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motherBy John Todd, D.D.

Nothing but an imperative sense of duty could induce me to pen what I am about to write. Letters from different sections of the country, and from physicians too, are so urgent that I should write on this subject, that I may choose. I have no fear but what I am about to write will be read; but I wish it might be solemnly pondered. I am about to speak, and plainly too, of the practice of producing abortions. If any of my lady readers shall complain of a want of delicacy, I beg them to remember three facts; first, that the practice is fearfully common; second, that probably they are every week associating with those who are guilty of the practice; and third, that seventy-five percent of all the abortions produced are caused and effected by females. What then of a delicacy?

It is well known that families of children, of this generation, in New England, do not average but three and a half each. I speak of our native population. With foreigners it is different, and the cause of the difference will soon be mentioned. By the advertisement of almost every paper, city and village, in the land, offering medicines to be effectual "from whatever causes" it is needed, — by the shameless and the notorious great establishments fitted up and advertised as places where any woman may resort to effect the end desired; by the confessions of hundreds of women made to physicians, who have been injured by the process; and by almost constant and unblushing applications made to the profession from "women in all classed of society, married and unmarried, rich and poor, otherwise good, bad or indifferent," to aid them in the thing, — do we know of the "frequency of the crime."

As a class, the medical profession has taken a noble stand. The desolations have become so fearful that, as the guardians of human life, they are compelled to do so: and society owes a debt of gratitude to Dr. H. R. Storer, of Boston, especially for his powerful arguments, lucid arrangements of facts, patient investigations and earnest and eloquent, remonstrances. Among his writings on this subject, the little work entitled "Why Not?" is a book "for every woman," and I wish every woman might carefully read it. But the medical profession cannot arrest the evil, and they tell me they need, and must have, the moral power of good people to aid them. Even now, as I have a reason to fear, all the professions are not beyond the reach of personal appeal, nor an enormous fee, and I do wish that every such an one could see that a fee steeped in blood, and crimsoned with shame, cannot bring a blessing to his family.

I am sorry to learn from undoubted testimony, that the practice  is  far  more  common  among  Protestants than  among  Catholics –Dr.  Storer says, "infinitely more frequent," and this accounts, in part at least, for much larger families of the Irish Catholics. There is nothing in Protestantism that encourages or connives at it, but there is vast ignorance as to the guilt of the thing.  But in the Catholic church, human life is guarded, at all stages, by the confessional, by a stern denouncement and by fearful excommunications.  The rule in the Catholic church is unbending.

"Sedulam operam dent Sacerdotes ut quantum poterunt,  impediant illud salus  quo  adhibitis  chirurgicis instrumentis infans in utero interficitur.  Omnis foetus quorumquod tempore gestationis editus baptizetur, vel absolute, si constet de vita; vel sub contitutione, nisi evidenter pateat cum vita carere."

The Roman Catholic Bishop of Boston says, eloquently and powerfully, "The very instant, conception has taken place, there lies the vital germ of a man. True, it is hidden in the darkness of the womb, and it is helpless; but has sacred rights, founded on God's law, and so much the more to be respected because it is helpless.  It may be already a living man, for neither mothers nor physicians can tell when life is infused; they can only tell when its presence is manifested, and there is a wide difference between the two things. At any rate, it is from the first  moment potentially and  in radia  a man,  with  a body  and soul destined most surely, by  the will  of the Creator  and by  his law,  to  be  developed  into the fullness of human  existence.  No one can prevent that development without resisting and annulling one of the most sacred and important laws established by the Divine Author of the universe; and he is a criminal, a murderer, who deals an exterminating blow to the incipient man, and drives back into nothingness a being to whom God designed to give a living body and an immortal soul.  From this it follows that the young woman, whose virtue has proved an insufficient guardian to her honor, when she seeks by abortion to save in the eyes of man the honor she has forfeited, incurs the additional and  deeper guilt of murder in the eyes  of God,  the  Judge  of  the  living  and  the  dead. Who can express what follows with regard to those women, who, finding themselves lawfully mothers, prefer to devastate with poison or with steel their wombs rather than bear the discomforts attached to the privilege of maternity, rather than forego the gaieties of a winter's balls, parties and plays, or the pleasure of a summers trip and amusement."  To all this I say do manus.

It is the testimony, too, of those who know, that in proportion as people become indolent, or fashionable, the temptation to produce abortion is increased; that in many circles it is absolutely a matter of boasting and vanity, to tell the number of times they and their friends have been guilty of the deed.

The causes of this child-murder are to be found often, in the ignorance of its guilt,–the ease with which it is done and concealed,–the unwillingness to incriminate one's self,–the loss of character,–the reign of extravagance and fashion, and the fear of child-bed.

As to guilt, I want all to know that, in the sight of God, it is willful murder. "The willful killing of a human being at any stage of its existence, is murder." It is quenching immortal existence,–it is destroying what, in a few months or weeks, would bear God's image: and if any one thinks she can do it without the guilt of murder, she is greatly mistaken. The very remembrance of this guilt has often upset the reason, and, by remorse, turned the doer into madness.

Very false notions prevail on this subject. It is thought and said to be safe to the mother.  Anything but that. The shattered constitutions, the pale faces, the feebleness of future life, not unfrequently tumors and internal diseases, prostration of the vital powers, tell the fearful results.  "God requireth that which is past," and never more surely than in this case.

