The young woman grimaces as another contraction tightens her swollen abdomen. Groaning with exertion, she pushes. The pain is distracting, but it fails to keep her from agonizing over the question that’s been on her mind ever since she realized she was pregnant.
Is my baby a boy or a girl?
It is not idle curiosity that keeps the young mother’s mind obsessed with the question. No, it is the knowledge that if she has a boy, her husband will be thrilled—but if she has a girl, his command is that their little daughter be exposed to the elements and left to die.
As a Roman wife in the first century, she has to obey or risk her husband’s ire—in which case he may put her to death, too.
Infanticide was not only legal in ancient Rome, but commonly practiced. The paterfamilias, or male head of the household, had absolute control over his family and household, including the power of life and death.
Since women in general were not held in high esteem, neither was marriage.
Sexual relations outside of marriage were common, and so were extramarital pregnancies.
This meant a high rate of abortions in addition to infanticide—and at that time, abortion was most often a man’s decision, not a woman’s.
One method was the ingestion of slightly less than lethal doses of poison in an effort to cause a miscarriage. Another was to introduce poison into the uterus, followed by the use of sharp instruments to take out the fetus if the poison didn’t work (keeping in mind bacteria was not understood in those days).
Needless to say, abortion was very dangerous, definitely for the baby and almost always for the woman as well. (This is how the Emperor Domitian’s niece died; he got her pregnant and then forced her to have an abortion.)
Ancient Rome was a cruel and gruesome world, especially for women, girls and preborn babies—but that cruelty served as a dark backdrop against which Christian compassion shone brightly.
From the start, Christians elevated the status of women and of marriage and decried both abortion and infanticide as murder. They not only forbade such practices in their own communities, but they began taking in infants who had been abandoned, adopting them and raising them as their own.
The compassion shown by early Christians was not limited to preborn and newborn babies. Christians also nursed the sick people around them when epidemics swept through their communities, even though this placed their own lives at risk.
The over-arching ethic of our predecessors in the faith was that God created human beings in His image and that every person—male or female, slave or free, Jew or Gentile, preborn or elderly, healthy or sick—all deserve honor, dignity and protection (Galatians 3:28).
Secular culture didn’t know what to make of these “crazy” Christians and opposed their activities.
Why would they bother rescuing babies who were female or sickly and whom no one else wanted? Why would they risk their lives to nurse others to health? Why, in fact, would they willingly die by the savage mauling of wild beasts while an amphitheater full of pagan onlookers cheered?
Those early Christians saw beyond this life, and their values matched their vision.
Fast forward to today.
Thankfully, the world is a more equitable place for women, at least in many nations. However, we’re still inconsistent in our ethics and our understanding of human rights.
It’s been said that power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Whenever one people group is given power over other people groups, the resulting imbalance allows for the inhumane treatment of others.
In ancient Rome, males held all the power and wielded it without accountability.
Those under their power suffered—wives, children, slaves, mistresses.
We should celebrate the fact that today, many women are finally receiving the rights they deserve as human beings.
However, when we include abortion as part of women’s rights, we’re guilty of employing a double standard.
Here’s the thing: preborn people are no less a legitimate people group than wives or slaves were in ancient Rome.
Abortion advocates know this.
Their argument is no longer “it’s just a blob of tissue,” because ultrasound technology and science tell us otherwise. Now that we know it’s a life, the new argument is that the preborn person represents “a life worth sacrificing.”
That sounds almost noble—but who decides this sacrifice should be made? Is it the person being sacrificed?
Is the unborn baby who is about to be aborted similar to a martyr going bravely into the arena to be burned at the stake or torn to ribbons by lions?
I think not.
Here we see how the word “choice” has been hijacked. The life which is deemed “worth sacrificing” is the child’s life—yet the child has no choice.
Tweet This: The word “choice” has been hijacked. The life which is deemed “worth sacrificing” is the child’s life—yet the child has no choice.
It’s easy for us to see how unjust and evil it was for men in ancient Rome to discard their baby daughters or force their mistresses to undergo deadly abortions.
It’s not so easy for abortion advocates to acknowledge the hypocrisy of their position as they follow the same twisted ethic: It’s okay to use your power to dispose of others for your own convenience
History offers hindsight on the ugliness of power used selfishly.
Are we willing to apply its lessons today?