Abortion is one of the most controversial bioethical issues of our time. Throughout history the moral values concerning abortion have been matters of ceaseless debate and disagreement, but in the past three decades the debate has intensified. One view--known as "pro-life"--sees abortion as the slaughter of innocent life. Pro-lifers march with pictures of mutilated fetuses on their posters. The other view--"pro-choice"--considers abortion an option that must be available to women in order for them to have control over their own bodies. Pro-choicers use a bloody coat-hanger as their symbol of the days when women didn't have this option.
At the heart of the controversy, of course, is the debate over when human life actually begins. Does it begin at the moment of conception? At 4-6 weeks when the heart begins to beat and brain waves can first be detected? At 3 months when the fetus begins to resemble a baby? At 4-5 months when life can be felt by the mother? At 24 weeks when the fetus is viable (i.e.
able to live outside the womb)? Or at birth when the umbilical cord is cut and the baby is physically separated from his mother? The Pro-Lifers believe that life begins at conception; while most Pro-Choicers believe life begins at birth. No compromise appears possible for such differing viewpoints.
The ethical issues concerning abortion are closely related to the safety of the procedure. Prior to 1973, when U.S. laws restricted abortion, women resorted to having them done by untrained people. Opponents of abortion pointed to the frequent harm caused to women, including death from infection as well as risks to future pregnancies. "Abortion has been practiced around the world since ancient times. Although most religions forbade the practice, abortion was not considered illegal in most countries until the 1800's. There were...