When Abortion Was a Crime: Women, Medicine and Law in the United States, 1867-1973

Leslie J. Reagan, Author
Leslie J. Reagan, Author University of California Press $45 (400p) ISBN 978-0-520-08848-1
Reviewed on: 12/30/1996
Release date: 01/01/1997
Open Ebook - 400 pages - 978-0-520-92206-8
Open Ebook - 400 pages - 978-1-283-38216-8
Paperback - 400 pages - 978-0-520-21657-0
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In 1900, women attempted to induce abortions by inserting knitting needles, crochet hooks, hairpins, scissors, chicken feathers and cotton balls into their uteruses. In 1917, black women ""pinned their faith on... [the] ingestion of... starch or gunpowder and whiskey."" Reagan, an assistant professor of history, medicine and women's studies at the University of Illinois, dedicates her disturbing work on abortion in America before Roe v. Wade to ""the lives of... women who died trying to control their reproduction."" She chronicles the covert efforts and subsequent prosecution of doctors and midwives, and of unmarried women and their lovers (while married women made up the majority of clientele and were accused of ""race suicide,"" they were pursued less often). Reagan has her work cut out for her: Though the law forbade abortions, she writes, ""some late-nineteenth-century doctors believed there were two million abortions [performed] every year."" And then, as now, debate raged: though some doctors disagreed, the Journal of the American Medical Association declared itself against abortion in the case of rape since ""pregnancy is rare after real rape."" For those who take legal abortion for granted, Reagan's work is an eye-opener. (Jan.)
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