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

Regular price $ 29.95

by Leslie J. Reagan

University of California Press

02/22/2022, paperback

SKU: 9780520387416


The definitive history of abortion in the United States, with a new preface that equips readers for what's to come.

When Abortion Was a Crime is the must-read book on abortion history. Originally published ahead of the thirtieth anniversary of Roe v. Wade, this award-winning study was the first to examine the entire period during which abortion was illegal in the United States, beginning in the mid-nineteenth century and ending with that monumental case in 1973. When Abortion Was a Crime is filled with intimate stories and nuanced analysis, demonstrating how abortion was criminalized and policed -- and how millions of women sought abortions regardless of the law. With this edition, Leslie J. Reagan provides a new preface that addresses the dangerous and ongoing threats to abortion access across the country, and the precarity of our current moment.

While abortions have typically been portrayed as grim "back alley" operations, this deeply researched history confirms that many abortion providers -- including physicians -- practiced openly and safely, despite prohibitions by the state and the American Medical Association. Women could find cooperative and reliable practitioners; but prosecution, public humiliation, loss of privacy, and inferior medical care were a constant threat. Reagan's analysis of previously untapped sources, including inquest records and trial transcripts, shows the fragility of patient rights and raises provocative questions about the relationship between medicine and law. With the right to abortion increasingly under attack, this book remains the definitive history of abortion in the United States, offering vital lessons for every American concerned with health care, civil liberties, and personal and sexual freedom.


"This is a fascinating book -- energetic, even urgent in its narrative. It is based on entirely new material, making ingenious and enlightening use of criminal trials, inquests, and newspaper accounts. Both creative and painstaking in her research, Reagan persuasively establishes historical patterns in the availability of assisted abortion and documents a striking antiabortion backlash in the 1940-50s. In addition to the book's value for scholars, it will undoubtedly be valuable to feminists, lawyers, doctors, and others interested in the conditions of abortion today." -- Nancy Cott, Yale University

About the Author:

Leslie J. Reagan is Professor of History, Law, Gender and Women's Studies, and Media Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Author of the award-winning Dangerous Pregnancies: Mothers, Disabilities, and Abortion in Modern America and public intellectual, Reagan has written for the Washington Post, Time, Ms. Magazine, and Huffington Post and has appeared on numerous national and international media outlets, including CNN, MSNBC, CBC Radio, and NPR. She is currently completing Toxic Legacies: Agent Orange in the United States and Vietnam.