Where Are My Children? (1916)

At the beginning of this movie, a doctor is convicted of making birth control information available to poor women.  At the end of the movie, another doctor is convicted for providing abortions, mostly for rich women.  At first, I couldn’t figure out why the rich women didn’t go to the other doctor to get advice on birth control instead.  But then I remembered that birth control in those days required complicity on the part of the husband (he had to use a condom, withdraw before reaching a climax, use the rhythm method, or engage in something other than vaginal sex), and the rich men in the movie all wanted children.  The rich women are presented as spoiled and pampered, women that didn’t want to be bothered raising children, and an abortion was something they could conceal from their husbands.  The title of the movie is the question a rich woman’s husband asks her when he finds out that she has been having abortions.  Poor husbands, on the other hand, would probably be willing to quit having children they can’t afford and thus would be glad to cooperate with their wives in using birth control.

There is also a theme of eugenics underlying this movie.  Rich women, being superior, have an obligation not just to their husbands, but also to society, to produce superior children, depicted as little angels just waiting to be born.  Poor women, on the other hand, are inferior, and for them, it would be better if they had access to birth control so that they would not have the inferior children that Heaven did not want them to have anyway.  (At least, I think that was the message.  In an old movie like this, it is hard to tell.)

Interestingly, the abortion doctor goes on trial when he botches an abortion on a young unmarried girl that is the daughter of a maid and not on one of those rich women.  Perhaps the movie’s message was that when rich married women have abortions, that is merely inappropriate; whereas when poor unmarried women allow themselves to be seduced, they must be punished for their sin.

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