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History of Medical Conspiracy to Malign Midwives

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From: C-upi@clari.net (UPI)
Subject: Prof: midwives once maligned by MDs
Organization: Copyright 1996 by United Press International
Date: Sun, 22 Sep 1996 12:30:14 PDT
CHICAGO, Sept. 22 (UPI) -- A University of Illinois researcher specializing in the history of medicine said Sunday the virtual disappearance of midwives in the United States by the 1930s was the result of a campaign by physicians to discredit the practice.

Professor Leslie Reagan says the movement to impugn midwives, in part by linking them to abortion, was well underway when in 1915, newspaper coverage of a bizarre abortion-related death in Chicago sparked a public outcry against both abortion and midwifery.

``The combined campaign to control abortion and midwifery took the form of a classic Progressive Era reform movement,'' Reagan said.

``A coalition of private-interest groups -- physicians, female reformers, nurses and journalists -- of the native-born white middle class identified a problem, investigated and documented its extent in 'objective' reports, and mobilized to promote a state-sponsored solution.''

Reagan said physicians in the late 19th century, and in particular practitioners of the emerging specialty of obstetrics, focused on blaming midwives for abortion.

However, stigmatizing midwives for practicing illegal abortion ``conveniently ignored the role that physicians played in illegal abortion,'' Reagan said.

Chicago obstetrician Eliza Root helped launch the national medical campaign to control midwives. Speaking at a meeting in 1893, Root stressed the need to improve physicians' obstetrical education. However, other specialists at the meeting rallied around the inadequacies of midwives.

In doing so, Reagan said, they relegated the problem of poor obstetrical practices to the background. Soon after the meeting, the specialists drafted a resolution calling for states to train and test midwives before licensing them.

In 1915, an unusual abortion-related death launched the issue onto the front pages of newspapers in Chicago. A few days later, the Cook County coroner declared war on abortion, and ensuing news coverage moved women's groups to call for the suppression of abortion and the regulation of midwifery, Reagan said.

Reagan's findings were published in a recent issue of the Bulletin of the History of Medicine. Reagan has also written a book, ``when Abortion Was a Crime: Women, Medicine, and Law in the United States, 1860s-1973,'' which will be published this winter by the University of California Press.

This Web page is referenced from another page containing related information about Midwifery Advocacy and Statistics


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