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August 27, 1997

When Abortion Was a Crime: Women, Medicine, and Law in the United States, 1867-1973

Author Affiliations

St Paul, Minn


by Leslie J. Reagan, 387 pp, $29.95, ISBN 0- 520-08848-4, Berkeley, Calif, University of California Press, 1997.

JAMA. 1997;278(8):686-688. doi:10.1001/jama.1997.03550080096051

On January 22, 1973, the day of the Roe v Wade decision, (410 US 113), Leslie J. Reagan was just old enough to ask her mother the meaning of the word "abortion." Apparently she continued to ask questions about this subject, because 24 years later, she has presented us with a scholarly history and analysis of abortion during the 100 years preceding her first question.

Nearly 250 pages are devoted to the pre-Roe period, followed by a nine-page epilogue. An additional 132 pages contain notes and an adequate index. (Footnotes, rather than endnotes, would have been a real time-saver for the reader.)

The archives of the American Medical Association (AMA) at its "heartland" Chicago headquarters were the chief site for Reagan's research. A systematic survey of the medical literature of this period and examination of trial transcripts in Cook County, Ill, police records, coroners' inquests, and the AMA's Historical Health