On Feticide.

“The practice of feticide appears to be on the increase. ...poisoning the blood and distilling its venom into every fiber of the body politic”

Scarce. Anti-abortion pamphlet by a prominent California physician and medical editor, Dr. Henry Gibbons, Sr.(1808–1884).

Using the term feticide—the killing of a fetus, Gibbons decries the increase of abortions, the pathologizing of sexual reproduction, and the dissemination of pamphlets on “Free Love.” He mentions the ideas of English demographic theoretician Thomas Malthus (1766–1834) and the social principles of the utopian community of New Harmony, Indiana as guided by reformer Robert Owen (1771–1858) and birth control advocate Frances Wright (1795–1852).

Select passages from Gibbon’s separately issued pamphlet, an offprint from the Transactions of the Medical Society of the State of California, give a sense of his arguments:

...the practice of feticide appears to be on the increase. It is universally condemned. No one ventures openly to defend it. ... It is becoming a constitutional disease, a cachexia, poisoning the blood and distilling its venom into every fiber of the body politic. ... In the days of our fathers, marriage and increase were left in the charge of the affections. Men and women followed their natural impulse. They did not stop, either before or after marriage, to study the Malthusian arithmetic. ... But the age of calculation has come. When men contemplate matrimony they take their slate and begin to cipher. After marriage they cipher again, in multiplication we may say. The wife also calculates. The troubles and pains of gestation and nursing are taken into view. The temporary privation of social and fashionable enjoyment is considered. Friends are not wanting to inspire her with disgust of a large family. Children are a nuisance—at least before they are born, and it is only after their birth that nature compels the mother’s love. (pp[1]–3)

My first recollection of any public movement under the name of “reform” directed to the marriage and family relation, dates back about fifty years, to the New Harmony settlement under the charge of Frances Wright and Robert Owen. ...Frances Wright and Robert Dale Owen (son of Robert) engaged in a crusade against certain religious and social institutions, under the banner of “Free Inquiry.” One of the publications circulated by them, written by Owen, was entitled, “Modern Physiology.” It was founded on the Malthusian idea of the dangerous increase of population and the necessity of checking the increase, and it described minutely the several methods of preventing conception. ... My hearers will have no difficulty in perceiving the relation which such publications as that just referred to bear to feticide. Familiarity with preventatives prepares the way for criminal abortion. (pp3–4)

Our age and our country, alive with free and busy thought, have given birth to a number of anomalies if not monstrosities, religious, intellectual, and moral. Among these, not the least remarkable is the peculiar code of sexual morality known as “Free Love.” According to this code, all legal, social and conventional restraint between the sexes, when adverse to inclination, is immoral, licentious and sinful. Connubial fidelity, when either party loves in another direction, becomes prostitution… Before me is a tract of thirty-two pages,very neatly printed, entitled “Social Freedom. Marriage as it is and as it should be.” I take it to be a faithful exponent of the “Free Love” doctrines. It denounces marriage, “as now instituted,” because it “binds the parties in the slavery of ownership…” The requirements of fidelity in married life are denounced as “wolverine habits that go by the name of law and order.” ... Such is a specimen of the language and sentiment which characterize the “Free Love” literature. (pp8–9)

Worse even than ignorance is the character and quantity of knowledge concerning the sexual physiology disseminated through the press, either in newspapers or in pamphlets and books more or less privately circulated, or imparted by itinerant lecturers. There are men and women who appear to possess a buzzard appetite for such moral carrion, and who revel in the fetid atmosphere. Their teachings invite a class of persons who seek the knowledge only for sensual and vicious purposes; who gather poison, not honey, from the flower… It is a painful acknowledgment that our profession is not entirely clear of complicity in the crime of feticide. Tempted by thirty pieces of silver and more or less assured by the secrecy which is commonly attainable, individuals may be found in whom the honorable instincts and teachings of the guild are lost in the influence of unprincipled cupidity. The better motive of sympathy with the woman in her distress, is another powerful inducement. Besides, the boundary between wanton and criminal feticide, and that which is sanctioned by medical authority as proper under certain impending dangers is not always so well marked that it cannot be shifted by the interest or sympathies of the practitioner. (p15)

“Gibbons was born in Wilmington, Delaware, into an English emigre family who had followed William Penn to Pennsylvania. He received his M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1829, and practiced with his father, William Gibbons, in Wilmington until 1844. He taught at the Philadelphia College of Medicine from that date until he went to San Francisco in 1850. He was a founding member of the California State Medical Society, and served as its president in 1857 and 1871. Gibbons was a member of the faculty of the Cooper Medical College, and member of the California State Board of Health. He died in Wilmington, Delaware, November 5, 1884.”¹ Gibbon was also professor of materia medica at the University of the Pacific and later at Toland Medical College, a predecessor institution to Stanford University School of Medicine.²

Description: On Feticide.

[Sacramento, California?: np, 1878]. 16pp. Pamphlet. 8 x 5½ inches. Printed wrappers; stitched. Removed. Vertical center crease; some soiling to wrappers with ink annotations on back cover; very good.


Notes. 1. Register of the Henry Gibbons Papers, 1833-1880 [Online Archive of California] accessed online. 2. Stanford University School of Medicine and the Predecessor Schools: An Historical Perspective: Part III. Founding of First Medical School and Successions 1858-. Chapter 20. Suspension of Medical Department University of the Pacific and Founding of Toland Medical College 1864 - Medical History Center accessed online.