Probably the most active agent in promoting the wicked practices of abortion and infanticide in the United States, as well as England, is the obloquy, notwithstanding the sexual excesses of both countries, which attaches to such violations of the laws of chastity on the woman's part. It is no crime on the part of a man to commit adultery, to seduce a virgin, or keep a mistress, so long as the act is shrouded with a becoming secrecy; if found out, it may be mildly disapproved of, but woe betide the woman who makes a misstep!
Acts which, in France, Italy, Russia, or other portions of the Continent, would imply neither total subversion of the moral sense, nor any general emotion of deep popular reprehension, are, in England and the United States, followed in a great majority of cases by social ruin. Thus, in the endeavor to hide sins which in themselves ought neither to be hopelessly vicious, nor irrevocably fatal, being simply the temporary triumph of man's temptation, and a natural instinct on the woman's part, over social conventions, infanticide and abortion are multiplied, and thousands and thousands of pure-minded, yes, easily savable young girls, are hurled annually into the abyss of prostitution.1
Indeed it would not be hard to show that it is by no means the naturally worst female element that falls before temptation; this ruin, in most cases, being quite as much due to ardor of affection, and vivacity of mind, as to inherent vicious propensities.
The question of the criminality of abortion has also been largely affected by the diverse views, and physiological speculations, of medical writers themselves, as to the precise period in intra-uterme existence at which the fœtus takes on the nature, and consequently the rights, of a separate being.
The ancient idea was that the child was a part of the mother; and that she had the same right to destroy it as to amputate a ringer or excise a tumor from her body.
As I have already remarked, both Plato and Aristotle admitted, and even sanctioned, the practice of abortion; and the laws of Rome contained, so far as I have been able to ascertain, no enactment against voluntary foeticide prior, at least, to the time of Ulpian.
The Stoic philosophers believed that the soul of the infant was received with its first respiration; and the Justinian Code fixed, arbitrarily, the period of the beginning of animation at forty days after conception; while the more rational modem doctrine, of course, is that the infant is a distinct living organism from the very moment the ovum is fecundated*
1 Miss Mulock, in her admirable little book, "A Woman's Thoughts About Women," p. 229, tt acq., calls attention to the fact that the experience of female Sunday-school teachers is that the girl-pupils seduced are, almost always, "the very best; refined, intelligent, truthful and affectionate."
' Educated readers, who feel an interest in pursuing this inquiry, will find a very curious and complete history of the speculations of the ancients on the "soul-birth" in Plutarch's treatise, " De Placitis Philos," and on abortion and infanticide in the works of Darwin, Lubbock (" Prehistoric Times") and Spencer; particularly, for exact bibliographical reference, the reader is referred to the able treatise of Gerland, " Ueber det Aussterben der Naturvciiker," a recent translation of which has appeared in this country.