This month, The world has learned that the US Supreme Court intends to dismiss Rowe vs. Wade, a 1973 case on the protection of legal abortion in America. In a draft majority opinion leaked to Politico, Judge Samuel Alita argues that Caviar should be repealed in part because the Constitution does not mention abortion (although the 55 delegates who wrote it did not touch on abortion, any other medical procedure, or, in that case, childbirth), and because , contrary Caviar, Alita argues that abortion has not historically been considered a right in the United States. “Until the second half of the 20th century, such a right was completely unknown in American law,” Alita writes. This is false. Although the opinion is not final, the fact that this fundamentally incorrect statement even got into the draft is a sad sign that the Supreme Court needs a lesson in history.

“Abortion has not always been a crime. During the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, early pregnancy abortion was common law, ”writes historian Leslie J. Reagan in his 1996 book. When Abortion Was a Crime: Women, Medicine, and the Law of the United States, 1867-1973.. Although abortion has indeed been banned for a long period of American history, this criminalization took place almost 80 years after the Constitution was written. The wife of a reconstruction-era sharecropper would most likely face problems finding a way to have a legal abortion; the mistress of the founding father, meanwhile, could get it in the early stages of pregnancy without the threat of state punishment.

If abortion was a crime an important science that traces the social movement for the prohibition of abortion and the punishment of physicians, midwives, and patients. Drawing on public records and archival research on how abortion laws were created, enforced, and eliminated in the Chicago area, Reagan documents how changing attitudes and beliefs about body autonomy and early life have affected pregnant women and health care workers trying to help them. While much of the book, as its title suggests, focuses on the century when abortion was banned in the United States, it also offers a complete summary of customs and policies regarding termination of pregnancy prior to its ban. “Abortions were illegal only after a pregnant woman could feel the movements of the fetus (around the fourth month of pregnancy). The attitude of the common law to pregnancy and abortion was based on the understanding of pregnancy and human development as a process, not an absolute moment, ”Reagan writes.

Then, as now, the vast majority of abortions took place before the “accelerated”, and therefore the vast majority were legal, which the people saw as a matter of inducing menstruation or “resumption of menstruation.” According to Reagan, at that time, pharmacists regularly sold their clients abortions, and “the resumption of menstruation” was not a particular topic of controversy.

At this point, Reagan’s reading about life during the abortion ban may feel more like reading speculative fiction than historical facts, as its chronicle of the past increasingly looks like a glimpse of the future. How If abortion was a crime explains the original American anti-abortion movement began in the mid-1800s, leading to a cascade of laws banning abortion in the 1860s-1880s. Reagan describes how activist doctor Horace R. Storr spoke out against abortion, using the ideas of white supremacy, arguing that abortion of white babies would lead to America’s white population being replaced by other races. “Hostility to immigrants, Catholics and people of color has prompted this campaign to criminalize abortion,” Regan wrote. “White male patriotism demanded the introduction of motherhood among white Protestants.” With this argument, Page persuaded most of the medical facility. (His xenophobic tirades today sound oppressively familiar – Storer was, in fact, ahead of his time as a proponent of the “Replacement Theory” now accepted by American rights.) But it made them more dangerous.

Back in September, the American Historical Association and the Organization of American Historians sent an amicus application to the Supreme Court explaining this historical context. The report cites Reagan among dozens of other sources, as she is far from the only scholar who clearly and unequivocally argues that abortion has not always been a crime. A book by historian James S. More in 1978 Abortion in America: The Origins and Evolution of National Politics, 1800-1900. opens with the following lines: “In 1800, no jurisdiction in the United States adopted any statutes on abortion; most forms of abortion were not illegal, and those American women who wanted to have an abortion did so. ”

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