The Politics of Life—and Politics

“If a woman of her own accord drops that which is in her,

they shall crucify her and not bury her.”

The Assyrian Code, c. 2000 B.C.

Ancient history is worth keeping in mind when confronting the claims of the pro- and anti-abortion and euthanasia camps, since both tend to couch their arguments in terms of abstract universal human rights, rather than appeal to tradition, faith, and history.

The Greeks and Romans, who believed that a father should decide whether to admit a newborn child into his family, were not “pro-choice,” any more than Jews and Christians were “pro-life.”  Nothing like individual rights, one way or the other, entered the picture.  Nor was infant exposure—thinkers such as Epictetus notwithstanding—primarily a philosophical question.  The practice, or the abhorrence of it, derived from ancient tradition and was but one facet of a larger way of life.

What was true of infanticide was broadly true of ancient opinion about abortion and suicide as well.  The Hippocratic Oath, with its injunctions against physicians assisting in suicide or providing a pessary or other means of abortion, did not reflect the prevailing ethos.  In Roe v. Wade,...

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