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October 6, 1989


JAMA. 1989;262(13):1873-1880. doi:10.1001/jama.1989.03430130151058

A Brief History of Abortion in the United States The first anti-abortion law in the United States was enacted by the state of Connecticut in 1821. Only abortions performed before movement of the fetus—known as "quickening"—were legal. In 1828 New York expanded its legislation by allowing an abortion to save a mother's life. The New York statute became a model for subsequent state legislation across the country.1

Many physicians were against the notion of quickening, seeing it as an arbitrary distinction. By 1827 legislation was enacted in a number of states to protect the unborn child, but with an improved understanding of conception, more states also developed statutes similar to that of New York's. Until the late 1860s, abortion was widely performed without legal consequences. Such practices stood outside the public eye for many years; abortion was available to any woman who could afford it and accept the fact that she was