Teenage pregnancy and motherhood peaked in the 1950s amid the postwar Baby Boom, when nearly 1 in 10 girls age 15 to 19 gave birth every year and nearly half of all new brides in the country were under age 20. That four-fifths of these were "legitimized" by often-short-lived marriages did not cover up the high rates of high schoolers' sex. Notions that the past was more moral— what one sociologist historian called "the myth of an abstinent past"—were belied by cold statistics of the time, which were much less complete than those tabulated by today's more sophisticated surveillance systems. Sociologist Phillips Cutright's 1972 study in Family Planning Perspectives found the mysterious disappearance of staggering numbers of pregnancies originally reported by physicians in the 1940s and 1950s, suggesting high abortion and other fetal loss rates.11
Did abortion's illegality prior to the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v Wade decision mean fewer abortions occurred? Not by the best analyses. An unusually graphic three-part article on "one of our most shocking social evils" appeared in the Saturday Evening Post in May and June of 1961, revealing that "every day, thousands of American women risk their lives to be rid of unwanted, unborn children." Author John Bartlow Martin's research cited public health authorities' estimates of 750,000 to 2 million illegal abortions in the United States every year, and teenagers figured prominently. "The choices open to a pregnant high-school girl are abortion, disgrace, or reluctant and often disastrous marriage," he stated. Many women seeking abortions "have suffered childhood deprivation, divorce, spontaneous miscarriage, severe emotional disturbance and other sociomedical traumas."12 These are not traits we associate with the 1950s. That ignoramuses today presenting themselves as "experts" can find publishers to issue books insisting that younger teens never had sex in the pre-1960s years remains a travesty.
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