History of abortionEdit
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopediaJump to: navigation, searchIndirect advertisements for abortion services, like these in the New York Sun in 1842, were common during the Victorian era. At the time, abortion was illegal in New York.The practice of abortion dates back to ancient times. Pregnancies were terminated through a number of methods, including the administration of abortifacient herbs, the use of sharpened implements, the application of abdominal pressure, and other techniques.
Abortion laws and their enforcement have fluctuated through various eras. Many early laws and church doctrine focused on "quickening," when the initial motion of the fetus can be felt by the pregnant woman, as a way to differentiate when an abortion became impermissible. In the 19th century various doctors, clerics, and social reformers pushed for an all-out ban on abortion in the UK and USA. In the 20th century various women's rights groups, doctors and social reformers successfully repealed abortion bans. While abortion remains legal in many Western countries, it is regularly subjected to legal challenges by pro-life groups.
Medical: Practice & methods of abortionEdit
The first recorded evidence of induced abortion, is from the Egyptian Ebers Papyrus in 1550 BC. A Chinese record documents the number of royal concubines who had abortions in China between the years 500 and 515 BC. According to Chinese folklore, the legendary Emperor Shennong prescribed the use of mercury to induce abortions nearly 5000 years ago. Many of the methods employed in early and primitive cultures were non-surgical. Physical activities like strenuous labor, climbing, paddling, weightlifting, or diving were a common technique. Others included the use of irritant leaves, fasting, bloodletting, pouring hot water onto the abdomen, and lying on a heated coconut shell. In primitive cultures, techniques developed through observation, adaptation of obstetrical methods, and transculturation. Archaeological discoveries indicate early surgical attempts at the extraction of a fetus; however, such methods are not believed to have been common, given the infrequency with which they are mentioned in ancient medical texts.
Much of what is known about the methods and practice of abortion in Greek and Roman history comes from early classical texts. Abortion, as a gynecological procedure, was primarily the province of women who were either midwives or well-informed laypeople. In his Theaetetus, Plato mentions a midwife's ability to induce abortion in the early stages of pregnancy.
The Oath is part of the Hippocratic Corpus. Often ascribed to Hippocrates, the Greek physician, the Corpus is believed to be the collective work of Hippocratic practitioners. The Oath forbids the use of pessaries (vaginal suppositories) to induce abortion. Modern scholarship suggests that pessaries were banned because they were reported to cause vaginal ulcers. This specific prohibition has been interpreted by some medical scholars as prohibiting abortion in a broader sense than by pessary. One such interpretation is by Scribonius Largus, a Roman medical writer: "Hippocrates, who founded our profession, laid the foundation for our discipline by an oath in which it was proscribed not to give a pregnant woman a kind of medicine that expels the embryo/fetus."
Regardless of the Oath's interpretaion, Hippocrates writes of advising a prostitute who became pregnant to jump up and down, touching her buttocks with her heels at each leap, so as to induce miscarriage. Other writings attributed to him describe instruments fashioned to dilate the cervix and curette inside of the uterus.
Soranus, a 2nd century Greek physician, recommended abortion in cases involving health complications as well as emotional immaturity, and provided detailed suggestions in his work Gynecology. Diuretics, emmenagogues, enemas, fasting, and bloodletting were prescribed as safe abortion methods, although Soranus advised against the use of sharp instruments to induce miscarriage, due to the risk of organ perforation. He also advised women wishing to abort their pregnancies to engage in energetic walking, carrying heavy objects, riding animals, and jumping so that the woman's heels were to touch her buttocks with each jump, which he described as the "Lacedaemonian Leap".
Soranus offered a number of recipes for herbal bathes, rubs, and pessaries. In De Materia Medica Libri Quinque, the Greek pharmacologist Dioscorides listed the ingredients of a draught called "abortion wine"– hellebore, squirting cucumber, and scammony– but failed to provide the precise manner in which it was to be prepared. Hellebore, in particular, is known to be abortifacient.
