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Pro-Life-Physician Horatio Robinson Storer: Your Ancestors, and You

Frederick N. Dyer, Ph.D.

           Although largely forgotten today, Dr. Horatio Robinson Storer (1830-1922) was one of the most influential figures of the 19th century. He made large contributions to gynecology and abdominal surgery and substantial contributions to natural history, sanitation, and numismatics. However, the accomplishments of Dr. Storer that are remembered today, and the ones for which he most wished to be remembered, were related to the suppression of unnecessary intentional abortion.

           The reader probably will be surprised to learn that induced abortions were common among married Protestant women in 1855 when Horatio Storer began medical practice in Boston. Thanks to his fine training in embryology as a Harvard undergraduate by Louis Rodolphe Agassiz and Jeffries Wyman, Storer was acutely aware that abortion at any time after conception was the loss of a human life.

           He started the "physicians' crusade against abortion" in 1857, a little more than a year after his father, David Humphreys Storer, Professor of Obstetrics and Medical Jurisprudence at the Harvard Medical School, pointed out the large increase in induced abortion and its deleterious effects on women's health. Horatio quickly enlisted the young American Medical Association in the effort and the AMA Committee on Criminal Abortion was created with Horatio as its chairman. Horatio himself selected seven of the most prominent American physicians from all sections of the country to round out the Committee. The Committee's Report was presented at the 12th Annual Meeting of the Association at Louisville in May 1859.

           The following Resolutions, which largely summarized the content of the Report, were unanimously agreed to by the membership.

           Dr. Storer had already commenced a series of nine scientific articles dealing with abortion which were published throughout 1859 in the North-American Medico-Chirurgical Review. The subjects as he listed them in the first article were "the real nature and frequency of the crime: its causes; its victims; its perpetrators and its innocent abettors; its means and its proofs; its excuses, the deficiencies and errors of existing laws, and the various other obstacles to conviction; and, above all, so far as the present series of papers is concerned, the duty of the profession toward its general suppression."

           These articles were republished as the book, On Criminal Abortion in America, and this was updated eight years later as Criminal Abortion, Its Nature, Its Evidence, and Its Law. These articles also became an enclosure to the Horatio-Storer-written Memorial from the American Medical Association which was sent to the legislatures of all the states and territories in 1860. This Memorial requested that these lawmakers enact laws prohibiting abortion unless the abortion was needed to save the life of the mother or the child. Storer's efforts, plus the resulting efforts of physicians of the American Medical Association and the state medical societies, increased public awareness that abortion took a human life.

           These physicians also influenced their state and territorial legislatures to pass abortion statutes that protected the unborn child from the moment of conception. Most of these laws remained in effect until overturned in January 1973 by the Supreme Court.

           In 1865, at the suggestion of the American Medical Association, Storer wrote a popular book "calculated for circulation among females, and designed to enlighten them upon the criminality and physical evils of forced abortion." Horatio named it, Why Not? A Book for Every Woman. his was followed a year later by his companion book on abortion, Is It I? Book for Every Man.

           Thousands of these books were sold to the public and many copies of Why Not? were distributed by physicians to their women patients. These popular books contributed much to the success of the physicians' crusade against abortion, which, according to James Mohr in his Abortion in America, produced a substantial decrease in the number of abortions, at least among married women.

           As a result there is an excellent chance that one or more of your ancestors were among the additional children who were born.

           This important point may not be obvious. Hopefully, it will become clear as a result of the following discussion and computations.

           It is probable that at least fifteen percent of the pregnancies of married women were being terminated prematurely when Storer initiated the physicians' campaign against abortion. It is also probable that the campaign cut this abortion rate by one-third. For purposes of this discussion, assume that five percent more children survived pregnancy during just the single generation when Storer was actively involved in anti-abortion work. By chance, the .95 proportion of this generation who were not Storer survivors would marry each other at the rate of .95 x .95 = .9025. This means that 90.25 percent of the next generation would not have had one or both of Storer's survivors for a parent.

           However, it also means that 9.75 percent of that generation would have had one or both of Storer's survivors for a parent. Similarly, the .9025 proportion without "survivor" parents would marry each other at the rate of .9025 x .9025 which equals .8145. This means that 81.45 percent of the next generation would not have had one or more of Storer's survivors for a grandparent, but 18.55 percent would.

           Similar calculations show that in the next generation, 33.7 percent of children would have had one or more of Storer's survivors as a great-grandparent, and 56 percent of the next generation (our current generation) would have one or more of Storer's survivors as a great-great-grandparent.

           According to James Mohr, the abortion reductions produced by the "physicians' crusade" were not limited to a single generation. If two generations are assumed to have the additional five percent of children surviving pregnancy, 12.75 percent of the second generation are Storer survivors or have Storer survivors for one or more parents, 23.9 percent of the next generation have Storer survivors for one or more parents or grandparents, 42 percent of the next generation have Storer survivors for grandparents or great-grandparents, and 66 percent of the current generation have Storer survivors for great-grandparents or great-great-grandparents.

           Hopefully, you now understand why you might thank Horatio Robinson Storer for your own existence.

           Storer also can be described as the Father of American Gynecology and the founding of this specialty, including the first gynecological society and the first gynecological journal, required another intense Storer crusade. The reason was that medical specialization of any kind was frowned on by the medical profession in the middle of the 19th century and specialization in women's diseases by regular physicians was unheard of and particularly abhorred since there were "quacks" who manipulated women for non-medical reasons.

           This was not the only Storer crusade that reflected his concern for women. There were Storer crusades for use of anesthesia during childbirth, for treatment of gynecological disease in mental hospitals, for the teaching of gynecology at medical schools, and against wife-rape. It can be seen that Horatio Robinson Storer was not only a champion of the unborn, but a champion of women.

Reprinted with Permission

To respond to this article, contact the author: Frederick N. Dyer, Ph.D.

Dr. Storer's Biography Champion of Women and the Unborn: Horatio Robinson Storer, M.D. has recently been published by Science History Publications, USA. It can be ordered directly from the publisher's website. The website includes the Table of Contents and an endorsement by medical ethicist, Edmund Pellegrino, M.D.