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The Legal History of Abortion

Abortion has been a subject of much debate throughout history. The first law related to this topic in the United States was enacted in 1821 in Connecticut. This law banned abortion inducement through poison after what was referred to as “quickening,” or the fourth month of gestation. Since then many laws and both for and against abortion have been put into place.

Throughout the 19th century and early 20th century, most state laws were created to ban or greatly restrict termination practices. Most of these laws were aimed at stopping the doctors that performed abortion procedures instead of the women in search of them.

Although pregnancy termination was almost completely banned in the early 20th century, women’s rights groups were pushing hard to change this. Big changes began to occur in the early 1970s when Hawaii, New York, Washington and Alaska made laws allowing such terminations to be performed before 20 weeks of pregnancy. The year after abortion was legalized in New York, the state’s maternal-mortality rate dropped 45 percent.

In 1973, the Supreme Court agreed to hear both “Roe vs. Wade” and “Doe vs. Bolton”. Both of these court cases ruled in the favor of the women involved; stating that access to an abortion is a “fundamental right” provided by the Constitution. These rulings greatly changed the tide of the women’s rights movement, although questions, arguments and debates on the topic have consistently arisen since the court decisions.

Although these Supreme Court cases led to reform and an increase in women’s rights, there is still a great inequality to elective termination access throughout the country. More than 80 percent of counties in the U.S. have no medical provider and only 12 percent of medical schools teach first-trimester termination when discussing routine aspects of gynecology.

To learn more about the history of termination laws and women’s rights in the United States, visit The Atlantic or the Chicago Tribune.