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We Don't Have to Imagine the Consequences of Abortion Bans. We Just Have to Look to the Past

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tags: abortion, Roe v Wade, reproductive rights, womens health



Leslie J. Reagan is a professor of history, law, and gender and women’s studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and the author of When Abortion Was a Crimeand Dangerous Pregnancies.

On Wednesday, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signed the nation’s most extreme abortion bill. If it goes into effect, it would ban abortion almost entirely in the state — in every stage of pregnancy — and make it a felony for providers to perform the procedure.

It would also send Alabama back to the 19th century. The state first made abortion a crime a bit more than 150 years ago, and others passed similar measures through the middle of that century. Prior to that wave of legislation, common law had allowed abortion until quickening, when the woman first perceived fetal movement — usually around the middle of a pregnancy. Only at the point of quickening was life recognized as having begun. A small group of elite physicians working to professionalize medicine initiated a campaign to criminalize the practice of “bringing on the menses.” They aimed to eliminate their competition by casting midwives and “irregular” doctors as criminals.

To gain legislative support, these doctors raised questions about exactly who was having babies, who was aborting and who should populate the nation. They knew well-to-do white women were having fewer children, and that the families of immigrants, Catholics and, after the Civil War, freedpeople, were larger. To put it plainly: Lawmakers hoped to force middle-class white women to have more babies by removing the option of abortion, thus preventing the country from being “taken over” by “foreigners” and people of color.

The resulting laws punished everyone involved in abortion: providers and assistants; partners who helped pay; even advertisers. All faced jail and fines. And though some anti-abortion commentators claim women were not punished when abortion was illegal, many statutes explicitly included them, too.

 

Read entire article at Time

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