Historical Perspective on Induced Abortion Through the Ages and Its Links With Maternal Mortality
Drife, James Owen
Best practice & research. Clinical obstetrics & gynaecology 2010 Aug; 24(4): 431-41
Abortion is mentioned in ancient medical texts but the effectiveness of the methods described is doubtful. Attitudes varied from apparent disapproval by Hippocrates to open approval in Ancient Rome. In mediaeval times abortion was practised by women in secret and this continued during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Despite being illegal in England induced abortion became more common in Victorian times as the population grew. At the same time the link between criminal abortion and maternal mortality became increasingly clear, and if a woman died after a procedure the abortionist (sometimes a midwife) could be sentenced to death. The law was more tolerant of abortions performed by registered doctors. In the 20th century pressure grew for its legalisation. At the time of the 1967 Abortion Act, abortion was the leading cause of maternal death in the UK but within fifteen years death from illegal abortion had been abolished.
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