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Pot of abortifacient pills, England, 1941

Before legal abortions, abortifacient pills induced a miscarriage during an unwanted pregnancy. Similar pills, often under a variety of names, had been available to women over the centuries. However, they usually had to be obtained in indirect ways such as word of mouth or via discreet advertisements. This small pot contains approximately 20 round brown and white abortifacient pills. It was found with an envelope addressed to Mr Carmichael Stopes. This presumably relates to (Mrs) Marie Carmichael Stopes, the pioneering advocate of birth control. Abortion was still effectively illegal during the 1940s. The Infant Life Preservation Act of 1929 stated an abortion could be carried out only if the mother’s life was in danger. This was amended by The Abortion Act of 1967. This did not legalise abortion, but widened criteria by which the practice was legally acceptable.

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