Paule Mink, “The Right of Abortion” (1891)


Numerous, very sensational trials for the crime of suppression of children have taken place from the month of August 1891, to the same month in 1892, during one whole year, which we could call the year of abortions.

In all the countries of Europe, in Russia, German, England, and France, and everywhere women have been prosecuted, and trials have been brought on these serious grounds. In Russian Poland, twelve women were arrested, and twenty were condemned in London, and in France we have had various legal actions for these heinous acts in Paris, Lyon, Béziers, and Villeneuve-les-Avignon — where the mayor, an imitator of Fourroux, aborted his dear constituents whom he had put at risk — and then that appalling affair in Clichy, in which 53 defendants were brought to the benches of infamy

England has nothing to envy us in this regard. In Berlin, on several occasions, the criminal courts have had to judge unfortunates guilty of these crimes against the perpetuity of the species so severely punished, as an example, when society discovers them and must condemn them.

Humanity seems taken with a panic about the extinction of the race, and we rush to abortion as the ultimate remedy of painful or miserable situations.

In Belgium, Switzerland, and Italy we have seen in this year, fertile in child murders, some trials of this sort. It is not that crimes against life are unknown in this happy (?) country. Quite the contrary. Amorous liberty, and even license, being practiced here more than anywhere else, all the sages femmes are ready to get rid of the more or less tiresome, telltale consequences of the amorous lapses of young men and women. Even for married women, overburdened by their families, they are full of indulgence and always offer to “free” their clients of the dear, sweet burden, so costly to honor and position.

In this country abortion is a habitual practice and one is only tried for it when the scandal is too great or when an unfortunate has found death in the suppressive maneuvers in which she is engaged. Thus, if there is no trial, it is because, with the general tolerance, the police close their eyes, justice ignores it and wants to know nothing of it, in order not to crack down.

Isn’t it a bit like that everywhere? We scarcely seek any but the most cynical and scandalous facts; we bring suit only when we can’t do otherwise, when there is death or denunciation; and then we recoil in horror before the terrible revelations which are revealed for everyone to see in the court of assizes.

Such has been the case of the wife Thomas, abortionist of Clichy, who in a few years has conducted more than 10,000 operations. Ten thousand—you have read that right—ten thousand abortions! That wretch worked for 10 francs, 5 francs, a basket of eggs, or a basket of fruit, to serve women in trouble.

Her clients belonged to all classes of society: there were some semi-prostitutes, a quarter socialites, some seduced young women, timid and sweet, some women of the people, some honest mothers, mates of workers or of low-level clerks whose position did not allow them to have a large number of children, and who have come, red-faced with the shame, to ask the abortionist to “rid” them. This is the accepted term.

Alas, it is not often of their free will that they have recourse to “the maker of angels” but life is so hard in the world of the poor these days, and women are so unfortunate!

They love, they abandon themselves without concern for the future. It’s so good to love, to trust, believe in the one you love! They do not think about the consequences of their love that they will bear alone. They do not calculate the consequences. In a sweet recitation they hear the tender voice which whispers in their ear the melodies of love, and they give themselves completely in an embrace: their soul, their life, their honor, everything. Love sings in their hearts, like the insects in the grass, like the birds in the branches; they sleep securely, cradled in the arms of their beloved…

But they are soon awakened. The man wearies quickly of the one he has seduced, sated with love, full of satisfied desires, he distances himself more quickly the more duties he has to fulfill. The lover says to him softly, blushing and nervous: — “You will be a papa soon” — “Me, a father!… What! That’s just great!” He gets angry, shouts, leaves and never returns… The poor girl remains alone, left to herself and her grief, alone, without support, without protection, without love, alone! And she feels another being move within her: she is alone and she is going to be a mother!…

Then there appears to her fevered brain all that she has lost, all that she has sacrificed for the ingrate who abandoned her: the despair of her parents, the public scorn, the dishonor!… Then the pain of delivering a child, the difficulty of living; alone she can still manage, with a child it is impossible. It would be necessary to leave her workshop, her store, her labor; miserable already and living in great pain, she will be even more miserable and in an irreparable and absolute manner.

Then a comrade from the workshop, a neighbor whispers to her that she can escape from these troubles, these heartbreaks, that she can avoid the dishonor, be rid of all fear and recover happiness. And the poor little one, anxious, troubled, with great sadness and regret, goes to find the abortionist and delivers herself to her care to make disappear the result of the common fault, the dear treasure, the fruit of her love, which she loves already, that she would have wanted to keep so much, if it had a father!…

Other times the case is even more painful. The woman is married, there are already two, three children at home, the man barely earns enough to support the whole dear brood, just to not die of hunger. The valiant men of a new birth are produced, but the woman remains crushed! In tears she tells her husband news which would have been a pleasure in other conditions. Worried, they look at one another: What to do? What to decide? It is already difficult to live with four or five; when there are six, it will be completely impossible. What will they do with this new burden, this interloper who comes to eat from the portion, already so small, of those that came before? And grief, black despair takes the wife who worries and weeps, the husband who shouts and storms.

