Abortion, race, and gender in nineteenth-century America

Nicola Beisel*, Tamara Kay

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

81 Scopus citations


Many sociologists have considered the intersection of race and gender in the production of social life, but while works on " intersectionality" have offered a useful paradigm for analyzing the experience of individual persons, a model for understanding how structures interact remains unclear. Appropriating Sewell's (1992) argument that structures consist of cultural schemas applied to resources, this article develops a more nuanced approach to intersectionality. It presents the argument that because the basis of race and gender as social structures is the inscription of cultural schemas on bodies, and because racial reproduction is predicated on the continued creation of these culturally inscribed bodies, race and gender as social structures necessarily intersect at the level of biological reproduction. The study uses this theoretical insight to analyze how physicians and suffragists contested the meaning of, and policy regarding, abortion in nineteenth-century America. While most histories of abortion argue that nineteenth-century abortion politics concerned gender relations, this article argues that what was at stake was Anglo-Saxon control of the state and dominance of society. Abortion politics contested the proper use of a valuable social resource, the reproductive capacity of Anglo-Saxon women.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)498-518
Number of pages21
JournalAmerican Sociological Review
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2004

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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