Victorian London - Sex - Abortion - Opinions

[nb. this work is American in origin, but was republished in London, ed.]

    OF all the sins, physical and moral, against man and God, I know of none so utterly to be condemned as the very common one of the destruction of the child while yet in the womb of the mother. So utterly repugnant is it, that I can scarcely express the loathing with which I approach the subject. Murder! Murder in cold blood, without cause, of an unknown child; one's nearest relative; in fact, part of one's very being; actually having, not only one's own blood in its being, but that blood momentarily interchanging! Good God! Does it seem possible that such depravity can exist in a parent's breast-in a mother's heart!
    It is for no wrong that it has committed that its sweet life is so cruelly taken away. Its coming is no disgrace; its creation was not in sin, but-its mother "don't want to be bothered with any more brats; can hardly take care of what she has got; is going to Europe in the spring.
    We can forgive the poor, deluded girl-seduced, betrayed, abandoned-who, in her wild frenzy, destroys the mute evidence of her guilt. We have only sympathy and sorrow for her. But for the married shirk, who disregards her divinely ordained duty, we have nothing but contempt, even if she be the lordly woman of fashion, clothed in purple and fine linen. If glittering gems adorn her person, within there is foulness and squalor.
    Infanticide is no new crime. Savages have existed in all times, and abortions and destruction of children at and subsequent to birth have been practised among all the barbarous nations of antiquity. The most cultivated and right- minded had some good reason for so doing, and acted in conformity with a supposed duty. When the child was of feeble physique, or malformed, it was, among certain nations, thought to be right to destroy it. Acting thus according to their conscience, they did rightly-the fault was in their ignorance of right and wrong. Sometimes from a religious superstition they sacrificed their children, perhaps with tears of regret, and this unknown sin was doubtless forgiven to the benighted mother.
    But most commonly the savages of past ages were no better than the women who commit such infamous murders to-day, to avoid the cares, the expense, or the duty of nursing and tending a child.
     Infanticide was permitted among the greater part of the people of antiquity, and it is still, in most of the countries where civilisation has not penetrated. The new-born are put to death, or exposed in such a manner that they must needs perish unless chance or compassion preserve them. Amongst most of the people of Greece the newborn was - laid at the feet of the father until he decided upon his lot. This custom was in vogue among the Athenians; the Thebans alone held it in reprobation. Romulus, who desired population, prohibited the exposure of male children and of the eldest girls, and allowed only that of the other girls after three years had passed. However, in the corruption of manners which soon prevailed, no account was kept of these restrictions, and the Romans adopted the custom of the Greeks, by drowning their children and abandoning them in public places, that they might be devoured by animals, or else they placed them at the doors of bachelors, who were at liberty to make slaves of them.
     Infanticide and exposure were also the custom among the Romans, Medes, Canaanites, Babylonians and other eastern nations, with the exception of the Israelites and Egyptians. The Scandinavians killed their offspring from pure fantasy. The Norwegians after having carefully swaddled their children, put some food into their mouths, placed them under the roots of trees or under the rocks to preserve them from ferocious beasts. Infanticide was also permitted among the Chinese, and we saw, during the last century, vehicles going round the streets of Pekin daily to collect the bodies of the dead infants:
     To-day there exists foundling hospitals to receive children abandoned by their parents. The same custom is also observed in Japan, in the isles of the Southern Ocean, at Otaheite, and among several savage people of North America. It is related of the Jaggars of Guinea, that they devour their own children. We have given the motives which cause the infanticide.
     The Greeks, in cases of deformity which did not affect the duration of life, sacrificed the children because their existence would be onerous to their family and without utility to the State.
     In some cases, however, they had a semblance of legality, and it was exacted before destroying their monsters, that they should be seen by five neighbours; but the law of the Twelve Tables relieved the father from this single formality, and gave to him the right to have his deformed children destroyed. The savages of North America and the Peruvians pitilessly sacrificed all deformed children.
     In Sparta, as is known, individuality disappeared before the exigencies of State. So the laws of Lycurgus left it to the magistrate to decide if the father ought or ought not to raise his child, and if he considered it weakly or malformed, it was cast into the ditch. Plato and Aristotle in their Institutes condemned to exposure infants judged to be feeble and unable to serve the country.
     At Athens it was particularly girls and those of the inferior classes that were condemned to death. The ancient Norwegians followed the same custom with regard to females when there were too many in the same family.
     On the coast of Guinea, in Peru, and among the Hottentots, in a case of twin pregnancy, the feeblest was put to death, and in preference, the girl, when the sexes were different.
     In Madagascar ,and New Granada and Greenland, when the mother died during or after confinement, her living child was buried with her.
     In case of famine or misery in China, New Holland, Kamtchatka, they killed their children, as they formerly did in Athens.
     Superstitious ideas sometimes ruled infanticide. In Canada certain classes destroyed their first-born. In Madagascar they exposed children born on supposed unlucky days. In the East Indies they destroyed children to whom the astrologers predicted ill-luck.
     The ancient Celts put their new-born upon a buckler, which they placed on the surface of a river, and regarded as the fruit of adultery those borne away by the stream. The Hottentots killed one of twins because they were convinced that but one could be begotten by one man.
     Abortions were means frequently employed in antiquity, and still in our day among certain barbarous people. It was the women who performed this sacrifice; sometimes not to be separated from their husbands during the time .of nursing, when they were esteemed impure; sometimes to avoid the trouble of nursing their children.
