Exploring the Historic Origins of the Modern Abortion Debate PDF Print E-mail

by Merrilee Kell Clark

"Dr. Charlotte Lozier, of 34th Street in this city, was applied to last week by a man pretending to be from South Carolina, by name Moran, to procure an abortion on a very pretty young girl apparently about eighteen years old. The doctor assured him that he had come to the wrong place for any such shameful, revolting, unnatural and unlawful purpose. She proffered to the young woman any assistance in her power to render at the proper time and cautioned and counseled her against the fearful act which she and her attendant (whom she called her cousin) proposed. The man becoming quite abusive, Dr. Lozier caused his arrest under the laws of New York for his inhuman proposition, and he was held to bail in a thousand dollars for appearance to court.

"It must be very gratifying to Dr. Lozier to know that her conduct in the affair is so generally approved by the press and the better portion of the public sentiment, so far as yet expressed."

The preceding quotation was taken from an article in a large weekly journal, and the content may lead one to question, "When was this written for publication? Surely not in 2002!?" No, the excerption came from "Restellism Exposed", The Revolution, 1869. (In the late 1800s the most famous abortionist in New York, indeed the country, was Madame Restell, who was so well known that the practice of abortion was sometimes referred to as "Restellism".)

A close look at a variety of nineteenth century writings reveals a grave concern for many issues peculiar to those times, including the appalling conditions under which women were forced to endure pregnancy and childbirth and under which many of them were turning in desperation to abortion. Nevertheless, no where in these writings is abortion referred to as either a legal or moral choice. Rather, article after article reflect care not only for the expectant mothers but for the unborn children as well, using terminology such as "the slaughter of the innocents", "child murder", "anti-natal infanticide", "the terrible social evil", "the crime of abortion", "sin", and "revolting" in reference to the practice of abortion.

Oppositional views to abortion were frequently offered in the weekly journal The Revolution (published by Susan B. Anthony and edited by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, both early leaders in the women's rights movement) and in numerous other publications from that era. Allow history to speak for itself:

"When we consider that women are treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should treat our own children as property to be disposed of as we wish" (The Revolution, 1873).

"The rights of children as individuals begin while yet they remain the foetus" (Woodhull's and Claflin's Weekly, 1870).

"I deplore the horrible crime of child murder....We want prevention, not merely punishment. We must reach the root of the evil. It is practiced by those whose inmost souls revolt from the dreadful deed" (The Revolution, 1869).

"A woman physician at New York, Mrs. Dr. Charlotte Lozier took the very unusual step on Saturday of having a man and a woman, who had applied to her to assist in procuring an abortion upon the latter, arrested and committed to jail for trial, under the New York statute which has long been practically a dead letter, but which makes the bare solicitation of or advising to commit this crime a state prison offence.
"The woman, whose name is Caroline Fuller, first went alone to the office of Dr. Lozier, and on stating her purpose, was kindly warned of the sin and the danger of such a course, and allowed to depart. But the next day she returned with her paramour, Andrew Moran of Anderson Courthouse, SC, and he boldly demanded that the operation should be performed, offering to pay roundly and to shield Mrs. Lozier from any possible legal consequences should there be a fatal termination. Upon this, Mrs. Lozier promptly sent for a policeman, who arrested both Moran and Miss Fuller.
"Moran and Miss Fuller came all the way from South Carolina to have an abortion performed and Moran's wife made a third in the party, though one would hardly suppose she would enjoy a trip to the metropolis under such circumstances. Some bad women as well as bad men may possibly become doctors, who will do anything for money: but we are sure most women physicians will lend their influence and their aid to shield their sex from the foulest wrong committed against it. It will be a good thing for the community when more women like Mrs. Lozier belong to the profession" (Springfield Republican, 1869).

"The evil, we are sorry to believe, is on the increase. The murder of children, either before or after birth, has become so frightfully prevalent that physicians...have declared that were it not for immigration the white population of the U.S. would actually fall off! In a populous quarter of a certain large Western city it is asserted on medical authority that not a single Anglo-American child has been born alive for the last three years. This is incredible; but making all due allowances for exaggeration it is plain enough that the murder of infants is a common thing among American women" (The Tribune, 1868).

"Scarce a day passes but some of our daily journals take note of the fearful ravages on the race, made through the crimes of infanticide....Wonder not that American women do everything in their power to avoid maternity; it is to them a period of sickness, lassitude, disgust, agony and death. What man would walk up to the gallows if he could avoid it? In the midst of all these miseries, let us regard ourselves as guilty sinners and not helpless saints" (The Revolution, 1868).

