Medicine: Progress Report on Liberalized Abortion

  • Share
  • Read Later

UNTIL 18 months ago an American woman in virtually all the states could get a legal abortion only to save her life, and only after surmounting forbidding legal obstacles. Since then, five states have liberalized their punitive 19th century abortion laws. They now permit therapeutic abortions to be performed if the physical or mental health of the mother is in danger or if the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest. Four of these five states—Colorado, North Carolina, Georgia and Maryland—also authorize abortion if the child is likely to be born defective, as is commonly the case if the mother has had German measles (rubella) within the first three months of pregnancy. California did not sanction this ground because Governor Ronald Reagan threatened to veto any bill that included it.

Two states have now had enough experience, extending over a year or more, to make some conclusions possible. While the number of legal abortions has increased, the increase has not been dramatic, as opponents of liberalization had forecast. No city in a state with a liberalized law has become "the abortion capital of the U.S." In fact, the increase in numbers has been too small even to make an appreciable dent in the number of illegal, dangerously septic abortions, as some proponents of the laws had hoped they would. While the experience of these states offers useful guidelines for other legislatures that will consider liberalizing bills in their next sessions, it contains no simple solution to the abortion problem.

Optional Accessories. Largely because of the patent, wholesale flouting of old punitive laws and the fact that these statutes were endangering the lives of many women, the American Law Institute became concerned in the late 1950s. After careful study, the institute drafted a model abortion law. On April 25, 1967, Colorado became the first state to enact a modern abortion law, on the basic pattern of the A.L.I, model with a few minor optional accessories.

In the twelve-month preceding adoption of the 1967 act there were 51 legal, reported abortions in the state. In the following year there were 407, or 11.6 abortions per 1,000 live births. That compares with about 660 legal abortions per 1,000 live births in Japan (where modern contraceptives such as the pill are illegal), and 85 per 1,000 in Sweden. Colorado's law does not spell out residence requirements, but legal formalities ensure that abortions after rape or incest will be performed only on residents, and Colorado General Hospital has decided not to abort out-of-state patients "except for fetal indications" —meaning that the child is expected to be malformed.

  1. Previous Page
  2. 1
  3. 2
  4. 3