Sign of Pathology: U.S. Medical Rhetoric on Abortion, 1800s-1960s by Nathan Stormer

Sign of Pathology: U.S. Medical Rhetoric on Abortion, 1800s-1960s

byNathan Stormer

Hardcover | March 18, 2015

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Much of the political polarization that grips the United States is rooted in the so-called culture wars, and no topic defines this conflict better than the often contentious and sometimes violent debate over abortion rights. In Sign of Pathology, Nathan Stormer reframes our understanding of this conflict by examining the medical literature on abortion from the 1800s to the 1960s.

Often framed as an argument over a right to choose versus a right to life, our current understanding of this conflict is as a contest over who has the better position on reproductive biology. Against this view, Sign of Pathology argues that, as it became a medical problem, abortion also became a template, more generally, for struggling with how to live—far exceeding discussions of the merits of providing abortions or how to care for patients. Abortion practices (and all the legal, moral, and ideological entanglements thereof) have rested firmly at the center of debate over many fundamental institutions and concepts—namely, the individual, the family, the state, human rights, and, indeed, the human. Medical rhetoric, then, was decisive in cultivating abortion as a mode of cultural critique, even weaponizing it for discursive conflict on these important subjects, although the goal of the medical practice of abortion has never been to establish this kind of struggle. Stormer argues that the medical discourse of abortion physicians transformed the state of abortion into an indicator that the culture was ill, attacking itself during and through pregnancy in a wrongheaded attempt to cope with reproduction.

About The Author

Nathan Stormer is Mark and Marcia Bailey Professor of Communication and Journalism at the University of Maine. Nathan Stormer is Mark and Marcia Bailey Professor of Communication and Journalism at the University of Maine.

Details & Specs

Title:Sign of Pathology: U.S. Medical Rhetoric on Abortion, 1800s-1960sFormat:HardcoverDimensions:272 pages, 9 × 6 × 0.9 inPublished:March 18, 2015Publisher:Penn State University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0271065559

ISBN - 13:9780271065557

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Extra Content

Table of Contents



Introduction: Struggling Through Life

Part 1

1. When Abortion Became a Political-Economic Problem

2. Remembering, Forgetting, and the Secrets of Life

Part 2

3. “White Man’s Plague”: Anti-Malthusian Memory Work at the Fin de Siècle

4. “More Wisdom in Living”: Neo-Malthusian Memory Work at Midcentury

5. “The Lesser of Threatened Evils”: Therapeutic Amnesias

Conclusion: Seeking Immunity




Editorial Reviews

“Nathan Stormer has written a stunning book, beautifully illustrating how rhetorical struggles over and through abortion have long been about situating ourselves—and pregnant women—in time and place. Civilization is recursive to the maternal body, with abortion positioned as a sign of collective disorder. It is precisely because abortion is a medicalized national metric that the issue is so intractable. Defined through biopolitics, abortion is perceived as a collective, irreparable wound, and ongoing political struggles reliant on familiar frameworks only deepen this intractability. Stormer’s elegant genealogy, both diagnostic and gently prognostic, has the capacity to shift how we see human reproduction and our place in it.”—Monica J. Casper, University of Arizona