Abortions have been around since women first walked the earth, but thanks to the miracle of modern technologies, they’ve never been safer or more readily accessible, especially in America. Here is a brief look at the history of abortion worldwide and in American culture in particular.
Unwanted pregnancies are a fact of life and they have been for thousands of years: the reasons for having an abortion are as numerous as the grains of sand on a beach perhaps, but the aim is always the same: the termination of a pregnancy. Ancient apothecaries concocted natural herbal mixtures to induce abortion, abdominal pressure was applied, and sharp objects were inserted in orifices. The bottom line is abortive techniques were never safe for a woman’s health until the late 20th century.
In the United States, the availability of abortion on demand has been inextricably linked to the religious and cultural mores of the day, and societal norms and pressures affected the recommendations and rulings of physicians and lawmakers. Shaky techniques and the lack of technology at the time meant that abortive methods used then were dangerous to the health and safety of women, and so the push against abortion by physicians also had a medical reason behind it. Legal abortion was banned outright in nearly all the states by the year 1900, although illegal ones still flourished quietly.
In 1965, during the nascence of the women’s movement, all fifty states finally outlawed abortions, making it impossible for a woman to obtain a safe and legal medical procedure to end pregnancy. The outcry from the feminist community was immediate: the mantra began to be heard across the country that a woman has a right under the constitution to make her own decisions in regards to her body and that she should not have to put her own life in jeopardy to end a pregnancy via disreputable means.
But it wasn’t until 1973 that the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that existing state laws regarding abortion were unconstitutional. States could only place limited restrictions on what they would allow for second or third trimester abortions, and first semester ones could not be interfered with at all. That landmark decision divided the nation ideologically, and the pendulum of public opinion has swayed both ways in the 35 years that abortion has been legal.
The decision of the court, however, means that should a woman choose to terminate a pregnancy, she may do so within the confines of a clean, professional clinic where she will receive counseling as well as a choice of safe abortive procedures.