Matthew Miller’s July 13 article on Mlive, “Could 19th century sexism negate Michigan’s abortion ban?”, belongs more in a fiction section than the history section. Miller presents historical fiction from abortion advocates as accepted fact.
His article begins by suggesting Dr. Horatio Storer, the father of American gynecology, led the effort to update abortion laws in 19th century America in order to keep women barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. The implied point is that prolife people have always only pretended to care about unborn children.
As Dr. Storer pointed out more than 150 years ago, some things never change: abortion advocates have always relied on pretending unborn children aren’t human beings and can’t seem to empathize with people who believe otherwise. Dr. Storer wrote:
“We set aside all the speculations of metaphysicians regarding moral accountability of the fetus—the ‘potential man,’ and its ‘inanimate vitalities’—as useless as they are bewildering. If there be life, then also the existence, however undeveloped, of an intellectual, moral, and spiritual nature, the inalienable attribute of humanity, is implied.”
Miller’s pseudo-historical authorities claim the 19th-century physicians who led the effort to update America’s abortion laws were primarily concerned with conducting a war on alternative medicine. While many abortionists then (as now) were the worst of the worst, these doctors’ real primary concern was the unborn child.
In its 1859 report on abortion, the American Medical Association minced no words, calling it “no simple offence against public morality and decency, no mere misdemeanor, no attempt upon the life of the mother, but the wanton and murderous destruction of her child.”
Miller characterizes Michigan’s original 1846 abortion ban as a “legislative afterthought.” He also asserts as fact that abortion before quickening was broadly legal in America, but Justice Samuel Alito’s opinion in the Dobbs case systematically dismantles that claim. However, for those less inclined to read Justice Alito’s lengthy and well-researched opinion, consider Miller’s glaring contradiction: abortion was broadly accepted in America, but Michigan banned it as an afterthought.
Those things cannot both be true. If, say, Michigan today tried to ban a mundane practice of everyday life—like boating or buying gardening supplies for example—people would be outraged. Such a drastic change couldn’t be made as an afterthought.
So, which is it? Were first-trimester abortions as American as apple pie in the 19th century, or did Michigan copy and paste a New York state law to ban abortion—and it was so uncontroversial in 1846 that nobody objected? It’s obvious which is true.
However, as pro-abortion historians accurately point out, abortion has existed as long as humanity has walked the earth. As Dr. Storer detailed himself, “From time immemorial, such have been the deplorable tendencies of unbridled desire, of selfishness and extravagance, of an absence of true conjugal affection, that there has existed in countless human breasts a wanton disregard for fetal life, a practical approval of infanticide.”
So have all manner of violations of human rights. Sadly, common law tradition and early abortion statues did not take seriously enough the science of fetal development. As Dr. Storer and his fellow physicians went to great lengths to point out, updated scientific understanding left no doubt even in 1859 that the life of the unborn child began at fertilization.
While quickening was an easier legal standard for the necessary legal proof of life to convict abortionists, the American Medical Association prevailed in convincing states to not be satisfied with scientifically ignorant statutes. Michigan’s law—even if just an afterthought at the time—was written well enough to still be on the books today, and used to prosecute quack abortionists and abusers in the 21st century. Whatever people today think of historical attitudes about gender roles, the law says what the law says, the Michigan Legislature has never fundamentally changed this law since the dawn of the state, and most importantly, 60 percent of Michigan voters reaffirmed the law in 1972.
Right now, Governor Whitmer is asking our Michigan Supreme Court to invent a right to abortion in our state constitution. No amount of historical fiction can justify our Supreme Court ditching 175 years of legal history and court precedents, overturning an election, and abusing democracy to do Governor Whitmer’s dirty work. No amount of historical fiction can hide the fact that abortion supporters have never had the popular support to enshrine into state law the killing of babies.