Guest / Limited Access /

Ours is not the first abortion war. Two previous periods saw protracted contests over whether abortion would be accepted or proscribed.

The first was in the early centuries of Christianity, when faith spread within a Greco-Roman culture that considered abortion (and infanticide) routine. The second was in America during the mid-nineteenth century when abortions became widespread, freely advertised in virtually every newspaper.

The third abortion war is now approximately [30] years old and shows no sign of peace. Living in a battle zone, we can easily focus on the tactics of the moment and forget the wider context. The danger in forgetting is that when the situation suddenly shifts, as it did in 1973 with Roe v. Wade and in 1989's Webster decision, we get thrown off. Suddenly the tactics we had honed become irrelevant, and the goals we had set are outdated.

The first war


People commonly suppose that abortion is an invention of modern, technological medicine. In fact, it was well known in Greco-Roman society. Plato's Republic made abortion or infanticide obligatory if the mother was over 40. In Aristotle's ideal society, abortion would be compulsory for families that exceeded a certain size.

Aristotle also made a distinction that would develop a life of its own: the "formed" versus the "unformed" fetus. Aristotle believed that human life was present in the fetus when distinct organs were formed, 40 days after conception for males and 90 for females. This was a metaphysical, not a moral, distinction; Aristotle would abort both "formed" and "unformed" fetuses. But some Christians—Augustine of Hippo and Thomas Aquinas in particular—would later adopt his distinction. It survived in various forms right down to the arbitrary trimesters ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Read These NextSee Our Latest
RecommendedI Know Why the Government Went after Pro-Life Investigative Journalists
I Know Why the Government Went after Pro-Life Investigative Journalists
For those determined to speak out according to our deeply held beliefs, the price tag is becoming increasingly steep.
TrendingWhat to Give Up for Lent 2016? Consider Twitter's Top Ideas
What to Give Up for Lent 2016? Consider Twitter's Top Ideas
(UPDATED) Charting how Lenten abstinence has changed over time, as 2016 data comes in.
Editor's PickGod's Place in Black History
God's Place in Black History
Looking to the past provides direction for the current fight for justice.
Christianity Today
The Abortion Wars
hide thisAccess The Archives

In the Archives

January 2003

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.