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  • Writer's pictureAlena Bruzas

In my upcoming book, I write about an abortion that occurred in 1609. Here's why that's not controversial.

In my upcoming book (to be announced soon!) one of my main characters chooses to have an abortion. Childbirth and motherhood change a woman’s life like nothing else. In the 1600s, the lifetime risk of dying in childbirth was 4%. Being a mother, then as now, is an economic burden. It restricts a person’s ability to work and it adds to the cost of their daily lives. It makes them more vulnerable to abusive partners. Although there have always been methods of birth control, they have never been effective as they are now. Women have always sought to control their reproductive health, and they have always been entitled to do so.

It may come as a surprise that until the 1800’s abortions were not viewed as immoral or even controversial, especially those abortions which happened before what was known as the quickening; when the fetus started moving, usually around four months. Until that time, the fetus wasn’t considered alive or even a being separate from their mother. 

Around the time of the American Civil War, two things happened. In 1847, the American Medical Association was formed. For many years abortions were considered “women’s work,” the purview of herbal woman and midwives. The AMA, which excluded women and Black people from its ranks, considered themselves the gatekeepers of medical practice. They did not want any female-led profession to have authority in medicine.

Also in the mid-1800’s, Black women were no longer considered the property of slave holders. Until slavery was abolished in 1865, Black women who were enslaved were not given legal access to birth control or abortion, because any children they might bear were also considered property. This had nothing to do with morality, and everything to do with money. However, despite being ostensibly freed, Black women were not allowed control over their own bodies.

Male doctors and the AMA, supported by the Catholic Church, campaigned to have abortion banned, and by 1910 the ban was nationwide. Abortion was legalized by the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade in 1973. And in 2022, Roe v. Wade was overturned.

Women and child-bearing people will always seek abortions. When abortion is illegal, it simply becomes more dangerous and less equitable. Wealth, class, and race have more impact on who has access to safe abortions, than whether it’s legal.



Helmuth, L. (2013, September 10). The never-ending battle between doctors and midwives. which are more dangerous?. Slate Magazine.

Planned Parenthood. (n.d.). Abortion in U.S. history. Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

Winny, A. (2022, November 2). A brief history of abortion in the U.S. Hopkins Bloomberg Public Health Magazine.


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