Taboo Is Not a Choice

"If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament."—Florynce Kennedy

Taboo Is Not a Choice
Morma McCorvey (Jane Roe)

There are certain topics that we often choose not to speak out loud in public. Usually, when we choose this way, sooner or later the topic floats on the surface and becomes public discussion. One of the taboo topics is abortion. This topic is very sensitive, and it has been unspoken for a very long time, due to many reasons. Consequently, there are many uncovered questions remaining. I will try to share my general experience, and look towards this specific topic and provide you with some maybe valuable information and recent statistics.


The word "taboo" is generally defined in the following way: "prohibited or restricted by social custom." This means that according to social standards, it is unacceptable to talk or do something in society that you represent. Abortion remained to be taboo for a very long time. Despite that women of all ages used to get abortions, still, no one could speak about it out loud.

Modern society seems to be freeing itself from such taboos, and is trying to be more human rights-oriented. However, there still are certain obstacles that we have to overcome. In different periods, there were different social constructs that restricted actions or discussions.

Social Constructs

Many social constructs exist. According to people and nations, social construct definitions vary, though in modern society we can take it to the individual level. While for some people religion is a social construct, for others, human rights may be a social construct. Despite the constructs, the theme is the same everywhere. Abortion is either a sin or a crime.

Many women and families struggle, due to this kind of outlook. Many women are victims of society and families. But what kinds of victims are we even talking about, while a century ago, women did not even have the right to vote and take part in public activities? Women were for the sake of raising children and reproduction. With this kind of approach, abortion could definitely be a crime. The other scenario is religious rejection. Women were convicted as sinful creatures for many things, one of them getting an abortion.

It was not long ago when women were publicly assassinated for giving birth to bastards. The key point here is that no one was ever interested in the background of that child. How or why would it happen, as the rape and violence was a quite common thing to occur. The social construct of gender involved women not having the right to protest. And even if they had, there was no point as it was not a big deal, and most probably she would have been the reason of her unfortunate situation.

Religion restricted having children out of the marriage, as well as restricted abortions. As in both cases, it was a sin. However, they found it easier for no one to ever know they bore a child, rather than being pointed out with fingers every time she and her child walked through the alley of shame. Many women got serious injuries and health problems, not even mentioning psychological ones, though who cared about a person’s psychological state of mind, as far as they were not crazy?

Whenever you have a problem, the first people to address are your family members and friends. But who should you address when you knew that they were not a high hope for you, as most probably you would be excluded from the family? The social construct did not allow families to have a daughter who would have been a shame to the family, especially, if we are talking about the noble families of the past times.

In modern society, we still have those constructs, that were most probably made by the people who could hide their sins quite well, or belonged to the class that had no opposition. In modern society, we still have women who struggle. In modern society, we still have a taboo on specific subjects such as abortion. In modern society, we still do not know our rights and how to protect them well enough.

In the past decade, the situation has improved slightly. In developed countries, where people know their rights and women finally have the right to simply have rights, the ice started to melt, and public discussions took place.

Ice Melting

While saying the ice started to melt, unfortunately, we cannot say that about every country, as mostly it concerns the developed and partially-developing countries. It is very sad, but it is true.

There were several very severe cases in past decades that represented the real society we have to live in, and the Earth at this moment did not seem to be a very good place to live on.

Women of different ages, of different nationalities, are daily victims of physical and sexual violence. Fortunately, some of them took the responsibility, and bravely spoke out. I mentioned bravely, and it was on purpose. It is very hard to go against society, where 80 percent of people do not share the opinion for which you have been fighting. It is extremely hard to stand on your own position, and to protect your values and rights while living in the patriarchy. Even two decades ago, many countries had patriarchal societies, where women had the right to vote but men were always privileged. To come out and speak about taboo topics in this society would have been the heroic step to make, I believe.

Despite the difficulties, the ice started melting, and thanks to the globalisation process, people all over the world started to hear and started being brave. Many women found the strength to go against families and friends, in order to save themselves and protect the rights that were initially given to them but taken from them simultaneously, due to different stigmas.

