1959 May 21

American Law Institute Proposes Abortion Law Reform


The American Law Institute (ALI), a prestigious organization of American lawyers founded in 1923, devoted to the reform of American law, on this day released the First Draft of its Model Penal Code, which was the first authoritative recommendation by any group to liberalize American criminal abortion laws.

The ALI has developed model legal codes that can be adopted by the states. The institute began working on a Model Penal Code, a reform of the criminal law, in 1951. After reviewing the medical and legal literature, the ALI recommended liberalizing existing state criminal abortion laws to permit abortions in licensed hospitals in cases of rape or incest, physical abnormality, and for the physical or mental health of the mother.

The Model Penal Code recommendation was the first call for abortion law reform by a prestigious national group, and it had a major influence on public thinking about abortion. The First Draft released on this day was still a tentative draft; the final version of the entire Model Penal Code was issued in 1962.

Colorado passed the first state abortion reform law on April 25, 1967; California followed suit on June 15, 1967; and New York passed the most liberal abortion law on April 11, 1970. The Supreme Court declared existing state criminal abortion laws unconstitutional in Roe v. Wade on January 22, 1973.

The Model Penal Code had important influences in other areas of the law. Illinois, for example, abolished its sodomy statute with a new criminal code that went into effect on January 1, 1962.

Trace the development of the Model Penal Code: http://www.ali.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=publications.ppage&node_id=92

Follow a timeline on abortion rights: http://www.feminism101.com/timelineabortion.html

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