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Physicians who defended life

By Matt Abbott
Catholic Online

There is a new book on the market - one that many pro-lifers would likely be interested in reading: "The Physicians' Crusade Against Abortion," authored by Frederick N. Dyer.

From the book's dust cover writing:

"In the middle of the nineteenth century, physicians became alarmed about an epidemic of induced abortion. One of these was the young Boston physician, Horatio Robinson Storer, who started the 'physicians' crusade against abortion.' A major feature of this crusade was the lobbying of state and territorial legislatures to pass stringent antiabortion laws. The physicians were highly successful in this and the new laws remained in effect in most states with only minor changes until overturned in 1973 by Roe v. Wade....

"This book documents the true story of the passionate defense of the unborn by these physicians beginning with Hippocrates and continuing into the twentieth century. Horatio Robinson Storer's key role in the crusade was described in his 1999 biography, but his antiabortion efforts receive a more complete discussion in the current book. However, the bulk of this book deals with the hundreds of physicians whose antiabortion efforts followed Storer's 1859 American Medical Association Report on Criminal Abortion.

"The new laws against abortion prevented many women from even considering abortion. Another goal of the physicians' crusade was to inform women that a living human being existed from conception and physicians persuaded thousands, and, more likely, millions of women to continue pregnancies that they initially asked their physicians to end. The book describes how these additional survivors of pregnancy are among the ancestors of almost every reader of this book with Protestant ancestors."

Catholics might find the following excerpt, provided to me by Dr. Dyer, of interest:

"The Catholic Church's longstanding opposition to abortion was reinforced in 1869, both in the United States and in Rome. On May 29, 1869, the following was published in the Medical and Surgical Reporter:

"The Crime of Abortion.

"Archbishop Spaulding [sic], the distinguished primate of the Roman Catholic Church in the country, in a pastoral letter at the close of a recent Council, speaks in these decided terms of a crime only too common in this generation.

"The abiding interest all feel in the preservation of the morals of our country, constrains us to raise our voice against the daily increasing practice of infanticide, especially before birth. The notoriety which this monstrous crime has obtained of late, and the hecatombs of infants that are annually sacrificed to Moloch, to gratify an unlawful passion, are a sufficient justification for our alluding to a painful and delicate subject, which should not even be mentioned among Christians.

"We may observe that the crying sin of infanticide is most prevalent in those localities where the system of education without religion has been longest established, and been most successfully carried out. The inhuman crime might be compared to the murder of the 'Innocents,' except that the criminals in this case exceed in enormity the cruelty of Herod.

"If it is a sin to take away the life even of an enemy; if the crime of shedding innocent blood cries even to Heaven for vengeance, in what language can we characterize the double guilt of those whose souls are stained with the innocent blood of their own unborn, unregenerate offspring.

"The murder of an infant before its birth is, in the sight of God and of this Church, as great a crime as would be the killing of a child after birth, with this aggravating circumstance, that in the former case the unborn child dies deprived of the essential grace of baptism. No mother is allowed, under any circumstances, to permit the death of her unborn infant, not even for the sake of preserving her own life, because the end never justifies the means, and we must not do evil that good may come from it.

"This was Section III of the Pastoral Letter written by Bishop James Gibbons of North Carolina at the request of Archbishop Martin J. Spalding. It was released at the close of the Tenth Provincial Council of Baltimore on May 2, 1869 and was to be read in all the Catholic Churches of the Baltimore Province....

"On October 12, 1869, less than six months after the Tenth Provincial Council of Baltimore ended, Pope Pius IX made induction of abortion at any stage of pregnancy a ground for excommunication. It is possible Archbishop Spalding's May Pastoral Letter or other possible communications from the Archbishop about the problem of criminal abortion in the United States was a factor in this Papal action.

"The claim by Pallen, Rochester, and other physicians that unnecessary abortion was most prevalent in the United States suggests that this action by Pope Pius IX was stimulated by these frequent United States' abortions. Orson Squire Fowler would shortly write of criminal abortion:

"The Catholic Bishop of Baltimore, and some others, have anathematized it, and turned St. Peter's keys against its perpetrators.' Fowler may have been guessing about this or may have read somewhere that Archbishop Spalding 'and some others' had been advisors to the Pope on the problem of abortion in the United States....

"Archbishop Spalding was not reluctant to communicate with the Vatican. It does not seem far-fetched to claim that Pope Pius IX's October 1869 classification of unnecessary abortion at any stage of pregnancy as 'an excommunicable offense' was stimulated by Spalding. If so, Pope Pius IX's landmark 'Apostolicae Sedes' may have been another result of the 'physicians' crusade against abortion,' since American physicians directly or indirectly led the Archbishop to his concerns about criminal abortion...."

Dr. Dyer's bio is impressive:

"Frederick N. Dyer obtained his Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology from Michigan State University in 1968. He has published numerous scientific articles and two major reviews during four years as a university professor and more than twenty years as a research psychologist at the Army Medical Research Laboratory and elsewhere.

"In 1993, Dr. Dyer actively pursued a long-held interest in the history of abortion in the United States and in the key figure in that history, Horatio Robinson Storer. Dyer's biography of Dr. Storer, Champion of Women and the Unborn, was published in 1999. Storer's influence on other physicians was profound and the total of these physicians' efforts, the subject of the current book, produced a huge impact not only on abortion legislation, but on women's behavior with thousands of women changing their minds about abortion."

The Physicians' Crusade Against Abortion has received favorable reviews from these notable scholars: Charles E. Rice, John Keown and Eugene F. Diamond.

To read additional excerpts and to order the book, go to:


(Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic journalist and commentator. He is a columnist for and/or contributor to Catholic Online,,,, and He is also an occasional contributor to "The Wanderer" Catholic newspaper. He can be reached at


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