On June 5, NPR’s Morning Edition host Cokie Roberts discussed abortion laws in the #AskCokie segment. Roberts claimed that the history of abortion was “as fraught as the politics.” She said that historians who study abortion have exaggerated the fact that abortifacients and birth control items were widely advertised in nineteenth-century newspapers because, as she told the host that day, she looked it up and did not find anything.
An expert on the history of birth control and abortion, Lauren MacIvor Thompson, Center for Law, Health & Society faculty fellow and Perimeter College lecturer of history, went on Twitter to correct the record. In a 19-tweet thread that was retweeted and liked thousands of times, she explained that advertisements for contraceptive and abortifacients were ubiquitous in nineteenth-century newspaper used coded language such as “female regulators” or “mother’s friend.” After the thread went viral, NPR posted a retraction and deleted the comment from the audio and transcript, while Thompson received several media inquiries on the subject. She has since been quoted in The Atlantic and other news outlets, received requests for op-eds and has been featured on the women’s radio show “Sophie’s Parlor.”
“The legal and social history of women’s reproductive rights before Roe v. Wade can help us understand current efforts to limit or effectively outlaw abortion,” said Thompson. “This experience highlights how important it is for historians to engage and inform the public and correct misconceptions, and for media to call on the work and voices of experts.”