When Abortion Was a Crime: Women, Medicine, and Law in the United States, 1867-1973

Leslie J. Reagan (Author)


This is the first book to examine the entire period during which abortion was illegal in the U.S., beginning in the mid-19th century and ending with Roe v. Wade in 1973. In her eloquent account, Leslie J. Reagan uncovers the secret history of abortion in America. Although illegal, millions of abortions were provided during these years to women of every class, race, and marital status. The experiences and perspectives of these women, along with their families, physicians, and midwives, are movingly portrayed in this prize-winning book. Reagan's analysis of previously untapped sources, including inquest records and trial transcripts, reveals the fragility of patient rights and raises provocative questions about the relationship between medicine and law.

Product Details

University of California Press
Publish Date
September 21, 1998
6.05 X 0.91 X 8.92 inches | 1.22 pounds
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About the Author

Leslie J. Reagan is Professor of History, with affiliations in gender and women's studies, law, media and cinema studies, and medicine, at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She is the author of Dangerous Pregnancies: Mothers, Disabilities, and Abortion in Modern America (UC Press) and coeditor of Medicine's Moving Pictures: Medicine, Health, and Bodies in American Film and Television.


"A first-rate exposition of the changing cultural and legal climate regarding abortion in America."--Thomas Szasz, "The Washington Post "

"A brilliant account of the era before the 1973 Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision. . . .A model of social history, supported by a spectacular wealth of documentary evidence. . . .This well-written book is a stellar, complex, and accessible volume that will stand as the definitive history for years to come."

--Rickie Solinger, "The San Francisco Chronicle "
"The first to span the whole period of criminalization and to cover the subject in such depth. . . .Important and original, vigorously written. . . .Rich, thought-provoking, and revelatory."--Katha Pollitt, "The Atlantic "
"Essential."--Frank Rich, "New York Times "
"For those who take abortion for granted, Reagan's work is an eye-opener."--Publishers Weekly
"Reagan brings a new perspective to the history of illegal abortion in the late 19th and early 20th centuries."--Jane Hodgson, "Journal of the American Medical Association "