. Baird; Stuart E. Rosenbaum Prometheus Books, 1993 (Revised edition)
The Politics of Abortion and Birth Control in Historical Perspective By Donald T. Critchlow Pennsylvania State University Press, 1996
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