Globe Illustration

The historY OF ABORTION is challenging, particularly for those who call for prohibition. Prohibition is an appropriate word because declaring abortion illegal never abolished it. It simply pushed the procedures and those who sought them to the margins — to rooming houses, to doctors working in the shadows, to criminals, to snake-oil remedies like guzzling turpentine or bleach.

Mothers, sisters, and daughters begged and borrowed money, then were blackmailed if they survived the procedure. Many died from complications. Doctors and nurses were surveilled by police, imprisoned, and driven to penury. The selection of stories from the Globe’s archives illustrates these years in poignant detail on these pages. And yet the practice continued.

Today, abortion is medically safe and constitutionally protected — for some. In 97 percent of US counties outside metropolitan areas, there are no abortion providers whatsoever. One survey estimated as many as 250,000 women in Texas have tried to end a pregnancy by themselves. A wave of restrictive legislation, a declining number of providers, and ongoing campaign of clinic violence and intimidation have further restricted the freedom to choose.


Many opponents of legalization — true to their moral conviction that an abortion is a murder — want to return to prohibition. Yet that was a world where abortion was . . .