Gordon Watkins Douglas researched cervical cancer, breach delivery, and treatment of high blood pressure during pregnancy in the US during the twentieth century. He worked primarily at Bellevue Hospital Center in New York, New York. While at Bellevue, he worked with William E. Studdiford to develop treatments for women who contracted infections as a result of illegal abortions performed throughout the US in unsterile environments. Douglas also established the first contraception and pregnancy termination clinic at Bellevue Hospital shortly after the legalization of abortion as a result of the 1973 US Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade. Furthermore, Douglas showed that fetal and maternal cells exchange between the pregnant woman and fetus during pregnancy, which led to the later development of non-invasive prenatal testing in the early twenty-first century.
In 1901, physician William Henry Walling published the article, Some of the Uses of Electricity in Gynecology, in the January issue of the American Gynecological and Obstetrical Journal. Walling was a practicing gynecologist who studied electro-therapeutics, or the use of electricity in medicine for the treatment of disease, which was an emerging topic during the late 1800s. Walling stated that proper administration of electrical current to a woman’s vagina, uterus, bladder, or rectum could be therapeutic for gynecological diseases. He provides scientific explanations for some of his claims, but not for all. The article provides readers of the twenty-first century with context and historical examples of electrotherapy in women’s health, of what physicians understood about female reproductive anatomy, and of the standard of care in gynecology during the turn of the twentieth century.
In 2013, Cynthia Daniels and a team of researchers at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, founded the Informed Consent Project. Daniels and the researchers assessed the medical accuracy of information within state-authored informational materials for abortion. States give those materials to women who want an abortion, but using their research, the Informed Consent Project found some information from those materials to be inaccurate, misleading, and coercive. The Informed Consent Project gathered a panel of researchers and medical specialists to review the information about embryological and fetal development from twenty-three states’ informational materials. They found that approximately one-third of that information was inaccurate. The work of the Informed Consent Project challenges abortion-specific informed consent laws, highlighting medical inaccuracies in state-authored informational materials as evidence that women’s consent to abortion may be based on false or misleading statements.
In April 1994, Elizabeth Raymond, Sven Cnattingius, and John Kiely published “Effects of Maternal Age, Parity, and Smoking on the Risk of Stillbirth” in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, now known as BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. The article examines how advanced maternal age, defined as delivery at thirty-five years old or older, cigarette smoking, and nulliparity, or the state of never having given birth, can negatively impact pregnancy. At the time of publication, according to Raymond and colleagues, stillbirths comprised over half of all perinatal, or close to birth, deaths and more than one-third of total fetal and infant deaths in Europe and North America. In the article, Raymond and her coauthors demonstrate how certain risk factors may increase the risk of stillbirth at different stages of pregnancy, which helped set a foundation for future research in interventions to prevent stillbirth.
As of 2021, twenty-eight US states have informed consent laws for abortion, which is a medical procedure to terminate pregnancy, often called Women’s Right to Know laws. Those laws often require the state government to develop informational materials that healthcare providers must give to women before an abortion. Informational materials generally include information about the process of fetal development, accompanied by illustrations or pictures, risks and effects of abortion, and alternatives to abortion. Supporters of informed consent laws for abortion argue that such information is important for women to make a decision to have an abortion. Individual states author and distribute those informational materials, which are a primary source of information for people who seek an abortion. Medical expert and abortion rights activists have criticized the materials for providing inaccurate information, making misleading statements, and using coercive language to discourage women from choosing abortion.
In 2019, Americans United for Life, hereafter AUL, published a model legislation, called the Women’s Right to Know Act, in their annual publication Defending Life. The goal of the model legislation, which AUL annually updates, is to help state governments enact enhanced informed consent laws for abortion. The Women’s Right to Know Act requires physicians to provide specific information to women before they may consent to having an abortion. It also suggests that individual US state governments to develop informational materials about abortion and pregnancy that healthcare providers must give to women before they receive an abortion. As of 2020, twenty-eight states have enacted informed consent laws for abortion that resemble the Women’s Right to Know Act. In a larger effort to dismantle legal access to abortion, the AUL’s Women’s Right to Know Act encourages individual states to restrict access to abortion to protect, what the organization calls, the unborn child.
Ernst Gräfenberg was a physician and researcher who studied sexology, the study of human sexuality, in both Germany and the United States during the first half of the twentieth century. Gräfenberg researched the use of intrauterine devices as a form of contraception, and he developed the Gräfenberg ring. The Gräfenberg ring was one of the first intrauterine devices that effectively prevented pregnancy without causing infection, and it became the forerunner of all modern intrauterine devices, or IUDs. Gräfenberg also studied the role of the urethra in female orgasm. He was one of the first researchers to discuss female pleasure in a scientific manner, and, more specifically, he was one of the first to write about the erogenous zone on the anterior vaginal wall, colloquially called the G-spot. Through the technology he developed and the ideas he proposed, Gräfenberg advanced knowledge of female anatomy, pleasure, and reproduction, enabling researchers and professionals to better understand and cater to females’ reproductive and sexual needs.
Evelyn Lorraine Rothman advocated for women’s reproductive rights and invented at-home kits for women’s health concerns in the late twentieth century in Los Angeles, California. Rothman provided women in the Los Angeles area with the means to perform self-examinations, pregnancy tests, and abortions on their own without assistance from a medical professional. Along with Carol Downer, Rothman cofounded the Federation of Feminist Health Centers in Los Angeles, California, and spent her career educating women on reproductive health. She also invented the Del-Em Kit, a menstrual extraction device that allowed women to perform very early abortions on their own and at home. Rothman’s activism educated women on female anatomy, provided an at-home option for early abortion before abortion became legal, and promoted women’s reproductive rights in the 1970s.
Jane Elizabeth Hodgson was a physician who advocated for abortion rights in the twentieth century in the United States. In November of 1970, Hodgson became the first physician in the U.S. to be convicted of performing an illegal abortion in a hospital. Hodgson deliberately performed the abortion to challenge the Minnesota State Statute 617.18, which prohibited non-therapeutic abortions. Following the legalization of abortion in the US Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade (1973), Hodgson focused on promoting accessible abortion, obstetric, and gynecological care throughout Minnesota. Her name also appears in the Supreme Court case Hodgson v. Minnesota (1990), which challenged the constitutionality of a Minnesota statute that required physicians to notify both parents forty-eight hours prior to a minor being allowed to undergoing an abortion. Hodgson’s career was centered around challenging the legal system to protect and promote reproductive rights for women, including access to abortion.