Disciplining the Aborting Woman: Social Work and Changing Discourses of Race, Class and Reproduction in 1950s Australia
In this article Barbara Baird examines in detail a report on women suffering post-abortion complications who were admitted to a large public hospital in Australia in 1956. The 1950s were a period of massive population growth in Australia, fuelled significantly by migration, when the whiteness of an Anglo-dominated population and culture was put under stress by non-Anglo European migrants and by new discourses of racial assimilation. Examination of the report, written by a member of the hospital’s social work department, enables consideration of the place of women having abortions in the changing social and discursive environments of post-war Australia. Baird reads the report as an early sign of an increase in the surveillance and regulation of women having abortions in a period when reform of the criminal law relating to abortion was still a decade away. She argues that understanding the logic of the report depends on consideration of the racialised meanings of changing discourses of reproduction and femininity.