History of Abortion Task

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Abortion refers to the termination of pregnancy and it is a practice that has existed since ancient times. There are various methods employed in an attempt to abort including the use sharpened objects, the administration of abortifacient herbs among other techniques (Kapparis 34-35).  There are variations in the practice of abortion from the ancient to the modern times. As opposed to the current techniques that use technology, ancient times mostly depended on the regulation of the menstrual cycle. The traditional methods were passed down for many generations that later incorporated the use of herbs. It should, however, be noted that ancient and medieval techniques were very risky and to an extent, ineffective. A history of abortion is therefore incomplete without the focus on the traditional methods before proceeding to the modern era where governments have even intervened into the issue and making it a political affair.

       One of the earliest accounts of abortion goes back to the Biblical times where infidelity was tested through the administration of abortifacient potion whenever a pregnant woman was suspected of cheating. The bitter water was in the book of Numbers was believed to cause harm and could have been quinine or other drugs that trigger menstruation (Cochrane 12-13). Concoctions administered during this time could also have served as implantation inhibitors. Abortion was also practiced in Egypt with the evidence found in Ebers Papyrus and also in folklore from ancient China (Haimov-Kochman et al., 5-8). The Chinese believed that using mercury was an effective way to induce abortion, a very risky practice because Mercury is highly toxic.

       Focusing on the biography of influential scholars like Hippocrates, it is said that he carried out abortion. He had assisted a prostitute in inducing abortion by advising her to jump up and down, a method that was then deemed as safer as opposed to relying on potions and pessaries (Miles 23-25). A scientific explanation of the approach, however, proves that it was ineffective. The use of herbal methods has remained common from the traditional era with many ancient manuscripts giving evidence of the usage. Modern herbalists are however opposed to using of oil because it could be lethal just like history has proven. From as early as the 11th century, records show Pennyroyal was a common herb although there was the reliance on hellebore, savory and cypress. In some cases, emmagogues were used whenever there were suspected cases of pregnancy. There are also early records of the used of tansy to initiate menstruation as from the account of Hildegard of Bingen (Sweet 401-402).

    In Europe, the ‘prostitute root’ has been a common term for centuries referring to the Saving Juniper, Lavender, and Thyme (Haimov-Kochman et al., 6). Other herbs used to serve the same function were the Worm Fern and Parsley. Unlike in the modern world where abortion has become a debatable issue, women had the right to decide over their bodies. Arguments for abortion can be captured from classical scholars like Plato who supported the right of women to choose whether or not they would terminate a pregnancy (Gillon 219). The approval to induce abortion saw new methods brought to use such as using opium, watercress seeds, and iron sulfates. Despite the revolutions in the mechanisms used, pennyroyal and tansy remained in used even in the Middle Ages. In this era, people also relied on other crude methods such as beating or kneading the abdomen so intensely to cause abortion. The beliefs in the Hippocrates ideas made women to practice the act of jumping up and down, but it was unsuccessful.

    The presence of various techniques to employ made women start making choices on the best approach to adopt. As a result, women began relying on herbs as a means of managing their fertility with the administration of concoctions acting as contraceptives, abortifacient or emmagogues (Riddle 23-25). With the introduction of the western medicine and scientific approaches to matters of health, women have been made to rely on the medical procedures that they are more familiar with instead of the ancient techniques considered as unsafe and highly ineffective. Most recently, nations around the world have begun to look at the ethical issues surrounding abortion in as far as the sanctity of life is concerned. The issue has been made political with many politicians either being on the pro-choice or the pro-life side.

    America is one the developed countries in the world that have been so open to the debate of the ethical issues concerning abortion. The issue has to raised in almost every electioneering period with politicians being either inclined to the liberal or the conservative side. Most recently, President Donald Trump in his presidential nomination campaigns mentioned that there has a form of punishment for having an abortion (Starrs 486). The heated debate that ensued forced him to retract his statements claiming that the punishment can even target the medical practitioners behind the process. A profound analysis of the relationship between abortion stands and political divide reveals that Republicans tend to support the pro-life camp while the Democrats back up the pro-choice campaigns. The history of abortion in the United States, as well as the debates surrounding the issues, goes back many decades ago with various cases brought to court.

