A Not So Brief History of Abortion


Anti-Reproductive Rights and/ or ProNatalist Basis

These events reflect opposition to abortion for either religious or political reasons and desire for increased birth rates. As the two are historical bedfellows, they are lumped together.

Code of Hammurabi

1772 B.C. - 1771 B.C.

Code of Hammurabi says a person causing a noble’s daughter to abort by hitting her shall be fined 10 shekels

Blackstone confirms Born Alive Rule- says Heinous Misdemeanor

1776 - 1777

Post-quickening abortion is no longer considered homicide in England, but William Blackstone confirms the "born alive rule" and calls it "a very heinous misdemeanor".

Lord Ellenborough's Act

1803 - 1804

UK’s Lord Ellenborough’s Act brings criminality to abortion in Ireland and Britain, making abortion after quickening a capitol crime, and providing lesser penalties for the felony of abortion before quickening. Opens up statutory criminal abortion to English speaking world.

Napoleonic Code

1810 - 1811

Napoleonic Code criminalizes abortion and prescribes harsh sentencing in France.

AMA & US legislators become bedfellows against abortion

1820 - 1900

Primarily through the efforts of physicians in the American Medical Association and legislators, most abortions in the U.S. were outlawed.

Connecticut Statutory Law prohibits Abortion

1821 - 1822

Connecticut first US state to pass statutory law against abortion.

Abortion banned in Edo, Japan

1842 - 1843

The Shogunate in Japan bans induced abortion in Edo. The law does not affect the rest of the country.

Anti Abortion Laws passed in every US state

1850 - 1860

Aggressive anti-abortion laws passed in every state and most jurisdictions

Offences against Persons Act

1861 - 1862

The Parliament of the United Kingdom passes the Offences against the Person Act 1861 which outlaws abortion.

Casti Connubii

1869 - 1870

Pope Pius IX « Ensoulment occurs at conception « Gives physicians more responsibility for determining pregnancy increasing their professional status. Declares abortion under any circumstance a mortal sin and that anyone who participated in an abortion in any material way had by virtue of that act excommunicated themselves from the Church.

Canadian Criminal Law unified- abortion banned.

1869 - 1870

The Parliament of Canada unifies criminal law in all provinces, banning abortion.

US Comstock Act

1873 - 1874

US Comstock Act in the United States criminalizes media publication of contraception or abortion by making it illegal to send any "obscene, lewd, and/or lascivious" materials through the mail, including information, resources, and advertisements.

Abortion a crime in every state

1910 - 1911

Abortion—except in cases to save the mother’s life—was a criminal procedure in every state except Kentucky, where the courts declared the procedure to be judicially illegal (leaving the law open to interpretation)

Russian Ban on Abortion

1936 - 1955

Russia enacts ban on abortion.

Last Execution for Abortion offense under Vichy Regime

1942 - 1943

Last execution for abortion occurs in France under the Vichy regime (1940-1944). Abortion under this regime is a capital crime, punishable by the death penalty.

Abortion illegal in All 50 states

1967 - 1968

Abortion illegal in all 50 states.

43 abortion restrictions are enacted in 19 states

2012 - 2013

43 abortion restrictions are enacted in 19 states.

ProReproductiveRights and/or Malthusian Basis

These events reflect either support for abortion and or support for population control based on Malthus population theories. As the two are historical bedfellows, they have been lumped together.

Ebers Medical Papyrus

1500 B.C. - 1499 B.C.

Ebers Medical Papyrus includes herbal contraceptive, suppositories, and the “first recorded evidence” of induced abortion.

Aristotle advocates abortion for population control

384 B.C. - 322 B.C.

Aristotle advocates inducing abortion “before sense and life have begun in the embryo” if conception occurs in excess of the limit (of population)

Persian Physician advocates abortion for young girls

900 A.D. - 901 A.D.

Abu al-Hasan al-Tabib, a Persian physician, advocated abortion for pregnancies of girls under 15 because of the uterus size and risk to girl’s health.

Folk and Women Led Medicine account for most US healthcare

1800 - 1900

U.S medical world looks very different from Europe. Many health practitioners practice “physik”, folk medicine, and some communities’ medical practice are women led

Russia First Country to legalize abortion on demand.

