22 Oct

Cultural Criminalization of Abortion

The CBS News picture above illustrates the many degrees of thinking when it comes to Cultural Criminalization of Abortion.  In the United States every four years (the election cycle) abortion becomes a hot topic. No matter Roe vs Wade has been around longer than the age-span for pregnancy. We often forget that Roe vs Wade was not only about abortion, but also about a woman’s right to privacy and choice. Abortion, infanticide, or ending a pregnancy deliberately, has been a divisive topic for all cultures over the span of all human experience. Why? It is a matter of opinion, whether it is right or wrong; and both sides have very strong feelings either way.  Traditional cultures are slow to change.

Culture change is the dominant reason for accepting a woman’s right of choice for abortion.  Recently in the United States, gender and paternal issues are also related to the topic of abortion. How does gender and abortion meet within complicated cultural strategies? Does a male partner in a pregnancy have any rights? Some questions relating to such cultural issues beg to be answered.

The main question, whether the expectant father has any rights, was answered by the Supreme Court of the United States. A spouse’s consent for an abortion was deemed unconstitutional. The Court believed that spousal notification puts an “undue burden on women who may fear for their safety, or that of their children.” The other side of course is that of forced abortion by the male partner, for reasons of not wanting to contribute to child support. Here in America, with protests and sometimes violence associated with these issues, some advocates are calling for “a stronger paternal role in family planning.” See this link:


As much as culture has changed in the United States, abortion is still fiercely debated among traditional societies across the world. I was a volunteer with Xela Aid several years ago assisting in OBGYN examinations for Maya women in the Highlands of Guatemala. Xela Aid has been working in the village of San Martin Chiquito for over 20 years, empowering women in many ways.  Many of these women, even though they have had eight or ten children, have never had a pelvic exam or a pap smear.  Xela Aid has built a clinic in the village, which has made it possible for women to have pre-natal and reproductive health care.












I became acquainted with women who have absolutely no control over their pregnancy decisions. I saw girls, as young as 12 with their babies strapped to their backs.  As I interviewed such women I found them unable to admit to abortions due to severe punishments, whether by law or spouses. This memory served me well as I read a National Geographic article, where imprisonment is the law against abortion, for any reason, in El Salvador. Women may face a 30-year prison sentence for such a “crime.” Though rape is common, the men get very little prison time if convicted.


As the election cycle comes to an end, discussions about abortions will return to the back burner in America for another four years. Since experts continue to disagree over when a fetus becomes a real person, there cannot be a definitive cultural answer to this universally relevant debate. It still remains important, however, to listen to all sides.

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