The topic of abortion cannot be described only as a medical procedure, as it involves many aspects. I will try to touch the most spread ones in society.

“Abortion is part of being a mother and caring for children because part of caring for children is knowing when it is not a good idea to bring them into the world.”—Katha Pollitt

Abortion is a choice. The choice is a human right of every person. The human right of every person is the basics, that we all have from birth to death. Abortion is the right of every woman—It is a choice. This is the main obstacle that we have to overcome. You should not be shamed for your choice.

Have you ever seen someone saying that “she is a bad mother because of having four kids"? I doubt, but what I am sure you have heard them saying, “she got an abortion; she will be a bad mother.”

The phenomenon of the mother is very complex in itself. It is a position, title, and role altogether. "Mother" is a holy grail that no one can touch, both according to religious and social constructs. We forget the main factor: that the mother is a role and a title, but the nature of the mother is a human being and every human being has a choice.

On the other side, the child the biggest responsibility in life, and the most precious thing that can happen, some people say. But having a child or not is a choice. There are some people who adore children and cannot wait until they have their own, while others simply prefer other things to have children, or simply are not ready for the responsibilities and obligations that having a child brings with it. However, it does not matter what is the reason behind. Not having a child is not a sin, but a choice.

Despite mentioning that the ice has started to melt, there are many families and people who still argue against abortion, and the right of it. Some people consider abortion to be a crime, as women are killing a live organism, a live human.

The Melting

While taking the subject of abortion very seriously, we should mention several aspects. For very long when abortion was a taboo topic, it was illegal. That led to many deaths and injuries in women of every age. While abortion was illegal, there still were doctors who did operate on women for bribes. They were not even qualified for the operation, but as far as they worked illicitly, they were the only solution for many women. However, underground abortion was still a good solution for those who had enough money. For women who did not have enough finances, they were forced to do it by themselves at home, which was very risky for health. Now for a minute, imagine the moral stress women had while having done abortion at home by yourself, because of not having money and support from close to you people. The pain was the smallest thing here to think of.

Because of the death rates, as well as different severe health problems due to unqualified abortions, the bill for the abortion was adopted. Everyone knew that the procedure was held underground, so in order to prevent further deaths and avoid risks, abortion became legal.

Abortion Law

Early texts contain no mention of abortion or abortion law. Whenever it appears, it is entitled to concerns about male property rights, preservation of social order, and the duty to produce fit citizens for the state or community. The harshest penalties were generally reserved for a woman who procured an abortion against her husband’s wishes, and for slaves who produced an abortion in a woman of high status. Religious texts often contained severe condemnations of abortion, recommending penance but seldom enforcing secular punishment.

As a matter of common law in first-world countries such as England and the United Staes, abortion was illegal anytime after the movement of the foetus was detected in a woman’s body. Under the "born alive rule," the foetus was not considered a “reasonable being,” and abortion was not treated as murder in English law.

In the early 20th century, many Western countries began to codify abortion law or place further restrictions on the procedure. That is when the anti-abortion movement began, which is also referred to as the Pro-life movement. The movements were led by a group of people who opposed abortion on moral grounds, and by medical professionals who were concerned about the danger following the procedure, and the regular involvement of non-medical personnel in performing abortions. Hereafter, it was a vivid example that illegal abortions continued to take place in large numbers, even in countries where abortions were restricted. It was extremely difficult to obtain sufficient evidence to prosecute the woman and abortion doctors, so the judges and juries were often reluctant towards the case.

Many people and doctors in the second half of the 20th century were offended by the invasion of privacy, and medical problems due to illegal abortions were in dangerous circumstances. Political movements soon coalesced around the legalisation and the liberalisation of existing laws about abortions.

Because of the ongoing situation, many countries began to liberalise abortion laws, at least when performed to protect the life of the woman and, in some cases, on woman’s personal request.