1919 - 1920

Russia first country to allow abortion on demand.

Germany, Mexico, Iceland, Sweden legalize abortion

1927 - 1938

Germany, Mexico, Iceland, and Sweden are next countries in line after Russia to legalize abortion- but do not provide abortion on demand. Some legalize in cases of rape and incest, others cite grave danger to the mother as legal reasons.

ALA abortion law draft

1959 - 1960

The American Law Institute (ALI) drafts a model state abortion law to make legal abortions accessible

Colorado legalizes some abortions- 14 states follow

1967 - 1968

Colorado legalized some abortions, with 14 states following- all with strict conditions.

Canadian Criminal Law Amendment Act

1968 - 1969

Canada passed the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1968-69, which began to allow abortion for selective reasons

India passes Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act 1971

1970 - 1971

The Indian Parliament under the Prime Ministership of Indira Gandhi, passes Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act 1971 (MTP Act 1971). India becomes one of the earliest nations to pass this Act. The Act gains importance, considering India had traditionally been a very conservative country in these matters. Most notably no similar Act in several US states exists around the same time.

Roe vs. Wade

1973 - 1974

U.S Supreme Court rules that a woman’s right to privacy includes her right to decide, so long as it’s balanced against the state’s two legitimate interests- prenatal life and women’s health- meaning states can ban or restrict abortion after “viability” except when necessary to save the individual’s life.

Hyde Amendment

1976 - 1977

Hyde amendment, a legislative rider, prevents federal Medicaid fund from being used to pay for abortion, except in the cases of rape or incest

France first country to legalize RU486

1988 - 1989

France first country to legalize RU-486

Neutral or Controversial

These events are either not explicitly pro or anti reproductive rights in nature and despite the consequences of their enactment, or have throughout history been used to justify either sides of the debate.

Royal Chinese Abortion Document

500 B.C. - 499 B.C.

A Chinese record documents the number of royal concubines who had abortions in China

Hippocratic Oath

400 B.C.E - 399 B.C.E

Hippocratic Oath prohibits the administration of an abortive suppository or pessary. That statement will be mistranslated and selectively interpreted for centuries to come. Other parts of the Hippocratic treatise prescribe abortions using manual manipulation

Mishnah mentions abortions

220 A.D. - 221 A.D.

Mishnah, a written account of Jewish law mentions “root potions” and abortions and says “man is commanded concerning propagation but not woman” suggesting that though men have the responsibility of spreading their seed, women don’t hold the responsibility of letting them take root.

Scientific Revolution

1500 - 1600

Scientific Revolution forces women into the hypothetical limelight of reproduction. Church laws will follow suit, claiming the use of abortifacients to be a “quasi homicide” and mortal sin.

Born Alive Rule

1551 - 1552

Sir Edward Coke formulates the "born alive rule", in common law, which holds that various criminal laws, such as homicide and assault, apply only to a child that is "born alive".

Stanton and Wollstonecraft Oppose Abortion

1850 - 1920

During the fight for women's suffrage in the U.S., some notable first-wave feminists, such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Mary Wollstonecraft, opposed abortion

Nazi regime views on abortion

1933 - 1945

German Nazi Regime considers abortion of an Aryan pregnancy a capitol offense punishable by death, but allows for abortions in the case of deformity of disability.

Birth Control Federation of America becomes Planned Parenthood

1942 - 1943

The Birth Control Federation of America, founded by Margaret Sanger, became Planned Parenthood. In early years P.P will oppose abortion, with one early brochure declaring “Abortion is wrong way to limit family size.” Today P.P is largest U.S provider.

Center For Reproductive Rights says 61% of population has legal abortion access

2008 - 2009

According to Center For Reproductive Rights, 61% of the world’s people live in countries where induced abortion is permitted either for a wide range of reasons or without restriction as to reason. In contrast, 26% of all people reside in countries where abortion is generally prohibited.

Guttmacher Institute and WHO declare that laws do not affect abortion rates

2012 - 2013

The World Health Organization publishes Guttmacher Institute declaration that nearly half of all abortions worldwide are unsafe, 98% of unsafe abortions occur in developing countries, that as a whole over half (56%) of the abortion in the developing world are unsafe, compared with 6% of abortions in the developed world being considered unsafe.