Dr. Frederick Dyer obtained his Ph.D. in experimental psychology in 1968 from Michigan State University. After three years of university teaching he conducted research on visual perception at Ft. Knox, Kentucky and later research on leadership and soldier training at Ft. Benning, Georgia. After retirement from Federal Service, he pursued a long-held interest in the history of abortion.
His books: "Champion of Women and the Unborn, Horatio Robinson Storer, M.D." and "The Physician's Crusade Against Abortion" are available at Amazon Books. His website is http://horatiostorer.net/
Dr. Dyer emailed me after reading a pro-life article I had published on The Federalist, and he told me that there was another pro-life hero I ought hear about. He told me about Dr. Horatio Storer, and I was impressed by this story I had never heard. As a result, I knew I had to invite him to share this story with you.
Thank you Dr. Dyer for coming on Entering the Public Square!
ZS: Who was Dr. Horatio Storer, and how did he come to oppose abortion?
FD: Dr. Storer was a Boston physician who lived from 1830 to 1922. He obtained his M.D. from Harvard in 1853 and studied in Scotland for more than a year with Dr. (later Sir) James Young Simpson. He began practicing medicine in 1855 and found that the medical problems of his married Protestant women patients frequently were related to their having had abortions. His opposition to abortion also was influenced by the Hippocratic Oath which prohibits the physician from inducing abortion. Hippocrates was a Greek physician who lived in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C. and who is known as the “Father of Medicine.” For many centuries, the Hippocratic Oath was sworn to by medical students before they began medical practice and this frequently was the case in the nineteenth. Dr. Storer frequently referred to the Hippocratic Oath in his articles and books opposing abortion.
ZS: How prevalent was abortion in the mid-1800s?
FD: Storer noted abortion’s frequency in his own married patients and learned that many other physicians were experiencing this. Over the next few years he carried out extensive research related to the frequency of abortion. This included “comparisons of the present with our past rates of increase in population, the size of our families, the statistics of our foetal deaths, by themselves considered, and relatively to the births and to the general mortality.” He concluded in the 1859 American Medical Association Report on Criminal Abortion “thousands and hundreds of thousands of lives are thus directly at stake, and are annually sacrificed.” Historian James Mohr in his 1978 Abortion in America had a chapter “The Great Upsurge in Abortion, 1840-1880.” One homeopathic physician, Edwin Moses Hale, argued that 1-in-3 pregnancies ended in abortion but this may have been biased by the fact that Hale himself performed unnecessary abortions. A more realistic figure would be 1-in-4 to 1-in-6 pregnancies. Not too different from our current abortion rates in the U.S. now that abortion is legal.
ZS: Can you tell me a little bit about the public opinion of abortion before the work of Dr. Storer?
FD: Dr. Storer himself described the public opinion in the 1850s in his first of nine articles on abortion written for physicians in the North-American Medico-Chirurgical Review: He wrote: “And now words fail. … of the public sentiment which palliates, pardons, and would even praise this so common violation of all law, human and divine, of all instinct, of all reason, all pity, all mercy, all love,—we leave those to speak who can.” This doesn’t sound much different from our current “public sentiment” about abortion. In the 1850s there was much less knowledge about the developing unborn child and public opinion supporting or tolerating abortion is not surprising. Current public support of abortion occurs despite widespread awareness of the developing human being that has resulted from photographs and sonograms of the developing child.
ZS: How did Dr. Storer try to influence culture in a pro-life direction?
FD: Storer’s first priority was to revise state laws on abortion so that the unborn child was protected from conception. He saw this influencing culture in a pro-life direction since law itself is a great teacher. Many women came to accept their unplanned and unwanted pregnancies simply because they knew it was illegal to have an abortion. Shortly after Storer’s successful effort to create stringent abortion laws (described below), he wrote popular books. One was for women, Why Not? A Book for Every Woman, and one for men, Is It I? A Book for Every Man. Why Not? A Book for Every Woman was particularly successful going into four editions, 1866, 1867, 1868, and 1871. Years later, Storer wrote that many women told him they were influenced to continue unplanned pregnancies because of this book.
ZS: Did Dr. Storer do most of this work single-handedly, or did he build a type of alliance as he sought to create pro-life legislation?
FD: Storer’s efforts against abortion were very much single-handed. The American Medical Association had made no reference to abortion in its Code of Ethics or elsewhere until 1857 when the Association agreed to Storer’s request that they form a Committee on Criminal Abortion. Storer was appointed Chairman and he picked the other committee members in 1859 at the same time he sent them the Report of the Committee on Criminal Abortion that he had written. All agreed to sign their names to the Report and gave it much praise. The 1859 Report and Resolutions called for a Memorial to be sent to the states and federal government requesting that laws against abortion be made more stringent. The Report and Resolutions also called for an Address to be sent to State Medical Societies requesting their cooperation in the lobbying effort.
