Cultures of Abortion in Weimar Germany

Cultures of Abortion in Weimar Germany

Cornelie Usborne
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Cultures of Abortion in Weimar Germany
    Book Description:

    Abortion in the Weimar Republic is a compelling subject since it provoked public debates and campaigns of an intensity rarely matched elsewhere. It proved so explosive because populationist, ecclesiastical and political concerns were heightened by cultural anxieties of a modernity in crisis. Based on an exceptionally rich source material (e.g., criminal court cases, doctors' case books, personal diaries, feature films, plays and literary works), this study explores different attitudes and experiences of those women who sought to terminate an unwanted pregnancy and those who helped or hindered them. It analyzes the dichotomy between medical theory and practice, and questions common assumptions, i.e. that abortion was "a necessary evil," which needed strict regulation and medical control; or that all back-street abortions were dangerous and bad. Above all, the book reveals women's own voices, frequently contradictory and ambiguous: having internalized medical ideas they often also adhered to older notions of reproduction which opposed scientific approaches.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-362-4
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Plates
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Chapter 1 Towards a Cultural History of Abortion
    (pp. 1-25)

    In July 1918, when the First World War was in its final throes, a large delegation from the German women’s movement assembled in front of the Reichstag to protest against the Imperial government’s bill to ban contraception and tighten the surveillance of abortion. Using the language of civil rights, these women demanded the bill be scrapped as an ‘insupportable interference into the free right of women’s self-determination’.¹ In February 1919, only three months after the Revolution in November 1918, which granted women the vote, and a month after the January election of a Constituent Assembly of the new Weimar Republic...

  6. Chapter 2 Cultural Representation: Abortion on Stage, Screen and in Fiction
    (pp. 26-63)

    With these words a doctor pleads with a young proletarian woman, Hete, to stay away from a back-street abortionist. She had asked him to terminate her unwanted pregnancy, which he declined, although he had just arranged this for the previous patient, a middle-class woman. The scene is taken from Friedrich Wolf’s playCyankali. §218 (Potassium cyanide. §218) which caused a sensation when it was premiered in 1929 in Berlin and on its subsequent tour through Germany. Hete’s journey of pain and humiliation takes her from the cynical doctor and a pathetic attempt at self-help into the clutches of a so-called...

  7. Chapter 3 Medical Termination of Pregnancy: Theory and Practice
    (pp. 64-93)

    Abortion narratives in popular novels, plays and films conveyed powerful messages about the bleakness, even tragedy, of the event, though this was at odds with most women’s own perceptions. The negative images were largely informed by the medical discourse which had also shaped legal theory and judicial practice, the political debate, as well as population and health policies. In the dominant positivist culture which believed in the inevitability of progress in general and the advances of medical science in particular, physicians’ advances in epidemiology and insights into hygiene (as well as social hygiene) were central to public health policies.¹ Similarly,...

  8. Chapter 4 Abortion in the Marketplace: Lay Practitioners and Doctors Compete
    (pp. 94-126)

    The concerted effort made by many members of the medical profession to legalize abortion on medical grounds was closely linked to their campaign against quackery(Kurpfuscherei). This was fought against the background of the professionalization of medicine and the quest for medical monopoly in all areas of health care. It signalled the profession’s determination to abolishKurierfreiheit, the freedom for anybody to practise healing whether trained or not. Doctors pursued this end overtly through campaigning organizations, medical journals and health exhibitions but also more covertly through the courts by accusing individual lay practitioners of malpractice, generally in cases of sexually...

  9. Chapter 5 Women’s Own Voices: Female Perceptions of Abortion
    (pp. 127-162)

    The abundance of official publications on abortion in Weimar Germany ensures that the views of doctors, jurists and churchmen on the subject are well represented in recent historiography, yet we know very little about what the very people who were at the centre of the debate thought: ordinary women. It is a curious omission since during the Republic many hundreds of thousands of women of childbearing age experienced abortion first-hand or at close quarters. This chapter seeks to make amends by letting the protagonists speak. The process of uncovering women’s own voices, however, is fraught with difficulty because of the...

  10. Chapter 6 Abortion as an Everyday Experience in Village Life: A Case Study from Hesse
    (pp. 163-200)

    On 19 August 1924, the 26-year-old decorator Willy Stammer gave the following statement to the examining magistrate of the court of lay assessors at the Landgericht Limburg, Hesse:

    In 1921 I had a relationship with Hedwig Zeiger which also involved sex. One day that summer … Zeiger told me that her period was late; I had no money and no accommodation of my own. So I arranged for Zeiger to have the matter removed by Frau Kastner. I took Zeiger to Nauheim to the Kastners where we met the couple. Frau Kastner proceeded to inject into Zeiger’s vagina a liquid...

  11. Chapter 7 Abortion in Early Twentieth-century Germany: Continuity and Change
    (pp. 201-226)

    This book has explored women’s reproductive body not only as discursively constituted but also as material and subjective. It counters a trend by gender historians in the last decade or so when body history was written exclusively about a symbolic body, as it is publicly represented, or the social body, that is, the body politic as it is symbolically made up of numerous individual bodies. ‘The body as experience’ explored, for example, by Barbara Duden over many years is usually avoided.¹ According to Kathleen Canning, there are a number of reasons for this. Scholars fear to fall into the trap...

  12. Abbreviations
    (pp. 227-227)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 228-259)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 260-278)
  15. Index
    (pp. 279-284)