NER Washington forum; Abortion, part 2
The number of abortions annually which take place in response to what a doctor would call medical indications for abortion are of the order of perhaps ten thousand. The voice you just heard was that of Dr Karl Case and director of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton New Jersey. One of our two featured speakers this week on the N. E. R. Washington forum this week us special report on the recent international conference on abortion held in Washington D.C. under the auspices of the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation and the Harvard Divinity School. I'm an E.R. public affairs director Bill Greenwood. This week we will spotlight summary reports of experts in the field of social sciences and Medicine reports emanating from week long
discussions into every aspect of the abortion question. You will hear Dr. Andre Howe Eggers of the Georgetown University's School of Medicine. But first the report of Dr. Carle caisson. Ladies and Gentleman in reporting what our panel of social scientists thought were the important aspects of the problems of abortion that anyone who discusses it should consider. I wish to start by reminding you that the social sciences are diverse and cover a large territory. The particular panel for which I'm reporting included sociologists anthropologists social workers psychologists political economists It benefited from the comments of experienced
laymen with responsibility for social action in the world. I'm reporting on the propositions problems issues we think are important. We sought for aspects of the problem of what the social sciences can say about abortion should be emphasized. First a discussion of abortion alone is unhelpful. Abortion is part of a larger social system that involves the sexual relations of men and women. Marriage a family the creation. And rearing of children.
The alternative methods for dealing with. Interruptions crises in the normal flow of these relationships. Contraception adoption. Divorce and the discussion of abortion must take place in recognition of its place in that whole context. The second proposition we were concerned with was to recognize that in our society abortions take place in large numbers. There are not very occasional very unusual events
and that therefore we as social scientists have to say what function what social function do they serve. In plainer language what do people use them for. In answering these questions we had in mind quantitative magnitudes of the following order. And I caution you that all these figures are crude. It is not possible to find a basis on which accurate estimates can be made by the very nature of the social processes which surround or. The number of abortions annually which take place in response to what a doctor would call
medical indications for abortion are of the order of perhaps ten thousand or fewer the total number of abortions which take plights annually. In this country. Cannot be estimated with any accuracy and figures ranging from an order of two hundred thousand to an order of greater than 1 million are offered reasonable estimates by informed people. That's a wide range. These numbers should be compared with the number of something under four million three point eight million births per year. So that if one takes even the lowest of these estimates of the total
number there is a good deal of abortion that does take place in our society. A social scientists answering the question what do people use abortion for. I would say by and large they use it as a backstop. A second line of defense against undesired pregnancies. The first line of defense is concourse sec. And in this context it is important to note that there is. Broad agreement that something like four out of five of all abortions that do take place are those of married women who have had several children already. And that the. Cases of
pregnant women who are unmarried and the more special cases of pregnancy resulting from violent or criminal acts and the very important class of special cases of pregnancy in which there is an anticipation of a seriously defective child are not the typical. Set of circumstances in which the issue should be you. Now this process of induced abortion is view in our society as in a certain sense legitimate. All love. A large proportion. What proportion we don't know of the induced
abortions which do take place would not be defined probably And again we count as legal under present legal criteria. When we say they're legitimate What do we mean. I think an analogy may be helpful. If a family has the problem of being pressed for money and seriously pressed their number of legitimate solutions one legitimate solution is for the mother who hasn't been working to work in many sets of circumstances this is a difficult solution. The mother may have small children. The question of practically ensuring the care of these children may be hard. The question for her tomorrow question whether her duty to the children overrides the need for more cash income is hard. But we say that's a legitimate
solution to the problem of moring. We don't say bank robbery is a legitimate solution to the problem of moorings. It is in this rather metaphorical sense of the word legitimate that AB panel would observe that for some sections of the society and not very small ones although we cannot limit them. Abortion is a legitimate means to achieve the goal. The backstop the concrete section the prevention of unwanted pregnancies coming to term. If this description is correct then we as social scientists have to ask another question. What is the function of a legal code which by and large is quite different. In its delineation of what is legitimate in this sphere from what happens here.
