Foeticide, or Criminal Abortion:
A Lecture Introductory to the Course on Obstetrics and Disease of Women and Children

Dr. Hugh L. Hodge, University of Pennsylvania, 1869.

The history of almost every nation is blackened by the hideous, unnatural crime of infanticide.

You have all read of the horrible sacrifices of infants among barbarous nations, to appease or propitiate [sic] their idol gods.  You know that Greeks and Romans, with all their boasted wisdom and refinement, habitually exposed their infants to the most terrible deaths; that this crime is not forgotten in modem times; that among nations, deprived of the light of Christianity, the sacrifices and the wanton destruction of infants still prevail, whether we extend our view to Asia, Africa, or America, or the islands of the sea.

Criminal abortion is almost as prevalent.  Hippocrates, the father of medicine, alludes to the potions taken by wicked women, or administered by still more wicked and detestable men, to procure delivery.  The females of Rome have their depravity, in this respect, recorded on a monument, perennius cere, the Satires of Juvenal.

Would, gentlemen, that we could exonerate the moderns from guilt on this subject!  It is, however, a mournful fact, which ought to be promulgated, that this crime, this mode of committing murder, is prevalent among the most intelligent, refined, moral, and Christian communities.

We blush, while we record the fact, that in this country, in our cities and towns, in this city, where literature, science, morality, and Christianity are supposed to have so much influence; where all the domestic and social virtues are reported as being in full and delightful exercise; even here individuals, male and female, exist, who are continually imbruing their hands and consciences in the blood of unborn infants; yea, even medical men are to be found, who, for some trifling pecuniary recompense, will poison the fountains of life, or forcibly induce labor, to the certain destruction of the foetus, and not infrequently of its parent.

So low, gentlemen, is the moral sense of the community on this subject; so ignorant are the greater number of individuals, that even mothers, in many instances, shrink not from the commission of this crime, but will voluntarily destroy their own progeny, in violation of every natural sentiment, and in opposition to the laws of God and man.  Perhaps there are few individuals, in extensive practice as obstetricians, who have not had frequent applications made to them by the fathers or mothers of unborn children (respectable and polite in their general appearance and manners), to destroy the fruit of illicit pleasure, under the vain hope of preserving their reputation by this unnatural and guilty sacrifice.

Married women, also, from the fear of labor, from indisposition to have the care, the expense, or the trouble of children, or some other motive equally trifling and degrading, have solicited that the embryo should be destroyed by their medical attendant.  And when such individuals are informed of the nature of the transaction, there is an expression of real or pretended surprise that any one should deem the act improper-much more guilty; yea, in spite even of the solemn warning of the physician, they will resort to the debased and murderous charlatan, who, for a piece of silver, will annihilate the life of a foetus, and endanger even that of its ignorant and guilty mother.

This low estimate of the importance of foetal life is by no means restricted to the ignorant, or to the lower classes of society.  Educated, refined, and fashionable women-yea, in many instances, women whose moral character is, in other respects, without reproach; mothers who are devoted, with an ardent and self-denying affection, to the children who already constitute their family, are perfectly indifferent respecting the foetus in utero.  They seem not to realize that the being within them is indeed animate-that it is, in verity, a human being-body and spirit; that it is of importance, that its value is inestimable, having reference to this world and the next.  Hence, they in every way neglect its interest.  They eat and drink; they walk and ride; they will practice no self-restraint, but will indulge every caprice, every passion, utterly regardless of the unseen and unloved embryo.  They act with as much indifference as if the living, intelligent, immortal existence lodged within their organs, were of no more value than the bread eaten, or the common excretions of the system.  Even in cases where mothers have suffered from repeated abortions, where foetus after foetus has perished through their neglect or carelessness, and where even their own health is involved in the issue, even in such cases every obstetrician can bear testimony to the great difficulty of inducing our wayward patients to forego certain gratifications, to practice certain self-denials, and to adopt efficient means for the salvation of the child.

This is not all.  We can bear testimony, that in some instances, the woman who has been well educated, who occupies high stations in society, whose influence over others is great, and whose character has not been impugned, will deliberately resort to any and every measure which may effectually destroy her unborn offspring.  Ashamed, or afraid, to apply to the charlatan, who sustains his existence by the price of blood, dreading it may be publicity, she recklessly and boldly adopts measures, however severe and dangerous, for the accomplishment of her unnatural, her guilty purpose.  She will make extra muscular efforts by long fatiguing walks, by dancing, running, jumping, kept up as long as possible; she will swallow the most nauseous, irritating, and poisonous drugs, and in some instances, will actually arm herself with the surgeon's instrument, and operate upon her own body, that she may be delivered of an embryo, for which she has no desire, and whose birth and appearance she dreads.

These facts are horrible, but they are too frequent, and too true.  Often, very often, must all the eloquence and all the authority of the practitioner be employed; often he must, as it were, grasp the conscience of his weak and erring patient, and let her know, in language not to be misunderstood, that she is responsible to her Creator for the life of the being within her.

After this exposition, and the details which have been given, and especially in view of the influence which medical science must exert on these questions, it seems hardly necessary to repeat, that physicians, medical men, must be regarded as the guardians of the rights of infants.  They alone can rectify public opinion; they alone can present the subject in such a manner that legislators can exercise their powers aright in the preparation of suitable laws; that moralists and theologians can be furnished with facts to enforce the truth on this subject upon the moral sense of the community, so that not only may the crime of infanticide be abolished, but that criminal abortion be properly reprehended, and that women, in every rank and condition of life may be sensible of the value of the embryo and foetus, and of the high responsibility which rests on the parents of every unborn infant.

While thus advocating, in this place, the importance of Obstetric science, as bearing on the welfare of women and of children, and hence on the best interests of society; while presenting myself, as an advocate, as well as one of the physical guardians of the rights of infants, it is with no ordinary satisfaction that I can survey such an assemblage of intelligent and educated young men as are here collected, who have devoted themselves to the pursuit of a science so exalted, so noble, so useful as that of medicine; who, with an ardent enthusiasm, have determined to wage a war of extermination against any and every opinion and practice which in any degree infringes on the rights of women and their offspring.

In this glorious work I bid you prosper.  Your rewards may not be riches and honor, but they will be more valuable and enduring, arising from the smiles of an approving conscience, and the blessing of that Being who has pronounced the severest curse on the crime of murder.

In the above argument addressed, as it was, to students of medicine, my great object was to impress upon their minds the nature and importance of foetal life, that thus they might be prepared to exert all their talents and influence, for the preservation of the unborn child.