Course:GRSJ224 Medicalization of Abortion

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The biological cycle of reproduction is a system that has been followed by every species. Human beings are no different, and have only survived this long due to the innate coding that enables us to reproduce. With such a natural tendency to engage in sexual activity, a child may be conceived in the process. However, raising a youngling is not an easy task. There are many complications that arise from being with child that require the complete attention of the mother. Given the technological advancements and prowess of human beings, it is now possible to engage in sexual activity, without bearing the responsibility of a child. Despite these contraceptive methods however, it is still possible to have an unplanned pregnancy. If the parents do not want to have a child, their options become very limited. Putting their child up for adoption post birth is a possibility, however, that would require the full attention of the mother for at least 9 months. Such a tedious option is neither suited nor available to all. As such, abortion is an option that can prevent a lifetime of unfortunate events for those involved in an unplanned pregnancy.


Illegal Abortion

Early pregnancy abortions were legal in the world until the 19th century. This was when the English speaking world decided to criminalize them[1]. As such, desperate measure were required for those who had no option but to attempt an abortion. Since they were no longer able to freely visit the doctor, they were forced to use methods and chemicals that harmed the mother greatly. Women had to allow shady strangers or back-alley doctors to use knitting needles, wire coat hangers, catheters, Lysol, scalding hot water or lye on them to proceed with the abortion[2]. Lysol especially was extremely dangerous as abortions where women had Lysol injected into their uterus had a mortality rate of 50 to 66 percent. Though abortion is now legal in some countries, many Asian and African countries continue to have laws against abortion.

Legal Abortion

The earliest signs of a turn in the abortion law sprouted in 1929 Britain, with the passing of the Infant Life Preserving Act. Since then, many Western countries have eased their abortion laws. In today's world, it is possible to have a legal abortion in most urban areas at low or subsidized costs as well as a lowered risk to the mother. However, most people in rural areas still face problems with access to doctors and medical care facilities, not to mention the taxing societal implications. As such, individuals in many Western countries have access to their abortion and healthcare needs whereas those in Asian or African countries are unable to procure safe treatment. Of all the world's unsafe abortions, 97% of them are in developing countries[3].

Societal Implications

A change in the legality of abortion can only stem from a societal acceptance of its necessity. While countries in the West have mended their abortion laws, there are still large groups that are against abortion. Unfortunately, such a change has not yet occurred in many Asian and African countries. With such a strong opposition against abortion and no legal support, in place like Ghana, the need to put one’s own life in danger arises from the stigma that "abortion is perceived as a shameful act"[4]. The cultural background of many Asian countries adds to this issue as well. In south Asian countries, pregnancies that occur outside of marriage are considered illegitimate and the abortions that are attempted greatly shun the societal standing of the individuals involved. However, the issue extends further to even married individuals. If a married woman encounters an unplanned pregnancy after engaging in post marital sex with her husband, the norm is to seek permission or authorization from their spouse before visiting a doctor. These norms create unintended barriers for women and sometimes even push them to seek hushed, unsafe and illegal methods to conduct an abortion[3].


While Illegal abortions do have a significantly higher risk than legal ones, it is important to acknowledge the toll taken on the mother regardless of the legality of the abortion. Women in New Zealand from the age of 15-25 who proceeded with a legal abortion were found to have “elevated rates of subsequent mental health problems including depression, anxiety, suicidal behaviours and substance use disorders”[5]. Such issues occur in places where abortion is legal and provided by professional medical care providers. The problem worsens in areas where abortion is illegal or if the woman is not affluent. Ghana is a place where abortions are illegal and most women looking for abortions are poor. As such, “the second leading cause of maternal deaths” in Ghana is due to illegal abortions[4]. In another study, pregnant women in Nigeria who had a history of illegal abortions were found to have many adverse complications which weren't present in women with no history of abortion[6]. With all this research and information it is clear that abortions take a massive toll on a woman's health and well being regardless of its legality.

Maternal Impact

With an abortion, the impact on the mother is never nonexistent. From a physical standpoint, a legal abortion is much safer than an illegal one despite there still being a risk involved in a legal abortion. However, the mental impact on the mother is still being researched. In some studies women were found to have higher rates of depression and suicidal behaviour post abortion[5]. With so many issue surrounding abortion, many unknown, it is important to recognize the great turmoil that women face when proceeding with an abortion despite knowing all the risks involved. As such, it is our duty as a society to minimize the risk borne by these mothers when attempting an abortion. Be it through societal change or a legal one, it is of the utmost importance that an unplanned pregnancy does not lead to the death of not one but two human beings.


  1. Mohr, James (1978). Abortion in America : the origins and evolution of national policy, 1800-1900. New York : Oxford University Press. pp. 35–36.
  2. Flanagan, Caitlin. "The Dishonesty of the Abortion Debate". The Atlantic.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Grimes, David; et, al. (2006). "Unsafe abortion: the preventable pandemic". The Lancet. 368: 1908–1919.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Lithur, Nana Oye (2004). "Destigmatising Abortion: Expanding Community Awareness of Abortion as a Reproductive Health Issue in Ghana". African Journal of Reproductive Health. 8: 70–74.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Fergusson David, Horwood John and Ridder Elizabeth (2006). "Abortion in young women and subsequent mental health". The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. 47: 16–24.
  6. Okonofua FE, Onwudiegwu U and Odutayo R (1994). "Pregnancy outcome after illegal induced abortion in Nigeria: a retrospective controlled historical study". African Journal of Medicine and Medical Sciences. 23(2): 165–169.