Rickie Solinger is the author of a number of books about the history of reproductive politics, including “Reproductive Politics: What Everyone Needs to Know.”
When debating whether a fetus’s “right to life” trumps a woman’s “right to choose” — or whether the news media has paid enough attention to the trial of a Philadelphia doctor who allegedly killed seven babies born alive during late-term abortions, as well as a pregnant woman — Americans are bitterly divided on abortion. Before abandoning facts for rhetoric, let’s tackle some misunderstandings about this procedure’s history and impact.
1. Laws against abortion have always been based on concern about unborn life.
Abortion was generally legal in the United States until the mid-19th century. At that time, physicians eager to professionalize obstetrics pressed state legislatures to outlaw midwifery and abortion while granting doctors sole authority over pregnancy and childbearing. State anti-abortion statutes were primarily justified on the grounds that women needed to be saved from uneducated folk practitioners, infections, future infertility and other physical risks.