Pliny the Elder cited the refined oil of common rue as a potent abortifacient. Serenus Sammonicus wrote of a concoction which consisted of rue, egg, and dill. Soranus, Dioscorides, Oribasius also detailed this application of the plant. Modern scientific studies have confirmed that rue indeed contains three abortive compounds.
Birthwort, an herb used to ease childbirth, was also used to induce abortion. Galen included it in a potion formula in de Antidotis, while Dioscorides said it could be administered by mouth, or in the form of a vaginal pessary also containing pepper and myrrh.
The seeds of Queen Anne's Lace (Daucus carota), also known as wild carrot, have been in use as a post-coital agent for centuries.
See also: Christianity and abortion and History of early Christian thought on abortionTertullian, a 2nd and 3rd century Christian theologian, also described surgical implements which were used in a procedure similar to the modern dilation and evacuation. One tool had a "nicely-adjusted flexible frame" used for dilation, an "annular blade" used to curette, and a "blunted or covered hook" used for extraction. The other was a "copper needle or spike". He attributed ownership of such items to Hippocrates, Asclepiades, Erasistratus, Herophilus, and Soranus.
Tertullian's description is prefaced as being used in cases in which abnormal positioning of the fetus in the womb would endanger the life of the pregnant women. Saint Augustine, in Enchiridion, makes passing mention of surgical procedures being performed to remove fetuses which have expired in utero. Aulus Cornelius Celsus, a 1st century Roman encyclopedist, offers an extremely detailed account of a procedure to extract an already dead fetus in his only surviving work, De Medicina.
In Book 9 of Refutation of all Heresies, Hippolytus of Rome, another Christian theologian of the 3rd century, wrote of women tightly binding themselves around the middle so as to "expel what was being conceived."
Bas relief at Angkor Wat, c. 1150, depicting a demon performing an abortion.An 8th century Sanskrit text instructs women wishing to induce an abortion to sit over a pot of steam or stewed onions.
The technique of massage abortion, involving the application of pressure to the pregnant abdomen, has been practiced in Southeast Asia for centuries. One of the bas reliefs decorating the temple of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, dated c. 1150, depicts a demon performing such an abortion upon a woman who has been sent to the underworld.
Japanese documents show records of induced abortion from as early as the 12th century. It became much more prevalent during the Edo period, especially among the peasant class, who were hit hardest by the recurrent famines and high taxation of the age. Statues of the Boddhisattva Jizo, erected in memory of an abortion, miscarriage, stillbirth, or young childhood death, began appearing at least as early as 1710 at a temple in Yokohama (see religion and abortion).
Physical means of inducing abortion, such as battery, exercise, and tightening the girdle– special bands were sometimes worn in pregnancy to support the belly– were reported among English women during the early modern period.
Māori, who lived in New Zealand before and at the time of colonisation, terminated pregnancies via miscarriage-inducing drugs, ceremonial methods, and girding of the abdomen with a restrictive belt. Another source claims that the Māori people did not practice abortion, for fear of Makutu, but did attempt abortion through the artificial induction of premature labor.
Art from a 13th-century illuminated manuscript features a herbalist preparing a concotion containing pennyroyal for a woman.Botanical preparations reputed to be abortifacient were common in classical literature and folk medicine. Such folk remedies, however, varied in effectiveness and were not without the risk of adverse effects. Some of the herbs used at times to terminiate pregnancy are poisonous.
A list of plants which cause abortion was provided in De viribus herbarum, an 11th-century herbal written in the form of a poem, the authorship of which is incorrectly attributed to Aemilius Macer. Among them were rue, Italian catnip, savory, sage, soapwort, cyperus, white and black hellebore, and pennyroyal.
King's American Dispensatory of 1898 recommended a mixture of brewer's yeast and pennyroyal tea as "a safe and certain abortive". Pennyroyal has been known to cause complications when used as an abortifacient. In 1978 a pregnant woman from Colorado died after consuming 2 tablespoonfuls of pennyroyal essential oil which is known to be toxic. In 1994 a pregnant woman, unaware of an ectopic pregnancy that needed immediate medical care, drank a tea containing pennyroyal extract to induce abortion without medical help. She later died as a result of the untreated ectopic pregnancy, mistaking the symptoms for the abortifacient working.
