History and Abortion

LeoCasey at aol.com LeoCasey at aol.com
Mon Aug 14 16:12:03 MDT 1995

At the risk of finding insight in Doug's comments again (a risk because as
soon as I make a positive comment he drops the thread like a hot potato), it
should be noted that there are some very interesting results from an
historical examination of abortion and reproductive freedom.

1. The absolutist anti-abortion position is really a relatively recent
theological position in the Catholic Church. If you look at the medieval
writings of Thomas Aquinas, for example, you will find that the assumption is
that there is no human life in the fetus (Aquinas equate human life with the
presence of a 'soul') until something called the "moment of quickening" --
roughly speaking, the moment when a mother can feel the movement of the
fetus. Quickening thus takes place towards the end of the first trimester. A
miscarriage prior to quickening was not considered human life, and not given
a Christian burial. Revealingly, Aquinas argues that quickening occurs much
earlier for boy fetuses than girl fetuses.
2. The major change in the nineteenth century that really transforms the
entire terrain is the advances in medical technology which make abortions a
relatively safe, and thus viable, option. Before this moment, abortion
carried such risks that it was not a real option for any but the most
desperate women. (Don't forget that childbirth itself carried a rather
substantial mortality rate into the modern period.)


Doug writes:
>I was away for the weekend, so I may be coming a little late to this, but
>for a bunch of Marxish types we're not being very historical about the
>abortion issue. As Kristin Luker points out in her remarkably dispassionate
>book Abortion & The Politics of Motherhood, for almost all of recorded
>human history, first trimester abortions were largely noncontroversial, and
>second trimester ones accepted though not as unambiguously. In early 19C
>America, it's estimated that a quarter to a third of pregnancies ended in
>abortion - now it's about one in four. The US anti-abortion movement was
>founded in the mid-19C by physicians hot to improve their status and
>increase their fees by shutting down midwives and non-degreed abortionists.

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