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Margaret Sparrow: Rough on Women Abortion in 19th Century New Zealand

April 1st, 2015

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Dame Margaret Sparrow has had a long career in general and reproductive health. She was awarded an MBE in 1987, the New Zealand Suffrage Centennial Medal in 1993, and the DCNZM for services to medicine and the community in 2002, which in 2009 became a DNZM.

The women who had abortions in 19th century New Zealand are all long dead and little is known of their shortened lives. Most of what we know about them comes from coroners’ reports and newspaper accounts, and in many cases we know more about the abortionists than the women themselves. Those who survived had engaged in criminal activity so they were unlikely to talk about it.  Abortion was not written about or mentioned in their correspondence to family and friends. 

The information we have is biased towards events with a tragic ending but even this gives us some insight into the lives of ordinary women.  At a time when contraception was frowned upon by the medical profession women obtained abortions by whatever means they could, despite the dangers of poisoning, haemorrhage and infection. Abortionists did their work despite the threat of long prison sentences.

Recorded at the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, 1 April 2015. Introduction by Neil Atkinson of the Ministry for Culture and Heritage
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