    One of the most important cases regarding abortion was the ‘Roe v. Wade’ which legalized abortion in 1973. Before this landmark ruling, pro-choice ideas had been suppressed with women carrying out abortions being punished, and the medical doctors involved risking to have their licenses revoked. An analysis of the history of abortion shows how a GOP-envisioned nation was to look like.  Before 1870 the practice of abortion was legal with various techniques being employed. They included the use of Snake oil concoctions and a preventive powder called Madame Restell for spontaneous abortion (Sweet 401-402). Although Connecticut might have enacted legislation to restrict abortion in 1821, the emphasis was on discouraging people from using substances that the lawmakers considered as poisonous.

    Among the people who have been conducting more abortions in America are the midwives. They believed that abortion was fine until the fourth month of pregnancy called ‘quickening.’ Women were subordinated in the patriarchal society and were, therefore, looking for all possible means to feel in control of their lives in this era. Besides the right to birth control, they ostensibly protested over their voting rights. The implementation of the Comstock Law in 1873 silenced the pro-choice movements as it banned the production, sale, and distribution of materials that promoted birth control and abortion. The abortion restrictions, later on, spread to other states making doctors withhold treatments even for those patients that had pregnancy complications. Besides, women who had complications resulting from unsuccessful abortion were ignored and left to suffer on their alone. In some cases, women could only get medical attention after revealing the person who conducted the abortion and the man behind the act.

    Despite the strict laws in place to discourage abortion, there was favoritism on a racial basis (Gillon 219). White women were reported to access abortion services hence getting fewer babies as opposed to women of color. During this time, the Eugenic movement was on the rise, raising the fears of some races overpopulating the country. In other parts of the world, the same movement took a different shape in Nazis with Aryan women being denied the right to access abortion services while the hereditary ill would exercise the right.

    Although America later put in place further restrictions on abortion, the reality was that it was impossible to eliminate it in totality. Instead, midwives were assisting in carrying out abortions but in the underground. Medical doctors would also be involved whenever there were incentives to engage in the risky activity. Events in the American history like the great depression made women to feel the economic burden of having many children. They, therefore, began carrying out more abortions even without the help of professionals from the medical field. All form of abortion methods that were previously used even in the ancient times were welcomed again with new techniques being deduced. Among the most common methods used were knitting needles, use of soda bottles and the coat hanger abortion. Jumping off from rooftops (a crude approach of Hippocrates idea) and beating the stomach were also common methods.

    The crude methods used in abortion ended up causing injuries, and in some instances, some needles and even the coat hangers were found inside. Some of the chemicals used like the radiator-flush ended up corroding the arteries making the victim to bleed to death. If the victims did not die, they got serious infections or infertility because of the damage caused on the uterine wall. Because of the government’s failure to legalize abortion on special cases, abortion remained on the underground with desperate women seeking the illegal service regardless of the cost implications. Comparatively, studies done on abortion-related deaths have revealed that the reported cases have reduced by more than 50% compared to the period of the great depression (Berer et al., 127-128). The reduction of the number of deaths can be attributed to the openness that the controversial issue has been given and the multifaceted approach to suggest situations where attention should be given.

    Before the legalization of abortion, many hospitals had septic ward with many women suffering from complications from failed abortions. Most of the affected were women with financial problems because money dictated who would access better abortion services. The trend was more common in private hospitals where illegal activities would be carried out behind closed doors. Besides, rich women would seek abortion services beyond the borders where governments had legalized the act. The situation improved in the 1950s with the introduction of the therapeutic abortion boards that weighed the possibility of an abortion threatening the victim’s life of not. Termination of pregnancy was therefore allowed if a woman’s life was in danger. The remarkable change and other developments began to shed light on saving the lives of many affected women. It should, however, be noted that the decision on whether an abortion was risky or not was made by women who dominated the committees. The approach in the decision-making process proves that they were actively involved in choosing their rights to give birth. 

