Some historians have suggested that laws against post-quickening abortions were primarily intended to protect the health of the pregnant woman—not fetal life—as it was much more common for women to die during abortions that used instruments rather than herbal abortifacients.
Whatever the rationale, few abortions were prosecuted before the mid-nineteenth century because quickening was so difficult to prove.
In fact, the antiabortion movement, in its many iterations, has radically transformed Americans’ ideas about women’s bodies, reproduction, feminist politics, and of course, fetal life.
In the two centuries the movement has existed, its constituencies, tactics, and tools have all changed.
Many argued that women (and rag-tag group of healers who offered abortion) did not have adequate embryonic knowledge to determine when life began.
But historians have noted that this medical insight was not a result of any advancements in embryonic knowledge.There was not much of an antiabortion movement between 19 because the state did its work.Police, courts, and lawmakers prosecuted abortionists and harassed women who procured the procedure.Physicians used anti-abortion laws, pushed in state legislatures, to increase their own stature and undermine their opponents. Of course, many would have narrated this story very differently.Some physicians claimed that this campaign was a product of superior medical knowledge.But what has remained is the effect this movement has had on women’s lives.In the end, the pro-life movement transformed ideas as it also restricted the real ability of American women to access reproductive healthcare.Quickening occurred when the pregnant woman could feel the fetus move, typically between the fourth and sixth month of pregnancy.This was the only sure way to confirm pregnancy; before this time, any fetus was considered only a potential life.They suggested that the law should make exceptions for women who were raped, whose fetuses were deformed, and whose mental or physical health was at stake.The abortion reform movement was made possible by a larger cultural shift in Americans’ ideas about reproduction and abortion.