By Kristin Luker
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Extra info for Abortion & the Politics of Motherhood
Once they had alerted Americans to the "fact" that abortion was murder, the logical move would have been to turn the issue over to their "competition"—clergymen who would deal with its moral consequences and lawyers who would deal with its legal consequences. Ironically, what the physicians did, in effect, was to simultaneously claim both an absolute right to life for the embryo (by claiming that abortion is always murder) and a conditional one (by claiming that doctors have a right to declare some abortions "necessary").
When examined closely, therefore, neither part of the physicians' claim was, strictly speaking, true. Women (and the general public) knew that pregnancy was a biologically continuous process from beginning to end, and physicians were not in possession of remarkable new scientific discoveries to use to prove the case. Both popular and medical writings of the period suggest that for many years prior to the first "right-to-life" movement, the nineteenthcentury public agreed with the anti-abortion physicians' belief that pregnancy was, biologically speaking, a continuous process that led to the birth of a child.
29 Contemporary observers such as these were in unanimous agreement that the women who engaged in abortion did not believe they were doing anything wrong. The common law tradition, they argued, led women to feel that abortion before quickening was morally blameless, only slightly different from preventing a conception in the first place. 30 Most prominently, physicians became involved, arguing that abortion was both morally wrong and medically dangerous. The membership of the American Medical Association (AMA), founded in 1847 to upgrade and protect the interests of the profession, was deeply divided on many issues.