In His Own Words: How Alan Guttmacher Came to See Abortion as a Matter of Rights

In celebration of the anniversary of the Roe decision on January 22, we kick off [email protected] by spending the month looking back at some of the ways abortion has been covered in the journal. From the very beginning, the topic has been central to Perspectives, as well as to the journal’s publisher, the Guttmacher Institute. It might surprise some, however, to learn that the institute’s namesake—eminent Maryland obstetrician-gynecologist and reproductive rights leader Alan F. Guttmacher—did not always see abortion as a rights issue. In the October 1972 issue of Perspectives, Dr. Guttmacher penned a piece in which he detailed how his beliefs about abortion changed over the course of his career. Although taught as a medical student in the early 1920s that “therapeutic abortion...was performed only to save the life of a pregnant woman,” during his 47 years in practice, Dr. Guttmacher witnessed the inconsistency of abortion provision according to women’s socioeconomic class. This disparity ultimately forced him to conclude that “the only way truly to democratize legal abortion and reduce illegal abortion markedly is to establish abortion on request.” Entitled Abortion: Odyssey of an Attitude, Dr. Guttmacher’s personal reflection provides a thoughtful argument for women’s unrestricted access to abortion services, and serves as a fitting beginning to this recollection of the 50-year journey of Perspectives.

Cover illustrations of Margaret Sanger © Matthew and Eve Levine