Criminalizing Abortion before Roe

Understanding the California Experience, 1920-1969

Criminalizing Abortion before Roe: 
Understanding the California Experience, 1920-1969

Dr. Alicia Gutierrez-Romine | California State University, San Bernardino

Thursday, March 21, 2024 | 6:00 pm
Brazos Hall and Online via Zoom

Registration Required

Pushing Women from the Back Alley to the Border

Pregnancy and childbirth are near-universal experiences, that often involve many aspects of romantic endeavours, household making, employment, career support, physicians, medical insurance and life trajectories.  Professor Alicia Gutierrez-Romine tracks how the political decision to make abortion illegal in California in 1920 shaped the experiences of women, physicians, prosecutors and communities through 1969.  

Her book, From Back Alley to the border, examines the history of criminal abortion in California and the role abortion providers played in exposing and exploiting the faults in California’s anti-abortion statute throughout the twentieth century. Focused on the patients who used this underground network and the physicians who facilitated it, Gutierrez-Romine provides insight into the world of illegal abortion from the 1920s through the 1960s, including regular physicians as well as women and African American abortionists, and the investigations, scandals, and trials that surrounded them. 

During the 1930s the Pacific Coast Abortion Ring, a large, coast-wide, and comparatively safe abortion syndicate, became the target of law enforcement agencies, forcing those needing abortions across the border into Mexico and ushering in an era of Tijuana “abortion tourism” in the early 1950s. The movement south of the border ultimately compelled the California Supreme Court to rule its abortion statute “void for vagueness” in People v. Belous in 1969—four years before Roe v. Wade.

This is the first book focused on abortion on the West Coast and the U.S.-Mexico border and provides a new approach to studying how providers of illegal abortions and their clients navigated this underground network. In the post-Dobbs moment, From Back Alley to the Border shows us how little we have learned from history.

Alicia Gutierrez-Romine

Born and raised in the Inland Empire, Dr. Gutierrez-Romine earned her BA in history from CSUSB in 2010 and her Ph.D. in history from the University of Southern California in 2016. Her book From Back Alley to the Border: Criminal Abortion in California, 1920-1969 (University of Nebraska Press, 2020, rev. 2023) explores the history of criminal abortion and abortion legislation in California before Roe v. Wade. Gutierrez-Romine’s work has also been published in Beyond the Borders of the Law: Critical Legal Histories of the North American West (University Press of Kansas, 2018), in California History, and the Southern California Quarterly. She was awarded the American Historical Association’s Littleton-Griswold Grant in 2020 and the Huntington Library's Mayers Short Term Fellowship in 2022. She has been featured on C-SPAN, the Science Channel, in the Los Angeles Times, The Economist, and The New Yorker, among others. Her research and abortion scholarship also resulted in Governor Gavin Newsom posthumously pardoning Laura Miner, a 1940s San Diego abortion provider. Her current project explores intersections of race and professional medicine in Southern California and the borderlands.

Before Dr. Gutierrez-Romine joined the faculty at CSUSB, she was an associate professor of history at La Sierra University.