A variety of juniper, known as savin, was mentioned frequently in European writings. In one case in England, a rector from Essex was said to have procured it for a woman he had impregnated in 1574; in another, a man wishing to remove his girlfriend of like condition recommended to her that black hellebore and savin be boiled together and drunk in milk, or else that chopped madder be boiled in beer. Other substances reputed to have been used by the English include Spanish fly, opium, watercress seed, iron sulphate, and iron chloride. Another mixture, not abortifacient, but rather intended to relieve missed abortion, contained dittany, hyssop, and hot water.
The root of worm fern, called "prostitute root" in the French, was used in France and Germany; it was also recommended by a Greek physician in the 1st century. In German folk medicine, there was also an abortifacient tea, which included marjoram, thyme, parsley, and lavender. Other preparations of unspecified origin included crushed ants, the saliva of camels, and the tail hairs of black-tailed deer dissolved in the fat of bears.
Main article: Islam and abortionDuring the medieval period, physicians in the Islamic world documented detailed and extensive lists of birth control practices, including the use of abortifacients, commenting on their effectiveness and prevalence. They listed many different birth control substances in their medical encyclopedias, such as Avicenna listing 20 in The Canon of Medicine (1025) and Muhammad ibn Zakariya ar-Razi listing 176 in his Hawi (10th century). This was unparalleled in European medicine until the 19th century.
"Admonition against abortion." Late 19th-century Japanese Ukiyo-e woodblock print.Nineteenth century medicine saw advances in the fields of surgery, anaesthesia, and sanitation, in the same era that doctors with the American Medical Association lobbied for bans on abortion in the United States and the British Parliament passed the Offences Against the Person Act.
Various methods of abortion were documented regionally in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. A paper published in 1870 on the abortion services to be found in Syracuse, New York, concluded that the method most often practiced there during this time was to flush inside of the uterus with injected water. The article's author, Ely Van de Warkle, claimed this procedure was affordable even to a maid, as a man in town offered it for $10 on an installment plan. Other prices which 19th-century abortion providers are reported to have charged were much more steep. In Great Britain, it could cost from 10 to 50 guineas, or 5% of the yearly income of a lower middle class household.
In France during the latter half of the 19th century, social perceptions of abortion started to change. In the first half of the 19th century, abortion was viewed as the last resort for pregnant but unwed women. But as writers began to write about abortion in terms of family planning for married women, the practice of abortion was reconceptualized as a logical solution to unwanted pregnancies resulting from ineffectual contraceptives. The formulation of abortion as a form of family planning for married women was made "thinkable" because both medical and non-medical practitioners agreed on the relative safety of the procedure.
In the United States and England, the latter half of the 19th century saw abortion become increasingly criminalized. In the United States, these laws had a limited effect on middle and upper class women who could, though often with great expense and difficulty, still obtain access to abortion, while poor and young women had access only to the most dangerous and illegal methods.
After a rash of unexplained miscarriages in Sheffield, England, were attributed to lead poisoning caused by the metal pipes which fed the city's water supply, a woman confessed to having used diachylon — a lead-containing plaster — as an abortifacient in 1898. Criminal investigation of an abortionist in Calgary, Alberta in 1894 revealed through chemical analysis that the concoction he had supplied to a man seeking an abortifacient contained Spanish fly.
Women of Jewish descent in Lower East Side, Manhattan are said to have carried the ancient Indian practice of sitting over a pot of steam into the early 20th century. Dr. Evelyn Fisher wrote of how women living in a mining town in Wales during the 1920s used candles intended for Roman Catholic ceremonies to dilate the cervix in an effort to self-induce abortion. Similarly, the use of candles and other objects, such as glass rods, penholders, curling irons, spoons, sticks, knives, and catheters was reported during the 19th century in the United States.
Abortion remained a dangerous procedure into the early 20th century. Of the estimated 150,000 abortions that occurred annually in the US during the early 1900s, one in six resulted in the woman's death.
