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Roe v Wade Set Equity and Safety Standards for Those Seeking Abortions

May 20, 2022 0 comments

Do you know what year abortion became completely illegal in all the US states?

Never.

Abortion was either lawful or not illegal from the beginning of time until the 1800s.

Abortion was simply regulated by gatekeepers even after the 1800s.

Abortion had been legal in the United States since European colonization.

Methods for performing abortions early in pregnancy (pre-Quickening) were published in the early 1800s. (Quickening – the onset of fetal movements, usually felt 15–20 weeks after conception).

Most states continued to use English common law on abortion after the United States gained independence. 

Lord Ellenborough’s Act [law addressing malicious shooting and stabbing] had an added amendment making abortion illegal by legislation in the United Kingdom in 1803 by punishing post-quickening abortions with the death penalty and pre-quickening abortions with ‘penal transportation’ for 14 years. 

[Penal Transportation was the transport of condemned criminals or other undesirables to a distant location, generally a colony, for a specified period of time; subsequently, explicitly created penal colonies became their destination. While the prisoners were released after serving their sentences, they frequently lacked the financial means to return home. Indentured Servitude, on the other hand, was a form of labor in which a person signed a contract to work without salary for a specific number of years to pay off debt.]

Prior to 1800, most (recorded) abortions were obtained by unmarried women who had fallen pregnant outside of marriage.

More than half of the 54 abortion cases published in American medical journals between 1839 and 1880 were sought by married women, and more than 60% of the married women already had at least one child.

Many conservative physicians, almost entirely men, were concerned that married women were increasingly seeking abortions and became the most vocal supporters of abortion criminalization legislation.

Connecticut was the first state in the United States to make medical abortion illegal after quickening in 1821.

In 1829, the state of New York made post-quickening abortions a felony and pre-quickening abortions a misdemeanor, unless the abortion met legal exceptions.

Within the next 20 years, 10 more of the 26 states will impose similar abortion restrictions.

The woman who hired the doctor or the person executing the surgery was also punished under the early legislation.

Both the male-dominated medical profession and the male-dominated legislatures during the Reconstruction period (1865-1877) advocated that the emerging women’s rights movement bore a large share of the responsibility for the increase of married women seeking abortions despite criminalization laws.

Abortion providers were often excluded from medical school and unaffiliated with medical societies, notably the female-dominated profession of midwives.

1849: First woman to graduate from medical school;

1864: First Black woman to graduate from medical school;

1876: First woman to be admitted to the American Medical Association

1900: 7,387 women doctors (1940: 7,708 women doctors)

In an era when the nation’s prominent doctors were seeking to standardize the medical profession, these “irregulars” were viewed as a nuisance to public health and competition, due to providing services at a lower cost.

Though the medical profession was hostile to feminism, many feminists of the time were also anti-abortion. An editorial was published in The Revolution, which was run by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, stating that rather than simply trying to establish criminal laws prohibiting abortion, the main problem must also be addressed.

Many feminists of the time saw marital rape and unmarried women’s seduction as societal ills that caused the need to abort because men did not respect women’s right to abstinence.

However, physicians remained the most vocal opponents of abortion, and they took their message to state legislatures across the country, pushing not only anti-abortion legislation but also a campaign against the use and availability of contraception.

Historically, women were expected to have a subordinate role in family matters, were not allowed to vote, and could not buy or own property.

An 1808 Connecticut statute that allowed women to leave wills and effect transfers through bequests was the first American law that gave women any authority over property.

By 1848, in most U.S. states the only property rights to which a woman was entitled as a result of marriage were dower rights, which were roughly defined as the life estate to which every married woman was entitled if her husband died without leaving a will. If a woman contested the will or considered that it did not adequately provide for her needs, she could claim one-third of the value of all property in which the husband had an interest at the time of his death. Dower established a life estate solely; she could not control these assets through sale or gift.

The precursor of the contemporary American feminism movement began to take shape in the northeastern United States with the enactment of the Married Women’s Property Act of 1848 in New York State, which established a model for obtaining women’s property rights in other states.

But as late as 1867, a decision of the Supreme Court of Illinois in Cole v. Van Riper noted that “It is simply impossible that a married woman should be able to control and enjoy her property as if she were sole, without practically leaving her at liberty to annul the marriage.”

