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Thursday, 22 January, 1998, 14:35 GMT
Abortion controversy continues to rage in the US
anti-abortion demonstration
Anti-abortion demonstrator prays for unborn children

It is 25 years since abortion was legalised in the United States -- and the subject still evokes strong emotion, at times rising to violence, even murder.

To mark the anniversary the 'pro-life', anti-abortion campaigners are marching from the White House to the Supreme Court in Washington for their annual March for Life. The 'pro-choice' activists, in favour of the right to abortion, demonstrated outside the Supreme Court two days before the anniversary.

On January 22, 1973 the Supreme Court had ruled in the case 'Roe vs Wade' that the constitutional right to privacy guaranteed women the right to choose abortion in the first three months of their pregnancy.

The second three months or "trimester" can be subjected to some government regulation, and during the last trimester states may restrict or ban abortions completely.

The ruling incensed the pro-life lobby, which has campaigned hard to change the law ever since.

Meanwhile, many American women have found it increasingly difficult to get an abortion. In the years following the Roe vs Wade case, new state and federal laws tried to restrict abortions in different ways, for example limiting the use of public funds to pay for the operation. And some women say that they have been intimidated by pro-life campaigners picketing abortion clinics.

The abortion issue has stirred passions across the political spectrum. Democrats and Republicans alike have been forced to take a position on the issue. Disagreement over the matter has caused a deep split in the Republican Party.

As feelings run high, pro-life demonstrations have often culminated in violence. The peak of pro-life violence was in 1993-1994, when four people working at abortion clinics were killed.

More frequently, clinics are the targets of bombings, arson attacks, vandalism, stalking and picketing.

Changing attitudes

A recent poll conducted by the New York Times and CBS News suggests that half of all Americans equate abortion with murder, and only 32% believe abortion should be generally available to all women.

The poll also indicates that US citizens have become less accepting of some of the reasons given for having an abortion. Only 25% of those polled think that it is acceptable for a woman to have an abortion to avoid interrupting her career. Eight years ago, 37% would have accepted this motive.

Similarly, only 42% of Americans would allow a girl to have an abortion so that she would avoid interrupting her studies, a fall of 6% since 1989.

Nevertheless, most Americans still support the Roe vs Wade verdict. The poll suggests that more than 75% of the American public are against a constitutional amendment banning abortions.

The abortion crisis - pro-life and pro-choice

Currently about 1.5 million abortions a year are being performed in the United States. Since the Supreme Court verdict of 1973 there have been nearly 30 million abortions in the USA.

About 40% of American women have been pregnant by the time they reach 20, according to the National Abortion Federation.

Girls between the ages of 11 and 19 account for more than one fifth of all abortions in the United States. Teenagers also present a special case, as their right to choose abortion has been limited by laws which demand a parent's approval.

Abortion rates are higher in the United States than in many other developed countries. The pro-choice lobby argues that this is because of poor sex education and a lack of awareness about contraceptive methods.

Pro-life activists argue that women have become more promiscuous since abortion was legalised.

As more and more state legislatures introduce measures to restrict abortion rights, and attacks on abortion clinics continue, women seeking an abortion claim it has become increasingly difficult for them to find clinics and doctors who are prepared to perform them.

Pro-choice activists say it is the poor and the young whose access has been most severely eroded. The number of abortion clinics has also fallen by 18%, with 80% of rural areas now having no local clinics.

Although the original ruling from the Roe vs Wade case still stands, the pro-life lobby has succeeded in chipping away at some of women's rights to choose an abortion.

See also:

21 Jan 98 | US abortion rights
25 Oct 98 | US abortion rights
03 Feb 99 | US abortion rights
Links to more US abortion rights stories are at the foot of the page.

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