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PPFA Abortion Conference, 1955
Background of Conference

    "The sooner the public is acquainted with the basis facts and implications of abortion in the United States, the better. Only through widespread knowledge of the situation can responsible public action be taken to correct the conditions that underlie the high incidence of illegal abortions in this country."
    Frederick H. Falls, MD
    Past President, Am. Assoc. for Maternal and Infant Health
    Past President, AMA Section of Ob/Gyn

In 1955, Planned Parenthood Federation of America convened a conference on abortion. Planning began in 1954, when a PPFA Steering Committee solicited "broad representation from medical, legal, social, demographic, and other fields..." Participants included Milton Helpern, then Chief Medical Examiner of New York City; sex researcher Alfred C. Kinsey; former criminal abortionist G. Lotrell Timanus; and Planned Parenthood Medical Director Mary S. Calderone.

The conference was conceived as a follow-up to a 1942 conference on abortion held under the auspices of the National Committee on Maternal Health. The chairman of the 1942 conference, Dr. Howard C. Tyler, Jr., had summarized the procedings. Mary Calderone, editor of the proceedings of the 1955 conference, thought enough of Tyler's words to quote them extenisvely. I will quote them in brief:

    "The conslusions from this ... session seem to suggest that increased severity of the law, or attempts at its more universal enforcement, are not liable to produce much diminution in abortion frequency; that unless public opinion, perhaps medical opinion in particular, is solidified against the practice of abortion, little more can be done by the actual legal agencies.
    The physiolgy of pregnancy should certainly be a part of any high school course in biology and physiology. .... In this respect, I think it important to maintain and strengthen the concept that human life is sacred, even many months before birth."

Calderone lamented, "Perhaps because of the war, perhaps because the published proceedings were not read by enough persons, this important conference failed to bring about any action designated to alleviate the problem it had so clearly delineated."

So participants were rounded up. The conference was held for a weekend in April, for three six-hour sessions. Two months later, most of the participants reconvened for a full day. Committees were then assigned the task of reviewing the six hundred pages of conference transcript and winnowing them down to roughly two hundred pages. The Editorial Committee weeded out introductions, asides, repetition, and so forth, then grouped the remaining sections of transcript into themes. A Statement Committee then drafted a final conference statement signed by most of the participants.

This feature will be broken down according to the published papers of the conference:

Abortion in the Scandinavian Countries: Norway
Abortion in the Scandinavian Countries: Denmark
Abortion in the Scandinavian Countries: Sweden
Legal Aspects of Abortion in the United States
Illegal Abortion in the United States
Listing of Participants

We will look at the conference findings, opinions, and recommendations. We will also examine to what extent these impacted abortion advocacy groups and efforts in the United States, and consider what alternatives to legalization might have been implemented.

 More on the 1955 Planned Parenthood Abortion Conference
• Listing of Participants
• Abortion in the Scandinavian Countries
• Legal Aspects of Abortion in the United States
• Illegal Abortion in the United States

 Abortion Deaths Before Roe
• Illegal Abortions by Amateurs
• Illegal Abortions by Paramedical People
• Illegal Abortions by Physicians
• Pre-Roe Legal Abortion Deaths
• California Saline Abortion Deaths, 1972
• New York Saline Abortion Deaths, 1970-1972

 Explore This Site
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• Glimpse Into Abortion's Past
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• The Bad Old Days of Abortion
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