By Kristin Luker
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Additional info for Abortion & the Politics of Motherhood
But the core of the physicians' claim—the assertions that women practiced abortion because they were ignorant of the biological facts of pregnancy and that physicians were opposed to it because they were in possession of new scientific evidence—had no solid basis in fact. Physicians claimed that women (and the public at large) did not know that the embryo was alive because they subscribed to the "out- 22 MEDICINE AND MORALITY IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY moded" doctrine of quickening; but whether this meant that women were ignorant of the "facts" of pregnancy is another question.
More than almost any other profession, medicine now rigorously exercises the right to control who shall enter the profession, MEDICINE AND MORALITY IN THE N I N E T E E N T H CENTURY 29 how they shall practice, and how competitors will be treated; its nineteenth-century stand against abortion contributed substantially to this ultimate success. It is in the context of this drive for professionalization that the political activity of American physicians against abortion must be understood. When examined closely in this context, their actual behavior raises serious doubts about whether they had, as Mohr and Degler claim, an unparalleled commitment to the "sanctity of life" of the embryo.
This same passage continues: I do not, however, wish from this observation, to be understood as in any way disapproving of those necessary attempts which are occasionally made to procure premature labor, or even abortion, when the safety of the mother demands this interference, or when we can thus give the child a chance of living, who otherwise would have none. (John Burns, Burns' Obstetrical Works, pp. ) The extent to which Burns's books—the obstetrical treatise and his Midwifery (1810)— were relied upon by American physicians is documented in Irving Cutter and Henry Viets, A Short History ofMidwifery, p.