The year began in 1998 with numerous media reflections on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Supreme Court's landmark Roe vs. Wade decision and the thirty to thirty-five million abortions that the ruling legalized. (In fact, three years earlier in 1995, Norma McCorvey [known as Jane Roe], the woman whose fight for the right to an abortion led to the 1973 Supreme Court decision, said that she disavowed her position and had been baptized by the national head of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue.) In January of that year, a New York Times/CBS News telephone survey of 1,101 Americans found one- half viewing "abortion [as] the same thing as murdering a child" and a general preference toward restricting the procedure. For instance, when asked whether a pregnant woman should be able to get a legal abortion if her pregnancy would force her to interrupt her career, only 25% said yes--down from 37% in 1989. With the conclusion of this anniversary year, studies of The Alan Guttmacher Institute found a decrease in the number of abortion providers in the United States and reported the lowest abortion rate since 1975. (Click here for the Abortion Law Homepage.)
American women have among the highest rates of unplanned pregnancies and abortions of all industrialized countries. Chances are more than 2 in 5 that an American woman will have an abortion sometime in her lifetime. Although the total number of abortions --1.6 million a year-- performed in the United States and the rate of abortions among American women has remained relatively constant, more married women are getting abortions, according to recent surveys.
The American abortion history not only involves central moral, religious and social values, but has also been shaped by racism, feminism, and class dynamics. A powerful political coalition, perhaps with as many as ten million followers, has emerged to promote antiabortion legislation. By the late 1990s there were reports of extreme antiabortionists allying themselves with rightist militia groups. Philadelphia Surgeon Dr. Everett Koop, the antiabortion activist who was to serve as Reagan's Surgeon General, observed: "Nothing like it has separated our society since the days of slavery."
Worldwide, roughly one-in-five abortions occurs in developed nations. In India and China there's a different facet to the abortion-feminist connection: the selective-sex abortions of female fetuses. According to Prabhat Kumar et al. ("Low male-to-female sex ratio of children born in India," The Lancet [online Jan. 9, 2006]), selective-sex abortions claims one-half million Indian girls each year. Interestingly, they found the female feticides most common among the most educated women--those who could afford the ultrasound determination of sex tests.
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And to see the work that has drawn the ire of pro-life and pro-choice folks alike, check out John J. Donahue and Steven Levitt's "The Impact of Legalized Abortion on Crime" in the May 2001 issue of The Quarterly Journal of Economics.
The United States executed 53 individuals in 2006, 46 percent fewer than in 1999, when the greatest number (98) were put to death since the early 1950s. Nearly four in ten of these executions occurred in the state of Texas (whose Dept. of Criminal Justice's "Death Row" statistics page for some reason even details final meal requests). Since its reinstatement in 1976, this ritual of retribution has been administered to nearly 1100Americans. For up-to-date statistics, history and famous trials check CBSNews.com's Capital Punishment Interactive website.
According to Amnesty International's 2002 report, only two countries executed more people than did the United States during the preceding year: China (1,060) and Iran (113). Together, these countries conducted 80% of all known executions worldwide. Congress's 1993 crime bill extended the death penalty to an additional 47 Federal crimes, authorizing the death penalty for 15 Federal crimes previously punishable by life in prison. As the Derechos Human Rights organization notes, the ritual has been abolished de jure or de facto by 111 nations and is still imposed in 83 others. For one country's history of the practice, see Capital Punishment U.K.
Support for the death penalty is slipping in the United States, from a 1994 peak of 84 percent to, according to a May 2001 Pew Center report, 66 percent--about its level in the 1950s. This decline corresponds with declines in homicide rates and public support.
In what was probably the most detailed investigation of capital convictions in the United States, a study released in June 2000 out of the Columbia University Justice Project found that nearly 7 out of 10 of death penalty verdicts made between 1973 and 1995 which were appealed were thrown out. A full copy of A Broken System: Error Rates in Capital Cases, 1973-1995 is now available for download.
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OPPOSITION TO THE RITUAL
In early 1998, Karla Tucker became the 145th individual executed by Texas (click here for the state's death row information) since the moratorium on capital punishment was lifted in 1977. She was the first woman executed in that state since the Civil War, despite widespread support for her cause. A telegenic individual and a born again Christian, Ms. Tucker became known as the nicest person on death row and her supporters included televangelist Pat Robertson and the homicide detective who tracked her down. After her death, some speculated that perhaps the Christian Right might soften its staunch pro-capital punishment position. It didn't. In March 2003 Texas conducted its 300th execution in 20 years.
Since fundamentalist Christians comprise roughly one-third of American adults, how might such a shift in stance toward this ultimate punishment affect their positions toward other death-related moral issues? To be more precise, to what extent does their moral ideology integrate attitudes toward capital punishment, abortion, and physician-assisted death (euthanasia)?
Looking at the combined 1996-2000 NORC General Social Surveys, let us consider responses to the following three questions:
HOW ATTITUDES TOWARD CAPITAL PUNISHMENT
CORRELATE WITH ATTITUDES TOWARD ABORTION & EUTHANASIA
IN THE MINDS OF FUNDAMENTALIST PROTESTANTS IN 2000
In Protestants' minds there was at century's end no correlation between attitudes toward capital punishment and abortion. Beliefs about capital punishment do, however, correlate with attitudes toward physician-assisted death--more so for fundamentalist Protestants than for their more liberal Protestant counterparts. For instance, those fundamentalist Protestants who favor executions are nearly half again more likely to favor physician-assisted death than those opposing executions. Thus it might be predicted that any shift toward opposing capital punishment will lead to increasing opposition in this group toward abortion and euthanasia.
We may have, observed Daniel Maguire in 1974, "overestimated our right to kill in a military setting and underestimated it in some medical and private settings."
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