From Back Alley to the Border


From Back Alley to the Border

Criminal Abortion in California, 1920-1969

Alicia Gutierrez-Romine
With a new afterword by the author

276 pages
6 photographs, 3 tables, 1 graph, index


November 2023


$30.00 Add to Cart

November 2020


$55.00 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

November 2020


$30.00 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

November 2020


$30.00 Add to Cart

About the Book

In From Back Alley to the Border, Alicia Gutierrez-Romine examines the history of criminal abortion in California and the role abortion providers played in exposing and exploiting the faults in California’s anti-abortion statute throughout the twentieth century. Focused on the patients who used this underground network and the physicians who facilitated it, Gutierrez-Romine provides insight into the world of illegal abortion from the 1920s through the 1960s, including regular physicians as well as women and African American abortionists, and the investigations, scandals, and trials that surrounded them.

During the 1930s the Pacific Coast Abortion Ring, a large, coast-wide, and comparatively safe abortion syndicate, became the target of law enforcement agencies, forcing those needing abortions across the border into Mexico and ushering in an era of Tijuana “abortion tourism” in the early 1950s. The movement south of the border ultimately compelled the California Supreme Court to rule its abortion statute “void for vagueness” in People v. Belous in 1969—four years before Roe v. Wade.

Gutierrez-Romine presents the first book focused on abortion on the West Coast and the U.S.-Mexico border and provides a new approach to studying how providers of illegal abortions and their clients navigated this underground network. In the post-Dobbs moment, this paperback edition of From Back Alley to the Border features a new afterword by the author and shows us how little we have learned from history. 

Author Bio

Alicia Gutierrez-Romine is an associate professor of history at California State University, San Bernardino. 


"[From Back Alley to the Border] effectively challenges readers to consider how legal and social frameworks come together to constrict people's reproductive autonomy both in the past and in the present."—Natalie Lira, California History

“In this first history about the underground abortion network in the west, Alicia Gutierrez-Romine explores abortion providers and those who sought them during the anti-abortion statute era in California. Well-researched and accessible, this volume illustrates how the past truly informs the future.”—Karla Strand, Ms. Magazine

“Gutierrez-Romine’s story of the [Pacific Coast Abortion Ring] offers fascinating insight into an elaborate crime syndicate that also provided women with an essential medical procedure.”—Jennifer L. Holland, Pacific Historical Review

"Well-written and accessible to students, this book bears ample witness to the fact that although access to abortion (legal or illegal) can change drastically through time, the desperate need for the service does not."—A. H. Koblitz, Choice

“Gutierrez-Romine’s important book on illegal abortion reminds us that those who have historically been labelled as ‘criminals’ cannot—and should not—be understood outside the context of the society and the circumstances in which they lived.”—Erin N. Bush, assistant professor of U.S. and digital history at the University of North Georgia

“Alicia Gutierrez-Romine skillfully walks the reader through the complicated world of criminal abortion and, in the process, reveals how racialized logics, changing family values, and evolving legal frameworks created the post–Roe v. Wade world we inherited. This transnational account offers rich historical context while insightfully illuminating dozens of fascinating individual stories of women’s choice—and lack thereof. From Back Alley to the Border is an urgent and eloquently argued contribution to contemporary debates about the value of life, family, and reproductive freedom.”—Suzanna Krivulskaya, assistant professor of history at California State University, San Marcos

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
List of Tables
1. From Back Alley: Butchers and the Underworld
2. Regular Physicians, Irregular Circumstances: Loopholes and Scandals
3. Inconceivable Blackness: Race, Medicine, and Contraception
4. “The Mid-Wife Type”: Wicked Women Abortionists
5. The Pacific Coast Abortion Ring: Organized Crime and Criminal Ambitions
6. After PCAR: Surveillance, Repression, and Restriction
7. To the Border: “Tijuana Abortions” and Legal Vagueness

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