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


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

Leslie J. Reagan
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)

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Editorial Reviews

From 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-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.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From School Library Journal

YA?Most books written about this subject focus on the post-Roe v. Wade period. Reagan relates heart-wrenching stories of women who survived abortions and those who did not. She includes narratives from physicians, midwives, husbands, and boyfriends. The stories of poisonous potions drunk by women in an attempt to "open up the womb" remind readers that reliable birth control and pregnancy tests are recent developments. The author's research for this book comes from the Chicago AMA archives beginning in the mid-1800s when the organization led the way to criminalize abortion. Reagan utilized court records, police reports, medical literature of the day, and coroners' reports. The result is a scholarly chronicle of abortion in a large city. Containing 112 pages of endnotes and bibliography, and a 20-page index, this is a well-researched, organized, and interesting look at the inception and expansion of women's reproductive freedom as a political issue. After reading it, YAs will be better informed about the complexities of this ever-controversial subject.?Nancy Karst, Fairfax County Public Library, VA
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

This book brings to life both the medical and the legal history of abortion in the United States by using newspaper articles, transcripts of trials and inquests, and other archival sources to show readers how people were affected by the criminalization of private activities. Reagan (history, medicine, and women's studies, Univ. of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign) demonstrates that abortion has always been available to women, whether or not it was legal. The documentation here points out the use of physicians as police and moral authorities, the correlation of economic depression with the need for abortion, the discrimination against unmarried women and midwives, and the paternalism of the medical profession. These factors have, until Roe v. Wade, placed many obstacles in the path of women seeking abortion. The current backlash against abortion threatens a return to the difficult times of the past. This fascinating history, with its extensive bibliography, is an essential purchase for academic medical, legal, and women's studies collections. Highly recommended for public libraries as well.
Barbara M. Bibel, Oakland P.L., Cal.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Kirkus Reviews

A solidly grounded, sophisticated history of illegal abortion in the US. Reagan, a historian specializing in medicine and women's studies (Univ. of Illinois), persuasively argues that, even during periods when legal and medical systems and religious beliefs have proscribed abortion, it has been an important, and often accepted, part of women's lives. She uses a range of materials, including government documents and the popular press, to prove her case but focuses her research primarily on legal and medical records. Reagan combines her analysis of nationwide trends in abortion practice with a study focusing on Chicago. By 1880, abortion was illegal throughout the US. Nonetheless, through 1940 it was a common medical practice that enjoyed widespread social acceptance. In the '40s the states, in cooperation with the medical establishment, began to enforce abortion laws more vigilantly. It was during this period that most of the pre-Roe ``back alley'' abortions took place. The movement to legalize abortion began in the mid-1950s, first on the initiative of a few doctors, later gaining momentum and ideological fervor with the rise of the Second Wave of feminism in the late 1960s. Reagan goes beyond the genesis of written laws, focusing on women's attitudes toward abortion and their concrete experiences of it. She points out that abortion has often been seen as a result of women's victimization (a callous man uses a woman for his own sexual pleasure and then abandons her). Reagan acknowledges that this happens but points out that, across class lines and time periods, many women have actively wanted to separate sex from procreation. She also skillfully connects abortion to larger events and tendencies in history; the Depression, for example, greatly increased the economic need for abortion. Of enduring interest to anyone concerned with the history of women's rights, sexual mores, and the relationship of law and policy to ordinary lives. (6 b&w illustrations, not seen) -- Copyright ©1996, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"This well-written book is a stellar, complex, and accessible volume that will stand as the definitive history for years to come."--Rickie Solinger, "San Francisco Chronicle Book Review

From the Inside Flap

"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

From the Back Cover

"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 text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Leslie J. Reagan is Professor of History, with affiliations in gender and women's studies, law, media and cinema studies, and medicine, at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She is the author of Dangerous Pregnancies: Mothers, Disabilities, and Abortion in Modern America (UC Press) and coeditor of Medicine's Moving Pictures: Medicine, Health, and Bodies in American Film and Television.
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