Reproductive rights and wrongs: abortion as a crime in nineteenth-century England
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree LevelBachelors with Honours
Degree NameBachelor of Arts (Hons)
This thesis explores the practice of abortion in nineteenth-century England, and specifically focuses on how abortion’s illegality impacted its application and those who sought this medical procedure. This thesis investigates a number of methods of abortion such as chemical abortifacients, surgical instruments and other homeopathic remedies which abortion providers and pregnant women used in their attempts to procure abortion. It also considers the demographics of those who sought abortion and questions whether working class women were more likely to seek abortion than their middle or upper class peers. This thesis then critically examines the outcomes of the numerous trials of illegal abortion in London in the nineteenth century through analysis of documents from the Old Bailey archive. A number of primary sources have been instrumental to this thesis, including 19th century medical journal articles, court records and newspaper articles. This work aims to demonstrate that abortion in 19th century England, while illegal and denounced by many as a social evil and a clear moral failing, was practiced widely. The illegal status of abortion did influence the methods of its application, but by no means stopped it from occurring. The illegality and stigma surrounding this medical procedure in fact pushed women towards more radical and life-threatening measures in their efforts to retain control over their own bodies while also trying to avoid the legal consequences imposed by nineteenth century anti-abortion legislation.