30. Abortion and the fall of midwifery in 19th Century North America

C. Schram


The 19th Century in North America was a time of many social and scientific changes that impacted the field of medicine. A result of one such change was the medicalization of childbirth, as the primary care of women during labour shifted from midwives to physicians. While there is ample discourse on the many factors that contributed to this shift, there is very little discussion on the role played by abortion. Studying abortion in the 19th Century is often limited by a paucity of primary sources from the physicians who performed abortions and women who obtained them. Although most authors who discuss the midwifery shift do not make any mention of a role played by the issue of abortion, it has been addressed and supported by primary sources. This raises the question, why is abortion not discussed in histories on the medicalization of childbirth by other authors?
The objectives of this paper are historical and histographic. First, it will present the evidence on the use of abortion as a political tool employed by some policy makers, physicians and the media to discourage women from choosing midwives for their childbirth care. Second, it will analyze possible reasons why this topic is not addressed by the majority of historians of childbirth in 19th Century North America. Are the authors concerned about the varying social views of abortion, the associated politics, the lack of primary sources, or are they personally uncomfortable with the subject? Only the authors themselves can truly know their reasons for neglecting the subject of abortion in their work, but this analysis will show how issues that influence historians determine the version of the past that is produced and propagated into the present and the future.
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Reagan LJ. When Abortion Was a Crime, Women, Medicine, and Law in the United States, 1867-1973. London: University of California Press, 1997.

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.25011/cim.v30i4.2790


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