The First U.S. Abortion Law – est. 1821

This is not to say that the abortion controversy in America begins in the 1800’s – it has been a concept throughout the ancient times. While trying to understand abortion how it is in today’s American society, one must look further into the past and where the first laws began. Looking at the legal aspect in the United States, it is known that the first legal restriction was put into force in the state of Connecticut in the year 1821. A rather liberal state even in modern times…why? What was happening?

This law enforced in 1821 prevented women from attempting and/or committing inductive abortion through poison after “quickening,” occurring usually during the fourth month of pregnancy. However, this law only applied in cases “when a woman died or suffered grievous harm through the abortionist’s recklessness or negligence,” (Ramsey, Abele vs Markel Records).

Around the time of the 1800’s, unwanted pregnancies began occurring more and more often than they had previously. These first abortion laws were originally made to protect women from ill-trained abortionists, as records indicated the increased mortality rate caused by abortion complications – both legal and illegal. After Connecticut’s law restricting abortion, other states followed. By the end of the 19th century, 49 of the 50 United States legislated the process of abortion (excluding Kentucky, passing the law in 1910).

Other reasons for these abortion restrictions can be assumed through America’s records of declining birthrates, other medical records, etc. The birth of abortion laws and restrictions could also be tied with doctors’ struggles to monopolize this process, while irregular/non-physician practitioners were their key sources. There is also the assumption of the role of women during this century. The older-fashioned society of this period lied in the patriarchal realm, and any notice of infidelity and/or sex before marriage was not taken as lightly in any part region of 19th Century America.

We note this first law and restriction from the 1821 state of Connecticut, and we are now able to put that into perspective. We see how other states quickly followed in a domino effect, like Missouri 4 years later and then Illinois in the year 1827. The factors and reasoning for abortion laws in every individual state may be differ in some ways, in yet they all had the similar ideas in mind. Though the controversy and struggles of abortion occurred much before America’s independence in 1776, the year 1821 is when the government and legislation came into the picture. It is the starting point of where this blog examines abortion laws in the United States – acts that determine the law, and the law that effects certain acts.

Sources Used:

“First Fetal Movement: Quickening | American Pregnancy on Quickening.” American Pregnancy Association. American Pregnancy Association, July 2007. Web. 07 Oct. 2014.

<a href=””>Abortion – Abortion In American Law: The Nineteenth Century</a>

Ramsey, Allen. “RG 009:006, Abele vs. Markle Inventory of Records.” RG 009:006, Abele vs. Markle Inventory of Records. Connecticut State Library, 1991. Web. 08 Oct. 2014.

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