The history of laws on abortion

In 1920, the Soviet Union legalised abortions on request. It happened under Vladimir Lenin, though there were some parties opposing each other. The Bolsheviks considered abortion as a social evil, which was a product of the capitalist system, meaning that women were left without any economic means to raise children, forcing them to perform abortions. The Soviet State preserved a ban on abortions, which treated the practice as premeditated murder. Though, as in many other countries, abortion was a common practice for Russian women and it even increased after the Russian Civil War, which had left the country economically devastated. Therefore, it became extremely difficult for many families to save children. Apparently, at some point, the Soviet State recognised the fact that banning abortion would not stop the practice, because women would continue using services of private doctors who would do the procedure. In rural areas, those were of elder ages who did not have any medical pieces of training, and often this ended with fatality. In November of 1920, the Soviet regime legalised abortion in state hospitals. The state considered abortion as a temporary necessary evil, which would disappear in the future Communist society, which would be able to provide for all the children conceived. In 1936, Joseph Stalin placed prohibitions on abortions, which restricted them to medically recommended cases only, in order to increase population growth after the enormous loss of life in World War I and the Russian Civil War.

In 1930, several other countries such as Poland, Turkey, Denmark, Sweden, Iceland, and Mexico had already legalised abortions in special cases. The cases included pregnancy from rape, a threat to the mother’s health, and foetal malformation.

In 1948, abortion was legalised in Japan, and in 1955 in the Soviet Union, when abortion was legalised on demand. In the second half of the 20th century, under the pressure of the Soviet Union, some of the Soviet Union allies, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria Czech Republic legalised abortion.

In the United Kingdom, the Abortion Act of 1967 clarified and prescribed abortions as legal up to 28 weeks (later reduced to 24 weeks). Other countries soon followed, including Canada (1969), the United States (1973 in most states, pursuant to Roe v. Wade—the U.S. Supreme Court decision which legalised abortion nationwide), Tunisia (1973), Denmark (1973), Austria (1974), France (1975), Sweden (1975), New Zealand (1977), Italy (1978), the Netherlands (1980), and Belgium (1990). However, these countries varied greatly in the circumstances under which abortion was to be permitted. In 1975, the West German Supreme Court struck down a law legalising abortion, holding that they contradict the constitution's human rights guarantees. In 1976, a law was adopted which enabled abortions up to 12 weeks. After Germany's reunification, despite the legal status of abortion in former East Germany, a compromise was reached which deemed most abortions up to 12 weeks legal.

There is no international or multinational law, nor treaty, that deals directly with abortions, though the human rights law touches pretty much all of the aspects of the mentioned issue. The American Convention on Human Rights declares human life as commencing with conception. In the 2010 case of Ireland which declared abortion as illegal action rose subject in the European Court of Human Rights, and it was found that the European Convention on Human Rights did not include a right to an abortion.

While abortions are legal now in most countries under certain conditions, these conditions vary widely according to the country. According to the UN publication World Abortion Policies 2013, abortion is allowed in 97 percent of countries in order to save a woman’s life. Other acceptable reasons for getting abortion include cases of rape or incest, as well as cases of fatal impairment. Performing an abortion because of economic or social reasons is accepted in 35 percent of countries. Performing abortion only on the basis of a woman's request is allowed in 30 percent of countries, including in the US, Canada, most European countries, and China, with 42 percent of the world's population living in such countries.

Specific Cases

Despite that restriction on abortion vary, abortion is still legal in most European countries. There are several exceptions, including Malta, Liechtenstein, Vatican City, and Northern Ireland. In those countries, abortion is either illegal or restricted. Fewer restrictions are observed in Poland and Monaco. All the other EU states have abortions legal on the economical bases, or social requests in the first trimester, which is 12 weeks. Restrictions on abortion are mostly strengthened by the Catholic religion.

In the EU, abortion is legal during the first 12 weeks of the pregnancy, after that period, abortion is legally allowed only under certain circumstances, such as the risk to a woman’s life or health, foetal defect, or other specific situations that may be related to the conception of the woman’s age.

For instance, in Austria, second-trimester abortions are allowed only if there is a serious risk to the physical health of the woman, the risk to the mental health of the woman, an immediate risk to the life of the woman, serious foetal impairment mental or physical, or if the woman is under 14 years of age. Some countries, such as Denmark, allow abortion after the first trimester for a variety of reasons, including socioeconomic ones, but a woman needs the authorisation to have such an abortion.

