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  • Sept. 23, 1871


    By Tennie C. Claflin

    I wish to say my word on the theme of the day—Abortion and the Abortionists. The immaculate New York press is just now suffering under one of those virtuous periodical spasms with which it is apt to be afflicted. Some woman has been found coffined in a trunk, her remorseful seducer has committed suicide, an abortionist has been arrested, another case occurs the next day, and, the next, a whole bevy of women are hunted to bay in a doctor’s shop of that order. The newspaper men are delighted. There is an immense flutter of agitation and excitement. The public is treated to a wonderful feast of sensation in the morning and evening papers. A fanfaronade is kept up, to last perhaps for near a week, over the awful subject; after which everything subsides into its usual routine, and goes on just as it went on before, and just as everybody knows that it is going on all the time.

    Just as though abortion was not one of the fixed institutions of the country; one of the marked characteristics of the age, one of the indicative symptoms of the ripening and the rottening of our prevalent state of society!

    Who proposes to disturb Madame Restel? Who really wants that there should be no opportunity to secure an abortion under peculiarly trying circumstances? A thousand gentlemen within the purlieus of Wall Street and Broad Street have occasion, within the year, to invoke the aid of the professionals in behalf of their female friends who have got into difficulty. A thousand women and girls, the friends of these gentlemen, and among them their own daughters, who are the friends of their friends, are saved to respectability by the same means. The shop of the abortionist is a beneficial institution, which protects the virtue and heals the heart sore of a thousand otherwise cursed and unfortunate families.

    But the great revenue of these practitioners is from the married women among the wealthy. The lives of dissipation and senseless inanity which these women lead; the oppressions and disgusts of the marriage state; their hopeless and aimless lives; all together have so depressed the nervous energy of our women that they dread beyond endurance the burdens of child-bearing and the care of children. They have become unfit to have children, and abortion is the sewerage for this wretched stagnation of feminine life. . . .

    My long practice from a mere child, as a magnetic physician and clairvoyant, has given me an insight, back of the scenes, into the sexual health conditions of both men and women, in this last phase of our existing civilization, which is truly fearful; and it is very sad that hardly anybody is even willing to know the truth about it. Most boys and many girls are already half ruined by secret solitary practices before the age of puberty. In the cities, nine-tenths of the young men complete their ruin and introduce wretchedness and death into their subsequent families by contracting syphilitic diseases. Abortion before marriage and especially after marriage are the rule rather than the exception—in the wealthy and fashionable classes, and to a great extent among workingwomen who say they "can’t afford to have children." Many women learn to practice it on themselves, and many of them have repeated it dozens of times; and unprofessional gentlemen by the score, boast confidentially to their friends that "they can do it as well as the doctors." The majority of women, as a result of all these causes, and other faults in our methods of living, have the abominable fluoralbus, and even little girls are dying by the hundred from diseases which in other ages of the world were only known, if at all, among the most debauched and profligate women.

    Abortion is only a symptom of a more deep-seated disorder of the social state. It cannot be put down by law. Normally the mother of ten children is as healthy, and may be as youthful and beautiful, as a healthy maiden. Child-bearing is not a disease, but a beautiful office of nature. But to our faded-out, sickly, exhausted type of women, it is a fearful ordeal. Nearly every child born is an unwelcome guest. Abortion is the choice of evils for such women.

    Is there, then, no remedy for all this bad state of things? None, I solemnly believe; none, by means of repression and law. I believe there is no other remedy possible but freedom in the social sphere. I know that it looks as though this were going in the direction of more vice. Conservatives always think that freedom must conduce to licentiousness; and yet freedom has a way of working out the evils begotten by the previous slavery, and its own evils also. Freedom is a great panacea. It will be when women are thrown on their own resources, when they mingle on more equal terms with men, when they are aroused to enterprise and developed in their intellects; when, in a word, a new sort of life is devised through freedom, that we can recover the lost ground of true virtue, coupled with the advantages of the most advanced age.

    It will be, especially, when Physiology is freely taught to women, when they are made to understand the mechanisms and liabilities of their own systems, that the true remedy will begin to be applied. Now the young girl is sedulously kept in ignorance by her own mother of everything of this sort that she should be taught in the right way to know, and she learns it with avidity in the wrong way, from the most prurient of her school companions. . . . And the freedom to be healthy must be absolute. As long as woman can be crushed by an imputation of impropriety, she will remain virtually a slave. It will not be until the worst word of vituperative slang which the world can heap on a woman shall lose its terror for her who is conscious of being true to herself that woman will be free to develop her own destiny in accordance with the designs of her being. As long as there is one remaining word in the vocabulary of Phariseeism and repressive insolence which can be hurled at her, and which she fears, she will not be free to begin the life of regenerated humanity which must save society ultimately from its social evils. Freedom is the first condition of all genuine, thorough investigation, and we are too deeply involved in the wretched results of the old order of things, to hope to escape without the most searching and all-sided investigation—which will require the free and enlightened and fearless cooperation of women, as well as of men.




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    Webmaster's Note: Except for some headings, these are actual extracts from the Woodhull & Claflin's Weekly. Some spelling and punctuation has been changed. If an article was too long, some sentences were removed. Sentences or paragraphs that have been removed are indicated with the ellipsis (....)