    In the early 1960s, abortion became a nationwide issue for debate after the formation of the Planned Parenthood, making the policymakers to reconsider their grounds. The emergence of the civil rights movements further fueled the debate with women seeking the rights to access affordable and safer abortions. During this era, an organization called Jane was formed with members trained how to professionally carry out abortion. The mounting pressure to amend the abortion-restriction laws made many states repeal the legislation with the Supreme Court allowing the use of birth control pills as a family planning method. Before the supreme court ruling, states only made the birth control pills available for the married with a doctor’s prescription. However, the ‘Roe v. Wade’ ruling in 1973 abortion was legalized after the piling pressure to uphold the rights of all in the population without forms of discriminations (Anderson 98-99).

    The states that had outlawed abortion starting amending their laws to march the dynamic nature of the society. Other states remained conservative and continued the ban making the residents be creative whenever they needed the service. It is reported that women could travel to other states that embraced Roe’s equality for all women. Since the ruling made in ‘Roe v. Wade,’ the pro-life have been fighting back making the issue to be politicized again. Key political figures like President Ronald Regan were used to push for reforms to deny women their right to safe abortion (Anderson 100-103). Notable restrictions of the time federal money restrictions and parental approval. The move to have these laws in place were meant to revoke the abortion rights although unsuccessful.

    Conclusively, abortion is an activity has existed for a long time as proven through in the Bible and other ancient documents like those from China and Egypt. Various methods were used in an attempt to make it successful with some methods being crude and fatal. The modern methods are therefore an improvement over the traditional ones that were not technologically and scientifically improved. The laws that have been in place since then have been shifting from favoring the pro-lifers or the pro-choice movement depending on the doctrine that the lawmakers subscribe to. Besides, it should be noted that many religious leaders have been emphasizing on the sanctity of life hence vehemently opposing the decision to terminate the life of the unborn.  Currently, the pro-choice and the pro-lifers are observing the moves of each camp. There are fears that the current administration might make changes to overturn the ‘Roe v, Wade’ ruling because of the stand taken by President Donald Trump. However, it should be noted that making abortion illegal is not a good measure to eliminate it. There is a need to strike a balance between the two opposing sides to ensure that each controversial aspect is given an objective focus for a long-term solution.


Works Cited

Anderson, Ryan T. "A New Time for Choosing on Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness:      Today’s Challenges to the Principles of Ronald Reagan’s Conservative Manifesto." The          Reagan Manifesto. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham, 2016. 97-108.

Berer, Marge, Iqbal Shah, and Carla AbouZahr. "A call for consensus and cooperation to resolve        differing estimates of abortion‐related deaths." International Journal of Gynecology & Obstetrics 135.2 (2016): 127-128.

Cochrane, Linda. Forgiven and set free: A post-abortion bible study for women. Baker Books, 1996.

Gillon, Raanan. "Eugenics, contraception, abortion and ethics." Journal of medical ethics 24.4       (1998): 219.

Haimov-Kochman, Ronit, Yael Sciaky-Tamir, and Arye Hurwitz. "Reproduction concepts and   practices in ancient Egypt mirrored by modern medicine." European Journal of       Obstetrics and Gynecology and Reproductive Biology 123.1 (2005): 5-8.

Kapparis, Konstantinos A. Abortion in the ancient world. Bristol Classical Press, 2002.           

Miles, Steven H. The Hippocratic Oath and the ethics of medicine. Oxford University Press,  2005.

Riddle, John M. Contraception and Abortion from the Ancient World to the Renaissance.   Harvard University Press, 1994.

Starrs, Ann M. "The Trump global gag rule: an attack on US family planning and global health  aid." The Lancet 389.10068 (2017): 485-486.

Sweet, Victoria. "Hildegard of Bingen and the greening of medieval medicine." Bulletin of the   History of Medicine 73.3 (1999): 401-402.

October 13, 2023


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