Then on day she comes to her husband and says quietly: — “Someone said to me… if you want…” The husband hesitates, grimly. — “Let’s go! It must be…” he says in the end, sadly. And the wife heaves a heavy sigh and goes to find the abortionist.

Ah! If there was bread to give the newcomer, how they would have looked after it! For already the mother loves it with all her heart, and it is only their poverty which forces her to sacrifice it… But she must save the beak-full for her dear babies and the nest is already so full of hungry little bills!…

Thus poverty, insecurity of life, fear of not being able to raise the children, then the fear of public scorn, seduction, abandonment: these are the reasons for the abortions that are so common in our time. — And, as we know, they are just as numerous in the provinces as in Paris, in the country as in the city, for in the village there is no lack of old women expert in these matters, and many matrons know all the processes for inducing labor and know, just as well as the women of Clichy, how to “rid” the unfortunates forced by the demands of honor or poverty to make their child disappear.

“But this is all terrible. How shall we prevent such horrors?” cry the hypocritical bourgeoisie who themselves drive these embryonic murders by their selfishness and vices. These days we mock those who have lots of children, we criticize them, no support, no effective aid is given them. And the handsome sons of the bourgeoisie, for whom article 340 was made — forbidding the search for paternity — can seduce the daughters of the people with an easy mind. They are the chief authors of the numerous infanticides committed by abandoned women!

During these sad trials we have seen the well-meaning press utter cries of horror, and some grave and imposing magistrates cover their faces: “Oh! These women, these trollops,” they say, “these wretches! To make themselves guilty of such crimes, to abort, to do away with children, the strength of the homeland, the future of France!…”

— Excuse me, Monsieur Prudhomme. Does Madame have a lot of children? One or two at the most, and yet! But you understand, one should not have too many children; in order not to undermine the well-being of the family, the fine education that you want to give to your progeny, you must not risk scattering the fortune you possess, by leaving it to too many heirs. Monsieur and Madame practice restrictions… of the mental sort — infanticide before the letter — and even perhaps some preventative and solvent maneuvers as well, during the first days of the pregnancy; but they deal with experienced doctors, skillful and discrete midwives, everything takes place in secret, in the peace of the home, and as no one knows anything of it, these very honest persons shout that much more loudly that others are guilty, like those purse snatchers who yell “stop, thief!” to distract the attention of the police.

Our good bourgeois couldn’t care less about the strength of France, or the future of the homeland. When it is a question of their own actions, they hardly concern themselves with these great things.

“We must,” they say, “have children. We want to do it, for the power of our country, the greatness of the nation.” But they are careful not to have them, although they could raise them and not be condemned to suppress them because of shame or misery!…

But make them understand their duties, make some egoists, some sated pleasure-seekers listen to reason!…

And abortion, this crime against nature, this attack on the race, is more and more a habit for us. It has become a frequent, almost general, practice. It is the consequence of our economic state, of our social state, of the harsh struggle for life which devours us. It is the inevitable result, so to speak, of our customs and law.

These days you would have to be heroic, or else thoughtless, to have a lot of children. How will provident mothers and father, wanting to give their firstborns a wonderful and more happy life, not try to destroy this new germ of life that they know is destined for poverty and unhappiness, and which would bring embarrassment to the poor household, despair to the family, eat the bread of the older children, force them into ignorance and premature labor, casting them into indigence, dooming them to a life of grief and suffering, plunging them into the cesspits where the destitute moan!…

Ah! If society guaranteed life and labor to every being coming into the world, who brings a new strength to the human association, then there would be no more suppression of children!

From the side of the seduced girls, it is even worse, since the law guarantees the security of masculine pleasures.

The woman identified as guilty of abortion, or infanticide, is severely punished. Certainly, she commits an abominable crime. But she risks her life, she, the unfortunate, to make disappear the fruit of the common distraction, she offers her existence to preserve her honor. But he, the first author of the common fault, he, the seducer and initiator, where is he? What will you do about it? He risks nothing, neither his repos, nor his life, nor his future. Even his honor is not at stake.

Ah! If the men were obliged to put their stamp on their more or less clandestine products, they would perhaps not be this way. They would think twice, and even four times, before seducing, and especially before producing. But that would be too awkward for these gentlemen… Respect to article 340, which assures the most complete impunity to the amorous adventures, juvenile or senile, of the Lovelaces.

