A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities/Abortio
ABOR´TIO, ABORTUS, immature birth, “miscarriage.” If we may judge from poets and satirists, it was not an uncommon practice among the Romans to procure abortion (Plant. True. 202; Juv. ii. 32, vi. 368). Cicero (Cluent. 12) relates a case where a testator, leaving his wife pregnant, endeavours to secure the birth of his son by leaving his wife a handsome bequest if his son become heir, and nothing if he does not. Cicero charges Oppianicus with paying the amount contingently bequeathed to the widow, and procuring abortion in order that Oppianicus' son may succeed to the inheritance. A woman at Miletus, who in similar circumstances procured abortion by the use of drugs, was condemned to death in the time of Cicero's proconsulate. Similar cases or charges are recorded in Tac. Ann. xiv. 63; Suet. Dom. 22; Amm. Marc. xvi. 10. It was probably some such dangers that led to the Lex Cornelia making it a criminal offence to give love-potions or medicines for abortion, the penalty being death if the patient died; if not, then banishment and partial confiscation for persons of a higher rank, work in the mines for those of a lower rank (Paul. Sent. v. 23, 214). And women who procured abortion (vim visceribus suis intulerunt; partum abegerunt) were, by a rescript of Severus and Caracalla, condemned to exile (Dig. 47, 11, 4; 48, 7, 8), at least if divorced, and so acting in order to avoid bearing a son to their estranged husbands (Dig. 48, 19, 39).
Of the practice and law in Greece still less is known. Lysias in a speech (or declamation) impeached Antigonus for procuring abortion (κατ̓ ̓Αντιλόνου ἀμβλώσεως, Fragm. 10, ed. Bait. and Sauppe). Plato recommended it in certain circumstances in his ideal Republic (Rep. v. 9, p. 461 c), and so also Aristotle, but only πρὶν αἴσθησιν ἐγγενέσθαι καὶ ζωήν (Polit. iv. (vii.) 16). [H.J.R]