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History of Medicine

  The Documents that Produced the Laws Overturned by Roe v. Wade

Frederick N. Dyer



         In January 1860, The American Medical Association sent the following “Memorial” to the governor and legislature of each state and territory in the United States:



         At the same time, the following “Address” was sent to each State Medical Society:





         The above documents discuss the May 1859 meeting of the American Medical Association in Louisville where the Resolutions aimed at strengthening laws against abortion were unanimously adopted.[1] The officers signing these two documents were not the physicians responsible for the antiabortion effort. The Committee on Criminal Abortion who provided the Report on Criminal Abortion and these associated Resolutions was made up of Chairman, Horatio Robinson Storer, of Boston, Hugh Lenox Hodge, of Philadelphia, Charles A. Pope, of Missouri, Alexander Semmes, of the District of Columbia, A. Lopez, of Mobile, Henry Brisbane, of Wisconsin, Thomas Blatchford, of New York, and Edward H. Barton, of South Carolina. Storer had requested formation of the Committee in March 1857 and the Association agreed at the Nashville meeting in May 1857. Only Storer was appointed but he was given the authority to select other Committee members. Ill health prevented Storer from presenting the Committee Report at the 1858 Washington meeting. Storer did not get around to selecting the other Committee members until two months before the Report was presented on May 3, 1859. He had already written the Report that the members praised when they agreed to join the Committee and agreed to add their names to it.[2]

         Storer’s key role in the effort was discussed by Henry Miller in his 1860 Presidential Address on the first day of the Annual Meeting in New Haven, Connecticut:[3]


At the last meeting of the Association, the Committee on Criminal Abortion, of which Dr. Horatio R. Storer, of Boston, was chairman, made their report, which was received and referred to the Committee of Publication. By the resolutions appended to the report, which were unanimously adopted, the President and Secretaries were authorized to bring this important subject, by memorial, before Congress and the several State legislatures of the Union, with the prayer that the laws by which it has been attempted to restrain and punish abortionism may be revisited, and such legal enactments provided as the heinousness of the crime demands. By reference to the proceedings of the last annual meeting, it will be seen that the Committee on Criminal Abortion were requested to continue their labors, “and especially to take any measures necessary to carry into effect the resolutions reported by them on the first day of the meeting.” Under the warrant of this instruction, the Chairman of the Committee opened a correspondence with me, early last winter, tendering his co-operation in carrying out the wishes of the Association, and offering to place at my disposal extra copies of the report, and also of the papers published by himself in the North American Medico-Chirurgical Review, containing all the medico-legal information necessary to enable our federal and State legislatures to act intelligently in the premises. The offer was gladly accepted, and I am happy to acknowledge my obligations to the able Chairman for his valuable assistance, not only in furnishing the documents referred to, but in the preparation of the Memorial as well as of the Address directed to the various State Medical Societies, requesting their co-operation with the Association, in pressing this important subject on the attention of the legislatures of their respective States. The memorial, with the accompanying documents, was transmitted in January last to the President of the United States and the Governor of each of the States and Territories of the Union, the legislatures of several of them being at the time in session. What disposition has been made of them I am not informed; but the hope may be reasonably indulged that their Excellencies have submitted them to the National, State, and Territorial legislatures, or will embrace the earliest opportunity of doing so.


         Miller would soon learn that the Connecticut Legislature had received the Memorial. The Minutes for Day 3 of the same New Haven meeting included:[4]


A communication was received from the Judiciary Committee of the Connecticut Legislature, to which was referred the memorial of this Association concerning Criminal Abortions, requesting the appointment of a committee to frame a suitable bill to serve as a guide for their action.

         On motion, the paper was accepted, and the Chair authorized to appoint the Committee asked for, and the following gentlemen were appointed: Drs. Worthington Hooker, Conn.; David L Daggett, Conn.; D. Humphreys Storer, Mass.


         Had Horatio Robinson Storer been in attendance at New Haven he no doubt would have been selected for the Committee. It is possible he assisted his father, David Humphreys Storer, in preparing the result, which was a unique piece of legislation that combined “into a single forceful act the denial of the quickening doctrine, the notion of women’s liability, and anti-advertising principles.”[5] It was the forerunner of similar legislation that would be passed in almost every state and territory in the next two decades.[6]

[1] The blank copies of the Memorial and Address were preserved by descendants of Dr. Horatio Robinson Storer and loaned to the author along with a wealth of other letters and documents in the 1990s. The papers were essential for preparation of the biography of Dr. Storer: Dyer, FN. Champion of Women and the Unborn: Horatio Robinson Storer, M.D. Canton, MA: Science History Publications/USA, 1999. Both documents have since been contributed by Dr. Storer’s great-grandchildren, Ethel Storer and Robert Treat Paine Storer, Jr., to the Boston Medical Library in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine. They are parts of accession number Acc. 2001-063. The Indiana State Archives has a copy of the “Memorial” sent to them sometime in 1860.

[2] Dyer, FN, Storer’s articles and the AMA report. In: Dyer, FN, The Physicians’ Crusade Against Abortion. Sagamore Beach, MA: Science History Publications/USA, 2005: 56.

[3] Miller, H, Address of Henry Miller, M.D., President of the Association. Transactions of the American Medical Association. 1860;13:55-76, 56.

[4] Minutes of the thirteenth annual meeting. Transactions of the American Medical Association. 1860;13:41-42.

[5] Mohr, JC, Abortion in America: The Origins and Evolution of National Policy, 1800-1900. New York: Oxford University Press, 1978: 202.

[6] Ibid.


Frederick N. Dyer, Ph.D.                                                                         

8017 Innisbrook Ct.

Columbus GA 31909



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