Would Aristotle support abortion

Abortion in ancient times


The ancient Egyptian Ebers papyrus, around 1600 BC, provides the first indications of the prevalence of abortion in the early civilizations. He describes means by which "the woman empties what has been received in the first, second or third period of time". For this purpose, various herbal drinks, but also vaginal injections and vaginal balls are given.


Although fertility was a valuable asset in ancient Greece - especially when it led to a male heir - large families were not always seen as a social and population ideal. Above all, Plato and Aristotle postulated that the state should neither be too big nor too small. Aristotle saw early abortion as a suitable means of maintaining a constant population. Plato advised women to “ideally see to it that the fruit, when it is produced, does not see the light at all, provided that it cannot be prevented from holding it as if there was no food for it”. The Greek polis gave the unborn child neither rights to life nor a soul.

Most abortions were performed by midwives rather than doctors. Hippocrates recommends three categories of different drugs for abortion:
- The internal remedies, such as laxatives and emetics.
- Means that put pressure directly on the uterus, such as pessaries soaked with sharp substances.
- Mechanical effects from pressing the body (carrying heavy loads) or shaking the body (jumping and hopping).
A step-by-step approach should guarantee the desired success. The first group should weaken the embryo, the second open the uterus, and the third lead to the discharge of the fruit.

Contrary to popular belief, the Hippocratic Oath by no means contains an absolute ban on abortion. He writes: “I will never, even if asked, administer a lethal poison or even give advice on it; Likewise, I will never give a woman an abortion suppository. ”Recent research shows that the use of a specific active ingredient in a certain application form is not recommended here. It is not a general ban on the administration of abortion drugs.


The attitude of the Romans was similar to that of the Greeks: Offspring were welcome as long as they secured their inheritance and retirement provisions. A larger number of children, however, was seen as a threat to their existence.
In connection with children, societal problems were also discussed: Raising children prevents members of the upper class from having feasts and invitations to the theater. Women worry about their beauty or have to cover it up when the child emerges from an extramarital relationship.
The lower class takes care of sufficient nutrition for a larger family. Prostitutes worry about their ability to work.

In Rome, too, a fetus had neither the right to life nor a soul, but was viewed as part of the mother's body. You can read about this: “Before it is born, the womb is part of the woman or the intestines” and “It is said that a womb that was not yet born was not a real person”. According to evidence, it can be assumed that abortions mostly took place between the third and seventh month.

The Roman doctors already had a very differentiated and extensive knowledge with which they could meet the great demand for means and methods of abortion. Presumably over two hundred abortions were known, of which about 90 percent were quite effective. Doctors such as Dioscurides or Soranus of Ephesus gave in their writings the exact names of the medicines that could be used for an abortion.

So-called expectorants led to uterine bleeding and uterine contractions. They included, among others, Nießwurz and Bibergeil. Other drugs that contained essential oils or bitter substances were thought to cause stillbirth. Appropriate preparations were made before taking it: starvation diets and bloodletting should weaken the body. Douches and baths should specifically irritate the vaginal mucosa.

Based on: Robert Jütte 'History of Abortion. From antiquity to the present'

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