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By Their Fruits

By Their Fruits: Eugenics, Population Control, and the Abortion Campaign

Ann Farmer
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  • Book Info
    By Their Fruits
    Book Description:

    Though controversial in subject, By Their Fruits presents an important examination of not only the history of abortion legislation but also the history and impact of the Eugenics movement.

    eISBN: 978-0-8132-1849-6
    Subjects: Law

Table of Contents

  1. Foreword
    (pp. vii-x)
    David Alton

    In the heated atmosphere surrounding the abortion debate, it is often forgotten that abortion is a human rights issue. If a pregnant woman is desperately poor and unsupported, to presume that what she needs are abortion rights is surely an abuse of her human rights. And if abortion is an unwarranted act of violence against a defenseless unborn child, it is just another act of violence in an increasingly violent world, where the human rights of the poor and the powerless are under daily threat. But violent times do not come about all at once; we slip into them gradually...

  2. Chapter 1 Malthusianism and Eugenics: A Preamble
    (pp. 1-13)

    The population control movement has been named after its earliest modern proponent, Thomas Robert Malthus, an English clergyman who wrote at the end of the eighteenth century. Malthus believed that without direct checks on the poor, such as famine, disease, and war, population growth would outstrip food supplies. His ideas inspired the creation of the fearsome workhouses that segregated poor families along gender lines to prevent the birth of more children.¹ Malthus was attacked relentlessly by the radical William Cobbett, who even wrote a play against his “diabolical” idea,² but also inspired a handful of other radicals and, in the...

  3. Chapter 2 The Early Abortion Campaign, Backstreet Abortion, and Eugenics
    (pp. 14-77)

    The formal beginnings of the campaign whose effects would be felt worldwide—indeed, could arguably be seen as establishing a new social outlook—were surprisingly modest. The Abortion Law Reform Association (ALRA) was officially inaugurated on February 17, 1936, although the campaign itself was of much earlier provenance, as will be seen. Janet Chance was chairman, Stella Browne, vice-chairman, and Alice Jenkins, honorary secretary. Other women were prominent in the campaign, including Dora Russell, Gerda Guy, Frida Laski, and Bertha Lorsignol; a Mr. E. F. Hitchcock was also present. Supporters and advisers included Dr. Joan Malleson.¹

    The subject of illegal...

  4. Chapter 3 Abortion, Eugenics, and Democracy
    (pp. 78-152)

    It has been seen that the abortion campaign was the product of eugenic concerns, as were all the reproductive and some of the social campaigns of the early twentieth century; the Eugenics Society, which began by promoting marriage, soon started to emphasize “negative” measures, including segregation, birth control, sterilization, and abortion, in response to the failure of the poor to avail themselves of reproductive controls (and sometimes, marriage). Since the Second World War, sterilization has had historical associations with Nazism, while abortion has come to be seen as emblematic of free choice. However, when the campaign for abortion emerged, it...

  5. Chapter 4 The 1967 Abortion Act and Eugenics
    (pp. 153-200)

    Alice Jenkins later admitted that war had “stopped the clock” for abortion reform.¹ Despite her claim that ALRA’s wartime talks had been well received, and despite the heady days of the Birkett Enquiry and the Bourne case, there was little sign that the campaign had made a real or lasting impact. In 1947, she was asked by Norman Haire if ALRA had a speaker who could “fill a hall and make enough to pay expenses,” and responded: “We do not.”² The forthcoming annual meeting was discussed in the light of “last year’s loss and poor response,”³ and in 1960 the...

  6. Chapter 5 After the Act: Abortion, Eugenics, and Population Control
    (pp. 201-286)

    The Abortion Act, although the culmination of a long and arduous campaign, was merely the beginning of a continuous process of rolling back the frontiers of human biology, especially relating to reproductive matters, but also to end-of-life issues. Each step has involved a network of campaigns on ethical issues as profound as those involved in abortion itself; in approaching these issues the author’s stance is based on the same humanitarian concerns outlined in the preface. Nonetheless, the continuous process of biological innovation after the act has been carried out in the long shadow cast by an issue crucial to the...

  7. Chapter 6 The Abortion Campaign: Feminism, Eugenics, and Public Policy
    (pp. 287-356)

    The hypothesis for this work is that the predominant influences on the abortion campaign have been eugenics and Malthusianism, and this was found to be the case regarding the early campaign, to the extent that it was part of the eugenics/Malthusian nexus. Even campaigners using feminist arguments employed a eugenics caveat, such as Stella Browne, who advocated the right to separate sex from procreation, but thought that procreation should be done for the “Race” and that unwanted children should not be born.¹

    The Steel campaign was found to be under similar influences, even more clearly highlighted by events after the...

  8. Chapter 7 Beyond Abortion: a Step into Darkness?
    (pp. 357-372)

    The major findings of this study are that the English abortion campaign was the fruit of eugenics and Malthusianism and that it has been sustained by these philosophies through the passage of the Abortion Act, up to the present day. Assumptions that the act was rooted in feminism and socialism stem from the fact that the history of abortion reform has been written by its pioneers, and rewritten by feminists gazing through the lens of abortion rights. Their teleological approach has influenced post-1967 dramas, which have simultaneously popularized the myth of backstreet abortion as a gesture of sisterly solidarity and...

  9. Appendix A. A Note on Historical Sources
    (pp. 373-376)
  10. Appendix B. English Abortion Law: A Summary
    (pp. 377-378)