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The Strange History of Abortion

Ideas about abortion have changed a lot over time. Abortion is a safe medical procedure in the UK today, but it was only legalised in 1967 and there are still strict legal regulations in place. For example, women must have the consent of two doctors in order to have an abortion in the UK and there are strict time limits on abortion procedures.

However, the history of abortion doesn’t begin with the legalisation of medical procedures to end a pregnancy. Abortion has been around for as long as women have been having unplanned pregnancies. Women have tried to end their pregnancies with all kinds of medications, remedies and charms. In most cases, these types of abortion were ineffective and they could also be very harmful to the woman’s health.

Unusual Methods of Abortion from the Past

Here are some of the strangest beliefs about abortion from history.

  • Roman physician Pliny the Elder suggested that crossing over the egg of a crow could cause an abortion
  • One ancient Egyptian text suggests that crocodile dung could induce an abortion, although it was far more likely to leave women with infections than to end a pregnancy
  • Victorians believed that the pain of pulling a tooth could trigger a miscarriage, so it was used as a method of abortion up to the 1870s

Although we can read about these methods of abortion in old texts, they would not have been effective at ending pregnancies. Women did have other methods to turn to, including some that resemble the modern surgical abortion procedures. However, without the right instruments and a modern understanding of hygiene, these old abortion techniques could be very dangerous.

Abortion Today

The methods that we use for abortion today are very safe and effective. In fact, the risk of complications is much lower if you have an abortion than if you go ahead with the pregnancy.

Two different types of abortion are available in the UK. A medical abortion involves taking two pills in order to end the pregnancy. A surgical abortion is performed by removing the contents of the womb, either with suction or specially designed instruments. Women no longer have to rely on unsafe methods or ineffective superstitions to end a pregnancy.

Attitudes to abortion have also changed a lot over time. Since abortion was legalised in the 1960s, people have become much more understanding about women’s choices. We are able to talk more openly about pregnancy and abortion. Although some people do not agree with abortion, there is no longer such strong social pressure against it. Women are free to have an abortion or to continue with their pregnancy, whatever their circumstances.

Although this might seem like a very modern situation, history tells us that attitudes can come and go. In the early 20th century, abortion was seen as immoral or scandalous, even though women would also be criticised for becoming single mothers. However, this wasn’t always the case. People have held very different opinions at different times in history. Many philosophers, physicians and religious scholars from the past have considered abortion to be acceptable, especially in the early weeks of pregnancy. Our attitudes in the UK might seem very modern, but people have faced the same kinds of problems and debates throughout history and they often held very similar views to ourselves.

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