Malta is the only EU country that bans abortion in all cases, and does not have an exception for situations where the woman's life is in danger. The law, however, is not strictly enforced in relation to instances where a pregnancy endangers the woman's life.

The case in Italy is the following: Abortion in Italy was legalised only in 1978, and although the procedure is legal in the country, it allows doctors to refuse to perform an abortion. This objection has the practice effect of restricting access to abortion.

In Ireland, abortion was illegal until December 2018. It was illegal to have procedures, except for several cases that put women's health and life under the risk during pregnancy time. It was only in 2018, after a wave of protests, there was a referendum held in Ireland. In the referendum, a vast majority of citizens voted to repeal the constitutional amendment prohibiting legislation relating to the termination of non-life-threatening pregnancies, and the new law was implemented. The Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy 2018) was adopted, which allows abortion on request up to 12 weeks of pregnancy, and even specific circumstances at a later period.

The indifference with Ireland, Northern Ireland retains its nearly complete ban on abortion politics. However, for these cases, the Irish government has stated that Northern Ireland residents may access abortion services free of charge in Republic of Ireland.

In countries where abortion is illegal or restricted, it is common for women to travel to neighbouring countries where adoption is legal. It was estimated in 2007 that over 6,000 Irish women travel to Britain to have abortions every year.

In some countries, abortions took the form of segregative abortions. In some developing countries, women performed abortions only because of knowing the gender of the child. Most abortions were performed on girls, meaning that if a family wanted to have a son, just because the child was supposed to be a daughter, women took the decision of abortion, which is serious discrimination. In order to cease this kind of case, some of the national governments banned gender identification procedures until the 12 weeks period of pregnancy, meaning that you can not know the gender of the child before the legal abortion period. After 12 weeks in most countries, it is illegal to have an abortion, by this means gender defined abortion number has decreased. Though, the fact itself ratifies that we still live in the patriarchal society.

Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are pliable

Due to different legislation and amended laws, the statistics on abortions have changed throughout the past decade. The annual abortion rate has decreased in developed countries by almost 30 percent. In the developing regions, statistics numbers have decreased by approximately 4 percent.

Abortions in teenagers are also a topic of discussion, which I will try to cover in the next article, though I can still provide the statistics. The lowest indicator is in Portugal, followed by Germany, with up to 13 percent in girls aged 15 to 19. The highest indicator is in England and Wales, with the number of approximately twice as Portugal: 25 percent of teenagers.

Estimate rates of unintended pregnancies ending in labor are the highest in Latin America, ranging from 44 to 50 percent. Estimate rates of unintended pregnancies ending in miscarriage vary from 27 to 36 percent worldwide.

Statistics also show us that in countries where abortion is illegal, it is performed via different methods, and the number of abortions made by untrained providers or self-induction is 51 percent, which is an extremely high rate and often ends with injuries, and different physical as well as mental health problems.

As time passes and the information is more easily accessible throughout the world, people started to realise what are their rights, and what are the obligations or responsibilities behind their actions and choices. There are a lot of resources and opportunities that can be used in order to avoid unwanted pregnancies. Those opportunities include different types of contraception. However, in order to have an intended pregnancy, you should know how to use contraception properly. Otherwise, you can damage your health. Though, now as the topic of abortion is not a taboo anymore and is being discussed among society, people are also given instructions on how to deal with the unintended pregnancies by means of contraception. It is very important to be healthy and to have a healthy lifestyle, which includes sexual life as well. You do not have to fear abortion if you use contraception carefully and properly, though even if you have to face abortion, it is not a crime but your choice to do so. Make sure you discover your pregnancy at the right time in order to have procedure legally.

Abortion has always been an issue in society, and it will remain so for some more time. It is important that we learn to respect each other’s decisions and never point at somebody with the fingers, especially not knowing the background and history.

Being a mother is a great responsibility, and you should become one when you feel comfortable. You are not a reproduction machine. Respect your rights, and respect yourself. That is the only time when the world will be a better place for your child.

Read next: The State
Mariam Pagava
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