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Defending life
from conception to natural death



Medics led the way in the nineteenth century pro-life movement

Posted by Jack Francis on 18 April 2012

Pro-life groups often compare the great struggle for justice for the unborn with other historical social justice issues, most popularly slavery.

It came as something of a surprise to me that as well as looking to other movements for inspiration and ideas about how best to engage in this cause, we can also look to the historical pro-life movement. In the USA, long before the catastrophic abortion laws which were introduced in so many countries in the mid-twentieth centuries, abortion had already been a tragic reality which was opposed with some degree of success by a determined pro-life movement.

In the mid-nineteenth century abortions were common among married American Protestant women. In response to this in 1857 Dr Horatio Robinson Storer (pictured) founded the "physicians' crusade against abortion". Storer enlisted the support of the then young American Medical Association (AMA) and founded a committee on Criminal Abortion. In 1859 that committee presented a report to the AMA which called on physicians and the various political authorities to oppose abortion.

I urge you to read all of what is a short report, and I include below a few of the report's highlights:

The heinous guilt of criminal abortion, however viewed by the community, is everywhere acknowledged by medical men.

The first of these causes [of an increase in abortions] is a wide-spread popular ignorance of the true character of the crime - a belief, even among mothers themselves, that the foetus is not alive till after the period of quickening.

As a profession we are unanimous in our condemnation of the crime.

If through want of knowledge on a medical point, the slaughter of countless children now steadily perpetrated in our midst, is to be attributed, it is our duty, as physicians, and as good and true men, both publicly and privately, and by every means in our power, to enlighten this ignorance.

"In accordance, therefore, with the facts in the case, the Committee would advise that this body, representing, as it does, the physicians of the land, publicly express its abhorrence of the unnatural and now rapidly increasing crime of abortion; that it avow its true nature, as no simple offence against public morality and decency, no mere misdemeanor, no attempt upon the life of the mother, but the wanton and murderous destruction of her child.

Storer wrote a series of nine scientific articles on abortion, which were later turned into a book. He used his work to lobby state legislatures and he encouraged other medical professionals to do likewise. Many state and territorial legislatures passed laws protecting unborn children thanks in part to Storer's work. He also wrote books which were accessible to and targeted at the general public. Storer's work is credited with significantly reducing the number of abortions among married women, and thus saving many lives.

Storer was a pioneer not only in his defence of the unborn, but of gynaecology as a medical specialisation. He used his authority as an eminent man of medicine to defend the most vulnerable members of our society.

Members of the medical community today can and should seek to use their professional knowledge for the common good of all members of society. When the Abortion Bill was being discussed in the UK early in 1967, the Royal College of Obstetrician's and Gynaecologists (RCOG) voted 192 to 5 against the bill. One member is even reported to have said that if the bill became law they would all emigrate on the grounds that it would turn them into compulsory state abortionists. Sadly, this opposition was not maintained within the medical community and the RCOG now requires all its members to cooperate with abortion.

The RCOG's policy on abortion is that:

abortion and contraception are an integral part of comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services.

and also that:

Practitioners cannot claim exemption from giving advice or performing the preparatory steps to arrange an abortion where the request meets the legal requirements. Such steps include referral to another doctor, as appropriate.

We must hope that through continued pro-life witness the RCOG will see the error of its ways, and like Dr Storer, work to end the injustice of abortion.

Further reading

A biography of Dr Storer Champion of Women and the Unborn Frederick N. Dyer, the cover of which is pictured above, is available on Amazon.

It is also possible to read an essay by the same author online: 'Horatio Robinson Storer, M.D. and the Physicians’ Crusade Against Abortion'

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