Chapter 2: Health and heredity: abortion reform in Sweden in the 1930s and 1940s
Restricted access

From 1938, a Swedish woman could apply for abortion on medical, eugenic and humanitarian grounds. In 1946, socio-medical grounds were added to the law. Centers with counselors, gynecologists and psychiatrists were established where women could apply for abortion, and the decisions were made by the National Board of Health or by two doctors in collaboration. Demands for a legalization of abortion had been put forward by feminist physicians, sex reform groups and by the left in the parliament since the 1920´s. In 1932, the Social Democratic Party took power and laid the foundations for the welfare state. Social reforms, including reforms on sexuality, reproduction and women´s health, were placed on the agenda. In the article, the broad debate that paved the way for the abortion law in 1938 and its supplementation in 1946, is analyzed, and three themes are highlighted. First, abortion as a social issue. Several leftist physicians, sex reformers and feminists demanded that abortion on social grounds should be part of the law, but social grounds were never included. Instead, social conditions were to be improved according to decision makers. Second, the high number of illegal abortions. The many illegal abortions were widely discussed and a problem that had to be dealt with, for example by a limited legalization. Third, eugenics. In Sweden, the belief in eugenics was spread in the first part of the 20th century and crucial for the introduction of the sterilization law in 1935. In the 1938 abortion law, abortion on eugenic grounds was legalized, and what is striking is the lack of discussion or controversy. While several doctors, politicians and priests argued strongly against women´s access to abortion, abortion on eugenic grounds were seldom seen as unethical.

You are not authenticated to view the full text of this chapter or article.

Access options

Get access to the full article by using one of the access options below.

Other access options

Redeem Token

Institutional Login

Log in with Open Athens, Shibboleth, or your institutional credentials

Login via Institutional Access

Personal login

Log in with your Elgar Online account

Login with your Elgar account
Edited by
Handbook