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History of Abortion

QUESTION: What is the history of abortion?


The history of abortion in America can be traced back to the early American colonies. The people of this time were totally against any kind of abortion until well into the 19th century. In fact, it was considered a misdemeanor if you had an abortion after what was called quickening (feeling life). Most states considered the child in the womb to have legal rights even after the death of the mother. It wasn't until 1962 when there was organized effort toward legalizing abortion even though physicians had written about the abortion problem since 1933.

Different religions have different teachings about abortion. It was most common in ancient Greece and Rome. The Assyrians impaled women on stakes for attempting abortion. The Jewish Talmud teaches the fetus is not a person and has no rights. In the year 1312, The Church in the Council of Vienne embraced the view that abortion was considered homicide only after the fetus was already formed, which was usually at the end of the first trimester.

But, then, sperm cells, when examined under a microscope in the seventeenth century were thought to show a fully formed human being. It was then that most Catholics were excommunicated if they engaged in the act of abortion.

To continue on in the history of abortion, in the early 1800s, it was discovered that human life did not actually begin when the expectant mother "felt life," but, rather, at the time of fertilization. So, the British Parliament in 1869 passed what was called "Offenses Against the Persons Act," dropping the felony punishment back to fertilization. That began a sequence of various states setting their own law against abortion, and by 1860, 85% of the population lived in states prohibiting abortion with new laws.

As far as convictions were concerned, abortionists, if convicted, were sent to jail for varying lengths of time, and women were never implicated in undergoing or soliciting abortions. Even when women were accused by an abortionist of being an accomplice, women were never convicted. But, because there were no accurate methods for diagnosing early pregnancy, there was nothing medically or legally binding to convict the abortionist. The only way to know a woman was pregnant was for the doctor to hear the fetal heart, and that was only possible when the expectant mother was four or five months along. Prior to that, the abortionist could claim that her menstrual period was late, or that she had some other problem, and all he did was to bring on her period. You cannot convict a person of murder unless the body can be produced, and since the tissue could not be examined from the woman's body, in a court of law, it was impossible to prove she had been pregnant, or that the actions of the abortionist had terminated the pregnancy. So, the only time an abortionist was prosecuted is when the woman had been injured or killed.

In 1900, abortion had been banned at any time during pregnancy (except when necessary to save the woman's life) by every state in the Union. Why the reversal in views? Religion had little to do with it, but rather, drastic economic and social conversions were turning this country to an urban-industrial society. America was changing from having one of the highest birthrates in the world to one of the lowest. Abortion played a role in that change.

Then, in 1973, Roe v. Wade is the historic Supreme Court decision overturning a Texas interpretation of abortion law and making abortion legal in the United States. The Roe v. Wade decision held that a woman, with her doctor, could choose abortion in earlier months of pregnancy without restriction, and with restrictions in later months, based on the right to privacy.

Learn More about Abortion!

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