The History of Abortion Illegality in America, Simplified.
“In the early 1800s, when a woman stopped menstruating she was not considered to be pregnant until she could feel the fetus moving inside of her. Before this movement, she was thought of as having blocked menses. Even if she felt something was growing inside her, it was not considered to necessarily be a potential child. [I]t was considered normal and right for a woman to do whatever she could to expel the burden blocking her menses, if she so chose. This view was so common that even religious newspapers carried advertisements of people who would help restore your menses” (Crabb 2011, 24-25).
So, basically, there were doctors trained at these upper-class, prestigious and few medical schools in the 1800s. Then women started getting together and starting health collectives, training midwives and other sorts of health “healers.” The fancy, upper-class doctors didn’t want to be associated with those people, nor did they want them taking their business and profession, so they all got together and demanded medical licensing.
These laws didn’t really do anything at first, but they made people really mad so the home-health movement grew bigger. Cindy Crabb writes, “this movement was inseparable from feminist and class struggles” (2011, 25). This movement stood against the increased medicalization of bodies and demanded that women in particular should be taught and learn about their bodies as well as retain responsibility over them. Supporters advocated for women to have control over how many children they birthed, as well as created groups of women who taught each other reproductive medical procedures. DIY contraception and abortion kits were made at home and even mass-produced and sold in the mail by companies.
The abortion rate rose, and for the first time, it was publicly evident that white, married, Protestant and middle-class women were having abortions (and still are). Now, the regular doctors, already mad that these women were having abortions in violation of the Hippocratic Oath (Hippocrates held a minority anti-abortion view) and were taking medicine into their own hands, were also lots of white guys! So, these white doctors living in America in the age of increasing immigration were concerned that “their women” were aborting fetuses at too high of a rate and threatened racial hegemony. They were also concerned by women moving into their field (the professional field), when they should have just been home making cookies.
So, as Cindy Crabb (2011) writes, “Basically, the regular doctors were racist, sexist, money hungry, status and power seeking fucks, and they were friends with the rich guys who tended to get into political office and the rich guys who owned newspapers” (26). Together, they launched a campaign to sway public opinion on abortion (gotta get those ladies under control ya’ll) and after a while, they got the first anti-abortion laws passed under the guise of protecting women from bad doctors. Women were no longer allowed to induce a miscarriage, despite the fact that only a few years before, everybody (even the religious folks) were encouraging women to buy new ways to evacuate their menses!
This wasn’t enough for the regular doctors, who continued their campaign with a whirlwind of misinformation and sensationalized stories of “horror abortions.” Then, still not powerful enough, these regular doctors formed The American Medical Association! Yeah, that’s right. The AMA. They succeeded too. After a long, hard, road, they successfully became the only ones dictating the control of bodies and denied individual people the right to do it themselves. Increasing medicalization of bodies (not just reproductive care!), denial of women’s spaces for home healthcare and the elite secrecy of medical knowledge has led us to an age where we don’t know anything about our bodies, despite the fact that we live in breathe in them every day.
The more you know.
Crabb, Cindy. 2011. The Encyclopedia of Doris. Minneapolis: Bolger Printing
Other sources/similar reads:
Abortion in America- Momr
Witches, Midwives, and Nurses - Ehrenreich and English
Experiencing Abortion- Kushner
Abortion Wars- Solinger
Contraception and Abortion in 19th Century America- Brodie
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