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October, 1994
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Although most societies highly value and nurture children, children in many societies may nonetheless be unwanted under certain conditions. Thus, decisions about parental investment, and social control of reproduction and pre- and perinatal survival are not solely a modern phenomenon. Many societies act to limit the incidence of pregnancy, birth and infant survival, and have done so for centuries. These societies have traditional means for controlling birth and for aborting unwanted pregnancies. Some even go to the extreme of killing newborn infants, which may be considered a type of extended abortion. This paper explores the range of conditions among the world's societies associated with such controls, and surveys some of the methods used to maintain control. Such methods include rituals, physical stress, herbal medicines, prescriptive taboos, and infanticide. Theoretical concerns are surveyed.


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Charles D. Laughlin, Ph.D.

Charles D. Laughlin, Ph.D., is a professor of anthropology in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario, CANADA K1S 5B6, Phone: (819) 459-1121. He is the co-author of Biogenetic Structuralism (1974), The Spectrum of Ritual (1979), Extinction and Survival in Human Populations (1978), Science As Cognitive Process (1984), and Brain, Symbol and Experience (1990). He is also a past editor of The Pre- and Perinatal Psychology Journal and is the current editor of The Anthropology of Consciousness. This paper was presented at the 6th International Congress of the Pre- and Perinatal Psychology Association of North America (PPPANA), July 29-August 1, 1993. The author wishes to thank Dr. Robbie Davis-Floyd and Dr. Wenda Trevathan for their comments and suggestions on an earlier draft of this paper. "Pre and Perinatal Anthropology," parts I and II, appeared in Pre- and Perinatal Psychology Journal - Volume 3, Number 4, and Volume 7, Number 1, respectively.