Rabbit Pregnancy Test: A Controversial Chapter in the History of Pregnancy Testing

TL:DR: Early pregnancy test injected woman's urine into a rabbit; changes in ovaries indicated pregnancy.

In the early 20th century, a peculiar method known as the “rabbit test” emerged as a way to determine if a woman was pregnant.

This test, which involved injecting a woman’s urine into a female rabbit, played a significant role in the history of pregnancy testing.

Despite its controversial nature, the rabbit test paved the way for the development of more accurate and humane methods of detecting pregnancy.

History of Pregnancy Testing

Throughout history, various methods have been used to detect pregnancy, ranging from ancient Egyptian practices of watering bags of wheat and barley with a woman’s urine to observing physical changes in a woman’s body.

However, it wasn’t until the early 20th century that more scientific approaches to pregnancy testing began to emerge.

One such method was the Aschheim-Zondek test, which involved injecting a woman’s urine into immature female mice or rats and examining their ovaries for changes.

The Rabbit Test

In 1927, Maurice Friedman and Maxwell Edward Lapham discovered that injecting a pregnant woman’s urine into a female rabbit could induce changes in the rabbit’s ovaries.

This finding led to the development of the rabbit test, which became widely used in the 1930s and 1940s.

The test involved injecting a woman’s urine into the ovaries of a female rabbit and then examining the rabbit’s ovaries 48 hours later.

If the rabbit’s ovaries showed characteristic changes, such as the presence of corpora lutea, it indicated that the woman was pregnant.

While the rabbit test was considered a significant advancement in pregnancy testing at the time, it had its limitations.

The test was not always accurate, with false positive and false negative results occurring in some cases.

Additionally, the test required a significant amount of urine, making it impractical for widespread use.

Animal Welfare Concerns

A rabbit sits next to modern pregnancy tests, symbolizing their cultural impact

The use of animals in the rabbit test sparked controversy and raised concerns about animal welfare.

The test required the sacrifice of the rabbit, as the ovaries needed to be examined post-mortem.

Animal rights activists and the general public began to question the ethics of using animals for pregnancy testing, leading to a search for more humane alternatives.

Advancements in Pregnancy Testing

As public opinion shifted against the use of animals in pregnancy testing, researchers sought to develop new methods that were more accurate and did not require animal sacrifice.

One such method was the frog test, which involved injecting a woman’s urine into a male frog and observing the production of sperm.

However, this test also faced criticism due to the use of animals.

A significant breakthrough came with the development of immunological pregnancy tests, which detected the presence of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) in a woman’s urine.

These tests, such as the hemagglutination inhibition test and the radioimmunoassay, were more accurate and did not require the use of animals.

The invention of home pregnancy tests in the 1970s further revolutionized pregnancy testing, allowing women to determine their pregnancy status in the privacy of their own homes.