It is pleaded that the health of the mother requires this. Nonsense. If she is to feeble to be a mother, let her not marry; but let her not dishonor and profane the holy name of wife by shrinking her responsibilities.–But as a matter of fact, the fairest, healthiest, happiest, most respected and  most  useful  women that have ever lived, have been the mothers of large families. It is the law of nature. Let my reader look around on the families of his acquaintances and see if it be not so. The Bible everywhere holds up the thought that a great, family is a special blessing. And if there be a beautiful sight in the world, it is the true mother surrounded by a large family of children.

It is thought that the parents who have a small family, have healthier children. I more than doubt it. I have no belief in it. And if it were not so, it is from these delicate organizations that the writers, the poets, the inventors, the geniuses of the generation often come. We cannot afford to lose them.

The woman who, at this day, feels that to be the mother of living children "is the first, highest, and in earlier times, almost universal lot," is worthy of all admiration and praise; and the woman who, to save herself from inconvenience or pain, or to be able to keep along with the giddy fashionable ones, will deliberately destroy the child, which in a few months would be dearer than her own life, deserves execration. How can it be that, she will murder unborn, what if born, and taken from her by death, she would mourn with the sorrow of Rachel?

As to danger–Tandieu reports that "in thirty-four cases of criminal abortion, where their history was known, twenty-two were followed, as a consequence, by death, and twelve were not. In fifteen cases necessarily induced by physicians, not one was fatal."

Is it not a shame to womanhood that physicians have to testify that they are appealed to  almost constantly by married women, to aid them to abortionate; and that in proportion to numbers who thus appeal, and whose circumstances are alike, married women vastly predominate over the unmarried!

The practice is a direct war against human society, the best good of the country, against the family order, against the health, the peace, the conscience, and the moral well-being of the mother, and against a child which could otherwise have an immortal existence.

Since Anesthesia is able to carry through child- birth, divesting it of most of its horrors, and every way safe, and which I would earnestly recommend to be used, there is hardly an excuse left.

I appeal to our New England women,–the daughters of  an  ancestry  who  never  were  spotted  by  the blood of innocents, who never stifled the natural longings of a mother's heart, and never  quenched life immortal for the sake of ease or fashion, and ask them if it is so that they are so  degenerated that 'they cannot meet the holiest position and duties ever imposed on women?.

If it be said that I have in any measure exaggerated the evil and the fashion of the day, I reply, I would not advise any one to challenge further disclosures–else we could show that France, with all her atheism; that Paris, with all her license; is not so guilty in this respect, as is staid New England at the present hour. Facts can be adduced that will make the ears tingle. But we do not want to divulge them; but we do want the womanhood of our day to understand that the thing can be no longer concealed, that commonness or fashion cannot do away with its awful guilt.  It is deliberate, cold murder, and if anything short of the murderers doom shall fall upon the perpetrators of it at the judgment, the reason will be that there has been great ignorance of its guilt.

I have now done a painful duty, and have done it fearlessly. To the attention of the gentle, tender heart and conscience of women I commend this subject with earnest prayer.




– John Todd, D.D.. "Fashionable Murder" Advent Review and Sabbath Herald (June 25, 1867): 29-30. It was later published in the Deseret News ()under the title "Serpents in the Dove's Nest: Fashionable Murder."

John Todd, D.D. (1800-1873) was pastor of the First Congregational church in Philadelphia (1836-42) and of the First Church in Pittsfield, Massachusetts (1842-1872) and was one of the founders of Mt. Holyoke Female Seminary.  He wrote several books including "Lectures to Children" among others.

James White was the publisher of the Advent Review and Sabbath Herald at the time of the publication.




  1. Nat says:

    I am pro life but I disagree with a man having the authority to say that women must have large families and not small families. My mother is a mother of 3. She is also a widow . the Church has practically zero programs to help support widows. It is pathetic since the Bible says that it is our moral obligation to do so. A man shouldn't be telling a woman how many children is proper. I am pro life but don't think a man should be speaking of things he knows nothing of.

  2. Doug Yowell says:

    Glad you posted this historical note on Adventists and abortion. A historical correction may be in order. My research of 25 years ago indicates that Uriah Smith, not James White, was editor of the Review at the time this article was printed. Another shorter, but no less stark, editorial was included in the Nov. 30,1869 issue of the Review. The editor at the time was J.N.Andrews, (President of the General Conference,Review Editor,first missionary, represented SDA views on non-combatancy to the U.S. Congress resulting in the Conscientious Objector status for SDA draftees,ect…)Compare these comments with those of today's pro-choice Adventists. There id no difference in the pioneer's views on abortion and those of today's most vocal pro-life supporters. When Adventists attack those "Evangelicals" who voice their opposition to abortion as puppets of Rome, Theocrats, and worse they condemn their own history while pretending to be torchbearers of liberty and truth in this present generation. I think that no amount of historical evidence will change the minds of Adventists who's consciences are unmoved by the killing of the unborn.

  3. It might have been a good thing if the Doctor had written clear instructions on birth control! The poor over worked mother having to do her duty for her husband and then the fear and anguish of what to do. Men will never understand what it is all about for a woman.

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