Preferred Citation: Reagan, Leslie J. When Abortion Was a Crime: Women, Medicine, and Law in the United States, 1867-1973. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1997 1997.

Note on Sources

Note on Sources

The core of the research for When Abortion Was a Crime was in medical and legal sources. The Index Catalogue of the Library of the Surgeon General's Office guided me to the medical literature for the period covered by this book. Because the Index misses some items, I systematically examined every issue of several journals to locate all the articles, correspondence, and notices related to abortion in them. The bibliography includes these selected journals but not the dozens of other journals and periodicals consulted or the more than one thousand medical, legal, and popular articles analyzed for this book.

A special issue of Illinois Libraries 63 (April 1981) is a helpful guide to Chicago area medical archives. The American Medical Association's Historical Health Fraud Collection (HHFC), containing materials collected since 1906, is particularly valuable. In the HHFC I found a series of files on abortion, which included abortion advertisements, correspondence about abortion, and several hundred newspaper clippings. The collection is national in scope, but sources concentrate on Chicago, where the AMA headquarters is located. The collection has since been reorganized, but the notes should enable future researchers to locate sources used.

Rather than focusing on legal treatises, statutes, or judicial opinions alone, I searched for original criminal trial and lower-level court records on abortion. I collected all of the Illinois Supreme Court and Appellate Court opinions on cases that addressed abortion from 1867 to 1973 (ninety-one published opinions). Any case appealed to these higher courts is preserved in perpetuity by the state. In Illinois, the transcripts of these original criminal trials and all other materials are held in the Illinois State Archives in Springfield. I examined case files for forty cases appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court. These case files (Record Series 901) contain verbatim transcripts of the original trial, which could run to five hundred pages or more, briefs, affidavits, exhibits, and all


other material presented to the court of appeal. In the notes, the published opinion is referred to by its name, and the associated legal records held in the Illinois State Archives are referred to as the Transcript of a particular case. Trials that ended with an acquittal or were not appealed were not transcribed, which makes the cases available for analysis somewhat unusual. Yet the supreme and appellate court case files show standard procedures, and they are supplemented with many other sources.

Judicial opinions alerted me to another important set of legal records: coroner's inquests into the deaths of women who died following abortions. With a list of names of women who had died as a result of abortion in Chicago and approximate dates of death obtained through research in court opinions and in newspaper clippings found in the HHFC, I searched for the Cook County coroner's inquests into these deaths. Inquests are public records held at the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office in Chicago; coroner's records for other cities and counties may be held in archives. Medical examiner records can be located only by name and date of death, not by cause of death. The only way to locate every abortion death investigated by the Cook County coroner would be to go through the entire series of inquests in order to find the one hundred or fewer inquests into abortion per year. This would be a daunting task; in 1928 alone, there were over nine thousand inquests.[*] A randomized study of abortion cases investigated by the coroner would yield little or no data. I examined fifty-two transcripts of Cook County coroner's inquests into women's deaths resulting from abortion and requested an additional thirty-one cases for which no transcript could be located. Two were found in criminal trial transcripts.

The Municipal Reference Collection in the Chicago Public Library is an important resource for historians of Chicago. There I researched Chicago, Cook County, and Illinois statutes; the annual reports of the Cook County Coroner's Office, Chicago police, Chicago and Illinois health departments; and other government documents. I was unable to gain access to records of the Cook County State's Attorney's Office, which prosecuted abortion cases, or the Chicago Police Department. Records available at the Cook County Circuit Court contained minimal information, and it was often unclear whether a particular case concerned abortion or some other violation. Historians can surely locate published state statutes, state appellate and supreme court opinions, and the files for cases appealed to the highest court of each state, but local government documents can vary significantly and be held in a variety of locations. For Illinois, see the Descriptive Inventory of the Archives of the State of Illinois and A Summary Guide to Local Government Records in the Illinois Regional Archives .

The Women's Ephemera Collection, held in the Northwestern University Library's C.D. McCormick Library of Special Collections, proved to be an invaluable source on the movement to decriminalize abortion in the 1960s and

* Samuel A. Levinson, "History, and Progress of the Scientific Work of the Cook County Coroner's Office," Proceedings of the Institute of Medicine of Chicago 12 (November 15, 1939): 470.


early 1970s. This collection, amassed at the time, contains newsletters, flyers, reports, and newspaper clippings about the grassroots women's liberation movement, with a particular emphasis on Chicago. In addition, the library holds runs of newsletters and newspapers, including the SHA Newsletter and the WONAAC Newsletter . Archival collections that were consulted but did not yield material for this study are not included in the bibliography.


Note on Sources

Preferred Citation: Reagan, Leslie J. When Abortion Was a Crime: Women, Medicine, and Law in the United States, 1867-1973. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1997 1997.