The antiabortion campaign grew in part, James Mohr has shown, out of regular physicians' desire to win professional power, control medical practice, and restrict their competitors, particularly Homeopaths and midwives. They faced competition from a variety of practitioners from other medical sects, collectively known as "Irregulars. In securing criminal abortion laws, the Regulars won recognition of their particular views as well as some state control over the practice of medicine.
Though professional issues underlay the medical campaign, gender, racial, and class anxieties pushed the criminalization of abortion forward. The visible use of abortion by middle-class married women, in conjunction with other challenges to gender norms and changes in the social makeup of the nation, generated anxieties among American men of the same class. Birth rates among the Yankee classes had declined by midcentury while immigrants poured into the country.
Horatio R. Storer, the leader of the medical campaign against abortion, envisioned the spread of "civilization" west and south by native-born white Americans, not Mexicans, Chinese, Blacks, Indians, or Catholics. This is a question our women must answer; upon their loins depends the future destiny of the nation.
White male patriotism demanded that maternity be enforced among white Protestant women. The antiabortion campaign was antifeminist at its core. Women were condemned for following "fashion" and for avoiding the self-sacrifice expected of mothers. The antiabortion campaign coincided with the fight by male Regulars to keep women out of their medical schools, societies, and hospitals. Boston and Harvard University, Storer's hometown and alma mater, were key sites of struggle over women's place in medicine, and Storer was personally engaged in the battle against female physicians.
The relative morality of men and women was of crucial importance to this campaign. For the specialists, whose interest in the female reproductive system raised questions about their sexual morality, the antiabortion campaign was a way to proclaim their own high morality in contrast to their competitors, their female patients, and even the ministers who tolerated abortion.
Nineteenth-century feminists expressed their anger with male sexual domination and promiscuity in a number of movements, including the campaigns against prostitution and slavery and the fight for temperance. All sections of the women's movement advocated "voluntary motherhood," a slogan that addressed both men's sexual violation of their wives and women's desire to control childbearing. Women saw themselves as morally superior and urged men to adopt a single standard—the female standard of chastity until marriage, followed by monogamy and moderation.
Indeed, Storer compared abortion to prostitution and, in so doing, called into question all claims made by middle-class nineteenth-century women on the basis of moral superiority. The antiabortion campaign attempted to destroy the idea of quickening. As physicians targeted quickening, they discredited women's experiences of pregnancy and claimed pregnancy as medical terrain. Quickening was based on women's own bodily sensations—not on medical diagnosis.
It made physicians, and obstetricians in particular, dependent on female self-diagnosis and judgment. Quickening could not be relied upon as an indicator of fetal life because, Storer argued, it did not occur at a standard moment.
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What had previously been understood as a blockage and a restoration of the menses prior to quickening was now associated with inducing a miscarriage after quickening by labeling it abortion. Furthermore, Storer equated abortion with infanticide.
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Regular medical men had entered the debate about sexual politics by attacking the female practice of abortion as immoral, unwomanly, and unpatriotic. In giving abortion new meaning, the Regulars provided a weapon that white, native-born, male legislators could use against the women of their own class who had been agitating for personal and political reform. Regular physicians won passage of new criminal abortion laws because their campaign appealed to a set of fears of white, native-born, male elites about losing political power to Catholic immigrants and to women.
Class privilege did not protect middle-class white women from public policy designed to control them. Although the criminalization of abortion was aimed at middle-class white women, it affected women of every, class and race. The new laws passed across the country between and regarded abortion in an entirely different light from common law and the statutes regulating abortifacients. In general, the laws included two innovations: they eliminated the common-law idea of quickening and prohibited abortion at any point in pregnancy.
Some included punishment for the women who had abortions. The antiabortion laws made one exception: physicians could perform therapeutic abortions if pregnancy and childbirth threatened the woman's life. A bill criminalizing abortion unless done for " bona fide medical or surgical purposes" passed the Illinois state legislature unanimously and was signed into law in A few years later, Illinois passed another law prohibiting the sale of abortifacients but made an exception for "the written prescription of some well known and respectable practicing physician.