"Guilty? Yes, no matter what the motive, love of ease or a desire to save from suffering the unborn innocent, the woman is awfully guilty who commits the deed. It will burden her conscience in life, it will burden her soul in death" (The Revolution, 1868). [A century after this was written by Susan B. Anthony, a woman U.S. Representative was honored by the National Organization for Women for her consistent leadership in the pro-abortion movement. Ironically, the medallion was hung around her neck at NOW's Susan B. Anthony Annual Dinner. Ed.]

These are but a few examples of how despised abortion was to our forefathers, foremothers, and the early feminists of fame, but today's feminists are equally outspoken and speak from two diverse fields of thought. By way of example, there is the radical pro-abortion stance of the National Organization for Women (which supports abortion as a form of birth control, abortion used to discriminate against the less than perfect baby, and late-term abortion of viable babies, and which has used pro-abortion ideology as a litmus test for feminist movement loyalty) and there are the Feminists for Life (who are laboring as a part of the pro-life movement and educating women on the early feminists' views on abortion).

Any woman who would speak to the people (as a journalist) or for the people (as a feminist spokesperson) should educate herself as to the facts of abortion today and to the beliefs and attitudes of those who founded the women's rights movement over a century ago. She will then be better equipped to align herself with truth, humanitarianism, and justice. "God does not wink, even at the sin of ignorance" (Elizabeth Cady Stanton, 1868).

Those who embrace the pro-abortion position believe that opposition to abortion was mounted and laws forbidding abortion were written in the 19th century to protect the life and the health of women only. In truth there were dangers to women undergoing abortions as a surgical practice, especially considering the conditions and limited medical knowledge under which abortions were available at that time. However, if the physical health of the mother was indeed the sole concern of the laws enacted or of the opinions of the day, would we not read in these daily periodicals the leading feminists of their day calling for men in positions of authority to set up equipped clinics, to further research safe abortion procedures, to fund these clinics with government money, to give the poor (who stood to suffer the most) equal opportunities to "slaughter" their young, and to make abortion a safe and legal choice for all American women? One would think....

Yet for further deliberation of the priorities expressed and made in to law, consider the following taken from the New York World, 1869:

"The Laws of New York make the procuring of a miscarriage a misdemeanor, punishable by imprisonment for not less than 3 months and no more than a year: they define the committing of an abortion resulting in the death of either child or mother to be manslaughter in the second degree.

"It was this latter crime that Dr. Lozier was asked to commit, and she insists that as the commission of a crime is not one of the functions of the medical profession, a person who asks a physician to commit the crime of ante-natal infanticide can be no more considered his patient than one who asks him to poison his wife.

"Thus Dr. Lozier makes out her case, and seems to prove conclusively that neither law nor professional honor forbids physicians handing over to the police persons who apply to them to commit murder; but that law, professional honor, moral obligation, and social duty all unite in compelling them to thus aid in the punishment of these attempts to procure the slaughter of the innocents. The pulpit and the press for months have been ringing with declamations against the frequency of the offence of ante-natal infanticide amoung the most respectable classes of American society."

There are points made in this article excerpt worthy of reemphasis:

First, procuring an "abortion" was considered manslaughter in the 2nd degree. The resulting death of the mother was likewise manslaughter in the 2nd degree. What kind of historical precedent did this set for establishing personhood of the unborn child if the death of either the mother or the child was held with equal gravity?

Second, procuring a "miscarriage" (prior to quickening) was a misdemeanor. Quickening shows signs to the pregnant woman that life is present. Modern medicine now has scientific proof that life begins well before the mother is even aware of its presence. Were the individuals in this story armed with what contemporary science now knows, may we not assume that the laws and the desires of the people would have been to consider procuring a miscarriage a more severe miscarriage of justice and also manslaughter?

Finally, any concern for the rights or the health of women which overrode the right-to-life of the unborn cannot be found. Instead, we see that assisting a woman to "murder" her unborn child was regarded as loathsome as assisting a man to poison his wife. Are we not seeing this same lack of respect for human life coming to fruition today in the occurrences of (and our acceptance of?) assisted suicide and euthanasia?

In spite of no birth control save rhythm and a prayer, abortion was abhorred at a time when lack of pediatric care resulted in high infant mortality, when poverty and large families went hand in hand, when drunkenness was on the increase, when babies were often born deformed and idiotic, and when men having mistresses and illegitimate children was common. Many women regarded giving birth to their babies under these difficult circumstances a necessary evil compared to the "terrible social evil" of abortion.

    Merrilee Kell Clark was a long time Presbyterian who recently became a Methodist because serious health problems dictated that she be able to walk to church. She currently attends St. Mark UMC in Greenwood, SC. She spent numerous years counseling women suffering the effects of abortion in a ministry called The Rachael Ministry utilizing the Women of Ramah text.



Subscribe to our email newsletter

Powered by Robly