Legal Development of Abortion
This essay traces the development of abortion law in English and American society up to the time of Roe v. Wade in 1973. Beginning with Biblical citations, the essay researches the Early Church Fathers on the issue; the American colonies; developments of the 1800's which caused change, and so on.
Up to the time of the Protestant Reformation, the English society inherited its traditional anti-abortion law from the Church practice of 1500 years standing; which belief began even before Christianity as part of the Old Testament Jewish belief. The Old Testament tells us: "Death was not God's doing, he takes no pleasure in the extinction of the living" (Wis. 1:13). What is willed is life, and in the visible universe everything has been made for man, who is the image of God and the world's crowning glory (Gen. 1:26-28). In the Christian tradition, the Early Church Fathers taught in The Didache, perhaps the first Christian catechism from 70-90AD, the following in chapter 2, verses 1-2: "The second commandment of the teaching: You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not seduce boys. You shall not commit fornication. You shall not steal. You shall not practice magic. You shall not use potions. You shall not procure [an] abortion, nor destroy a newborn child." (Jurgens vol.1,p.2)
The colonies inherited English Common Law and largely operated under it until well into the 19th century. English Common Law forbade abortion. Abortion prior to quickening was a misdemeanor. Abortion after quickening (feeling life) was a felony. This bifid punishment, inherited from earlier ecclesiastic law, stemmed from earlier "knowledge" regarding human reproduction.
In the early 1800s it was discovered that human life did not begin when she "felt life," but rather at fertilization. As a direct result of this, the British Parliament in 1869 passed the "Offenses Against the Persons Act," eliminating the above bifid punishment and dropping the felony punishment back to fertilization. One by one, across the middle years of the 19th century, every then-present state passed its own law against abortion. By 1860, 85% of the population lived in states which had prohibited abortion with new laws. These laws, preceding and following the British example, moved the felony punishment from quickening back to conception. (Dellapenna) Abortionists, if convicted, were sent to jail for varying lengths of time. There is no record of any having been executed.
The definitive study of the question of whether women were punished contradicts Planned Parenthood's ads which have claimed: "If you had a miscarriage you could be prosecuted for murder." (Wash) Studying two hundred years of legal history, the American Center for Bioethics concluded: "No evidence was found to support the proposition that women were prosecuted for undergoing or soliciting abortions. The charge that spontaneous miscarriages...