Miscarriage, abortion or criminal feticide: understandings of early pregnancy loss in Britain, 1900–1950

Elliot, R. (2014) Miscarriage, abortion or criminal feticide: understandings of early pregnancy loss in Britain, 1900–1950. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 47(B), pp. 248-256. (doi:10.1016/j.shpsc.2014.02.002)

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Abstract

This paper explores the close links in medical understandings of miscarriage and abortion in the first half of the 20th century in Britain. In the absence of a clear legal framework for abortion, and the secrecy surrounding the practice, medical literature suggests contradictory and confused views about women presenting with clinical signs of pregnancy loss. On one hand, there was a lack of clarity as to whether pregnancy loss was natural or induced, with a clear tendency to assume that symptoms of miscarriage were the result of criminal interference gone wrong. On the other hand, women who did not present for treatment when miscarriage was underway were accused of neglecting their unborn children. The paper suggests that discourses around pregnancy loss were class-based, distrustful of female patients, and shaped by the wider context of fertility decline and concerns about infant mortality. The close historical connection between miscarriage and abortion offers some insight into why both the pro-life movement and miscarriage support advocates today draw on similar imagery and rhetoric about early fetal loss.

Item Type:Articles
Status:Published
Refereed:Yes
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Elliot, Dr Rosemary
Authors: Elliot, R.
Subjects:D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Woman
R Medicine > RG Gynecology and obstetrics
College/School:College of Social Sciences > School of Social and Political Sciences > Economic and Social History
Journal Name:Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Publisher:Elsevier
ISSN:1369-8486
ISSN (Online):1879-2499

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