This year is the fortieth anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision which legalized abortion nationwide. Indeed, 40 years ago today,...

This year is the fortieth anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision which legalized abortion nationwide. Indeed, 40 years ago today, women and men around the country were talking about the decision which they had heard on the news earlier in the day. Some, excited by the Supreme Court decision, were planning to open abortion clinics. Others saw the decision as a terrible mistake and were debating how to organize against the Supreme Court decision. For the past four decades, the fetus has featured prominently in this conflict. But our understanding of the fetus as a historical subject is fairly limited.

Prompted in large part by the rising abortion debate, historians, sociologists and medical anthropologists began in the 1990s to study the fetus and the impact which medical technology has had on our view of pregnancy and the fetus. Medical technology, these authors have cautioned, did not merely advance our understanding of the fetus, but also contributed to a view which positioned women and the fetus in opposition to each other, with competing interests and rights. Several scholars have examined the impact which changing notions of pregnancy and the fetus have had on public policy. Sara Dubow‘s Ourselves Unborn: A History of the Fetus in Modern America (Oxford University Press, 2010) contributes significantly to our understanding of the ways in which the fetus was constructed – both through medical technology and imagination – and the ways in which the changing meaning of the fetus shaped the lives of pregnant women. Her careful attention to the ways in which medical technology contributed to changes in the social construction of the fetus and influenced the laws governing women’s lives makes this a book not to be missed

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