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By James C. Mohr

'The background of the way abortion got here to be banned and the way girls lost--for the century among nearly 1870 and 1970--rights formerly regarded as traditional and inherent over their very own our bodies is an engaging and infuriating one.

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Additional resources for Abortion in America: The Origins and Evolution of National Policy (Galaxy Books)

Sample text

The remaining five, however, the only ones that might be said to have moved to a more anti-abortion position than the nation opened the nineteenth century with, had passed statutes that were essentially unenforced and unenforceable insofar as they addressed abortion prior to quickening. In all cases the laws contained either the need to prove pregnancy or the need to prove intent, neither of which could be determined beyond doubt without quickening. The first wave of abortion legislation in American history emerged from the struggles of both legislators and physicians to control medical practice rather than from public pressures to deal with abortion per se.

Metcalf, a Harvardtrained regular with a deep devotion to the value of accurate aggregate statistics. In 1843 he published the detailed records he had kept on 300 obstetrical cases that he was involved in prior to 1839. Five of them eventually ended in abortion, and two of those had been illegitimate pregnancies. "56 Even as Metcalf published his statistics, however, the American perception of who was having how many abortions for what purpose was shifting dramatically. That shift, along with a professional resurgence of the regular physicians following their eclipse and disillusionment during the 1830s, would have a profound impact upon the next stage in the evolution of abortion policy in the United States.

Scholars interested in the medical mentality of the nineteenth century will have to explain the reasons for this ideological position. 32 But whatever the reasons, regular physicians felt very strongly indeed on the issue of protecting human life. And once they had decided that human life was present to some extent in a newly fertilized ovum, however limited that extent might be, they became the fierce opponents of any attack upon it. The First Wave of Abortion Legislation, 1821-1841 • 37 Practically, the regular physicians saw in abortion a medical procedure that not only gave the competition an edge but also undermined the solidarity of their own regular ranks.

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