It is no secret that American culture, especially during the mid-20th century, actively and aggressively worked to shame women regarding their sexuality, feminine health, and the circumstances surrounding their individual pregnancies. Amid the grimy surface layer of sexism, inequality, and persecution, though, was the even more sadistic combination of myth and reality that accompanied the “Friedman [pregnancy] test”, also known as the “rabbit test”.
“[American women] were, in essense, conditioned to feel amplified guilt about a sexist lie related to a situation for which they were already bearing an unfair proportion of the responsibility. That’s disgusting.”
The circumstances under which the use of the test came about involves a bit of animal cruelty, if only on a level that can be characterized as “predictable” for its time. An earlier procedure that included injecting female mice with the urine of women suspected of being in the early months of pregnancy had already proven to be a relatively accurate (98%) indicator. If the human woman from whom the urine was taken was indeed pregnant, the ovaries of the mouse would enlarge, and some ovarian follicles would mature.
The Friedman test used essentially the same procedure and yielded similar results, but it required the use of female rabbits rather than female mice. Due to the limitations of medicine and technology, as well as the attitudes of the time, the injected female rabbit was dissected in each instance of testing in order to examine its ovaries.
In hindsight, the death of the rabbits may seem needlessly cruel, even if we consider the urine injection and ovary examination to be the best indicators available at the time. Afterall, the inspection of ovaries does not have to involve lethal dissection. Still, while we may debate the ethics of animal cruelty versus the modus operendi of the day, it’s the manner in which this procedure was weaponized against young human women that is perhaps more disturbing.