I think we dealt with very difficult somewhat elusive issues. We recognize that there are important ones and in reporting them I simply wish to say we raised some questions. One of the questions is this. How significant is the functioning of the legal code in society as a Maro an ideological teacher. Is it the function of the legal code. Even though it is not absurd to teach us something about sexual relations marriage the family children. Is it doesn't hold up an ideal to us. We also raised the question from a quite different perspective the perspective of the psychological symbolic
to use a fancy word productive functions of social systems. And in this context we ask to what extent is the law on abortion or the set of laws on abortion expressive of a sad our. Attitudes toward the question of childbearing. Pregnancy sexual intercourse and in particular to what extent is it the expression of a set of largely Matal attitudes on these issues. Male attitudes which embody sub ordination of the female to the male. The third set of questions to which we addressed ourselves and
which we concluded are important are perhaps more readily recognizable as the questions of social science to the layman. And these are the questions which one can head. What's the problem. Why is there a social question here. Why are we concerned. Now here there are two broad things to say. One we recognize the point that a substantial discrepancy between the law legal codes and. What a sociologist or an anthropologist might say. The Gullwing practical code is in itself a problem. Disrespect for the law is a problem. Knowledge that the law may be irrelevant to a wide class of
actions for which it is presumed to prescribe is a problem. We also recognized and some among us emphasize that there may be a more important class of problems than simply the problem of law practice disagreements. This is the unequal incidence of the present system on different kinds of people people in different social conditions. Primarily this is a matter of the. Middle class and the wealthy versus the lower middle class and especially the poor. The law bears unequally on these groups
what is impermissible in a strict view of what the law says is available to members of these groups to pregnant women coming from these groups in widely different contexts to widely different degrees. And it was our general conclusion that for the middle class or the rich the pricked your arm and of an induced abortion when it was desired was not a serious problem. This is not true for the rest of society. The other point that this part of our discussion brought to the surface is. Again relevant to. The question of the whole social system regulating these matters we always have to ask changing the law and what else. If abortion is viewed by some parts of our society as the
legitimate or as a possible legitimate answer to the question what do you do in the case of an undesired pregnancy. We have to ask. The other questions. What makes the pregnancy undesirable. What makes the expectant child on want. Are there ways to change the circumstances perspectives experiences that lead to this conclusion. And none of us thought that it was useful or wise to talk as if the only change that's relevant is a change in a particular legal code. Finally if I may. I wish to add a personal rather than a reporting as an individual social scientist with a concern for the problems of policy which is to. Say to remind all of us that the
answer to the question. What is the appropriate. Action to take in the realm of legislation and the Realm the political decision is not given by the answer to the question what are the social consequences predicted from this change. It's not even given to the answer to the question What is the right thing to do and the marl sense in this situation. We recognized in our panel and in some of the interdisciplinary groups in which I participated that man who agree on these questions may disagree in legislative and political recommendations and men who disagree in legislative and political recommendations may agree. On these questions. So perhaps it's appropriate to close with a note.
That a discussion among experts is the beginning of a process. Of discussion among the concerned public must follow. Thank you thank you thank you Dr. Mason. Next we'll hear a summary of the medical discussions by Dr. Andre have Agus of the Georgetown University School of Medicine. Dr. delicacies I'd like to start this off by pointing out that all the members who were in the medical discussion agreed immediately on one fact which is that we are not the 14 medical members representatives for the medical professional all of the medical profession and consequently if you want to find out what the medical processions says you have to
use other mechanisms. We were just 14 friends in the room talking to each other and it is my job to present to you what it is we talked about how this went. We started all my attempting really as one of the tasks to see what can the medical man say about the size of the problem in terms of of certain things that medical men worry about. If you like. So we try to say first of all what is the size of the subject we're looking at. And we said well we would agree that there would be in the United States in hospitals performed by medical man something like eight or ten thousand abortions which are done by medical men in American hospitals. We quote at this as medical men do it as rates. This represents a
rate of about one abortion being performed for 500 life born babies. Then we got into the problem of saying all right now what do you think is happening outside of the hospitals. And we agreed as Mr. Kazan already said that we're really no further than we were 10 years ago. And knowing what is going on outside the hospital and that yes indeed it is someplace you know I kinda found something between 200 and a million too. And right here we would agree as a medical group wouldn't it be nice if we knew and maybe research could be done. We Dan switched for a moment from the United States to Northern Europe and were in agreement in Scandinavia. The number of abortions done in the hospital under the
laws as they have it would be about Sareen to seven abortions for every 100 life born babies. And we switch then to Eastern Europe and Japan. And we said they are the number of abortions done by physicians and the hospitals would be of the order of certain to one hundred and forty each per 100 live birth as the largest figure of them being one in which there would be 140 abortions performed for every 100 babies born so you have that spectrum and we could about agree that this is what what was going on. We then talked about same switch positions classically have talked about which is death and we said now in all of these processes how many people certifiably died and we were in agreement that we
knew for certain. We thought as promised the Bureau of Vital Statistics in the United States that in one thousand eight hundred and sixty FALTA would at least two hundred and forty seven known deaths from all forms of abortion in the United States at that point we said Well ah the unknown destiny and yes the poetry our unknown death as well. And then you get into the business of saying well you know you used the figure 500 and you asked your medical colleagues can you live with the figure of 500 if I reported this five hundred people say yes that's in the ballpark I can live with that has perhaps a good way of putting it to the other memos Reasoner proceeded to look for a moment at Scandinavia. We said all right now here. Physicians operating under another law are doing their abortions. How many women there die.
