Dangerous Pregnancies: Mothers, Disabilities, and Abortion in Modern America

Dangerous Pregnancies: Mothers, Disabilities, and Abortion in Modern America

Dangerous Pregnancies: Mothers, Disabilities, and Abortion in Modern America

Dangerous Pregnancies: Mothers, Disabilities, and Abortion in Modern America

Synopsis

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. At most a minor rash and fever for women, German measles (also known as rubella), if contracted during pregnancy, could result in miscarriages, infant deaths, and serious birth defects in the newborn. Award-winning writer Leslie J. Reagan chronicles for the first time the discoveries and dilemmas of this disease in a book full of intimate stories--including riveting courtroom testimony, secret investigations of women and doctors for abortion, and startling media portraits of children with disabilities. In exploring a disease that changed America, Dangerous Pregnancies powerfully illuminates social movements that still shape individual lives, pregnancy, medicine, law, and politics.

Excerpt

When the German measles epidemic crossed the globe and hit the United States in 1963, women were terrified of catching it. For women themselves, German measles meant at most a minor rash and a fever. They worried, however, about contracting the disease during pregnancy, a situation that could cause miscarriages, infant deaths, or serious birth defects in their babies—including deafness, blindness, heart malformations, and mental retardation. Experts predicted that twenty-thousand “damaged” babies would be the result of the German measles epidemic of 1963–65. The disease, which uniquely threatened pregnant women and the developing fetus, could not be prevented or treated. In fear of the potential consequences of German measles (also known as rubella), many women sought abortions although abortion was illegal at the time. As Dangerous Pregnancies shows, anxieties about reproduction—such as the fears surrounding German measles—have shaped national histories to a profound degree. Although today the significance of this epidemic has been largely forgotten, its legacies have been written into the U.S. social infrastructure; into law, medicine, science, and social movements; and into contemporary politics. German measles became a catalyst for bringing about fundamental changes in the culture, public health, and constitutional law.

German measles was a disease of national importance in the early 1960s. As such, it now provides an opportunity to observe how a country and a people responded to a threatening disease that appeared in epidemic form as well as to see the state’s intense interest in reproduction. In striking . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.