Margaret Brazier
Search for other papers by Margaret Brazier in
Current site
Google Scholar
The not (yet) born child
Abstract only
Log-in for full text

Chapter 9 addresses English law and the fetus. While the history of abortion law has attracted more attention from modern medical lawyers than virtually any other topic in medico-legal history, that history itself is as bitterly disputed as the fundamental questions it addresses. Fetal status is not only pertinent to abortion law, and the chapter considers the protection afforded to the not yet born child by the right of a pregnant woman to ’plead her belly’ and the right of a child in utero at the time of their father’s death to the same rights of succession as their born siblings. The first statute criminalising abortion was passed in 1803 (Lord Ellenborough’s Act). After assessing available case law and the writings of English jurists, the chapter establishes that contrary to the claims made by US historian Cyril Means, abortion was a common law crime, albeit one with uncertain boundaries. The series of Acts of Parliament passed from 1803 to 1861 is evaluated and the increasingly draconian approach to abortion assessed. The central theme of this chapter is the role played by medicine in the evolution of the law. Medical practitioners are seen to be close to invisible in the common law era. By 1861 they had become a powerful lobby for stringent legislation and seized control of access to abortion. Moreover, medical practitioners such as Thomas Percival advanced opinions about morality as much as medicine. Doctors it seemed were considered to know best.

  • Collapse
  • Expand

All of MUP's digital content including Open Access books and journals is now available on manchesterhive.


Law and healing

A history of a stormy marriage


All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 170 132 39
Full Text Views 34 34 0
PDF Downloads 21 21 0