What We Misunderstand about the Story of Abortion in America
A Look Back
Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackman, in his 1973 Roe v. Wade majority opinion, asserted that in early America abortion was acceptable up until quickening—which is at about five months, when the mother can start to feel the unborn baby inside of her womb. But we actually found in our research that in early America abortions were considered murder.
The Story of Abortion in America
Marvin Olasky, Leah Savas
Authors Marvin Olasky and Leah Savas detail the long history of abortion and its impact on American culture through vivid personal stories that humanize people on both sides of the debate.
The very first recorded abortion in America from 1652 was Captain William Mitchell, who was from England, after impregnating Susan Warren, a servant of his. He did not want there to be a baby. He actually forced her to eat an abortifacient in a poached egg. After eating that, she miscarried. She had an abortion. Eventually, Captain Mitchell went on trial for murder.
We have another case from several years later where we actually know how old the baby was when it was aborted. It was at roughly three months of gestation. Still, the man who encouraged the abortion, who gave the mother the abortifacient, went on trial for murder.
So, if early American men were going on trial for forcing women to eat abortifacients, we certainly can’t believe what Justice Blackman wrote in his original Roe v. Wade opinion.
Leah Savas is the coauthor with Marvin Olasky of The Story of Abortion in America: A Street-Level History, 1652–2022.
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