Alicia Gutierrez-RomineMay 21, 2023
From Back Alley to the Border
Criminal Abortion in California, 1920-1969
University of Nebraska Press 2022
In From Back Alley to the Border: Criminal Abortion in California, 1920-1969 (U Nebraska Press, 2020), Alicia Gutierrez-Romine examines the history of criminal abortion in California and the role abortion providers played in exposing and exploiting the faults in California’s anti-abortion statute throughout the twentieth century. Focused on the patients who used this underground network and the physicians who facilitated it, Gutierrez-Romine provides insight into the world of illegal abortion from the 1920s through the 1960s, including regular physicians as well as women and African American abortionists, and the investigations, scandals, and trials that surrounded them.
During the 1930s the Pacific Coast Abortion Ring, a large, coast-wide, and comparatively safe abortion syndicate, became the target of law enforcement agencies, forcing those needing abortions across the border into Mexico and ushering in an era of Tijuana “abortion tourism” in the early 1950s. The movement south of the border ultimately compelled the California Supreme Court to rule its abortion statute “void for vagueness” in People v. Belous in 1969—four years before Roe v. Wade.
Gutierrez-Romine presents the first book focused on abortion on the West Coast and the U.S.-Mexico border and provides a new approach to studying how providers of illegal abortions and their clients navigated this underground network. In the post-Dobbs moment, From Back Alley to the Border shows us how little we have learned from history.
Jeannette Cockroft is an associate professor of history and political science at Schreiner University.