The text of this clandestine ad reads: "Dr. Caton's Tansy Pills! The most reliable remedy for ladies. Always safe, effectual, and the only guaranteed women's salvation. Price $1. Second advice free. R. F. Caton, Boston, Mass."Access to abortion continued, despite bans enacted on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, as the disguised, but nonetheless open, advertisement of abortion services, abortion-inducing devices, and abortifacient medicines in the Victorian era would seem to suggest. Apparent print ads of this nature were found in both the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada. A British Medical Journal writer who replied to newspaper ads peddling relief to women who were "temporarily indisposed" in 1868 found that over half of them were in fact promoting abortion. An 1845 ad for "French Periodical Pills" warns against use by women who might be "en ciente [sic]" ("enceinte" is French for "pregnant").A few alleged examples of surreptitiously-marketed abortifacients include "Farrer's Catholic Pills", "Hardy's Woman's Friend", "Dr. Peter's French Renovating Pills", "Lydia Pinkham's Vegetable Compound", and "Madame Drunette's Lunar Pills". Patent medicines which claimed to treat "female complaints" often contained such ingredients as pennyroyal, tansy, and savin. Abortifacient products were sold under the promise of "restor[ing] female regularity" and "removing from the system every impurity." In the vernacular of such advertising, "irregularity," "obstruction," "menstrual suppression," and "delayed period" were understood to be euphemistic references to the state of pregnancy. As such, some abortifacients were marketed as menstrual regulatives. "Old Dr. Gordon's Pearls of Health," produced by a drug company in Montreal, "cure[d] all suppressions and irregularities" if "used monthly". However, a few ads explicitly warned against the use of their product by women who were expecting, or listed miscarriage as its inevitable side effect. The copy for "Dr. Peter's French Renovating Pills" advised, "…pregnant females should not use them, as they invariably produce a miscarriage…", and both "Dr. Monroe's French Periodical Pills" and "Dr. Melveau's Portuguese Female Pills" were "sure to produce a miscarriage". F.E. Karn, a man from Toronto, in 1901 cautioned women who thought themselves pregnant not to use the pills he advertised as "Friar's French Female Regulator" because they would "speedily restore menstrual secretions". "Dr. Miller's Female Monthly Powders" ad copy reprinted in an 1858 article condemning such advertising.Such advertising did not fail to arouse criticisms of quackery and immorality. The safety of many nostrums was suspect and the efficacy of others non-existent. Horace Greeley, in a New York Herald editorial written in 1871, denounced abortion and its promotion as the "infamous and unfortunately common crime– so common that it affords a lucrative support to a regular guild of professional murderers, so safe that its perpetrators advertise their calling in the newspapers". Although the paper in which Greeley wrote accepted such advertisements, others, such as the New York Tribune, refused to print them. Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to obtain a Doctor of Medicine in the United States, also lamented how such ads led to the contemporary synonymity of "female physician" with "abortionist". The Comstock Law made all abortion-related advertising illegal in the United States (see history of abortion law).
An advertisement for Madame Restell's services from an 1840 edition of the New York Herald.A well-known example of a Victorian-era abortionist was Madame Restell, or Ann Lohman, who over a forty year period illicitly provided both surgical abortion and abortifacient pills in the northern United States. She began her business in New York during the 1830s, and, by the 1840s, had expanded to include franchises in Boston and Philadelphia. "The Female Abortionist." Madame Restell is portrayed as a villainess in an 1847 copy of the National Police Gazette.It is estimated that by 1870 her annual expenditure on advertising alone was $60,000. One ad for Restell's medical services, printed in the New York Sun, promised that she could offer the "strictest confidence on complaints incidental to the female frame" and that her "experience and knowledge in the treatment of cases of female irregularity, [was] such as to require but a few days to effect a perfect cure". Another, addressed to married women, asked the question, "Is it desirable, then, for parents to increase their families, regardless of consequences to themselves, or the well-being of their offspring, when a simple, easy, healthy, and certain remedy is within our control?" Advertisements for the "Female Monthly Regulating Pills" she also sold vowed to resolve "all cases of suppression, irregularity, or stoppage of the menses, however obdurate." Madame Restelle was an object of criticism in both the respectable and penny presses. She was first arrested in 1841, but, it was her final arrest by Anthony Comstock which led to her suicide on the day of her trial April 1, 1878.