Anthony Comstock founded the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice in 1873, an organization dedicated to monitoring public morality. Later that same year, Comstock successfully lobbied the United States Congress to adopt the Comstock Law, which made it illegal to send “obscene, vulgar, or lascivious” material through the United States mail.

An added amendment also outlawed the production or distribution of information relevant to the procurement of abortion, the prevention of conception, or the transmission of venereal disease, even to medical students. 24 of the 37 states quickly enacted identical legislation.

Abortion became heavily restricted in most states, primarily due to the efforts of male-dominated legislators, doctors, and the American Medical Association.

By 1910, the AMA had successfully fought for all states to criminalize abortion unless performed by a licensed medical doctor who had sole discretion to determine whether the woman met the restricted circumstances… and could pay.

While abortion was a felony in every state by 1900, most states incorporated clauses permitting abortion in restricted circumstances, mainly to safeguard the woman’s life or to terminate pregnancies resulting from rape or incest.

Abortions continued to occur and grew more widely available despite the criminalization and restrictions.

While not all doctors were against abortion, many were afraid to publicly promote legal reform. As supporters of women’s medical issues, Jewish doctors were the most vocal. Several authored books and articles, one of which expressly contrasted the poisonings, injuries, and deaths of women who had illegal abortions in the United States with the safety record of more than a decade of legal abortions conducted by Soviet physicians. However, their essays were prohibited, even when no female reviewers objected to the content.

In the late 1920s, some 15,000 women a year died from illegal abortions (Reported. Like suicide, many families & doctors hid the cause of death).

17,000 women died each year from illegal abortion-related complications during the 1930s. (Recorded)

Licensed physicians performed an estimated 800,000 abortions per year during the 1930s.

Women who survived unsafe abortions often sustained long-term damage or disease: incomplete abortion, infection, sepsis, bleeding, and injury to the internal organs, such as puncturing or tearing of the uterus.

Lack of post-abortion care was the leading cause of both maternal death and complications.

While the number of abortions reduced over the years, it was a result of women gaining personal autonomy, way more than criminalization and restrictions.

According to one research, laws to free women occurred in three stages—allowing married women to possess property, then keep their own income, and finally engage in business—and advanced more quickly in the West, much as female suffrage did.

Having access to birth control methods even before it became legal, rights to work and keep their own wages, rights to bring a lawsuit in their own name (and against spouse), rights to vote, marital rape exception laws overturned, as well as rape and incest laws being enforced were also factors.

A scandal centered on children’s television show Sherri Finkbine in the early 1960s helped push abortion and abortion law more directly into the American public eye and discussion.

Finkbine had four healthy children while living in Phoenix, Arizona, but during her fifth pregnancy, she realized the child would be born with serious defects. This was most likely due to Finkbine’s unaware usage of sleeping medications that contained thalidomide, a medicine that raises the risk of congenital abnormalities during pregnancy.

Finkbine desired an abortion, but Arizona abortion regulations prohibited abortions unless the woman’s life was in danger. Her story went viral after Finkbine told it to a reporter from The Arizona Republic, who revealed her identity despite her demands for anonymity.

Following the publication of Chessen’s story in the newspaper, the hospital where she planned to have the abortion requested assurance that it would not be prosecuted. When such assurance was not provided by the attorney general’s and prosecutor’s offices, the abortion was canceled.

When her doctor filed a court order to proceed with the abortion, she and her husband became public figures, getting mail and phone calls opposing the procedure. Death threats were contained in a few messages, so the FBI was called in to safeguard her. She also lost her position as the host of Romper Room. Chessen’s case was dismissed by Judge Yale McFate, who decided that he lacked the authority to decide on the issue.

Finkbine traveled to Sweden on August 18, 1962, to obtain a legal abortion. It was confirmed that the fetus had significant malformations.

Finkbine’s story was a watershed moment in the history of women’s reproductive rights and abortion law in the United States.

Still, Finkbine was only able to receive an abortion because she could afford to travel overseas for it, underscoring a continuing inequality in abortion rights in which many women cannot pay or otherwise do not have the ability to obtain a legal abortion.

In such instances, women may resort to illegal abortion methods.

Roe v. Wade did not legalize abortion. It established equitable and safety standards for obtaining one for those seeking one.

Overturning Roe means women no longer have those standards.

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