Physicians, Abortions and the Law in Twentieth-Century Ontario

Canadian Bulletin of Medical History 10 (1993) 229-49.

22 Pages Posted: 22 May 2013  

Constance B. Backhouse

University of Ottawa - Common Law Section

Date Written: 1993


This article studies the medical and legal responses to the abortion-related death of Constance Ida Browne of Toronto, Ontario in 1924. The subsequent coroner's inquest led to a criminal prosecution of Browne's doctor and also her male lover on charges of illegally procuring a miscarriage. The legal proceedings and the detailed press commentary of the time offer an excellent opportunity to consider the interaction between medical and legal authorities jostling for a position over the proper response to he demand for illegal abortions. The case also permits an examination of the social, psychological, economic, and medical circumstances which surrounded the procuring of illegal abortion in the first half of the twentieth century.

(Cette oeuvre est seulement disponible en anglais. Un résumé français suite.)

Cet article étudie les répercussions médicales et légales du décès, après un avortement, de Constance, Ida Browne, de Toronto, en 1924. L'enquête conduisit à l'inculpation criminelle du médecin de Browne et du compagnon de celle-ci, accusés d'avoir illégalement procuré des moyens d'avorter. Les procédures légales et les commentaires de la presse de l'époque offrent une excellente occasion d'analyser les positions antagonistes des autorités médicales et légales sur la question de l'illégalité des avortements. Ce cas permet aussi d'examiner les circonstances sociales, psychologiques, économiques et médicales entourant la pratique des avortements illégaux dans la première moitié du XXe siècle.

Keywords: abortion, pregnancy, terminate, termination, Ontario, Toronto, Canada, Canadian, law, criminal, Constance, Ida, Browne, procure, procuring, miscarriage, legal, medical, feminist, feminism, history, historical, Backhouse

Suggested Citation

Backhouse, Constance B., Physicians, Abortions and the Law in Twentieth-Century Ontario (1993). Canadian Bulletin of Medical History 10 (1993) 229-49.. Available at SSRN:

Constance B. Backhouse (Contact Author)

University of Ottawa - Common Law Section ( email )

57 Louis Pasteur Street
Ottawa, K1N 6N5

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