A year later at the 1860 New Haven, Connecticut meeting of the American Medical Association Dr. Henry Miller of Kentucky discussed Dr. Storer’s key role in the effort in Miller’s Presidential Address. His Address included, “the Chairman of the Committee opened a correspondence with me, early last winter, tendering his co-operation in carrying out the wishes of the Association, and offering to place at my disposal extra copies of the report, and also of the papers published by himself in the North American Medico-Chirurgical Review, containing all the medico-legal information necessary to enable our federal and State legislatures to act intelligently in the premises. The offer was gladly accepted, and I am happy to acknowledge my obligations to the able Chairman for his valuable assistance, not only in furnishing the documents referred to, but in the preparation of the Memorial as well as of the Address directed to the various State Medical Societies, requesting their co-operation with the Association, in pressing this important subject on the attention of the legislatures of their respective States. The memorial, with the accompanying documents, was transmitted in January last to the President of the United States and the Governor of each of the States and Territories of the Union, the legislatures of several of them being at the time in session. What disposition has been made of them I am not informed; but the hope may be reasonably indulged that their Excellencies have submitted them to the National, State, and Territorial legislatures, or will embrace the earliest opportunity of doing so.”
President Miller would soon learn that the Connecticut Legislature had received the Memorial. The Minutes for Day 3 of the same 1860 New Haven AMA meeting included:
“A communication was received from the Judiciary Committee of the Connecticut Legislature, to which was referred the Memorial of this Association concerning Criminal Abortions, requesting the appointment of a committee to frame a suitable bill to serve as a guide for their action.”
Other state legislatures would similarly take up the AMA request and by 1880 nearly every state had stringent new laws against abortion. Most remained in effect until overturned by Roe v Wade in 1973.
ZS: Were there many laws on the books that prohibited abortion in states prior to the work of Dr. Storer?
FD: Several states had laws against abortion, but they did not recognize it as a crime against the unborn child, but instead as a crime against the mother. In most of these earlier laws abortion was not a crime until “quickening” the point at which the mother could feel the movements of her child. Even some physicians did not recognize life of the fetus until “quickening” and Storer’s first article, “Criminal Abortion,” in the North-American Medico-Chirurgical Review was written to educate these physicians.
ZS: Did Dr. Storer's faith influence his work, or did he ultimately believe that the unborn child was a person for purely scientific reasons?
FD: Storer was a Unitarian when he commenced his efforts against abortion. There was no discussion or opposition to abortion by his Unitarian clergy. In his writing, Storer frequently thanked the Catholic clergy for providing the sole religious opposition to the practice which largely prevented abortion in Catholic women. Even after many of the new laws were in force there was little Protestant opposition to the practice. One major exception was Rev. Thomas Mears Eddy’s editorial, “Criminal Abortion,” published March 13, 1867 in the Chicago-based Northwestern Christian Advocate, a popular Methodist newspaper. It is particularly interesting because Rev. Eddy was influenced to oppose abortion by physicians and particularly by Dr. Storer. The editorial is available on the internet, http://horatiostorer.net/Storer_articles.html
The basic facts of embryology were understood in the 1820s. Dr. Storer certainly accepted this science and he elaborated on human embryology in “Criminal Abortion,” the first of nine articles on abortion written for physicians in the North-American Medico-Chirurgical Review. It concluded, “If we have proved the existence of fœtal life before quickening has taken place or can take place, and by all analogy, and a close and conclusive process of induction, its commencement at the very beginning, at conception itself, we are compelled to believe unjustifiable abortion always a crime.” The article is available on the internet, http://horatiostorer.net/
ZS: What are three key lessons that modern-day pro-life advocates could learn from Dr. Horatio Storer?
FD: First: Modern-day pro-life advocates have a 19th century pro-life hero whom they can learn from and emulate. Persistent pro-life efforts a la Dr. Horatio Storer can change laws, change attitudes, and save children.
Second: Modern-day pro-life advocates are following a long tradition. The pro-life philosophy was valid in the middle of the 19th century when Storer headed the effort. But it existed even earlier given Hippocrates in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C. and given English physician, Thomas Percival, who wrote in 1803: “To extinguish the first spark of life is a crime of the same nature, both against our Maker and society, as to destroy an infant, a child, or a man” (Medical Ethics).
Third: Modern-day pro-life advocates very likely are alive because of Dr. Storer’s successful pro-life efforts and their own successful efforts will be magnified in future generations. During the century that Storer’s stringent state laws against abortion were in effect they saved the lives of millions of babies. Preventing abortions not only saved these babies, it saved their descendants. Storer wrote in 1869: “Every life saved is, as a general rule, the precursor of others that else would not have been called into existence.” A soldier saved during the war in 1944 was located in 1999 by the Atlanta resident who had saved his life. The soldier had recovered from his severe head wound, had married, and had 23 living descendants. Not every life saved mushrooms to 24 people alive in two generations, but the number of “others” “called into existence” during the century the state laws against abortion were in effect is enormous. If you are not a recent immigrant and have primarily Protestant ancestors, you can be fairly certain that your own existence is one result of the successes of Storer’s pro-life efforts. The mathematics demonstrating this are presented in my article, “19th Century Pro-Life Laws on Abortion Probably Allowed Your Birth.”