You are decidedly illogical, gentlemen of the legislature, or supremely unjust. If there is a fault in this case, that fault has been committed by two. — There is no denying it. There must be two, must there not?— But only one is responsible for that fault in the eyes of the world, in the eyes of the law, the weakest and most unfortunate! She is pursued by public shame and contempt, arrested, imprisoned. While the other, her partner — or her accomplice, if you will — goes his way, jaunty and satisfied, whistling through his teeth a little hunting tune — about a beast run to ground, naturally. — And all that because this first tenor of the duo of love has the law behind him, so that he should not be concerned by the consequences of his pleasures, because he carries within him no trace of the wrong perpetrated by two, because there is nothing about his person which could make on say with certainty: “There is the author of the work.”

How then does a woman, even the most simple, not say to herself: My… associate is responsible for nothing. Why would I be more responsible than him? He isn’t blamed for anything because no one sees anything; why then shouldn’t it be the same for me? I want, like him, to walk with my head high, without worrying any more about the consequences of our love.” For as soon after as she is ill-advised, she goes where he security calls her, and she resolves to commit a terribly murder, led to it, very often, by the cynical masculine impunity.

“If we enacted a law for the research of paternity,” some say, “it would be unbearable. The seduced girls would make a living with their children.” — Even it that were so, wouldn’t it be better than killing them? And the strength of the race then, and the power of France, what would you do about them? But to pay for your pleasures, by bearing their consequences, that would exasperate you, handsome boy-children who have got such a good deal on the honor of the daughters of the people and the lives of your… illegitimate… offspring; as for other progeny, you have so few that it is hardly worth talking about.

“The seduced girls do not merit so much interest,” says another. “They are vicious, capable of every shame and weakness.” — It is soon said, and it is said deliberately by those who profit from these weaknesses, who have even provoked them to their greatest dissipation. — “It is very often they who seduce the men,” claims one, “they who assault the young men”… morally, for otherwise… Look at them, these poor babies, all preserved in chastity, who would die virgins and martyrs without these shameless girls!

All these bourgeois and masculine sophisms are of a rare insolence and cynicism; we wish, however, to accept them for a moment. According to you, gentlemen, even the most innocent woman is perverted, she is depraved, she is debauched, this is understood; but once the girl becomes a mother everything changes, she transforms herself; responsibility begins for her, and she severely atones for the common practice, she is no longer the shameless bacchante — if she ever was — she is the mother, that is to say the creator of humanity, she carries in her womb the power of society, the greatness of the homeland, the hope of the future.

And it is precisely become she is a mother, because by this her love is nearly sanctified that you despise her, it is at the moment when she is rehabilitated by maternity that the world insults and spits on her, it is when she has the most need of aid and support that her family rejects her, she is chased from everywhere, execrated, booed, marked on the brow with an indelible stain, heaped with public scorn, while you bow very low before her seducer, particularly if he is rich and powerful. 0 justice! It is always the stone thrown at the poor thief who allows himself to be taken, and the respect for the skillful pickpocket who steals your coin, by transactions risked on the exchange, or despoils you by a skillfully fraudulent bankruptcy!

However, when the children are 20 years old, does the law ask if they are legitimate or not in order to make them soldiers, defenders of the homeland, of the public fortune, of bourgeois security? All men are equal before the law and the social duty, all, whoever their mother and whatever their origin might be.

Scorn the women of ill repute, I accept that, but bow before the mother: maternity, you see, is the pedestal for a woman, it is her triumph, her redemption.

But as long as customs are not changed, as well as the present social state which rests entirely on the exploitation of the small by the great, of the laborers by the possessors of capital, of women by men, as long as the bourgeois regime will function, there will be crimes, there will be abortions, no matter what mild reforms we attempt to ease these sufferings.

As long as it is shameful to be a mother, with or without the code, as long as women will not be respected for their maternity itself, supported, and considered as the creators of humanity, there will be women who have abortions.

As long as young women who have been seduced will alone be responsible for the consequences of their love—while the men can say, insolent and cynical, “That is not my problem”—there will be young women who will have abortions.

As long as there are mother who do not have bread to give their little dear ones, existence assured for the children of their wombs there will be mothers who have abortions to avoid misery, despair and death from hunger for those that they love more than life, more than happiness, more than even honor!

And we believe in good conscience, that they have the right to do so, for we could not force unfortunate, loving and abandoned women to bring forth children who will be miserable, sad and ragged, scattering in the thickets, living without love, sickly and pockmarked, dying of cold, starvation in the crossroads or along the gray roads…

They will spare them constantly reborn sufferings by killing them, the poor little things! fierce and lamentable, before they are born, before they have known the ineffable sadness of the existence of the poverty-stricken.

As long as our unjust, hedonist, depraved and ferocious capitalist society exists, there will be sinister abortions, and there will be more and more of them.

And you do not have the right to punish these crimes against the race, for it is you, Society, who by your sinful laws and your lax and venal morals, drive that dreadful massacre of innocents.

Paule MINK.

Source: Almanach de la question sociale et de libre pensee, pour 1891

[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]

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