Skip to Main Content

Reproductive Health : Selected Books on History of Abortion

Top Recommended Books

All books listed are available on the UW-Madison campus. 

Book cover for The Story of Jane: The Legendary Underground Feminist Abortion Service

The Story of Jane: The Legendary Underground Feminist Abortion Service
Laura Kaplan
"During the four years before the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion in 1973, the 100 members of Jane helped some 11,000 women end their pregnancies....There is more in this remarkable book that will further raise eyebrows....Kaplan's engrossing tales of the quiet courage of the women who risked their reputations and freedom to help others may remind many readers of other kinds of outlaws who have resisted tyranny throughout history."—Chicago Sun-Times

Book cover for When Abortion was a Crime

When Abortion was a Crime: Women, Medicine, and the Law in the United States, 1867-1973
Leslie J. Reagan
"When Abortion Was a Crime is the must-read book on abortion history. Originally published ahead of the thirtieth anniversary of Roe v. Wade, this award-winning study was the first to examine the entire period during which abortion was illegal in the United States, beginning in the mid-nineteenth century and ending with that monumental case in 1973. When Abortion Was a Crime is filled with intimate stories and nuanced analysis, demonstrating how abortion was criminalized and policed—and how millions of women sought abortions regardless of the law. With this edition, Leslie J. Reagan provides a new preface that addresses the dangerous and ongoing threats to abortion access across the country, and the precarity of our current moment."—

Book cover for Abortion and the Law in America

Abortion and the Law in America: Roe v. Wade to the Present
Mary Ziegler
"With the Supreme Court likely to reverse Roe v. Wade, the landmark abortion decision, American debate appears fixated on clashing rights. The first comprehensive legal history of a vital period, Abortion and the Law in America illuminates an entirely different and unexpected shift in the terms of debate. Rather than simply championing rights, those on opposing sides battled about the policy costs and benefits of abortion and laws restricting it. This mostly unknown turn deepened polarization in ways many have missed. Never abandoning their constitutional demands, pro-choice and pro-life advocates increasingly disagreed about the basic facts. Drawing on unexplored records and interviews with key participants, Ziegler complicates the view that the Supreme Court is responsible for the escalation of the conflict. A gripping account of social-movement divides and crucial legal strategies, this book delivers a definitive recent history of an issue that transforms American law and politics to this day."—

Additional Books

All books listed are available on the UW-Madison campus. 

Book cover of Dispelling the Myths of Abortion History

Dispelling the Myths of Abortion History
Joseph W Dellapenna
"This book covers over 1,000 years of abortion history in England and America, with special emphasis on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It presents an accurate, unbiased account of the history of abortion in order to provide a thoroughly fresh look at that history, reaching several unorthodox conclusions without taking sides on the merits of the abortion debate."—

Book cover of Articles of Faith

Articles of Faith: A Frontline History of the Abortion Wars
Cynthia Gorney
"Chronicling the years between Roe v. Wade (1973) and William L. Weaver v. Reproductive Health Service (which brought the issue before an anti-Wade court in 1989), Cynthia Gorney draws on 500 interviews, as well as previously unexplored archival material, to present an intimate look at the passions, commitment, and political savvy that propel individuals on both sides. She traces, in particular, the paths of a nurse who runs an abortion clinic in St. Louis, and a member of the right-to-life movement, who came face to face in the Supreme Court during the Weaver decision."—

Book cover for Abortion in America

Abortion in America: The Origins and Evolution of National Policy, 1800-1900
James C Mohr
"The history of how abortion came to be banned and how women lost--for the century between approximately 1870 and 1970--rights previously thought to be natural and inherent over their own bodies is a fascinating and infuriating one."—

Book cover for Dangerous Pregnancies

Dangerous Pregnancies - Mothers, Disabilities, and Abortion in Modern America
Leslie Reagan
"Dangerous Pregnancies tells the largely forgotten story of the German measles epidemic of the early 1960s and how it created national anxiety about dying, disabled, and “dangerous” babies. This epidemic would ultimately transform abortion politics, produce new science, and help build two of the most enduring social movements of the late twentieth century--the reproductive rights and the disability rights movements."—

Book cover for Eve's Herbs

Eve's Herbs: A History of Contraception and Abortion in the West
John M Riddle
"In Eve's Herbs, Riddle explores...[the] question: If women once had access to effective means of birth control, why was this knowledge lost to them in modern times? Beginning with the testimony of a young woman brought before the Inquisition in France in 1320, Riddle asks what women knew about regulating fertility with herbs and shows how the new intellectual, religious, and legal climate of the early modern period tended to cast suspicion on women who employed 'secret knowledge' to terminate or prevent pregnancy."—

Book cover for Contraception and abortion from the ancient world to the renaissance

Contraception and Abortion from the Ancient World to the Renaissance
John M Riddle
"John Riddle uncovers the obscure history of contraception and abortifacients from ancient Egypt to the seventeenth century with forays into Victorian England--a topic that until now has evaded the pens of able historians. Riddle's thesis is, quite simply, that the ancient world did indeed possess effective (and safe) contraceptives and abortifacients. The author maintains that this rich body of knowledge about fertility control--widely held in the ancient world--was gradually lost over the course of the Middle Ages, becoming nearly extinct by the early modern period."—

Decorate book icon image

Abortion and the Law
David T Smith
Collection of essays. All essays except the Commentary were originally published in volume 17 of the Western Reserve law review under the auspices of the Western Reserve University School of Law.