The book, Our Bodies, Our Selves, is passed out around the U.S. to women at reproductive health facilities, the standard guide for information on women’s health advertising that it “provides clear, truthful information” from a “feminist and consumer perspective.” The book has been published since 1970 by the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective, a nonprofit, public interest women’s health education, advocacy, and consulting organization. They claim to have inspired the women’s health movement.
Since 1970? Really?
The book has a chapter about the history of abortion. Abortion was actually criminalized in the U.S. in 1880 and, not surprisingly, this book depicts that legislation as part of a “an effort to control women and confine them to their traditional childbearing role,” It says the laws were a way for the medical profession to “tighten its control over women’s health care,” and that midwives, willing to commit abortions, were a “threat to the male medical establishment.” It also claims that with the “the U.S. government and the eugenics movement were concerned about ‘race suicide’ and wanted white U.S.-born women to reproduce.” But none of that is true. The history recorded in the writings of the doctors themselves tells a very different story. Their quotes are below.
Do you know the real history of how abortion became illegal in the U.S.?
Recently I have had the privilege of (virtually) meeting the leading expert on the history of abortion, Dr. Frederick N. Dyer, and he has obtained the actual writings and publications of the doctors during that time. He has also actively pursued a long-held interest in the key figure in that history, Dr. Horatio Robinson Storer. Dr. Storer practiced in the mid 1800’s in Boston when the topic of abortion was taboo, but the practice of abortion was becoming more common. Enlisting the American Medical Society to begin a crusade against abortion, he led nineteenth century physicians to successfully persuade the legislature to criminalize abortion.
It isn’t mentioned in Our Bodies, Our Selves, but Dr. Storer is credited, along with his mentor, as founding the field of gynecology; the word or the science did not exist before his crusade against abortion in the mid 1800’s. It is now the most common medical specialty in America. That can be legitimately called the real “woman’s health movement”, not the 1970 re-legalization of abortion as the feminists claim.
Let me repeat that: gynecology began with physicians who morally rejected abortion, so much so that they were successful in causing it to be illegal. We can learn from that history today.
In the 1800’s physicians called abortion a “mode of committing murder” that was “prevalent among the most intelligent, refined, moral, and Christian communities.” In our time, there has been a growing rejection of abortion in the medical community since Roe vs. Wade legalized abortion. There are about half as many clinics in the U.S. today as there were in the 1990’s when abortion rates peaked, and that isn’t because abortion rates have decreased by half; it’s because there are fewer doctors willing to devote their careers to this “mode of committing murder.”
Opposition to abortion was not a matter of trying to control women, but rather an effort to care for women and provide them with better medical care. It was not about controlling the medical profession, but an emphatic expression of the “universal sentiment of horror and indignation entertained among the upright men of the [medical] profession.” It was an expression of “horror, that the female can so completely unsex herself, that her sensibilities can be so entirely blunted, that any conceivable circumstances can compel her to welcome such degradation!”
These are their words of those crusading physicians. Put them in your tool bag.
“Would gentlemen that we could exonerate the moderns from guilt in this subject! It is, however, a mournful fact, which ought to be promulgated, that this crime, this mode of committing murder, is prevalent among the most intelligent, refined, moral, and Christian communities. We blush, while we record the fact, that in this country, in this city, where literature, science, morality, and Christianity are supposed to have so much influence; where all the domestic and social virtues are reported as being in full and delightful exercise; even here, individuals, male and female exist, who are continually imbruing their hands and consciences in the blood of unborn infants; yea, even medical men are to be found, who for some trifling pecuniary recompense, will poison the fountains of life, or forcibly induce labor to the certain destruction of the foetus, and not unfrequently of its parent.” ~Hugh Lenox Hodge, Professor of Obstetrics at the University of Pennsylvania, who spoke about criminal abortion to his medical students on November 6, 1839
“The moment an embryo enters the uterus a microscopic speck, it is the germ of a human being, and it is as morally wrong to endeavor to destroy that germ as to be guilty of the crime of infanticide.” ~David Humphreys Storer, Professor of Obstetrics and Medical Jurisprudence at the Harvard Medical School, presented in a lecture, “Duties, Trials and Rewards of the Student of Midwifery” November 1855
“If I am not wholly mistaken, it will be seen that, of all the varieties of murder, that of the embryonic human being is the most atrocious and indefensible. It is a wanton, unprovoked and cruel deprivation of a human being, of the existence which God alone gave, and can of right, take away, and that being is not only inoffensive but utterly helpless.” ~Jesse Boring of Georgia, “Foeticide,” Atlanta Medical and Surgical Journal 2, January 1857
“Besides these bills of mortality, the records of criminal courts will furnish sufficient proof that this crime is every day becoming more prevalent. It is humiliating to admit that there are a class of physicians who, Herod-like, have waged a war of destruction upon the innocent.” ~John Preston Leonard, a young physician from Rhode Island, who published an article, “Quackery and Abortion,” in the widely read Boston Medical and Surgical Journal in January 1851
“And now words fail. Of the mother, by consent or by her own hand, imbrued with her infant’s blood; of the equally guilty father, who counsels or allows the crime; of the wretches who by their wholesale murders far out-Herod Burke and Hare*; of the public sentiment which palliates, pardons, and would even praise this so common violation of all law, human and divine, of all instinct, of all reason, all pity, all mercy, all love,—we leave those to speak who can.” ~Horatio Robinson Storer, “Contributions to Obstetric Jurisprudence: No. I.—Criminal Abortion,” North-American Medico-Chirurgical Review 1859 (*“Burke and Hare” reference refers to William Burke and William Hare who were indicted in 1828 for 16 murders. Horatio was a medical student where the bodies had unknowingly been purchased for dissection.)
Perhaps abortion won’t be illegal again in the next few decades, or even our lives, but it has been criminalized before and it can happen again. What can we do now? Well so many men and women do so much already, but women have the advantage of being able to talk to their gynecologists directly.
Do you know whether or not your gynecologist does abortions?
Does your gynecologist know how you feel about abortion? Or is it a subject you just never bring up?
If you knew your doctor did abortions, what would you do?
Perhaps your doctor doesn’t even know who founded the field in which he or she practices.
These are necessary conversations. We wouldn’t let a practicing sex offender examine our children, so why would we let a practicing abortionist deliver them? Maybe the next physician’s crusade will begin with a mother’s crusade. Will we look at our children one day and tell them how we helped to end such a tragedy in this country? Or will they look at us and wonder why, on our watch, nothing really changed? Think about it.
What would happen if every pro-life woman demanded an end to abortion, and had that conversation in her gynecologist’s office?
I’m going to be doing a series of posts taken from Dr. Dyer’s thorough books, gratefully under his approval, advice and guidance. It might be of interest to know that Catholic women did not participate in the epidemic of induced abortion in any numbers until well into the twentieth century. Why? The confessional! Men and women alike, knew abortion was wrong and they didn’t compromise the truth.
As Dr. Dyer writes, “If your ancestors were largely Catholic, you can be thankful to the priests of your great-great grandmother, great-grandmother, and grandmother for your existence.” Maybe our great-great-granddaughters will be thankful for us, their early 21st century confessional-attending vocal Catholic mothers who insisted that the female sex manifest the dignity she is created to have. Maybe they’ll say we inspired a crusade against abortion in our time too.
Please join me in the journey through history. More to come!
- Our Bodies, Ourselves: A New Edition for a New Era, “Abortion History”
- Physician’s Crusade Against Abortion, Chapter 1, “Fervent Physician Pleas for the Unborn”