Friday, August 12, 2005

The Pro-Life Movement's First Hero

Not many people know about the history of America's first pro-life crusaders. Under Anglo-American common law, abortion before "quickening" (that is, before the mother experienced motion of the baby in the womb) was legal. (Since our ancestors didn't know the facts of human development, allowing abortion might perhaps be more excusable then than it is now, when science has confirmed that life begins at conception.) In the pro-natal society before 1830, however, it was generally used only in "crisis pregnancies." After the 1830s it became steadily more common even among married women as birth rates began to drop. (Again contrary to popular belief, contraception has a long history before "the pill.")

The people who called for state laws to ban it were part of the same movement for moral and evangelical reform that formed the Whig party, and whose radical fringe formed the abolitionist movement. (The early feminists, part of the same movement, were mostly strong proponents of the pro-life cause.) Against them stood the Democrats who argued against such state-level moral laws not on state's rights (of course), but for individual rights and complete separation of state and gov't. (For example many 19th century Democrats protested that the US Mails really should deliver mail on Sunday, since church and state should be separate.)

The slavery and secession issues reshuffled allegiances somewhat, but in general continued to pit an alliance of Yankee moral reformers, and pro-big business forces against an alliance of libertarians, immigrants, and southerners. (I love the ironies of history!) In this climate, it was the North's victory in the Civil War that opened the way for the Boston doctor Horatio Robinson Storer and the AMA to push for state laws banning abortion services except those for medical necessity (quite strictly defined). It was these state laws -- passed in the same high tide of Whig, moral, and Christianizing reform that led to violent opposition in the South and the inner cities and hence the Civil War -- that were voided by Roe vs. Wade.

Only in the 1940s, did the creeping apostasy and rot in the Yankee Protestant churches and the growing influence of Catholic immigrants produce the anti-abortion Catholic - pro-abortion Protestant pattern now considered "classic." For a while that made the Republican Party slightly more favorable to pro-abortion crusaders. The 1950s and 1960s reshuffled this pattern again as the more and more liberal Northeastern Protestants deserted the Republican Party for the Catholics' Democrats, adding their own secular mindset to the party's existing suspicion of evangelical (as opposed to Catholic) moralizing. Catholics slowly split as well, some being "Democratized" into the pro-abortion position, while others slowly gravitated to the Republican Party which by the 1970s had returned to its roots as a party mixing Christian morals and free market economics. And that's how we got to the present constellation of forces today.

Despite its pro-abortion bias (particularly in not acknowledging that the laws against abortion in the 1870s to 1950s really did dramatically diminish the no. of abortions) an article here does give you much of the facts. More interesting is the following book, a biography by Frederick N. Dyer, of America's first great pro-life crusader: Champion of Women and the Unborn: Horatio Robinson Storer, M.D. For those who don't want to read the book, here's a short and very instructive article, also by Frederick Dyer.

Originally posted at Here We Stand