Soviet poster c. 1925 warns against unsafe abortion. Title translation: "Abortions performed by either trained or self-taught midwives not only maim the woman, they also often lead to death."Although prototypes of the modern curette are referred to in ancient texts, the instrument which is used today was initially designed in France in 1723, but was not applied specifically to a gynecological purpose until 1842. Dilation and curettage has been practiced since the late 19th century.
The 20th century saw improvements in abortion technology, increasing its safety, and reducing its side-effects. Vacuum devices, first described in medical literature in the 1800s, allowed for the development of suction-aspiration abortion. This method was practiced in the Soviet Union, Japan, and China, before being introduced to Britain and the United States in the 1960s. The invention of the Karman cannula, a flexible plastic cannula which replaced earlier metal models in the 1970s, reduced the occurrence of perforation and made suction-aspiration methods possible under local anesthesia. In 1971, Lorraine Rothman and Carol Downer, founding members of the feminist self-help movement, invented the Del-Em, a safe, cheap suction device that made it possible for people with minimal training to perform early abortions called menstrual extraction. During the mid-1990s in the United States the medical community showed renewed interest in manual vacuum aspiration as a method of early surgical abortion. This resurgence is due to technological advances that permit early pregnancy detection (as soon as a week after conception) and a growing popular demand for safe, effective early abortion options, both surgical and medical. An innovator in the development of early surgical abortion services is Jerry Edwards, a physician, who developed a protocol in which women are offered an abortion using a handheld vacuum syringe as soon as a positive pregnancy test is received. This protocol also allows the early detection of an ectopic pregnancy.
Intact dilation and extraction was developed by Dr. James McMahon in 1983. It resembles a procedure used in the 19th century to save a woman's life in cases of obstructed labor, in which the fetal skull was first punctured with a perforator, then crushed and extracted with a forceps-like instrument, known as a cranioclast.
In 1980, researchers at Roussel Uclaf in France developed mifepristone, a chemical compound which works as an abortifacient by blocking hormone action. It was first marketed in France under the trade name Mifegyne in 1988.
Abortion was a common practice. Evidence suggests that late-term abortions were performed in a number of cultures. In Greece, the Stoics believed the fetus to be plantlike in nature, and not an animal until the moment of birth, when it finally breathed air. They therefore found abortion morally acceptable. The Greek playwright Aristophanes noted the abortifacient property of pennyroyal in 421 BC, through a humorous reference in his comedy, Peace. Cyrenian coin with an image of silphium.The ancient Greeks relied upon the herb silphium an abortifacient and contraceptive. The plant, as the chief export of Cyrene, was driven to extinction, but it is suggested that it might have possessed the same abortive properties as some of its closest extant relatives in the Apiaceae family. Silphium was so central to the Cyrenian economy that most of its coins were embossed with an image of the plant.
In Rome, abortion was practiced "with little or no sense of shame." There were also opposing voices, most notably Hippocrates of Cos and the Roman Emperor Augustus. Aristotle wrote that, "[T]he line between lawful and unlawful abortion will be marked by the fact of having sensation and being alive." In contrast to their pagan environment, Christians generally shunned abortion, drawing upon early Christian writings such as the Didache (c. 150 A.D.), which says: "…do not murder a child by abortion or kill a new-born infant." Saint Augustine believed that abortion of a fetus animatus, a fetus with human limbs and shape, was murder. However, his beliefs on earlier-stage abortion were similar to Aristotle's, though he could neither deny nor affirm whether such unformed fetuses would be resurrected as full people at the time of the second coming.
- "Now who is there that is not rather disposed to think that unformed abortions perish, like seeds that have never fructified?"
- "And therefore the following question may be very carefully inquired into and discussed by learned men, though I do not know whether it is in man's power to resolve it: At what time the infant begins to live in the womb: whether life exists in a latent form before it manifests itself in the motions of the living being. To deny that the young who are cut out limb by limb from the womb, lest if they were left there dead the mother should die too, have never been alive, seems too audacious."
