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Playboys, Wolves, and Devoted Husbands: Men and Abortion in England 1861-1967

A Centre for Medical History seminar
Speaker(s)Emma Jones, Royal Holloway, University of London
Date21 June 2006
Time13:00 to 15:00

Playboys, Wolves, and Devoted Husbands: Men and Abortion in England 1861-1967

Existing historiography on abortion is afflicted by gender blindness. In a handful of female-centric studies, abortion has been placed at the centre of a female culture removed from the sphere of men’s lives. The role of men in abortion has been consistently overlooked in spite of the evidence, glaring historians in the face. Within the depositions, witness statements and police reports regarding the illegal inducement of miscarriages lie the neglected stories of the husbands and partners of the women who underwent an abortion. The paper analyses the various responses of these men to impending, often undesired, fatherhood and how their involvement was interpreted by themselves, their partners and the courts. It attempts to synchronise the history of abortion with the histories of sexuality and birth control, which have shown greater awareness of male agency, challenging the notion that women were the driving force behind family limitation in this period. By analysing those cases where men played an integral part in the procuring of abortion the paper will show that, however hidden, the male narrative holds vital importance for the historical record of abortion, masculinity and gender relations in twentieth century England.

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