Sunday, March 29, 2009

A Taboo Subject Not as Taboo as it is Today

This is the cover of the March 1956 issue of McCall's magazine. Apart from the announcement of an excerpt of Sloan Wilson's new novel, the only headline is The Kinsey Institute Report on Pregnancy, Birth, and Abortion. Remember, this is 1956. It is pre-Roe v. Wade, the decision legalizing most abortions, handed down in 1973.

The purpose of this post is not to debate abortion. No one would deny that it's a difficult subject. But it is one that needs to be discussed, and rarely is, by anyone aside from the far right. Can you imagine one of today's popular women's magazines featuring a headline for a sober, objective article on abortion on the cover, along with the celebrity interviews, diet tips, and decorating and shopping advertorials? Truly, it's almost unimaginable.

Nothing I could say would be as surprising as tone and content of this article, so I'll just let it speak for itself:

"Unwanted pregnancy," says the new report of the Institute for Sex Research, "has been a problem of mankind since probably the appearance of the first mammal meriting the word human... [note from me—the aforementioned sentence implicitly accepts the concept of evolution; I'm not sure today's ladies' mags would even want to get into that debate, either]

"Since the dawn of history prospective mothers have met this threat through some form of abortion, and the new Institute report showe just how frequent abortion still is today. It proves to be a modern social problem of far greater scope than most people ever would have dreamed.

"Pregnancy, Birth, and Abortion is the first large-scale study ever made on this highly secret and elusive subject; it casts the bright light of statistical knowledge into a murky area where it was previously impossible even to make an informed guess."


The article proceeds to unveil statistics regarding age, social class, abortion deaths, and other data, in a dispassionate report. The conclusions are not really as important as the fact that the magazine and its advertisers were wiling to highlight this content and make it important. The article promises to be continued in the next month's issue, focusing on wives, widows, and divorcees, promising to "present the candid facts about the sexual activities, pregnancies and abortions of the growing group of women who have been separated, divorced, or widowed."

Surprised? I was. Abortion was discussed frankly at a time when out-of-wedlock pregnancy certainly carried a lot more stigma than it does now. Abortion continues to be a taboo subject in mainstream media, recent movies very much included. Think Juno, Alfie, Knocked Up. It's a subject not to be touched with a ten-foot pole, let alone examined. How can there be better solution to a painful problem if it is so difficult, if not impossible, to discuss?


Dr. Julie-Ann said...

Knock me over with a feather.

Thank you for showcasing this article and the fact that it was be written about in a dispassionate way.

I agree with you, I can't imagine women's magazines of today discussing this topic.

Again, thank you. I would have never known.

Eileen Williams said...

You continually amaze me with your finds! I am blown away by this article and the informative and dispassionate way it was written.
You're correct, I can't imagine anything like this in today's popular press.They say controversy sells and what could be more controversial that abortion? I guess even controversy can prove too great a threat for modern magazine marketers who acquiesce to powerful groups and leave the rest of us without the real facts.

Sia Antunes said...

Nava, let me simply say: you rock. Keep up the great, thoughtful work!