By Kristin Luker
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Additional info for Abortion & the Politics of Motherhood
But that in itself is an interesting fact. The brief history of abortion just outlined, as well as the Supreme Court decision, seems very much at odds with what many Americans—and not only those with pro-life sympathies—have believed: that until recently, abortion was always treated both popularly and legally as the moral equivalent of murder. This chapter will argue that such a pervasive misapprehension about the historical status of abortion is due in large part to the effects of the first "right-to-life" movement in the United States, which took place approximately between 1850 and 1890.
Despite the success of the anti-abortion campaign, effective licensing laws for doctors were not in effect until after the turn of the century. Regular physicians, although their status was rising during the last quarter of the century, still had to compete in a relatively open market for patients. Portraying themselves as "women's friends," physicians who turned away all their patients' requests for abortion had to face the possibility that those patients might seek out another practitioner who would be more understanding and that these patients might not be willing to relinquish such a sympathetic supporter afterward.
Physicians in the nineteenth century Modern observers accustomed to thinking of the medical profession as prestigious, technically effective, and highly paid are sometimes shocked to learn that it was none of those things in the nineteenth century. On the contrary, much of its history during that century was an uphill struggle to attain just those attributes. Whereas European physicians entered the modern era with at least the legacy of welldefined guild structures—structures that took responsibility for teaching, maintained the right to determine who could practice, and exercised some control over the conduct and craft of the profession— American physicians did not.