Legal And Regulatory Issues

The ability to control fertility depends on available technology, moral and religious acceptability, and legal permissibility or the threat of sanction. The major fertility-control mechanisms are contraception and sterilization and, when neither is used or the chosen method fails, abortion. The mechanical and physiological characteristics of each method determine the ease and comfort of individual use, the likelihood of success, and the potential for coercion.

In many cultures men view children as proof of virility and power. They see attempts by women to limit or terminate pregnancy as an attack on male authority and reproductive potential, which in many societies equals wealth. For many women a desire to limit pregnancy must often be pursued furtively, with fear of violence and retaliation. Biology and the threat to a woman's independence, health status, and well-being make the control of fertility primarily a woman's concern. A woman's ability to limit and control her fertility may be a necessary precondition for equality and personal economic status.

Because they affect relationships between the sexes, population growth, and a woman's status, contraception, sterilization, and abortion are and have been problematic for many societies. Secular societies committed to individual rights and liberties are less likely to intervene in reproductive decisions. But all societies to some degree attempt to influence individual reproductive choices.

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