See http://www.newoxfordreview.org/reviews.jsp?did=1209-gardiner for the full review of Cultures of Abortion in Weimar Germany. By Cornelie Usborne. Berghahn Books. 284 pages. $90.
The following is an excerpt:
In her research for Cultures of Abortion, Cornelie Usborne examined literary works, movies, trial documents, medical records, social workers' notes, police interviews, and newspapers from the years of the Weimar Republic, 1918-1933. She consulted archives both in Protestant Prussia and Saxony and in Catholic Bavaria and the Prussian Rhineland. Although she is pro-abortion and thinks reality is "socially constructed," her research is valuable because it shows how the groundwork for Adolf Hitler's eugenic-abortion policies was laid.
But even before abortion was an issue, contraception was "big business" in Germany prior to World War I, due to "Neomalthusian propaganda." In 1913 Max Marcuse interviewed 100 women in Berlin and found that all but three used contraceptives — forty of them also admitted to having had "one or several abortions." In 1914 Oskar Polano interviewed 500 women in Würzburg and found that 81 percent of the wives of civil servants and 72 percent of the wives of workers used contraceptives. No surprise then that in 1927 the law was changed to allow contraceptives to be advertised, though some of these, like the uterine coil, were also abortifacient.
A steep decline in the population was inevitable: those who married before 1905 averaged 4.7 children per family; those who married in 1925-1929, only two. The top civil servants who married before 1905 averaged 3.5 children; those who married in 1925-1929, only 1.6. In Protestant Ohren in 1910, 389 villagers had 86 children in school; in 1925, 382 villagers had only 36. Two million men had died in the trenches in World War I, yet in 1919 a feminist hailed the decline in the birthrate as "the greatest, non-violent revolution" achieved by women, one that gave them "control of life." No wonder the Weimar Republic was distinguished by "the lowest birth rate in the Western world." With this fall in birthrate came "a new hedonism in women's sexuality."
Contraception, of course, was not foolproof, so abortions multiplied and "official disapproval" of them faltered. In 1917 new guidelines set forth by the Reich Health Council allowed abortions "on the strictest health grounds," only if approved by two doctors. In 1926 the law on abortions was mollified, and in 1927 the Supreme Court allowed doctors to perform "therapeutic" abortions. German law on abortion became "one of the most liberal in the world" because doctors could easily convince officials that any abortion was necessary for "health" reasons.
Men find it hard to look evil in the eye and call it by its true name. It was no different in early 20th-century Germany, where women spoke of the need to "curb coercive procreation" by legalizing abortion. Coercive here meant having to bear to term a child who was already in the womb.
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