The Rabbit Test: Dying to Know if You're Pregnant? They Used to...
Did you know that doctors used to test for pregnancy by killing a rabbit, mouse, or other small animal? From the late 1920s through the early 1960s, pregnancy tests involved injecting a woman's urine into the ovaries of a small animal. Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), a hormone that concentrates in the urine of pregnant women, causes the ovaries of some animals to become deformed. So by cutting open an injected animal and looking at her ovaries, scientists could tell if the woman supplying the urine was pregnant.
Rabbits were so commonly used that pregnancy tests generally became known as rabbit tests, and "the rabbit died" meant that someone was pregnant - although the rabbit was killed in either case. It was mistakenly believed that the rabbit only died if the test was positive. This idea even made its way into Aerosmith's classic rock song "Sweet Emotion" in which Steven Tyler declares, "You can't catch me, 'cause the rabbit done died."
The rabbit test wasn't just cruel, it was bad science. It took 48 hours, and it was expensive and inexact. Sometimes multiple animals had to lose their lives if the test was inconclusive.
That's why the archaic animal test was replaced by in vitro tests like the ones used in modern-day home pregnancy tests (first developed in the late 40s). These tests identify the same hormone, hCG, but they do so with a simple chemical that changes color in the presence of hCG. This convenient test can be performed in privacy, in minutes, using an over-the-counter device that costs only a couple of dollars - and no animals are used. Women would be far better off if all animal tests went the way of the rabbit test.
Read "The Problem With Using Animals to Study Pregnancy" for more information.