The Elderly and Attitudes on Abortion
The Elderly and Attitudes on Abortion Despite pro-choice advocacy and movements concerning a woman’s right to choose in recent years, the elderly population (75+) in the United States is still overall opposed to abortion as a whole, and are more likely to want restrictions on laws concerning legal abortion. This has an impact on younger women, and younger people as a whole due to laws impacting their chances on getting a safe, legal procedure if they or someone they impregnated feels the need to do so at some point in their lives. Older people are largely unable to reproduce and thus have little to no need for an abortion, so initially their opposition is puzzling. Their ability to vote on topics that do not have a direct impact on their bodies and health is relevant as well, and some feel it is debatable whether their opinions should be as heavily weighed in this context.
Firstly, it is important to acknowledge that this part of the population was born in 1943 or earlier, when societal values as a whole concerning abortion were very different. Abortion was criminalized in the U.S. between the late 1800s and 1973, so the only option concerning the procedure was having a “back alley”, illegal and often extremely unsafe abortion. Birth control was technically available by 1937, but until a ruling in 1965 it was illegal to distribute in many states.
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Other forms of contraception were not discussed publicly and were often considered to be “immoral”, or sinful to use. Abortion and surrounding topics were highly stigmatized and not discussed in most circumstances, which affected the mindset of much of the elderly population. Sexual education in primary and secondary schools was different at the time the sample group attended school as well. Soldiers were advised of the dangers of STDs while in the army, but schoolchildren often learned of little more than abstinence from any kind of sexual activity. This led to misunderstandings of sexuality, contraceptives, and human anatomy which often further led to unplanned pregnancies as well as the fear of abortions.
In situations involving unplanned pregnancies, a secret live birth often occurred, followed by hastily putting the child up for adoption. The elderly population is shown to be less mentally astute, and in some cases less aware of the current climate concerning politics, science, and other subjects than the rest of the general population. They are overall less politically progressive when voting, regardless of whether they are directly affected by a potential law or policy. Their opposition to abortion follows this pattern, and has a growing affect on the outcomes of elections or other decisions due to the rising average lifespan in the United States, and thus the amount of elderly rising due to advances in medical care.
Public education, when implemented correctly, is often successful in granting knowledge to its target demographic. Providing current, sound information on abortion to the elderly population as well as explaining the effects of politics on younger generations concerning abortion may provide a new, concrete viewpoint to the demographic in question as well as reduce the spreading of outdated misconceptions. As is the case with many public service endeavors, efforts to educate a large group of people are often expensive, as well as difficult to formulate. Correctly implementing educational devices is much easier said than done. Ideally, stigma against abortion would be lessened through current scientific explanation and the elderly population would possess a new understanding that would influence their political views, lessening their overall disapproval of abortion and changing their current status as more likely to want stricter abortion laws. This would begin the powerful process of “normalizing” abortion, which is key for the process of destigmatization.
Review of Literature Cultural Stigma and Public Understanding of Abortion Although the law and public perception among younger people concerning abortion has changed dramatically since the 1940s, efforts from the U.S. Government or official agencies to publicly address these changes and educate the masses on the topic have been virtually nonexistent. Thus, the elderly population held onto false information surrounding abortion from their younger days. This information often discredited abortion as a whole due to its former illegal status in the U.S., according to Alison Norris, et al. in a reconceptualization of issues surrounding abortion. An underlying cultural stigma was revealed in the process of legalizing abortion, which still affects current restrictions such as periods of waiting, required ultrasound viewing, and limits concerning gestation of a fetus. The perception of abortion as unsanitary or detrimental to one’s health is discussed within the article as well, citing the urban knowledge of past “back-alley” abortion which often led to infection causing serious illness or death, not to mention potential legal consequences.
Although the majority of modern clinics that offer abortion in the U.S. are sanitary and legal, these past issues are still utilized by anti-abortion activists to strike fear into women considering abortion. Alison Norris et al. also refer to theories about the effect of abortion on one’s psychological state (referred to as post-abortion syndrome). Although lacking substantial evidence, these misdiagnoses have made their way into state-level regulations. This insinuates a disconnect between medical care and receiving an abortion, reinforcing the idea that abortion is inherently and unavoidably harmful to one’s physical and mental health. The journal identifies that measuring cultural stigma against abortion is not a simple process.
Constructing an effective evaluation method for stigma would likely prompt mass amounts of funding to obtain professionals in fields related to the issue at hand, as well as handling potential attention from anti-abortion activists. Alison Norris, et al. mention a specific research facility and program within it that have been making strides to further this research: Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health, a program of the University of California at San Francisco’s Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health. Sexual Education Public schools started to be involved in current societal issues from the 1920s and 30s onward, according to Huber and Firmin’s study on sex education. Beginning with activists for educational progressiveness, it was argued that not openly addressing sexual issues allowed them to continue from generation to generation, and secondary schools were an appropriate place to educate young people. Information was deemed necessary for young people to be aware of the different facets of sex and sexuality, and stressed the need for sexual restraint among adolescents.
However, many opposed this idea, stating that it would encourage young children to pursue sexually immoral content that they would be otherwise unexposed to. Parents took offense to the implication that they were not sufficient resources to teach their children about sex when they felt the time was correct. The gender roles concerning sexuality among adolescents were acknowledged in the journal as well. At the time, it was thought that girls should maintain their virginity and abstain from sexual contact as a whole until marriage, whereas boys were freer to “experiment” as they pleased. These viewpoints seem to contradict one another in a time where homosexuality was considered inappropriate as well (girls should not experiment at all, yet boys should not experiment with each other), but these aspects of traditional gender roles still exist to some degree in modern America.
While sex education was not wholly approved by the public, Huber and Firmin uncovered information describing sexual education programs being quietly integrated into existing classes in many public schools to avoid suspicion. Abortion was likely painted in a negative light in these classes, as that was what the public (including teachers) knew to be true, or not mentioned at all. The journal says that Alfred Kinsey was a notable figure at the time, publishing books concerning sexual behavior and his research in the late 1940s. His work is said to provide a basis for modern sexual education, although his books were and still are extremely controversial in many areas due to covering topics such as marital infidelity, homosexuality, and even what he interpreted as infants’ sexual responses. Some of his claims, namely his suggestion that humans are sexual from birth played into the idea that fetuses are alive from the point of conception, an idea that modern anti-abortion activists still preach today.
While the past itself cannot be changed, the ideologies that some still hold from it have potential. The journal discusses improvements in sex education, which really took off in the 1960s and 70s. The elderly missed these changes to a certain degree, as most had already finished school and were either working or keeping house. Cultural changes affected them to some degree, but their adult minds were harder to shift that adolescents’ in that period of time. Mental Capabilities At the very beginning of “Older but Wiser? Effects of Age on Political Cognition” by Richard R. Lau and David P. Redlawsk, the presence of age as a standard demographic variable used by social scientists is referenced. Age is then predicted to be an important factor in U.S. politics due to an aging population. Older demographics tend to vote more, presumably due to more political experience throughout the course of their lives. Cognitive processing is a notable topic when studying the elderly, specifically.
- Huber, Valerie J. and Michael W. Firmin. 2014. “A History of Sex Education in the United States since 1900.” International Journal of Education Reform 23(1):25–51.
- Lau, Richard R. and David P. Redlawsk. 2008. “Older but Wiser? Effects of Age on Political Cognition.” The Journal of Politics70(1):168–85.
- Norris, Alison et al. 2011. “Abortion Stigma: A Reconceptualization of Constituents, Causes,and Consequences.” Womens Health Issues 21(3). 2