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Oskar Diethelm Library, Weill Cornell Medical College



1838 A716a

Although there are negative tropes about the quality of life and the rights available to people over their body before the 19th century, many texts from this time period are supportive of abortion and provide information for various abortion methods. It is difficult to generalize about such a broad time period, but abortion was usually acceptable if it was done before “quickening,” but considered homicide after quickening had occurred.

Quickening is the time when the child-bearing parent first feels the fetus kick, which can happen from 14 to 26 weeks into the pregnancy. Using this definition, only the person carrying the fetus could determine if the quickening had occurred yet or not, and this was used as the legal standard for centuries. Included are images from several editions of the publication Aristotle’s Masterpiece and an explanation of quickening from 1904. Although this text has "Aristotle" in the title, it was a popular sex and childbirth manual by an anonymous author with hundreds of editions from the 17th to 20th centuries.