WHEN ABORTION WAS A CRIME by Leslie J. Reagan

WHEN ABORTION WAS A CRIME

Women, Medicine, and Law in the United States, 1867-1973
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 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)

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-520-08848-4
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Univ. of California
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1996




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