A Physician's Reply to the Solicitations of a Married Woman to Produce a Miscarriage for her.

From the May 1876, Nashville Journal of Medicine and Surgery, volume 17, no. 5, pages 200-203.

Madam-You ask me to put in requisition my medical and surgical knowledge and skill for the purpose of producing a premature birth of the infant you suppose you are carrying, and its consequent death.

Why do you wish this?  Not because of any malformation of the maternal passages, which would imperil your life at full term; not because your health and strength are not adequate to the proper performance of that duty; not because there is any physiological or pathological obstacle in the way of your carrying it to maturity and giving birth to a matured child; but simply and solely because you and your husband do not wish to be incumbered with the care children require, or the labor they impose.  In other words, you do not wish to have your personal indulgences interfered with by children, and so you propose to escape by killing them in the first mode of existence.

Were such a procedure admissible under any circumstances, this is too flimsy a plea to afford even a decent excuse, much less a justification, for so grave a procedure.  In putting forward such an excuse, are you not ignoring the demands of duty, and pleading the most intense and unmitigated selfishness as a justification for destroying life?  Is self-indulgence the only thing to be sought in this life?  Is there no such thing as duty, that has paramount claims on men and women?  Must duty, health, and life itself, be sacrificed to this insatiable Molock, with all that men have ever considered most noble and sacred?

You say you do not want children because they will interfere with your personal indulgences, and impose on you labors and cares you might otherwise escape.  If you are not willing to accept the cares, labor, responsibilities, and duties, of married life, why did you enter into that state?  You were not forced into it; but you voluntarily and deliberately assumed that relation, and now you have no right to attempt to escape from what you knew beforehand is one of its most natural consequences, and a duty you tacitly promised the State, by whose authority you legally came together as husband and wife, you would perform.  And more than this; you were not only united under the authority of the State, but also under the solemn sanction of religion.  And now what do you propose to do?  Why, to set at nought one of the most natural and legitimate attendants on marriage and that, too, in defiance of the laws of the State and of God, from whence came your right to live together as husband and wife; and all for what?  Simply and solely to give a larger license to selfishness and personal indulgence.  If this is not loving pleasure more than good, it will be difficult to tell what is.

But there is another view of the subject in which I am concerned.  You ask me to become an instrument in accomplishing this work for you; you invoke the aid of medical and surgical knowledge and skill in the performance of the deed, so that it shall involve the least possible peril to yourself.  Should I accede to your request, I should become an accomplice in the deed of blood-particeps criminis.  To what are you asking me to become an accomplice?

As a medical man, I know that no such work can be done, either by medical or surgical means, without endangering health or life.  However skillfully the work may be done, health or life is always imperiled.  The whole proceeding is utterly unnatural, and Nature is sure to be revenged on those who trample on her laws.  What, then, do you ask me to do?  Simply to become accessory to an act which I know may make you an invalid for life; that may send you forth a maimed and miserable woman; or that may send you into the presence of your maker unbidden.

But all this, forbidding as it is, is nothing in comparison with the hideousness of the thing when stripped of all its subterfuges, and presented in its naked ugliness.  To bring the thing down to its essence, what are you asking me to do, when clothed in plain English?  Simply to kill your own child!  Is not this murder, in the view of the Decalogue, which says, 'Thou shalt not kill'?  The thing has all the characteristics of willful and deliberate murder.  In the first place there is a premeditated destruction of life; in the next it is an individual life-it is also a human life.  Should I acquiesce in your purpose, and lend you my aid and assistance, it would be a deliberate, premeditated, killing of a human being.  If this is not murder most foul and inexcusable, it would be hard to tell what is.  And this is the entertainment to which I am invited-to aid in the murder of one of the innocents!

I know, indeed, that men, to silence their own consciences, and bring their minds to consent to the horrible work, endeavor to make themselves believe that the child in utero is not a human life till after what is termed quickening has taken place.  But if it is not a human life from the very moment when the ovulum and the spermatozoa unite and attach themselves to the uterine walls, and commence development and growth, what is it?  If it is not a living thing, how could it attach itself to the walls of the uterus, draw nourishment from the mother and grow?  Dead matter does not do such things as this.  Now, if it has life, what kind of life is it?  What but human life?  Surely it can be nothing but the most shallow sophistry that can attempt to defend the idea that the destruction of the child in utero, at any and every stage of its intra-uterine life, is not the killing of a human being.  If it is not human, what is it?  Is it beast, bird, fish, or insect?  It surely is a living something!

It certainly seems to me that every person, not intellectually besotted by the shallowest sophistry, sees, and must see and know, and cannot help the conviction, that it is a human life, a human being; and that whoever willfully, deliberately, and with premeditation, destroys that life, no matter at what stage of its intra-uterine existence, is just as truly guilty of foul and critical murder, as a killing after it has escaped that mode of life; and I am sure God will not hold those guiltless who deliberately destroy that life at any stage of intra-uterine growth, more than He will those who kill the child at the mother's breast.  Both are alike blood-stained murderers.

For myself, I cannot think of such proceedings without an inward shuddering, an instinctive horror.  To my mind, it is foul and bloody murder; and the man or woman who deliberately and premeditatedly destroys such a life, has the crime of murder on their souls-and the most wanton, unprovoked, and inexcusable, of all murders.  It is a murder of the innocents; and God forbid that I should have any lot or part in any such deeds of darkness.

Entertaining such opinions on this subject, you cannot expect me to lend any countenance or aid to such work, or in any manner assist in procuring the destruction of intra- uterine foetal life.  As well may you ask me to kill the infant at your breast.  I regard both alike, and equally crimes in the sight of God and all correct thinkers; and I believe they should be so considered and treated by the Church and the State.

In conclusion, permit me to say, that you will not understand me, in what I have said, to denounce you, and others like you, who have sought this kind of aid, as seeking to commit murder.  By no means.  Yours are sins of ignorance; you are deceived and misled by the common talk on this subject, and have never looked at it in its true light.  But in view of what has been suggested in this paper, it seems to me that you must see the matter in an entirely different light.  To my mind, the subject is so clear that it seems absolutely impossible for any one to look at it, for one moment, without seeing just what the truth is.  And it is to be hoped this brief review of this important subject will bring conviction to your mind, and help to correct this most shocking vice in our country.

D.H.