A 19th Century doctor who may have saved your life

A 19th Century doctor who may have saved your life October 29, 2014

Abortion, far from being a modern medical procedure, was rampant in the past, including in the 19th century.  After the jump is an interview with Frederick Dyer, the author of a biography of Dr. Horatio Robinson Storer, the physician responsible for passing anti-abortion laws.  He stopped so many abortions that, statistically, he may have saved the life of one of your ancestors, without whom you would cease to exist.

From Brantly Millegan, You’re Alive Today Because of this 19th Century Doctor – Aleteia:

You’ve called Horatio Robinson Storer “the most important person in the United States in the nineteenth century.” Who was he, and why is he so important?

Dr. Storer was a Boston physician who lived from 1830 to 1922. He obtained his M.D. from Harvard in 1853 and studied in Scotland for more than a year with Dr. (later Sir) James Young Simpson. He began practicing medicine in 1855 and found that the medical problems of his married Protestant women patients frequently were related to their having had abortions. He learned that many other physicians were experiencing the same phenomenon. He carried out extensive research and concluded in the 1859 American Medical Association Report that “thousands and hundreds of thousands of lives are… directly at stake, and are annually sacrificed” as a result of abortion.

He singlehandedly brought the American Medical Association into the fight against abortion. The Association convinced state and territorial legislatures to pass the stringent laws against abortion that were overturned in 1973. The laws prevented millions of abortions during the century they were in effect. The millions of babies born as a result of these new laws typically grew up, married, and had children. Most of us have at least one direct ancestor who was born because of the laws against abortion. A quantitative proof of the profound effect these abortion laws have had on who is alive today in the U.S. is given in my article for the Washington Times, “19th Century state abortion laws probably allowed you to be born”.

Not many people have even heard of Dr. Storer. Why is this?

One reason is that abortion was an incredibly taboo subject. Even a biographer who praised Storer in the March 1917 edition of Catholic Convert did not specifically mention Storer’s efforts against abortion, referring only to Horatio’s “recognition of high principles of morality with regard to the many questions where medicine touches morals.” Another reason is that pro-choice historians have been unwilling to admit that it was primarily concern for the unborn that led to the laws against abortion that were overturned by Roe v Wade. When Storer and his role in the crusade have been mentioned by these historians, his pro-life motives are downplayed or not discussed. Frequently, a fictional “regulation of medicine” motive is given as the reason that Storer and the American Medical Association successfully lobbied for stringent laws against abortion.

How did you become aware of Storer’s strong concern for the unborn?

I was writing a chapter on U.S. abortion history for a book showing that abortion was a human rights issue and that one did not have to be religious to be pro-life. Historian James Mohr’s 1978 book, Abortion in America, made me aware of Dr. Storer, but it was only when I read the passage below from a January 1859 medical journal article written by Storer that I became aware of his strong pro-life view. After I read this, I decided instead to write a biography of Dr. Storer.

If we have proved the existence of fœtal life before quickening has taken place or can take place, and by all analogy and a close and conclusive process of induction, its commencement at the very beginning, at conception itself, we are compelled to believe unjustifiable abortion always a crime.

And now words fail. Of the mother, by consent or by her own hand, imbrued with her infant’s blood; of the equally guilty father, who counsels or allows the crime; of the wretches, who by their wholesale murders far out-Herod Burke and Hare; of the public sentiment which palliates, pardons, and would even praise this, so common, violation of all law, human and divine, of all instinct, of all reason, all pity, all mercy, all love, we leave those to speak who can.

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