The History of Abortion

The history of abortion Title graphic featuring Alice Paul,, the women's march, and the civil rights march.
The history of abortion in the United States is steeped in dark issues like racism and ableism. It's no surprise that when the abortion issue was first on the rise in U.S. history, some of our most iconic historical figures were against it.

The history of abortion began long before 1973’s Roe v. Wade. Being familiar with abortion history gives hopeful insight into the future of abortion in the United States.

WARNING: The history of abortion contains possibly triggering events for those who have been through an abortion. If you or someone you know is post-abortive, Focus on the Family has confidential resources to help support you. Visit our Post-Abortive Recovery Resources or call 1-800-A-FAMILY for more information.

The Earliest History of Abortion

A black and white photo of Egyptian statues referencing the appearance of abortion in ancient Egypt

The earliest known case of abortion is said to have taken place in ancient Egypt. Ancient texts like the Ebers Papyrus (1550 BC) describe the earliest methods of abortion. Abortion also appears in the written works of historical doctors and scholars. These intellectuals came from a variety of countries and cultures. Among them were:

Much like abortion as discussed by scholars today, their views on the topic varied. For some, abortion wasn’t ending a life until after “the quickening,” or the moment when a mother could feel her baby move. Some believed abortion was only acceptable if the mother’s life was in danger. For others, abortion was a sin against God.

Abortion in the Bible Times

Did abortion ever occur in Bible times? Yes. Alongside the methods of the Egyptians, other infanticidal practices were used. These practices varied from culture to culture. For instance, several pagan deities were worshiped through infanticide.

Sometimes, these methods were used as selective abortion or population control. Take, for example, the Pharaoh of Exodus 1:15-16. Pharaoh was afraid the Hebrew children might outnumber the Egyptians. In response, he commanded Hebrew midwives to preform sex-selective infanticide.

"Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, "When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him, but if it is a daughter, she shall live."

King Herod of Matthew 2:16  also used infanticide. By erasing a certain demographic, Herod hoped to eradicate the Messiah.

More about abortion in the Bible:

The History of Abortion in the United States

Women march for the right to vote in the suffrage movement.

Sadly, the history of abortion in the United States is steeped in dark issues like sexism, racism and ableism. Knowing this, it’s no surprise that some of the most influential figures in U.S. history were against abortion.

The Suffragettes Against Abortion

While today’s pro-choicers are heavily associated with feminism and women’s rights, this wasn’t always the case. Early on in U.S. history, many feminists were against abortion. These women include several iconic suffragettes:

To the suffragettes, abortion was an exploitation of women. They expressed concerns for every women potentially involved in the abortion process. This included the mother, the baby and the abortionist.

“The gross perversion and destruction of motherhood by the abortionist filled me with indignation, and awakened active antagonism. That the honorable term 'female physician' should be exclusively applied to those women who carried on this shocking trade seemed to me a horror. It was an utter degradation of what might and should become a noble position for women.”

Furthermore, the suffragettes understood that abortion ended the life of a child. In the words of Alice Paul, “How can one protect and help women by killing them as babies?”

The History of Abortion in the Civil Rights Movement

Many civil rights movement leaders also had opinions on abortion. While the civil rights movement of 1954 focused on equality between races, several civil rights leaders spoke out against abortion’s impact on their communities. Consider the wisdom of Rev. Jesse Jackson:

"What happens to the mind of a person and the moral fabric of a nation that accepts the aborting of the life of a baby without a pang of conscious?"

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was also known for his whole-life values. According to his family members, such as his niece Dr. Alveda King, the King family’s view on the value of all human life fueled MLK’s passion for justice, peace and equality. MLK also stressed the importance of considering children’s lives when making decisions that impact our future.

"The Negro cannot win the respect of the white people of the South or the peoples of the world if he is willing to sell the future of his children for his personal and immediate comfort and safety. Violence as a way of achieving racial justice is both impractical and immoral."

Today, many African American pro-life advocates can attest to the negative impact of abortion on their community. These advocates include, but are not limited to:

Margaret Sanger's Role in Abortion History

Margaret Sanger is a landmark of the history of abortion in the United States. It was Sanger who founded The American Birth Control League in 1916. This organization later became Planned Parenthood.

Sanger has recently become more known for her racist and ableist remarks. According to Sanger, some people were “marked when they’re born” with traits that make them less human than others. Furthermore, Sanger lists these people as “delinquents” and  “diseased from their parents.”

Recently, pro-abortionists have acknowledged Sanger’s dark motivations behind her work. However, the abortion industry of today still practices the same procedures that enable genetic discrimination.

Abortion and Feminism

So, when did abortion become a staple of this century’s feminism? The intrusion of abortion into the feminist agenda dates back to the 1960s and 1970s. Oddly, it was two men who managed to combine the abortion industry with the feminist movement. These men were Dr. Bernard Nathanson and Larry Lader. Dr. Nathanson, an abortionist, rallied for the abortion industry after seeing the effects of an ill-conducted abortion on his girlfriend. Alternatively, Lader was a big fan of Margaret Sanger.

Like Sanger, Lader believed abortion was a reasonable answer to population control. According to Nathanson, Lader had the idea to employ the powerful lobbying of renowned feminist Betty Friedan. His idea proved to be incredibly effective. Betty Friedan is, to this day, heavily associated with feminism’s link to the pro-abortion stance.

Notably, several other prominent figures were fighting against the pro-abortion agenda around the same time. Among these advocates was Dr. Mildred Jefferson, the first African American woman to graduate from Harvard Medical School.

Science in Support of Life

Later in his career, Dr. Nathanson left the abortion industry and became devoutly pro-life. He turned all his efforts toward educating the public on the truth about abortion. He is best known for his documentary, The Silent Scream, which features a real abortion procedure.

Nathanson also became incredibly outspoken about the tactics he and others used to further the pro-abortion agenda. He claimed that they fabricated statistics and polls, lying to media who quoted these facts as if they were “written in law.”

Many other abortion workers have followed in Nathanson’s footsteps. Some of them have become the most powerful voices in today’s pro-life movement. You can find more of their stories in our article, Abortion Stories: Procuring, Coercion and Walking Out.

Related Articles:

Roe v. Wade and Other Court Cases

Several essential court cases would appear over the decades following abortion’s combination with the feminist movement. They would prove to shape the history of abortion forever. These cases include:

For more information on these court cases, check out our article Should Abortion Be Legal?

Abortion in History Today

An image of a judges' gavel from the Supreme Court, a pivotal location for the future history of abortion in the United States.

Technology and our understanding of preborn life have come a long way since ancient Egypt and the feminist rallies of 1973. Historically, preborn life was only thought to be present after a mother could feel her baby move. Today, via 2D, 3D and 4D ultrasound, we can view the preborn life within weeks of conception. Furthermore, modern medicine has all but eliminated any medical reason for abortion.

Advancements in maternal-fetal medicine which have aided the pro-life cause include:

The idea that science will one day completely eradicate the want for abortion is a hope that many Neotonologists and OB-GYNs have for their patients.

Doctors Speaking on Abortion:

The Future of Abortion

The discussion around the pro-life vs. pro-choice issue is ever-evolving. Undoubtedly, the science of when life begins offers a glimmer of hope for our culture. We can only hope that, eventually, our country comes to know abortion as other civil rights injustices in U.S. history, as a stain on our past with no room to exist in our future.

Now that the Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade, history is taking a turn for the better. You can be a part of the moment to end abortion! Learn how you can take part in saving lives and promoting human dignity through Focus on the Family’s SeeLife event.

Dynamic CTA Template Below


About the Author

Read More About:

You May Also Like