Misericordia et Misera (Mercy with Misery) was a letter written by Pope Francis and published in Rome, Italy, on 20 November 2016. Through the letter, Pope Francis gives priests the ability to grant forgiveness for abortion. Before Pope Francis’s letter, priests had some ability to grant forgiveness for the Catholic sin of abortion, but bishops had to grant that ability to the priests individually. Prior to the letter, the official rules of the Catholic Church did not state that priests could forgive abortion-related sins. The extension provided in the letter did not change the status of abortion as a grave sin that could result in excommunication. By extending that ability to priests, Pope Francis made forgiveness through the Catholic Church more accessible for women, doctors, and those who take part in an abortion, which started a discussion about the status of abortion in the Catholic Church in the twenty-first century.
In 1996, Michael R. Harrison published “Fetal Surgery” in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. In the article, Harrison describes the importance of fetal surgery and the techniques used to correct defects in fetuses. As a fetus develops in the uterus, it can develop abnormalities that may become debilitating or fatal. Harrison discusses cases that show how physicians can use fetal surgery to repair such abnormalities, including obstructions in the heart or urinary tract, or organs or muscles whose malformations impair function. Harrison states where knowledge is lacking within the field or where surgery would be inappropriate, such as in the modification of a cleft lip, which can be fixed after birth and as such does not merit the risks of surgery. In the article, Harrison provides a summary of what information existed about fetal surgeries in 1996, which helped physicians explore fetal surgery and make further advancements.
In 1916, eugenicist Madison Grant published the book The Passing of the Great Race; or The Racial Basis of European History, hereafter The Passing of the Great Race, where he claimed that northern Europeans, or Nordics, are biologically and culturally superior to the rest of humanity. Charles Scribner’s Sons in New York City, New York, published the volume. Grant claimed that the Nordic race was at risk of extinction and advocated for the creation of laws in the US to decrease the population of people he considered inferior. According to Grant’s biographer Jonathan Spiro, Grant’s book synthesized a range of racist and pseudoscientific eugenics claims in prose that was accessible to the public. In the US, The Passing of the Great Race was praised by politicians, including former presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Calvin Coolidge, and cited as justification for laws that restricted immigration based on ethnicity and nationality. Adolf Hitler referred to The Passing of the Great Race as his Bible, and during the Nuremberg Trials in the 1940s, Nazi leaders who were prosecuted for war crimes committed during World War II presented the book as evidence that eugenics did not solely originate in Germany but rather had deep roots in the United States.
In 1904, physician William Henry Walling published Sexology, a family medicine reference book. In his book, Walling proposed that his guidance would help people who were married or single and young or old, as well as anyone who wanted to conform to, what he claims are, gender expectations. Sexology discusses issues such as masturbation, abortion, pregnancy, labor, and marriage. Despite Walling’s limited scientific explanations and evidence for his medical claims, the Puritan Publishing Company printed and distributed the book, which received many positive reviews and endorsements from other physicians, college presidents, politicians, and religious leaders. However, in the twenty-first century, people may consider many of Walling’s claims to be sexist and oppressive toward women. Sexology provides readers with examples of historical medical misconceptions of male and female anatomy and provides context for the logic of reproductive medicine at the turn of the twentieth century.
In January 2014, Mary Gatter and colleagues published “Relationship between Ultrasound Viewing and Proceeding to Abortion” in Obstetrics and Gynecology hereafter “Ultrasound Viewing.” As of 2021, ten states require women to undergo an ultrasound before they may consent to having an abortion. Self-described pro-life organizations assert that viewing an image of the fetus will dissuade women from having an abortion. The authors reviewed women’s medical records from over fifteen thousand visits to one abortion provider in 2011.The authors determined viewing an ultrasound image did not change the minds of women who were already highly certain that abortion was the right decision, challenging the idea that mandatory ultrasound viewing has any effect on women’s decision to have an abortion.
In March 2006, scientists from Ghana and the UK Karen Edmond, Charles Zandoh, Maria Quigley, Seeba Amenga-Etego, Seth Oqusi-Agyei, and Betty Kirkwood published their findings that early, consistent breastfeeding habits for mothers in Ghana resulted in better survival outcomes for their infants. The authors communicated those results in the paper “Delayed Breastfeeding Initiation Increases Risk of Neonatal Mortality,” or “Delayed Breastfeeding,” published in The American Academy of Pediatrics. “Delayed Breastfeeding” was one of the first studies to examine the connection between early, consistent breastfeeding habits and infant survival. The information detailed in “Delayed Breastfeeding” supported and helped promote the World Health Organization’s 2015 Breastfeeding Advocacy Initiative, which revealed the risks associated with avoiding breastfeeding for both mothers and infants in countries around the world.
In 2017, Julie Carré, Nicolas Gatimel, Jessika Moreau, Jean Parinaud, and Roger Léandri published “Does Air Pollution Play a Role in Infertility?: a Systematic Review,” hereafter “Does Air Pollution Play a Role,” in the journal Environmental Health. The authors completed a systematic literature review to investigate the effects of air pollutants on fertility in exposed populations. Since air quality has an impact on overall health as well as on reproductive function, the authors sought to increase the awareness of the importance of environmental protection issues among the general public and the authorities. The article “Does Air Pollution Play a Role” provided the foundation for further research on how air pollution can contribute to low reproductive capacity in areas with high exposure.
In 1912, Henry Herbert Goddard published The Kallikak Family: A Study in the Heredity of Feeble-Mindedness, hereafter The Kallikak Family, in which he argues that people inherit feeble-mindedness, which is presently known as intellectual disability. Feeble-mindedness, according to Goddard, is the source of, what he refers to as, degeneracy, including behaviors such as alcoholism, criminal behavior, prostitution, and sexual promiscuity. At the time Goddard wrote his book, many researchers questioned whether people inherited what they considered bad traits, such as feeble-mindedness, criminality, and immorality, and what people could do to get rid of such bad traits. Those ideas reflected the emerging eugenics movement of the early twentieth century. In The Kallikak Family, Goddard explores ideas central to eugenics, including how people can increase good traits and reduce bad traits in the population, For decades, supporters of eugenics cited The Kallikak Family as proof that people inherit such traits, but more recent investigations have discredited Goddard's research as bad science, poorly conceived and biased.
In 2006, the article “HPV in the Etiology of Human Cancer,” hereafter “HPV and Etiology,” by Nubia Muñoz, Xavier Castellsagué, Amy Berrington de González, and Lutz Gissmann, appeared as the first chapter in the twenty-fourth volume of the journal Vaccine. Muñoz and colleagues discuss the role of the Human Papillomavirus, or HPV, in uterine cervical cancers. The authors introduce the mechanisms of HPV infection that lead to genital and non-genital cancers, establishing a link between HPV and multiple human cancers. The authors end by mentioning how other factors, such as pregnancy, smoking, and age, can influence HPV progressing into cervical cancer, which can be fatal. In the article, Muñoz and colleagues use meta-analyses of case studies and clinical trials to show which specific types of HPV are linked to cervical and other human cancers and the impacts of cofactors on the development of those cancers.