- 1140– The monk John Gratian completed the Concordia discordantium canonum (Harmony of Contradictory Laws) which became the first authoritative collection of Canon law accepted by the Church. In accordance with ancient scholars, it concluded the moral crime of early abortion was not equivalent to that of homicide.
- c. 1200– Pope Innocent III wrote that when "quickening" occurred, abortion was homicide. Before that, abortion was considered a less serious sin.
- c. 1395– The Lollards, an English proto-Protestant group, denounce the practice of abortion in The Twelve Conclusions of the Lollards.
- 1487– Malleus Maleficarum (The Hammer of Witches), a witch-hunting manual, is published in Germany. It accuses midwives who perform abortions of committing witchcraft.
- 1588– Pope Sixtus V aligned Church policy with St. Thomas Aquinas' belief that contraception and abortion were crimes against nature and sins against marriage.
- 1591– Pope Gregory XIV decreed that prior to 116 days (~17 weeks), Church penalties would not be any stricter than local penalties, which varied from country to country.
In the mid to late 19th century, during the fight for women's suffrage in the U.S., many first-wave feminists, such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton opposed abortion. In the newspaper she operated with Susan B. Anthony, The Revolution, an anonymous contributor signing "A" wrote in 1869 about the subject, arguing that instead of merely attempting to pass a law against abortion, the root cause must also be addressed. Simply passing an anti-abortion law would, the writer stated, "be only mowing off the top of the noxious weed, while the root remains. [...] No matter what the motive, love of ease, or a desire to save from suffering the unborn innocent, the woman is awfully guilty who commits the deed. It will burden her conscience in life, it will burden her soul in death; But oh! thrice guilty is he who drove her to the desperation which impelled her to the crime."
Around 1970, during second-wave feminism, abortion and reproductive rights were unifying issues among various women's rights groups in Canada, the United States, the Netherlands, Britain, Norway, France, Germany, and Italy.
See also: Timeline of reproductive rights legislation and Abortion lawThe history of abortion law dates back to ancient times and has impacted women in a variety of ways in different times and places. The Code of Hammurabi, which was promulgated ca. 1760 BC, contains the earliest known laws about miscarriage. The code required monetary compensation for causing a woman to miscarry. While laws regulating acceptable forms of abortion were found with the Romans, widespread regulation to have an abortion did not begin until the 13th century.
There were no laws against abortion in the Roman Republic and early Roman Empire, as Roman law did not regard a fetus as distinct from the woman's body, and abortion was not infrequently practiced to control family size, to maintain one's physical appearance, or because of adultery. In 211 AD, at the intersection of the reigns of Septimius Severus and Caracalla, abortion was outlawed for a period of time as violating the rights of parents, punishable by temporary exile. However, late Roman legislation is generally derived from a concern for population growth, and not as an issue of morality.
Historically, it is unclear how often the ethics of abortion (induced abortion) was discussed, but widespread regulation did not begin until the 18th century. One factor in abortion restrictions was a socio-economic struggle between male physicians and female mid-wives. In the 18th century, English and American common law allowed abortion if performed before "quickening." By the late 19th century many nations had passed laws that banned abortion. In the later half of the 20th century most Western nations began to legalize abortion.
According to English common law, abortion after fetal movement or "quickening" was punishable as homicide, and abortion was also punishable "if the foetus is already formed" but not yet quickened, according to Henry Bracton.
- 1765– Post-quickening abortion was no longer considered homicide in England, but William Blackstone called it "a very heinous misdemeanor".
- 1803– United Kingdom enacts the Malicious Shooting or Stabbing Act 1803, making abortion after quickening a capital crime, and providing lesser penalties for the felony of abortion before quickening.
- 1821– Connecticut passes first statute that forbids using poison to induce miscarriages.
- 1842– The Shogunate in Japan bans induced abortion in Edo. The law does not affect the rest of the country.
