Abortions in the Greek World (5th C BC)

By: The Scribe on Friday, March 23, 2007

Ancient Greek AbortionHippocrates, a doctor in ancient Greece who has often been referred to as “the father of medicine”, after his death left a great deal of writings concerning women’s health, including the procedures and complications arising from an unwanted pregnancy.

Abortion in ancient Greece was not common, simply for the fact that it was highly unlikely that the mother would survive the abortive procedure – it is estimated that about one in ten women would live through an abortion. Indeed, speculation on the methods of abortion are numerous: pressure on the woman’s stomach, riding in a cart on bumpy roads, herbal supplements, or the most dangerous method – inserting a sharp knife or rod into the womb, killing the baby immediately.

Although infanticide was technically legal, a more acceptable recourse was to simply expose the baby at birth. Exposure was more common for female children; the child would generally be wrapped up and placed somewhere outside of the city, perhaps in a field or even in a back alley. Though this would typically result in the child’s death through exposure to the elements, anyone who found an exposed child was permitted to keep it and raise it as their own, though in many cases these children would be raised as slaves. Of course, there was always the option of making some money off the birth – even a noble-born child could be sold into slavery at any time.

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