Abortion. Simply utter the word and it is likely to evoke highly emotional and divisive responses from many Americans. Rightly or wrongly we are extremely passionate about the abortion issue in this country. For an increasing number of young Americans, however, abortion history begins with the landmark Roe v. Wade decision handed down by the Supreme Court in 1973. As a result, little is taught or understood about what occurred in the decades prior to Roe in the American political and social scene. This has led to a lack of understanding about the roots and historical meaning of the decision. This paper focuses on the decades immediately prior to Roe and places the decision in its historical context.
The post-World War II era is an especially important chapter in the history of abortion. This paper explores this time period, reviewing the social and ideological changes that occurred after the war and the forces that led many states to change their abortion laws before the Supreme Court decided Roe. In a period of less than 30 years, the country saw a strong desire to tighten abortion laws giving way to limited legalized abortion in certain circumstances, and then to legalized abortion on demand in all 50 states during the first three months of pregnancy. Though critical to understanding how Roe came about, this portion of abortion history is often lost.
This paper first examines the period immediately after World War II from 1945-1949 and the cultural desire to “re-domesticate” women. Next the author discusses material on the 1950s when the abortion issue injected itself into mainstream debate and significant divisions on the subject emerged in the culture. From there, the story turns to the 1960s, exploring the revolutionary spirit dominating American culture and the impact that spirit had on the abortion debate. The paper ends with a look at the mood of the early 1970s–the climactic years just prior to the appearance of Roe v. Wade.||en-US