- 1861– The Parliament of the United Kingdom passes the Offences Against the Person Act, which outlaws abortion.
- 1869– Pope Pius IX declared that abortion under any circumstance was gravely immoral (mortal sin), and, that anyone who participated in an abortion in any material way had by virtue of that act excommunicated themselves (latae sententiae) from the Church. In the same year, the Parliament of Canada unifies criminal law in all provinces, banning abortion.
- 1873– The passage of the Comstock Law in the United States makes it a crime to sell, distribute, or own abortion-related products and services, or to publish information on how to obtain them (see advertisement of abortion services).
- 1820–1900– Primarily through the efforts of physicians in the American Medical Association and legislators, most abortions in the U.S. were outlawed.
- 1920– Lenin legalized all abortions in the Soviet Union.
- 1931– Mexico as first country in the world legalized abortion in case of rape.
- 1932– Poland as first country in Europe outside Soviet Union legalized abortion in cases of rape and threat to maternal health.
- 1935– Iceland became the first Western country to legalize therapeutic abortion under limited circumstances.
- 1935– Nazi Germany amended its eugenics law, to promote abortion for women who have hereditary disorders. The law allowed abortion if a woman gave her permission, and if the fetus was not yet viable, and for purposes of so-called racial hygiene.
- 1936– Joseph Stalin reversed most parts of Lenin's legalization of abortion in the Soviet Union to increase population growth. Stalin's reversal was repealed in 1955.
- 1936– Heinrich Himmler, Chief of the SS, creates the "Reich Central Office for the Combating of Homosexuality and Abortion". Himmler, inspired by bureaucrats of the Race and Settlement Main Office, hoped to reverse a decline in the "Aryan" birthrate which he attributed to homosexuality among men and abortions among healthy Aryan women, which were not allowed under the 1935 law, but nevertheless practiced. Reich Secretary Martin Bormann however refused to implement law in this respect, which would revert the 1935 law.
- 1938– In Britain, Dr. Aleck Bourne aborted the pregnancy of a young girl who had been raped by soldiers. Bourne was acquitted after turning himself into authorities. The legal precedent of allowing abortion in order to avoid mental or physical damage was picked up by the Commonwealth of Nations.
- 1938– Abortion legalized on a limited basis in Sweden.
- 1948– The Eugenic Protection Act in Japan expanded the circumstances in which abortion is allowed.
- 1959– The American Law Institute drafts a model state abortion law to make legal abortions accessible.
- 1961– California state legislature introduces an abortion reform law based on the American Law Institute model.
- 1966– The Ceauşescu regime of Romania, in an attempt to boost the country's population banned all abortion.
- 1966– Mississippi reformed its abortion law and became the first U.S. state to allow abortion in cases of rape.
- 1967– The Abortion Act (effective 1968) legalized abortion in the United Kingdom (except in Northern Ireland). In the U.S., Colorado, California, and North Carolina reformed their abortion laws based on the 1962 ALI Model Penal Code (MPC).
- 1967–1970– Colorado becomes first state to loosen its abortion laws followed by Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Kansas, Maryland, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oregon, South Carolina, and Virginia.
- 1968– President Lyndon Johnson’s Committee on The Status of Women releases a report calling for a repeal of all abortion laws.
- 1969– Canada passed the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1968-69, which began to allow abortion for selective reasons.
- 1969– Senator Robert Packwood of Oregon introduces legislation to legalize abortion in Washington D.C.; no action is taken.
- 1969– The ruling in the Victorian case of R v Davidson defined for the first time which abortions are lawful in Australia.
- 1969–1973– The Jane Collective operated in Chicago, offering illegal abortions.
- 1970–1970– Hawaii, New York, Alaska, Washington and Florida repealed their abortion laws and allowed abortion on demand; South Carolina and Virginia reformed their abortion laws based on the Model Penal Code.
- 1971– The Indian Parliament under the Prime Ministership of a lady Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, passes Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act 1971 (more commonly referred to as simply MTP Act 1971). India thus becomes one of the earliest nations to pass this Act. The Act gains importance, considering India had traditionally been a very conservative country in these matters. Most notably there was no similar Act in several US states around the same time.
