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In the late nineteenth century, the Comstock Act of 1873 made the distribution of contraception illegal and classified contraception as an obscenity. Reflecting the predominant attitude towards contraception at the time, the Comstock Act was the first federal anti-obscenity law that targeted contraception. However, social acceptance of birth control changed at the turn of the twentieth century. In this thesis, I analyzed legislation, advocates, and literature pertinent to that social change to report on the events leading up to the decriminalization of contraception.
Format: Essays and Theses
Dennis Lo, also called Yuk Ming Dennis Lo, is a
professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong in Hong Kong,
China. In 1997, Lo discovered fetal DNA in maternal
plasma, which is the liquid component of a pregnant woman's
blood. By 2002, Lo distinguished the DNA differences between pregnant women
and their fetuses, enabling scientists to identify fetal DNA in pregnant
women's blood. Lo used his discoveries to develop several
non-invasive and prenatal genetic tests, including tests for blood
Leon Chesley studied hypertension, or high blood pressure, in pregnant women during the mid-twentieth century. Chesley studied preeclampsia and eclampsia, two hypertensive disorders found in approximately five percent of all US pregnancies. In New Jersey and New York, Chesley devoted over forty years to researching preeclampsia and eclampsia. Chesley conducted several long-term studies using the same group of women beginning from their pregnancies.
John Chassar Moir lived in Scotland during the twentieth century and helped develop techniques to improve the health of pregnant women. Moir helped to discover compounds that doctors could administer to women after childbirth to prevent life-threatening blood loss. Those compounds included the ergot alkaloid called ergometrine, also called ergonovine, and d-lysergic acid beta-propanolamide. Moir tested ergometrine in postpartum patients and documented that it helped prevent or manage postpartum hemorrhage in women.
Pierre Constant Budin worked in France to improve the lives of newborns and their mothers during the late nineteenth century. Budin stressed the importance of proper nutrition in infants and educated new mothers on breastfeeding and infant care. Budin established infant care facilities and created a nutritional check-up system for infants. Budin helped design early artificial nipples, breast pumps, and incubators for premature newborns. He also began the practice of consulting with new mothers after they gave birth, redefining the roles of obstetricians.
William Smellie helped to incorporate scientific medicine into the process of childbirth in eighteenth century Britain. As a male physician practicing in childbirth and female reproductive health (man-midwife), Smellie developed and taught procedures to treat breech fetuses, which occur when a fetus fails to rotate its head towards the birth canal during delivery. Throughout his career, Smellie compiled a wealth of information about female anatomy in his writings. He modified medical technology such as the obstetrical forceps, an instrument used to maneuver the fetus during childbirth.
Horatio Robinson Storer was a surgeon and anti-abortion activist in the 1800s who worked in the field of women’s reproductive health and led the Physicians’ Crusade Against Abortion in the US. Historians credit Storer as being one of the first physicians to distinguish gynecology, the study of diseases affecting women and their reproductive health, as a separate subject from obstetrics, the study of pregnancy and childbirth.