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History of abortion in America and where we are now

The right to an abortion has always been a controversial issue in the U.S. 

Before America became a nation, common law in England allowed abortions before the fetus “quickened,” which meant when the mother first began feeling the baby move around in her belly.  

However, laws concerning abortion in the U.S. did not exist until the 1800s. Any abortions performed were secret, dangerous and often deadly. Even if the woman did survive, she often became infertile. In the 1880s, the states made abortion illegal until pressure to reform the laws grew in 1960s and 1970s.

There were great movements among the women’s groups of the U.S., as well as among doctors and lawyers, sparking a push to legalize abortion. The women claimed they had no control over their reproductive bodies and had a right to choose. 

In the 60s, an epidemic of the German measles and the anti-nausea drug thalidomide created a swell of birth defects in the nation, causing women who didn’t want defected babies to push for legalized abortion. 

Throughout this time, pro-life groups pushed back, claiming that the baby had just as much right to life as the mother did to reproductive freedom. 

In 1973, the fight was taken before the U.S. Supreme Court, becoming the famous Roe v. Wade abortion case. The Supreme Court legalized abortion across the nation up through the first trimester, leaving it up to the individual states to decide for the second and third trimester. This is where the three, 12-week trimesters were implemented. 

Despite this seemingly ideal compromise for the pro-choice group, the issue has reappeared in the Supreme Court throughout the years. 

Those in favor of pro-life have rallied against the decision of Roe v. Wade and have tried to get the decision overturned. Even though states won’t ban abortion, there have been laws put into place to make it more difficult, such as the “physician’s gag law.” This law requires doctors to describe the process of the abortion to the mother and perform an ultrasound. Other states require a parent signature for minors and a waiting period between the mother’s appointments, so she has time to think about her decision. 

This month, the Virginia state legislature introduced a bill that would allow abortion up to the moment of birth. 

“[Even if the infant were to survive the abortion,] the infant would be kept comfortable. [And] the infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue,” said Governor Ralph Northam.

Just a week earlier, New York passed a law similar to Virginia. Pink lights were shown on the One World Trade Center as well as several other landmarks throughout the state to acknowledge the act. Governor Andrew Cuomo declared the passing of the bill to be “a historic victory for…our progressive values.”

Cuomo signed the “Reproductive Healthcare Act,” which allows abortion up to 24 weeks and even to birth if the mother’s health is in danger; the act permits non-doctors to perform the abortion.

New Mexico, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Washington are among the states that are following in the footsteps of New York and Virginia and revising their laws that limit abortion. 

“We are sending a clear message that whatever happens in Washington, women in New York will always have the fundamental right to control their own body,” Cuomo said. 

However, in a speech delivered to the U.S. Senate about allegations against Planned Parenthood, Senator James Lankford said, “Maybe we need to start again as a nation, asking a basic question. If that’s a child, and in our Declaration [of Independence] we said every person that we believe is endowed by our Creator to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, maybe we need to ask as a nation again, do we really believe that?”

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