The Hidden History of Abortion

From ancient Egypt to modern times, these stories illuminate the long history of the abortion debate.

The Hidden History of Abortion

Hundreds of years before Roe v. Wade, abortions were being performed all over the world. From swallowing medicine made of a Spanish fly in the 16th century to paying a visit to Madame Restell — a woman who promised a “safe and immediate removal of all irregularities in females” — attempting to terminate a pregnancy is not a modern idea. Today, as the fate of Roe v. Wade is up in the air, read on to understand its roots.

1500 B.C. Recorded first in Egypt in 1500 B.C., for most of history, abortion has been a dangerous procedure a woman attempted to perform on herself using anything from a leech to a scalding bath.

Read at The New York Times: Leeches, Lye and Spanish Fly — Centuries Before Abortion, What Women Would Do to End a Pregnancy

1800s In an era where birth control was not widely available or reliable, and religious ideas about “sin” stated sex outside of marriage was a “disgrace,” Maria Bodine, an unmarried pregnant woman, was in deep trouble.

Read at Elle: In the 19th Century, to Be Unmarried and Pregnant Meant Deep Trouble

1970s NPR looks into Jane, an underground network in Chicago that counseled and helped women who wanted to have abortions.
2016 In New York City, a team of “radical doulas” believes every pregnant woman deserves someone at her side.
2018 In El Salvador, all abortion is illegal and women have been imprisoned after miscarriages and stillbirths. These bold activists are taking on the system.

 

Sign up for our Hidden History Newsletter. Every month we send out a curated list of stories covering one newsworthy topic.

You can check out all of our hidden history collections here!

Enter now through June 27

Win $3,000 and a lot more!