Abortion is a major issue in American with tremendous importance. Ever since the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Roe v. Wade, abortion has been at the central of the political battle, and it is an issue that affects women and families (Cook, Jelen, & Wilcox, 1992). At the heart of the debate is the issue of a woman’s right to control her body. To some, this right must be balanced with the rights of an unborn child to live, setting up a struggle between those who fight for one view and those who fight for the other.

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Even though the Supreme Court has found a fundamental constitutional right to abortion, stopping states from passing outright bans of abortion, various state legislatures have taken it upon themselves to pass laws strongly restricting the availability of abortions. While few people would believe that abortion is a good outcome for any of the parties involved, a woman should have the right to choose whether she carries a baby to term, giving her the power to terminate a pregnancy because women should have autonomy over their bodies, because the ability to control fertility is an important step to female empowerment, and because the bulk of pro-birth policy suggestions stem from religious doctrines that, however meaningful they may be to their adherents, have no place in directing the nation’s laws.

The ability of a woman to choose is a categorical imperative because it strikes at the heart of the debate on privacy. When a woman is pregnant with a fetus, she is the support system for that fetus. Up until somewhere between twenty and twenty-four weeks, a fetus will not be able to live outside of the mother. The mother nourishes the fetus, protects the fetus from harm, and generally serves as the entire biological support system for that fetus (McDonagh, 1996). What this means, then, is that the woman’s body is directly implicated in anything that happens to that fetus. It is well-established in American law that people should have the ability to make their own medical decisions. While this is certainly complicated by the fact that the potential for another life is resting in the balance, abortion presents a conundrum no different. At the core, a woman carrying a fetus is still very much having to make a medical decision. If the state were to step in and impose a law on the woman, then that woman would lose the right to determine what happens with her own body.

There are many reasons why a woman should have the ability to control what happens with her own body. In some cases, bringing the baby to term might cause health problems for the mother. This may even lead to death in extreme cases, and the state should never force a woman to sacrifice her life for another. Just as the law – both criminal and civil – does not require any person to lay down his or her own life for another person, abortion law should follow the same path. The critical thing to understand about the pro-choice position is that women, under a pro-choice arrangement, would have the ability to make a choice on whether to harm themselves in order to bring a fetus to term (Joffe, Weitz, & Stacey, 2004). Just as a person can make an informed decision on whether to go into a burning building in an attempt to save a family member, a woman should have the right to determine whether the medical risks of pregnancy are too much for her to handle. Likewise, some pregnancies are the result of rape or incest, two things that society has generally held to be bad in some tangible way. It would be unconscionable to force a woman, who has gotten pregnant through no choice of her own in those situations, to carry the child as a constant reminder of the horrors of those two practices.

Likewise, within the law, there may exist a slippery slope. When the right of a woman to control her own body – and to control her own fertility – is compromised, the sanctity of patients’ rights is threatened. The bond between a doctor and a patient is sacred, and no person can impose upon another person the first person’s reasoning for making a medical choice. Every single day, some people choose to undergo invasive cancer treatments to extend their lives by an additional six months, while people sitting one room over decide that they would rather spend their last days – however shorter they may be – climbing mountains or listening to music with their children rather than sitting in a hospital bed for hours on end. While society may think it strange that a person would essentially shorten his own life, that person has made a value judgment on what matters most to him. By imposing an outside set of morals on that person, one undermines his ability to determine his own fate. The pro-choice position argues that this bond should not be broken and that government has no right to violate a woman’s privacy in this way.

In addition, the ability to choose is important for female empowerment in the workplace (Smith, 2005). One of the primary impediments to female advancement and economic equality for women is the fact that in some cases, women are not given the full ability to control their own fertility. In the past, this has been a particularly unique problem. Women had difficulty beginning careers because employers would have doubts about whether the women would work when they started bearing children.

After all, what employer wants to spend money to train an individual when that individual might be out on maternity leave for years on end. In the past – before abortion was legal and before birth control became readily available – women were essentially closed out of the workplace because they were not allowed to stay in control of their own bodies. One of the primary ways in which society has moved forward has been in regard to the ability of women to control their own birth schedules. Some women do choose to sacrifice their careers in order to raise children. This is a major commitment to them, and they make the informed choice to give up something in order to get something that is worth more to them. Others choose to have children at a time when they are wealthy enough to hire the kinds of support systems that are necessary for both working in a tough career and raising children. The critical thing there is that those women have the power to choose their own direction. Without the availability of abortion, women are essentially restricted from earning opportunities.

Given the difficulty in obtaining sex equality in the United States and around the world, it is critical not to remove those things that have benefitted the movement. Women should be entitled to the same ability to earn that men are. Men, it seems, are not held back in their careers by their decision to engage in sex. It is only women who have to bear the fruits of an unwanted pregnancy, and it is their careers that are halted as a result. Because the advent of abortion has been such a critical factor in helping women in the workplace, it is something that must be protected in the interest of improving society.

One of the primary arguments against the pro-choice position is that a fetus is a human being, and therefore, it must have rights. While there is tremendous disagreement on what constitutes a human being and when a fetus transforms into that, most of the arguments come from a place of religion. Many argue that a fetus is a person from conception. This is because, in the Bible, there are passages that indicate this fact. These arguments seek to ban abortion on the basis of the violation of the unborn person’s rights, treating it as the legal equivalent of murder as a violation of the unborn person’s right to live.

This argument, when it comes from a religious perspective, is improper in a country like the United States. While it is true that some of America’s laws are based upon common law principles that have some roots in Christianity and other religions, America was based upon the concept that religion could not have a direct role in shaping the country’s laws. The Constitution, right in the First Amendment, provides that congress shall make no law that respects the establishment of religion (Levy, 1986). This, known as the “Establishment Clause,” is interpreted to mean that within the country’s code of laws, no single religion must get preference. Many speak of a wall that has been erected between the state and the church, keeping one from influencing the other.

While it is possible to argue that fetuses should have rights using something other than religion, most of the arguments are articulated based upon the Christian proposition of a person being formed at conception. When the arguments are based upon the tenets of Christianity, they are in violation of the Constitution, and because of that, they cannot influence national policy in a direct way. Those who choose to believe in the Christian conception of morality are free to choose not to have abortions if they find themselves with an unwanted pregnancy. This is the beauty of the pro-choice position, as it allows the woman to make a choice, based upon the things that matter most to her, about how her own pregnancy will play out.

Abortion will continue to be a hotly debated topic going forward in America. The country has split on the issue, and it is being fought both in the courts and the court of public opinion to this day. While it is reasonable to ask whether a fetus’s rights should outweigh the right of the woman to control her own body, the answer must lie with the rights of the woman. America has long respected the autonomy of the patient to make a health decision that makes sense for that individual patient, and the doctrines of privacy dictate that the government should be able to tell a woman that she must endure nine months of hard pregnancy if she does not want to. As the person who provides for the fetus, the woman is in a unique position to determine what happens with this particular part of her body, even if the fetus might eventually grow up to be a person all its own. Likewise, the ability of a woman to choose when to have a baby has been an important factor in helping women gain equality in the workplace, and it will continue to be important moving forward. Lastly, even though some argue that a fetus has rights given by God from conception, those arguments cannot form the basis of American law, as the Constitution ensures that religion has no direct impact on legislation.