The Midwife, the Surgeon, and the Lawyer: The Intersections of Obstetrics and Law to 1800


ACLS Fellowship Program




This project studies the intersections of obstetrical knowledge and practice with legal concerns from Roman times up to ca. 1800, both in Europe and in those non-western areas subject to Roman legal traditions under colonial rule. Female midwives were accorded a special role under Roman law of “inspecting the belly” in cases where a divorced or widowed woman was suspected of being pregnant. Similarly, there existed legal dictates about intervening surgically to extract a living fetus from its dead mother's womb. Exploring how “expertise” was varyingly defined in legal, medical, and social terms, this study examines how law and medicine interacted both to produce knowledge of the female body and to forge midwives’ and surgeons’ claims to expertise.