Tuesday, February 28, 2012

On the history of abortion

From Robert M. Hardaway, Population, Law, and the Environment, 1994,
pp. 112-113:

Soranos of Ephesus ( A.D. 98-138), "the most learned of GrecoRoman
gynecologists," attributes to Hippocrates a writing in which
Hippocrates himself "told a girl how to accomplish an abortion by
jumping." 30

Aristotle proposed that a mother have an abortion if the state was
unable to accommodate the child. 25 However, he was one of the first
philosophers to make the distinction based on fetal movement (later
known as "quickening"), insisting that any abortion be conducted
before there is "sensation and life." 26 Plato also saw abortion as a
means of attaining an optimum population. 27


In any case, Soranos of Ephesus ( A.D. 98-138), "the most learned of
GrecoRoman gynecologists," attributes to Hippocrates a writing in
which Hippocrates himself "told a girl how to accomplish an abortion
by jumping." 30

Noonan, a noted abortion historian, has noted that "in the
Mediterranean world in which Christianity appeared, abortion was a
familiar art." 31 Soranos set forth in a treatise of the day the most
common and familiar methods of abortion: "purging the abdomen with
clysters; walking about vigorously; carrying things beyond one's
strength; bathing in sweet water which is not too hot; bathing in
decoctions of linseed, mallow, and wormwood; applying poultices of the
same decoctions; injecting warm and sweet olive oil; being bled and
then shaken after softening by suppositories." 32 Given these other
less dangerous methods of abortion it is not surprising that
Hippocrates would forbid the use of "deadly drugs" or "pessaries" as a
means of inducing abortion.

By Medieval times, St. Thomas Aquinas had adopted the Aristotelian
notion of quickening. Aquinas "was clear that there was actual
homicide when an ensouled embryo was killed. He was equally clear that
ensoulment did not take place at conception," 33 and stated in
Politicorum that "seed and what is not seed is determined by sensation
and movement." 34

Martin Azplicueta, "the guide in moral questions of three Popes, and
the leading canonist of the 16th century," 35 was a consultant to the
Sacred Penitentiary, "the Roman Tribunal for deciding cases of
conscience submitted to confessors." 36 Historian Noonan has noted
that Azplicueta stated in Consilia that "the rule of the Penitentiary
was to treat a fetus over forty days as ensouled. Hence therapeutic
abortion was accepted in the case of a fetus under this age." 37

On October 29, 1588, however, Pope Sixtus V launched a campaign
against the prostitutes of Rome by issuing the bull Effraenatam that
declared abortion to be homicide regardless of the age of the fetus.
Punishment was to be excommunication, and only the Holy See could
grant absolution from the excommunication. 38 Though this appeared to
be plainly inconsistent with existing dogma, Sixtus, in a fit of pique
and in apparent exasperation with the Roman prostitutes, nevertheless
justified his precedent-breaking bull by rhetorically asking, "Who
would not punish such cruel lust with the most severe punishments?" 39
(Implied in the answer was that a prostitute, when faced with the
severe punishment of excommunication, would choose to carry an
unwanted child as a lesser form of punishment.)

Sixtus V's bull, issued in the heat of a campaign against Roman
prostitutes, and apparently based on the dubious assumption that an
unwanted child was God's retribution for lust, mercifully did not stay
in effect long. Only 2 years later, after Sixtus died, the new Pope
Gregory XIV, noting that "the hoped for fruit had not resulted,"
issued restrictions in 1591 on Effraenatum, "repeal [ing] all its
penalties except those applying to a fetus which had been ensouled."
40 Thus the dogma of Aquinas and Azplicueta was restored. 41

It was not until almost 300 years later, in 1869, that God revealed to
Pope Pius IX that St. Thomas Aquinas, Azplicueta, and Gregory XIV had
all been wrong, and that the abortion of any fetus, regardless of
quickening, was grounds for excommunication.