Through the antiabortion campaign, doctors claimed scientific authority to define life and death. In so doing, they claimed the authority of religious leaders. In leading this moral crusade and thoroughly criticizing the ministry's lack of interest in abortion, regular doctors set themselves above religious leaders as well as above the general popu-. The medical profession's claim to moral purity and the authority of the clergy was a stepping-stone to greater social authority.
Regular physicians won an important victory when they persuaded the nation's states to criminalize abortion. Physicians entered a new partnership with the state and won the power to set reproductive policy. In the process, women's perceptions of pregnancy were delegitimated and women lost what had been a common-law right. During the more than one hundred years that abortion was illegal in the United States, the patterns, practice, policing, and politics of abortion all changed over time, though not always simultaneously.
I trace the history along several lines at once, according to the location, practice, and availability of abortion as well as its regulation.
Abortion was widely available throughout much of the era when abortion was a crime. Yet periods of tolerance were punctuated by moments of severe repression. At some points the changing structure of medicine brought about crucial changes in the history of abortion; at others, changes in women's lives or the political and economic context came to the fore. In the nineteenth century, abortion came under attack at a moment when women were claiming political power; in the twentieth century, it came under attack when they claimed sexual freedom.
Abortion, like contraception, means that women can separate sex and procreation—still a controversial notion. Antiabortion campaigns developed when women asserted sexual independence, as during the Progressive Era and since the s. When abortion was most firmly linked to the needs of family rather than the freedoms of women, as during the Depression, it was most ignored by those who would suppress it. Periods of antiabortion activity mark moments of hostility to female independence. The epoch of illegal abortion may be broken down into four periods.
The first covers the time from the criminalization of abortion state-by-state, accomplished nationwide by , to This period, covering fifty years, is heavily marked by continuity. As other historians have also found, the reproductive lives of most women and the day-to-day practice of most physicians changed slowly. The diversity of practitioners, the privacy of medical practice, and the autonomy of physicians in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries made the widespread medical practice of abortion possible.
A crackdown on abortion occurred between and as specialists in obstetrics renewed the earlier campaign against abortion, and the medical profession was drawn into the state's enforcement system.
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The structural transformation that occurred during the s, the second period, was crucial for the history of abortion. Abortion became more available and changed location. As the practice moved from private offices and homes to hospitals and clinics, abortion was consolidated in medical hands and became more visible.
The changes wrought by the Depression accelerated the pace of change in the coming decades, particularly in the methods of enforcing the criminal abortion laws. The third period was marked by increasing restrictions on abortion by state and medical authorities and intensifying demand for abortion from women of all groups. This period begins in , when the new methods of controlling abortion were first instituted, and continues through , when they were dismantled.
In reaction to the growing practice of abortion as well as apparent changes in female gender and reproductive patterns, a backlash against abortion developed. The repression of abortion was part of the repression of political and personal deviance that took place in the s and s.
Yet even in this period, the practice of abortion expanded in new directions in response to relentless demand. The new repression of abortion, however, was devastating for women. A dual system of abortion, divided by race and class, developed. During the postwar period, the criminalization of abortion produced its harshest results.
A new stage in the history of abortion, the movement to legalize it, overlaps with the third period. The movement to decriminalize abortion began in the mids and arose out of the difficult experiences resulting from the repression of abortion in the s and s.
In the s, a handful of physicians began to challenge the very abortion laws their profession had advocated a century earlier. The progress of that challenge attests to the continuing power of the medical profession to make public policy regarding reproduction. As legal reform moved forward, a new feminist movement arose, which radically transformed the movement for legal change.
When the women's movement described.
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The structure of this book follows this periodization. The first half of the book uncovers the history of abortion from the late nineteenth century through the s. Chapters I through 4 each cover different aspects of abortion, from women's lives to practice to politics to enforcement, during the first half-century of illegal abortion. The changes of the s, both medical and social, precipitated other changes. The second half of the book traces the history of abortion in chronologically ordered chapters concluding with the U.
Supreme Court decisions that ended the era of illegal abortion. Women's history of abortion needs to be examined both as a commonly felt need to control reproduction, arising from women's biological capacity to bear children and social relations that assign childbearing to women, and in terms of differences among women.