NL 2004/06

‚Foetal abortion using toxins and other means‘ by Louis Lewin (1850 –1929), ‚apparatus for women’s protection’, or ‚Powder Blowers‘, F.E. Bilz (1900), Dalkon Shield





Dear friends of the planned Museum for Contraception and Abortion,


An interesting book in our collection is "Foetal abortion using toxins and other means" written by Louis Lewin (1850 -1929). Lewin is recognised as the founder of modern research into narcotic drugs and tissue toxins. As a scientist he felt responsible for social issues as well. Subtitled "A handbook for physicians, jurisprudents, politicians and economists" this benchmark lists all known appropriate and inappropriate methods and substances for abortion – including pyrogallol, air embolism, aniline, carbolic acid, carbon disulphide, chalk, chloroform, dinitrocresol, electric current, guano, lead compounds, mercury, moulds, peritonitis, potassium cyanide, potassium permanganate, smallpox toxin, irritation of the breasts using cupping, x-rays and constriction. In addition this book takes a look at philosophical, economic, social and ethical aspects of abortion.

Thus in a very modern way Lewin discusses the question of whether or not professional secrecy has to be applied to forbidden interventions: "..you very rarely get absolute proof, which could be a basis for legal action. But even then it might not be used because from my point of view there is a commitment to maintain physicians' secrecy."

We have to thank Lewin giving us some estimates of the frequency of abortions: "Civilised countries do not differ a lot. No one is entitled to claim to be more moral than any other." He even took the trouble to analyse crime statistics. Between 1880 and 1913 for Austria the trend was increasing and there were no less than 2790 defendants about which Lewin commented as follows: ".. the numbers mentioned ... show nothing other than the more or less skillful way in which foetal abortion is concealed in the countries listed."


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Thanks to our diligent collecting we have been able to get hold of a few examples of so called "apparatus for women’s protection", known in English speaking countries as “Powder Blowers”. These widely used contraception devices consist of 2 parts: a rubber bulb containing the 'purifying powder’ attached to a hollow cylinder with a marking. The cylinder had to be inserted into the vagina up to the mark, then one had to pump the bulb once or twice "in order to catapult the necessary amount of powder against the opening of uterus. After this one could remove the device and set it aside."

The powder used consisted of "50 parts boric acid, 2.5 parts citric acid, 2.5 parts tannic acid, 10 parts gum arabic, 35 parts powder. Using this powder does not impair the pleasure nor does it contain any detrimental ingredients.

Having been prepared in this way the vagina is protected for 30 minutes against impregnation. In case performance of the marital duty is delayed, this procedure should be repeated to ensure absolute safety." (Quotation from ‘The new naturopathic treatment - a textbook and reference book of natural treatment and healthcare' published by F.E. Bilz in the 73rd (!) edition dated approximately 1900).

Even for us it's not that easy to stay serious when reading such explanations. But it is quite important to show how people were guided by imagination and desperation to try virtually every possible way in order to limit the number of their children.


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The enormous variety of coils or IUDs (intra uterine devices) that have been devised over time is very surprising. Consider the sad a fate of the ‘Dalkon Shield' which will be on display in our museum. Its shape resembles a round bug or fish with one large eye and five legs on each side. Since removing it needed some force it had a unique tail which was not a single filament like all other coils, but many fibres wound together and enclosed in a sheath. This detail was responsible for frequent and very serious side effects as in the plaited thread bacteria could establish themselves. If a woman became pregnant despite using a Dalkon Shield these bacteria could migrate into the uterus and cause serious infection. A few women even died. The Dalkon Shield had been marketed in great numbers since 1970 although initially only a few insuffucient studies existed. Due to these severe side effects many women sued the company which went bankrupt soon after.

The confidence of American consumers and gynaecologists in coils (IUDs) was damaged for decades. Until recently even new and trustworthy coils were not much used in the USA, in contrast with other parts of the world where IUDs play an important role in family planning.


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With a number of interesting new objects having already been donated, we are still happy to receive any objects for the planned Museum for Contraception and Abortion, such as films, posters, leaflets, books, documents, statistics, devices and instruments for contraception, for pregnancy-testing and for abortion - from past and present times, from locally and elsewhere.

You can also support us by sponsoring the purchase of objects which otherwise we would not be able to afford.

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