'It Has to be the Woman:' Illegal Abortion Histories in Pre-Roe South Carolina

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Ware, Madeleine Savanna
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By the late nineteenth century, South Carolina, along with the rest of the United States, criminalized abortion procedures except in cases of pregnancy that physically threatened a mother's life. Over the course of the twentieth century, legal terminations expanded to include instances of rape or incest. However, South Carolina did not legalize optional first trimester abortions until the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling established in <i>Roe v. Wade</i>. Oral history interviews as well as fifty criminal cases in the century before the monumental court decision reveal that illegality did not keep people from talking about, seeking out, providing, or regulating abortion procedures in pre-Roe South Carolina. This study examines the agency and experience of both those that provided and the women who sought pregnancy termination services. I demonstrate that in the decades before <i>Roe v. Wade</i>, illegal abortion moved beyond demographic boundaries of age, gender, race, marital status, and professional experience in the Jim Crow South. Furthermore, this study highlights the role of the South Carolina Clergy Consultation Service in 1970, and its efforts as a group of multi-denominational clergy members to regulate safe and dignified extra-legal abortion practices in South Carolina before 1973. The prevalence and diversity of pregnancy termination seekers, providers, and advocates makes criminal abortion narratives vital to understanding the complicated networks involving gender, race, religion, and medical histories in the Jim Crow South.