Abortion Became Controversial When White Men Got Involved
Male doctors pushed midwives and women out of the delivery room
Welcome back to Chaise Lounge! As we hold our collective breaths to see when the Supreme Court will drop its decision on Dobbs v. Jackson Whole Women’s Health and the future of abortion rights, I thought we could take a brief look at the origins of how abortion became controversial in the United States. Using the Throughline podcast (link below) as a place to start, we learn that until doctors became formally trained in the mid-1800s, abortion was not controversial. Read the article below to learn more.
Are bad decisions being made at companies run by men affecting the supply of products for women?
We have all heard about the clogged ports making our supply chain issues a major headache for many products. But one that you most likely have not heard of is the great tampon shortage of 2022. Because most people don’t want to talk or think about women’s periods, the tampon shortage has not received the attention it deserves. The supplies needed to make tampons, like cotton and rayon, are in short supply, but there has been no push to use those products to make tampons. Tampons are a necessary health and hygiene product for those having periods. This article in Time magazine, outlines the issues in detail. The author also notes that many of the other shortages of personal hygiene products, like toilet paper, that affect men were addressed quickly. But the leadership of the tampon-making companies is all-male and perhaps because a tampon shortage is not a problem for them, it is not receiving the attention warranted.
Internet privacy and pregnancy
Dr. Janet Vertesi, a professor at Princeton University, shared tips for keeping your pregnancy as private as possible from a digital perspective. By paying for all baby-related items in cash and setting up an anonymous Amazon account that she funded with gift cards and had deliveries made to Amazon lockers, she was able to hide her pregnancy from the internet. But, she warns that it is A LOT of work and requires the pregnant person to have a certain level of privilege and the ability to plan pregnancies. Unfortunately, over half of pregnancies are unexpected. Law enforcement is able to access more and more of our data, even including pizza deliveries! Location tracking and cookies are becoming more sophisticated every day. She warns that even if you cancel your period tracking app if you wear an Apple watch, it will know when your basal temperature rises indicating ovulation (or not if you are pregnant). It’s a lot to think about, but important to have some awareness of the stakes as we ponder a possible post-Roe world.
How will the Supreme Court square religious freedom with abortion rights?
According to the National Council on Jewish Women (NCJW), in the Jewish faith, abortion is not outlawed and the rights of the mother outweigh the rights of the fetus. It is considered a matter of healthcare which includes the mother’s mental health. In fact, hundreds of Jews protested in front of the Capitol last month rallying for abortion rights. The present Supreme Court has an affinity for religious freedom arguments, but it is doubtful that they will consider the right to an abortion as a religious matter even if pushed on the issue. After all, the NCJW filed a lawsuit against Texas’s SB 8 law, but their arguments did not seem to make a difference in the Court’s decision-making.
Abortion Became Controversial When White Men Got Involved
Abortion didn’t become controversial in the United States until white male doctors took over in childbirth. In fact, one of our founding fathers thought it to be such a regular part of life, that he included it in one of his family manuals. Yes, you read that right, Benjamin Franklin decided that colonists needed a medical handbook that allowed people to manage minor health issues at home. Included in the book were common herbal abortifacients, indicating that no one thought anything of a woman choosing to end her pregnancy.
In an excellent podcast by Throughline which recounts the history of societal attitudes toward abortion, we learn that until mid-1850, childbirth in the United States was in the purview of women. Midwives typically delivered children; men were not a part of this process. But as medical knowledge grew and the formalization of medical schools and practices arose, male doctors understood that delivering babies could be very lucrative. Once you deliver someone’s child, they are more likely to use your services for the long term. Women and people of color were not allowed in medical schools. The white, male doctors claimed that they could save more women from maternal death and implied that midwives were poorly trained and dirty.
Up until that time, abortion was considered acceptable up until “quickening” or the time when a woman first feels the baby move inside her. This is typically between 16-20 weeks of pregnancy. One doctor, Horatio Storer, began a campaign to make abortion immoral by claiming that life begins at conception. This was not a recognized idea at the time, so Storer had to come up with a theory to wrest control of childbirth from midwives and women. His stance was anti-woman in nature. He gave lectures claiming that women did not know any better and that they did not even know when the baby quickened. He badmouthed midwives calling them immoral. He recommended removing women’s reproductive organs if they were “thievish”. He also espoused an 1850s version of white replacement theory as a reason to outlaw abortion. Through his lectures, articles, and books, Storer was able to convince several states to outlaw abortion and punish both the abortionist and the mother.
At the same time, Anthony Comstock, who made it his life’s work to fight vice in New York City, was trying to outlaw contraceptives. He regarded them as evil as abortion. He lobbied to make it illegal to send any information about birth control through the mail including medical books and abortifacient herbs and was successful.
Between Comstock and Storer, by the 1880s every single state had outlawed abortion. There was an exception for those cases where the doctor made the decision as to whether abortion was necessary to save a woman’s life or future health. So once again, the decision was left to the white, male doctor, instead of to the patient whose life was on the line.
In listening to the podcast, I was struck by how many of the arguments are almost identical to the ones we hear today. We have states behaving like Comstock and outlawing the mailing of abortion pills. We have arguments about when life begins, and so on. It seems that in our country, we just do not seem to be able to trust women when it comes to their own bodies.
A woman to remember
And speaking of the ways that history repeats itself, I read this quote from former Republican Senator from Maine, Margaret Chase Smith in Heather Cox Richardson’s newsletter and felt that it was worth reprinting.
“As an American, I condemn a Republican Fascist just as much as I condemn a Democrat Communist,” she said. “They are equally dangerous to you and me and to our country. As an American, I want to see our nation recapture the strength and unity it once had when we fought the enemy instead of ourselves.”
She was speaking of the McCarthy hearings that took place during the 1950s, but her sentiment seems apropos as we begin the January 6th Committee hearings this week.
These Michigan representatives aren’t going to take it anymore!
Last newsletter, I share a video of Michigan state Rep. Mallory McMorrow speaking out against a Republican who insinuated that she was a pedophile. This time, another woman representative is speaking up against a male representative complaining about her female colleagues. Take a listen.
“I’m going to get up and say what I want to say…Get used to it”
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