Vanderbilt Law Review

First Page



Widespread national publicity and recent state legislative activity have focused a significant degree of national concern on a serious problem of public health and morals--the question of abortion.Surveys indicate that between 1,000,000 and 1,500,000 abortions take place annually--or, one abortion for every four to five pregnancies. The so-called "back-street abortionists," whether amateur or professional, each year cause the death of 5,000 to 10,000 women who are forced to seek their services. Because of the highly controversial nature of abortion, statutes attempting to deal with the problem stubbornly resist amendment despite widespread disregard of their provisions. Many hospitals permit abortions under hospital-imposed regulations in open contravention of the law, thus subjecting the physicians involved to the risk of criminal prosecution. Legislation should be thoughtfully considered which would not only remove this threat of prosecution for following accepted medical practices but which would also provide a legally-approved alternative in situations (1) where the physical or mental condition of the patient indicates a need for early termination of pregnancy, or (2) where the patient is either mentally incompetent or a victim of incest or rape. Support for legislative reform has been voiced by the general public and by both medical and legal professions. The purpose of this note is to consider the religious and legal thought which formed the bases for the present abortion statutes; to discuss the present statutory and case law pertaining to abortions; and to examine the various medical and legal factors indicating need for reform.