[For the purposes of this blogpost, I am using a medical definition of “abortion” as the expulsion of a non-viable fetus, as opposed to the Catholic definition (“an attack on the fetus”). This is for the sake of brevity and clarity, and also because this is how 19th century physicians would have defined it.]
In the first half of the 19th century, France was a very conservative country when it came to the unborn. Although abortions were performed for emergency situations, especially to save the mother’s life, these abortions were not officially sanctioned by the Academy of Medicine, the French national medical association.
This all changed in 1852. At that time, an obstetrician by the name of Lenoir submitted a report to the Academy of Medicine regarding a premature expulsion of a non-viable fetus on a woman whose pelvic diameter was only 5 centimetres, which was too narrow to allow for natural childbirth at term. (I blogged about this case here./187/2016/12/the-launch-of-abortion-debate-in-france.html#more) He wanted the Academy members to discuss his paper at the society’s weekly meetings with the goal of officially legitimizing this procedure so that other physicians would have no hesitation in performing the same operation when faced with the same dilemma.