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Abortion Rights: A look at law, history and religion

Before the 1800s, abortions had been performed for thousands of years. It wasn't until later years that people started to pass laws that would outlaw it. The earliest laws concerning abortion originated from English Common Law, which the colonies were still under at the time. Obtaining an abortion before "quickening" or the first time a woman felt "life" which was the baby moving was considered a misdemeanor but obtaining an abortion afterwards (usually considered around the fourth month of pregnancy) was a felony.

In the 1820s, abortion laws began to change because science was advancing. It was discovered that an egg was fertilized to make a baby and that it was possible that human life really began before a baby could be felt moving by the mother. British Parliament passed the "Offenses Against the Persons Act" in 1869 that said an abortion of any kind was a felony. Punishments usually included jail time for both the doctor who performed the abortion as well as the woman who had it performed.

These laws remained in place for a very long time until 1967, when Colorado and California both legalized abortion. By 1970, sixteen states had legalized it although the actual laws were different. Some states only allowed abortions in cases of rape, incest, severe fetal handicap or if a pregnancy would endanger the mother's life.

The most ground-breaking occurrence in the history of abortion law is the Roe v Wade Supreme Court case of 1973. A young woman named Jane Roe wanted to obtain a safe, legal abortion and felt that the Texas law prohibiting her was unconstitutional as it her was her body. She took her cause all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled that an American citizen's right to privacy extends to the decision of whether or not to have children and the right to make that decision without the state's interference. This topic has been popular among students at criminal justice schools. Because of this ruling it is currently legal for women to obtain abortions.

Abortion Law in the World

Just as the United States is divided on the subject of abortion, the rest of the world is just as divided. Each country has its own laws. Some allow abortion in all cases, some only allow it in special circumstances, and some don't allow it at all. For instance, in South America, the laws are different depending on the country. Some allow abortion in "hard cases" where the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest or if the fetus is deformed. Some do not allow abortion for any reason. Most of Eastern Europe allows abortion for "social reasons" such as cases where they cannot afford a child or to protect a mother's "mental health." The UK allows abortion for any reason at any time as do China, Japan, and Australia. Africa's laws fit every category: some countries only allow it in certain cases while others allow it without reason. Currently 54 countries, or 61%, allow abortion.

Religious View of Abortion

The reason abortion is so hotly debated is because the procedure violates many religious views on the sanctity of life. Most religions prohibit abortion as they believe life begins at the moment of conception and aborting a fetus at any stage is akin to murder.

It appears that abortion will still be a contentious topic of discussion for a long time to come.