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

ISBN: 0520216571

ISBN13: 9780520216570

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

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Book Overview

As we approach the thirtieth anniversary of Roe v. Wade, it's crucial to look back to the time when abortion was illegal. Leslie J. Reagan traces the practice and policing of abortion, which although illegal was nonetheless widely available, but always with threats for both doctor and patient. In a time when many young women don't even know that there was a period when abortion was a crime, this work offers chilling and vital lessons of importance...

Customer Reviews

4 ratings

When abortion was a crime, I would have sought one

I've just ordered this book, because it's theme is not just history for me, it was a frightening part of my life. When I was a teenager abortion was a crime: and the choices that forced on women was another crime. Two of my young friends got pregnant while in high school, one at 14 and one at 16, "A" students both, they were forced to drop out of high school, marry, and face the world with a 9th and 10th grade education. Oh, the 14 year-old was "allowed" to come back and take her freshman finals: very possibly because a 14 year old, 9 months pregnant, was meant to be a frightening an object lesson, and one that successfully prevented me from having sex until I was 19. Which meant that my first love at 17 left me after a year of frustration for both of us. Another of my friends was sent to Arizona to live with her Aunt for her "asthma" -- I now believe to have a baby in a home for unwed mothers. Which was another object lesson in our town, a home for unwed mothers, from which troops of teenage unwed mothers marched to the local mall together. To a lower-middle class girl like myself, sex was frightening, because it meant I might not escape the fate of my friends" a furnished basement "apartment" in their parents's home, a new baby, a teenage husband, and no education. When I made it to state college, I began to have sex with another long-term boyfriend, still frightened, watching another friend get pregnant at 19, and drop out of college for another baby and teenage husband. My fear was only partly relieved by a local campus character we all called "Crazy Charlie" for what-seemed to be tall tales of his exploits. But I was ready to take on face value what Crazy Charlie said one day: that he knew a doctor in Philadelphia, who would perform an abortion for $200. (To give you an idea of how much money that was 35 years ago, it was 1/10 of my yearly tuition and board at state college.) But if I had gotten pregnant, I would have spent that money, and trusted my health and fate to a Crazy Charlie, and the man he claimed was a doctor, who could have been a nurse, mid-wife, or have no medical training whatsoever, all because I wanted to have a future. I would have risked my life for my future, at a time when the New York Daily News printed photographs of women who had died in a pool of blood, after illegal abortions. My sister, four years younger than I, also had a friend who got pregnant at 16, while abortion was still a crime. But she lucked upon an underground railroad of authority figures that included ministers and doctors, who found doctors to perform abortions for women in need, the forerunners of the doctors, ministers and others who pressured the courts for Roe vs. Wade, because they were sick unto death, of dealing with the ugly aftermath of illegal abortion: the suicides of pregnant women, the botched abortions that killed or maimed thousands of women a year in the United States. Because they were also aware of another dirty secret: that upper

A Much Needed Work

I am retired from the practice of family medicine, and witnessed the remakabe anguish and hardship that unplanned pregnancy constituted for so many women of all ages and stations. Dr. Reagan's work is a much needed one that provides an accurate and scholarly review of the history of abortion in the United States and the ways in which they were obtained before Roe vs. Wade. In an era when the greater majority of the population is too young to remember the bad old days when abortions were illegal, this is particularly important. Further, while some charge that opponents of a women's right to choose are deluded and ignorant religious fanatics, I do not believe this is necessarily true. Given accurate information such as that provided by "When Abortion Was A Crime," most people can and will make reasoned choices. I found this to be particulaly true when a daughter or wife or other family member is involved. This book is a meticulously researched derivation from Reagan's doctoral dissertation, and has received numerous awards that include "Outstanding Book of the Year by Choice," the "President's Award from the Social Science History Association," and the "Law and Society Association's James Willard Hurst Prize for Best Book in Legal History." --Dr. John R. Guthrie

When abortion was a crime

In summary: *Don't read this book if you are pro-life and you want data to support your beliefs. *Do read this book if you are pro-choice and you want data to support your beliefs. *Do read this book if you need to do historical research on abortions and if you need specific examples of how abortions were performed in the early 1900's. **** Most of the reviewers who have given this book a negative review seem to be pro-life and seem to be basing their opinion off of their political beliefs. I can see why they're disappointed. With a title like: When Abortion Was A Crime, they were probably expecting something that would support their political beliefs. If you want to read a book to support your pro-life beliefs, don't read this one. It is very obviously pro-choice. Reagan starts off with a premise that although the law and the church were against abortion, women in the general public were not. She covers historical periods both before and after birth control was widely available. Before birth control was available, the majority of women who had abortions were married and already had children. Some of them felt like they had no other option than to abort a child. If they had sex with their husband, they would eventually get pregnant. If they got pregnant, how would they feed their eleventh child? I read this book for a specific reason. I was trying to find out what a woman experienced if she had an abortion in 1910. This book was perfect for that. It talked about the different options she had available (midwives and doctors), the different procedures she could have gone through. Before I read this book, I thought that all experiences with abortion when abortion was illegal were similar to what women went through in the fifties. Highly illegal, dangerous, and dirty. I was quite surprised to find out that between 1900 and 1920 fewer women died from abortions than in 1950, and that number was adjusted for population growth. The women still died in 1910. It was still a dangerous procedure, and a doctor could still perforate a woman's uterus, pull out her intestines and kill her while performing an abortion. The woman could still die of septic infection. But there were much better places to go earlier in the century because the public was more accepting.

A Powerful Work of History

This is elegant historical scholarship that is informative and compelling. I was struck by the way the author used the voices of so many people--women, legal authorities, doctors and journalists to explain not only the legal history of abortion but so much about American history and about women's lives. I'm sorry some other reviewers seem compelled to push their politics rather than describe the book--perhaps they didn't bother to read it. The book is well documented and a model for how to write and explain women's lives.
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