- 1973– The U.S. Supreme Court, in Roe v. Wade, declared all the individual state bans on abortion during the first trimester to be unconstitutional, allowed states to regulate but not proscribe abortion during the second trimester, and allowed states to proscribe abortion during the third trimester unless abortion is in the best interest of the woman's physical or mental health. The Court legalized abortion in all trimesters when a woman's doctor believes the abortion is necessary for her physical or mental health.
- 1973–1980– France (1975), West Germany (1976), New Zealand (1977), Italy (1978), and the Netherlands (1980) legalized abortion in limited circumstances (France : no elective -for non-medical reasons- abortion allowed after 10–12 weeks gestation)
- 1976–1977– Representative Henry Hyde of Illinois sponsors the Hyde Amendment, which passes, allows states to prohibit the use of Medicaid funding for abortions.
- 1979– The People's Republic of China enacted a one-child policy, leaving some women to either undergo an abortion or violate the policy and face economic penalties in some circumstances.
- 1983– Ireland, by popular referendum, added an amendment to its Constitution recognizing "the right to life of the unborn." Abortion is still illegal in Ireland, except as urgent medical procedures to save a woman's life.
- 1988– France legalized the "abortion pill" mifepristone (RU-486). In R. v. Morgentaler, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down regulations of abortion for violating a woman's constitutional "security of person"; Canadian law has not regulated abortion ever since.
- 1989– Webster v. Reproductive Health Services reinforces the state's right to prevent all publicly funded facilities from providing or assisting with abortion services.
- 1990– The Abortion Act in the UK was amended so that abortion is legal only up to 24 weeks, rather than 28, except in unusual cases.
- 1992– In Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the Supreme Court of the United States overturned the trimester framework in Roe v. Wade, making it legal for states to proscribe abortion after the point of fetal viability, excepting instances that would risk the woman's health.
- 1993– Poland banned abortion, except in cases of rape, incest, severe congenital disorders, or threat to the life of the pregnant woman.
- 1994– Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act is passed by the United States Congress to forbid the use of force or obstruction to prevent someone from providing or receiving reproductive health services.
- 1996– Republic of South Africa the 'Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act 92 of 1996' comes into effect (Repealing the 'Abortion and Sterilization Act 2 of 1975' which only allowed abortions in certain circumstances) lawfully permitting abortions by choice. Act is often challenged in Court.
- 1998– Republic of South Africa the abortion question is finally answered when the Transvaal Provincial Division of the High Court of South Africa in Christian Lawyers Association and Others v Minister of Health and Others held that abortions are legal in terms of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa.
- 1999– The United States Congress passed a ban on intact dilation and extraction, which President Bill Clinton vetoed.
- 2000– Mifepristone (RU-486) approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In Stenberg v. Carhart, the Supreme Court of the United States overturned a Nebraska state law that banned intact dilation and extraction.
- 2003– The U.S. enacted the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act and President George W. Bush signed it into law. After the law was challenged in three appeals courts, the U.S. Supreme Court held that it was constitutional because, unlike the earlier Nebraska state law, it was not vague or overly broad. The court also held that banning the procedure did not constitute an "undue burden," even without a health exception. (see also: Gonzales v. Carhart)
- 2007– Supreme Court upholds the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003.
- 2007– The Parliament of Portugal voted to legalize abortion during the first ten weeks of pregnancy. This followed a referendum that, while revealing that a majority of Portuguese voters favored legalization of early-stage abortions, failed due to low voter turnout. Although, at the 2nd referendum, the vote for the legalization won. President Cavaco Silva signed the measure and it went on effect.
- 2007– The government of Mexico City legalizes abortion during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, and offers free abortions. On August 28, 2008, the Mexican Supreme Court upholds the law.
- 2008– The Australian state of Victoria passes a bill which decriminalizes abortion, making it legally accessible to women in the first 24 weeks of the pregnancy.
- 2009– In Spain a bill decriminalizes abortion, making it legally accessible to women in the first 14 weeks of the pregnancy.