I'm Liz process and we said one in Scandinavia. By and large it would be one woman in two thousand five hundred who would die in this process. And we switch them to Eastern Europe and Japan. We have many many more of them. And there we sent them that we thought they would die from this procedure. About one in 20 to 25 South Asians. And then we obviously asked ourselves the question how comes the outcome that in Sweden it is 1 in 2500 and in Eastern Europe would be 1 in 25000. And we have to try and explain this. And we said well some of the possible differences would be the following. Firstly that since the last few of abortions done in Scandinavia than in Eastern Europe they do them for
stricter indications and therefore there are probably more sick women going into this abortion procedure and you must expect when you do a procedure medical procedure on a sick person that they are more likely to die than if you do it on a healthy person. So that explains some of that stuff. Secondly we know that in Eastern Europe abortions are done early on in the pregnancy process one month or two months of pregnancy does in Sweden they sometimes do in late. And we sort of came to a general agreement that the further the pregnancy is along with the more difficult the procedure is and therefore you must expect that when you do the very early as in Eastern Europe you might have fewer women dying from the procedure than if you do them later. We were then asked to answer the question well what what criteria do to psychiatry you use
to determine whether the risk the possible need for abortion. And we went back and we said well the psychiatry is really like any other physician has his accumulated experience and in his practice and goes to what he thinks is the appropriate sources like psychiatric journals and assimilates that and plans what he reads in the literature with his own experience he he proceeds and makes his clinical judgment and that's the criterion is so for all meds. We were asked also what what old medicine and of course we found speaking for medicine but what would you 14 gentlemen perhaps think that medicine might like to see in a law and we agree in general that one thing we would like to see would be that that of abortions wouldn't be done by bunglers downtown and we would like to protect. Women from the illegal abortionist and the only great that we could
agree on that if for no other reason that's a sound trade union principle. If you like but it is also cements it also happens to be sound medicine. So we came. Whatever. Where are the rest of the criminal abortionist as it is called was eliminated in law. If they could do that by a clause that dealt with abortion specifically or whether you fit that under some more clause than said nobody who is not a doctor may do anything medically to any body that didn't seem to us as physicians to be you know what physicians ought to be telling them or they ought to figure that one out. We then said on the matter between us 14 on this matter of whether the suit be a law regarding abortion at all what what do you 14. Sort of what goes through your mind. And then we split with Sam same
what perhaps should be no more at all. Some say you know what ought to be extremely restrictive. And a nice educational process when you talk to lawyers that those who might be called very restrictive in the way in which they would look at abortion. Might the sand the proposition that. Perhaps you ought to remove all law which sounds perhaps anachronistic because they would say I as a citizen might not like for the law to determine that some for a live and some die and therefore I would rather have the law always go all together and not protect but not I get people thinking that some cases it's alright and some not so you can cross lines there you know. Then as to the contents. And I said Let us now assume that you want a law that is a human going to make what should be to comtemplate settle. Then again
we had a wide spectrum of opinion in terms of individual minutiae in terms of individual details. Somebody said take that clause out of Sweden and add it to match this clause from Britain and the clause from the AI and that would be better than matching this form but also in in detail in in general the term again was. Could you live with that law. As a physician and so are we. Proceeded from there and they are again a majority would feel that the model penal code of the American mall instituted with some additions which allows one to take into consideration the life circumstances of the mob in the sense that the British law dies that the people who won the most of the half we could live with the U.S.A. and I'm sorry that is exactly what I do not want to live with but I think that the
Muslim majority that would say yes you I could live with that. All I can tell you is that that is the way it is. That was Georgetown University medical professor Dr Rhonda allegories commenting on medical discussions on the question of legalized abortion. You also heard a discussion of social science views from Dr Carl caisson of Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study. These comments were the product of a recent international conference on abortion involving medical social and political scientists from a number of nations. This program was produced for national educational radio by W am you FM American University Radio in Washington DC. I'm an E.R. public affairs director Bill Greenwood inviting you to listen again next week for another edition of the Emmy our Washington forum. This is the national educational radio network
- NER Washington forum
- Abortion, part 2
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- WAMU-FM (Radio station : Washington, D.C.)
- National Association of Educational Broadcasters, WAMU-FM (Radio station : Washington, D.C.)
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- Episode Description
- Report on international conference on abortion, held in Washington, D.C. Guests are: Dr. Carl Kaysen, director, Institute for Advanced Studies, Princeton, NJ.; and Dr. Andre Hellegers, Georgetown University School of Medicine.
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- Discussion series featuring a prominent figure affecting federal government policy.
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Host: Greenwood, Bill
Producing Organization: WAMU-FM (Radio station : Washington, D.C.)
Producing Organization: National Association of Educational Broadcasters, WAMU-FM (Radio station : Washington, D.C.)
Speaker: Kaysen, Carl
Speaker: Hellegers, Andre
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- APA: NER Washington forum; Abortion, part 2. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-cr5ndq74