Dangerous Pregnancies tells the largely forgotten story of the German measles epidemic of the early 1960s and how it created national anxiety about dying, disabled, and “dangerous” babies. This epidemic would ultimately transform abortion politics, produce new science, and help build two of the most enduring social movements of the late twentieth century--the reproductive rights and the disability rights movements. At most a minor rash and fever for women, German measles (also known as rubella), if contracted during pregnancy, could result in miscarriages, infant deaths, and serious birth defects in the newborn. Award-winning writer Leslie J. Reagan chronicles for the first time the discoveries and dilemmas of this disease in a book full of intimate stories--including riveting courtroom testimony, secret investigations of women and doctors for abortion, and startling media portraits of children with disabilities. In exploring a disease that changed America, Dangerous Pregnancies powerfully illuminates social movements that still shape individual lives, pregnancy, medicine, law, and politics.
List of Illustrations
Introduction: Epidemics, Reproduction, and the Fear of Maternal Marking
One. Observing Bodies
Two. Specter of Tragedy
Three. Wrongful Information
Four. Law Making and Law Breaking in an Epidemic
Five. “If Unborn Babies Are Going to Be Protected”
Epilogue: From Anxiety to Rights
Leslie J. Reagan is Professor of History, with affiliations in gender and women's studies, law, media and cinema studies, and medicine, at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She is the author of When Abortion Was a Crime: Women, Medicine, and Law in the United States 1867-1973 (UC Press) and coeditor of Medicine's Moving Pictures: Medicine, Health, and Bodies in American Film and Television.
“Compellingly attentive to medical and legal structures, but also to dramatic human choices, Dangerous Pregnancies provides a boldly argued and carefully documented historical grounding for critical debates in public policy and women’s rights.”—David Roediger, author of How Race Survived U.S. History
"Both a gripping story of the activism of middle-class mothers and an insightful study of abortion law reform, Dangerous Pregnancies is a compelling argument about reproductive rights, immunization, and the public health power of the state. A terrific book."—Molly Ladd-Taylor, author of "Bad" Mothers: The Politics of Blame in Twentieth-Century America and Mother-Work: Women, Child Welfare, and the State, 1890-1930.
"Accessible and clearly written, Reagan's illuminating account of German measles is immensely valuable both in itself and as a window into larger issues of gender, public health, and bioethics."—Charles Rosenberg, author of The Cholera Years and No Other Gods: On Science and American Social Thought
Arthur J. Viseltear Prize, American Public Health Association
Eileen Basker Memorial Prize, Society for Medical Anthropology
Joan Kelly Memorial Prize, American Historical Association
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