Monday, June 6, 2022

The 19th Century History of Abortion Medicines and Advertisements for "Relief for Ladies"

Forget "Abortion": Bring Back "Relief for Ladies."

Supporters of the right to abortion often stumble over the word itself, choosing “choice” as a more acceptable thing to be “pro.” Only recently in the long history of the abortion debate have advocacy groups started to press for use of the word “abortion” and ask that people “shout” their abortions, as one campaign puts it.***

In the 18th and most of the 19th century, before abortion became the province of the medical establishment and the courts, the procedure was widespread, and abortifacients — drugs that cause abortions — were widely marketed. But there was no advertising for “abortions.”

The woman-centered language was a code of sorts. The advertisers encrypted the word “abortion” to evade moral censure and — after the Comstock Act of 1873 criminalized the distribution of abortifacients — to avoid legal consequences as well.

Women knew what regaining their “regularity” really meant, though, just as today we all know that a “cleanse” or a “detox” most likely includes a laxative or diuretic. Early Viagra ads said “love life again” — not “chemically induce your erection.”

But even if marketing Dr. Peter’s French Renovating Pills as “a blessing to mothers” was euphemistic, it circulated a potent message about women’s perfectly reasonable desire not to be pregnant. A desire they have been seeking means to fulfill since at least the Roman Empire.





Instead there were ads for “Relief for Ladies” suffering from “obstructed menses.” “Female renovating pills” treated “all cases where nature has stopped from any cause.” Dr. Pierce’s Favorite Prescription promised to clear away “all the troubles and ailments that make woman’s life a burden to her. She’s relieved, cured, and restored.”

“This invaluable medicine,” read an ad for Sir J. Clarke’s Female Pills, “moderates all excess, removes all obstructions, and brings on the monthly period with regularity.”

Abortion, Legal History, Pop Culture, Pregnancy, Reproductive Rights | Permalink


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