Free associations to the word “abortion” would probably yield a fantastic array of emotional responses: pain, relief, murder, crime, fear, freedom, genocide, guilt, sin. Which of these associations people have no doubt reflects their age, marital status, religion, or nationality. To a forty-fouryear-old Japanese or Hungarian woman, the primary response might be “freedom” and “relief”; to an unmarried American college girl, “fear” and “pain”; to a Catholic priest, “murder” and “sin”; to some black militants, “genocide.”
To begin this way is to underline the complexity of individual emotion and social cleavage in regard to abortion. It may be years before Americans use the more neutral expression, “pregnancy termination,” as the British did in naming their abortion law last year. Some of the sting may be neutralized by placing abortion in a wider historical context, for abortion is only one of many devices man has used to control fertility. Only a few centuries ago many European cathedrals had revolving doors with a basket attached into which a woman could deposit her unwanted infant. By now, such abandonment has been largely transformed into a more humane system of infant adoption. Infanticide too has declined as a means of controlling fertility. Compared to either infanticide or child abandonment, abortion of a fetus during the first trimester of pregnancy is ...
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