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

When Abortion Was a Crime: Women, Medicine, and Law in the United States, 1867-1973
Author: Leslie J. Reagan
ISBN 13: 9780520216570
ISBN 10: 520216571
Edition: 50846th
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication Date: 1998-09-21
Format: Paperback
Pages: 400
List Price: $31.95

"Exploiting legal as well as medical records, Reagan has retrieved the history of women who struggled for reproductive autonomy and provides our best account of how the practice and policing of abortion evolved in relation to medicine, the state, and the condition of women. [This] is a major contribution to social history."—James W. Reed, Rutgers University

"This is a fascinating book—energetic, even urgent in its narrative. It is based on entirely new material, making ingenious and enlightening use of criminal trials, inquests and newspaper accounts. Both creative and painstaking in her research, Reagan persuasively establishes historical patterns in the availability of assisted abortion, and documents a striking anti-abortion backlash in the 1940-50s.
In addition to the book's value for scholars, it will undoubtedly be valuable to feminists, lawyers, doctors,and others intersted in the conditions of abortion today."—Nancy Cott, Yale University

"A first-rate exposition of the changing cultural and legal climate regarding abortion in America."—Thomas Szasz, Washington Post

Publishers Weekly

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-19th-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.