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Colonies, condoms and corsets : fertility regulation in Australia and Canada Falconer, Louise Morag

Abstract

This thesis investigates Australian and Canadian legislation that regulated women's reproduction in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century and offers some explanation for their enactment. At the turn of the twentieth century, Australia and Canada enacted a series of laws that were aimed at limiting the control women could exercise over their reproductive functions. From the 1880s through to the first decade of the twentieth century, legislation that prohibited the advertisement of contraception, regulated maternity homes as well as criminal laws that proscribed abortion were promulgated by Australian and Canadian parliaments. This thesis investigates why such legislative activity occurred and proposes that the initiation of these measures targeting abortion, infanticide and birth control cannot be disassociated from the highly gendered and racialised rhetoric resonating throughout the British Empire. Concern about racial integrity, heightened by a fear generated by the declining birth rate, promoted a climate in which exercising control over women's fertility was seen as warranted. White women's reproductive capabilities were a vital ingredient in keeping the settler colonies of Australia and Canada white and British — white women were expected, quite literally, to give birth to the nation. As this thesis shows, when women did not adhere to these expectations of maternity, the law was used in an attempt to monitor and regulate their reproductive activities.

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