Free, Legal, On Demand

Tamara Dean on abortion in the 19th century


Last week’s Supreme Court ruling immediately prohibited abortion in seven states, with 23 more either moving to make it illegal or likely to. At the heart of Justice Samuel Alito’s opinion in overturning Roe v. Wade is the notion that abortion is not “deeply rooted in this nation’s history and tradition.” Since Roe was based on the 14th Amendment, Alito contends that we must consider the context in which the 14th Amendment was ratified in 1868. This week, to provide the context that Alito misrepresented, we are rerunning our interview with Tamara Dean about abortion in the 19th century, when it was common, and largely unprohibited. In the leather-bound death records of the county where Dean lives, only two abortions are mentioned, which she writes about in her essay “Safer Than Childbirth.” The more common cause of death, Dean found, was giving birth. At the time, abortion was widely accepted as a means of avoiding the risks of pregnancy and childbirth. Even the Catholic Church didn’t oppose ending pregnancy before “quickening,” usually around the fourth month, because no one believed that human life existed before a woman could feel the fetus move. Tamara Dean joins the podcast to talk about what gets forgotten in the contemporary battle over abortion.

Go beyond the episode:

Resources for those seeking an abortion, now or in future:

Tune in every week to catch interviews with the liveliest voices from literature, the arts, sciences, history, and public affairs; reports on cutting-edge works in progress; long-form narratives; and compelling excerpts from new books. Hosted by Stephanie Bastek.

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Stephanie Bastek is the senior editor of the Scholar and the producer/host of the Smarty Pants podcast.


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