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Antenatal affairs: discourses of pregnancy and the unborn c.1900

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In the decades after World War Two, routine obstetric monitoring and debate over abortion law reform provoked intense controversy over the public meanings of the fetus as patient, person and icon. In order to trace the rise of these identities over the long term, we need to recover the locally and historically specific ways in which the fetus and its relationships to women have been constructed. This paper uses a range of sources drawn from a single city, Edinburgh, at the turn of the twentieth century, to reconstruct understandings of pregnancy and the unborn in a culture in which many present attitudes and assumptions about ‘antenatal affairs’ took shape. Court records for the sensational trial of a woman charged with procuring abortion and an obstetric physician’s diary will help to distinguish lay and medical views.

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