Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Medical Doctor (MD)

First Advisor

Mariola Espinosa, PhD


Claims asserting that abortion harms the mental, physical and emotional health of women have recently gained influence among the judicial and legislative branches of government as well as the general public. While there is a growing body of literature on the place of such women-protective arguments in the contemporary abortion debate, comparatively little has been written on the origins of such claims. This paper traces the role of women-protective claims within the anti-abortion movement from the early nineteenth century to the present, using a variety of primary source material, including medical and scientific texts, legal documents, and lay and popular publications. Special attention is given to the role of physicians in the abortion debate and, accordingly, primary source materials authored by physicians are used extensively. By following these women-protective arguments, this paper shows that while women-protective claims emerged as early as the nineteenth century as part of the first American movement to criminalize abortion, a distinct women-protective strategy was created by anti-abortion activists during the 1980s in an attempt to re-criminalize abortion by both increasing popular resistance to abortion and to posing a legal challenge to Roe v. Wade. In addition, this paper demonstrates that the modern women-protective strategy relied on a depiction of women as helpless victims who needed the government to save them from making their own decisions and restore them to their natural role as mothers.


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