     The practice of abortion has nothing in it to astonish one who does not know that the embryo is endowed with life, because the life is not yet observable. So in the latter days of Rome women made no scruple of getting rid of an inconvenient pregnancy, and which especially interfered with their taste for debauch. This custom lasted until the epoch of Ulpian, A.D. 205, who repressed it by severe penalties.
     There are even systems of philosophy which have called for infanticide, with the avowed end of preventing a too great increase of population. Plato and Aristotle were advocates of this opinion, and these Stoics justified this monstrous practice by alleging that the child only acquired a soul at the moment when it ceased to have uterine life and commenced to respire. From whence it resulted, that the child, üot being animated, its destruction was not murder. Nothing can ever authorise in civilised countries such practices for the purpose of maintaining population within proper limits.
    The attempts against the life of the child which are committed at the present day, are almost always by seduced girls, and the motive is not one of systematic calculation, but the shame and misery which follow their abandonment. It is unfortunately true that abortion and infanticide are common, not only in Paris, but in all the great capitals of Europe, as well as localities of less importance.
     Let us hear the authoritative testimony of Prof. Ambrose Jardien, to whom the science of medical law owes so many remarkable works "It is not only in Paris, he says, "that the crime of· abortion is multiplied in so deplorable a manner. In a single session, in September, 1856, the Court of Assizes, de la Drome, gave a decision in a case in which fifty-two accused appeared as authors or accomplices of numerous abortions, committed in some neighbouring community of the department. We know that in certain countries abortion is practised in a manner almost public, without speaking of the East, where it has, so to speak, entered into the manners of the country. We see it, in America, in a great city like New York, constituting a regular business and not prevented, where it has enriched more than one midwife. The number of children born dead or expelled before their natural time, which has considerably increased during the last fifty years, is a proof of this. For a population of 76,770 persons in 1805, there were but forty-seven still-born children; in 1849, in a population of 450,000 the number of still-born children amounted to 1,320; that is to say, in a population which has sextupled, the stillborn and premature births have increased thirty- sevenfold. 
     The same author, speaking of infanticide, gives the following resumé of the actual situation:
      "England does not yield to Germany or France in the frequency of the crime of infanticide. Taylor for two years nearly corresponding, gives the following figures, which can leave no doubt upon this point. In 1862, in 20,591 criminal inquests which took place in England and Wales, 3,239 were of children under one year, and in 124 verdicts of voluntary murders, more than a half were infanticide. In 1863, in 22,757 inquests, 3,664 were of infants, and of these 166 of them were verdicts of murder. As in France, the majority were of women in service."
     At Berlin, according to Caspar, ~ the autopsies of the new-born form of themselves a quarter of the legal autopsies. In Paris this proportion is considerably surpassed.
     "There is, finally, at the present time, a kind of infanticide, which, although it is not so well known, is even more dangerous, because done with impunity. There are parents who recoil with horror at the idea of destroying their offspring, although they would greatly desire to be disernbarrassed of them, who yet place them without remorse with nurses, who enjoy the sinister reputation of never returning the children to those who have entrusted them to their care. These unfortunate little beings are condemned tO perish from inanition and bad treatment.
     The number of these innocent victims is greater than would be imagined, and very certainly exceeds that of the marked infanticides sent by the public prosecutor to the Court of the Assizes.
     We may now close this chapter by saying that the only lawful obstacles to the excessive development of population are, moral restraint, the introduction into laws of new restrictions upon marriage, a prolonged maternal nursing, the choice for conjugal relations of the intermenstrual epoch, when conception, if not impossible, is very improbable, and, finally, organic changes in the life of the women, by the amelioration of the lot of the poorer classes.
     I have here quoted the somewhat exaggerated statistics of the still-born in New York in order that we here may see what is said of us abroad. These 6gures give somewhat erroneous ideas, because the increase of still-born children is owing to other causes than those to which they are ascribed.
     First, we have bad during the last half century an immense emigration. Many of these deaths are owing to the severity of the passage, ship fever, etc., en route, and the miserable condition and want of many of the persons who have composed this emigration.
     Second, the increase of poverty and misery, and consequent malformations and osseous distortions of the mothers. I have myself delivered many hundred women with instruments in this city during the last twenty-five years, and they have almost universally been of. foreign birth.
     Third, the statistics are now kept with far greater accuracy than ever before, so that no burials are now permitted without a physician's certificate, which is required by the Board of Health from every sexton.
     Fourth, the above quoted authors have barely touched upon the real matter in their writings on "the destructive methods" of removing the effects of pregnancy. Infanticide, as it is generally considered (destroying a child after quickening), is of very rare occurrence in New York, whereas abortions (destroying the embryo before quickening), are of daily habit, in the families of the best informed and most religious; among those abounding in wealth, as well as among the poor and needy. The young girl, seduced and destined to obloquy and shame, be she rich or poor, will seek any means, even known sinful ones, to hide her sad fault; to her we give our tearful sympathy, and society hesitatingly condemns her seemingly necessitated conduct. Could she secretly enter some private retreat, and after giving birth to her child then and there at a full time, and leave it for the charitable to bring up properly- as is done in the great cities of Europe-the consequences of the sin might be lessened.
     But the married and well-to-do, who by means of medicines and operations produce abortion at early periods of pregnancy, have no excuse except the pretence that they do not consider it murder till the child quickens. I will not here repeat what I have already said as fully as may be necessary in another place.
     A knowledge of the great danger and frequent death which so generally accompanies this nefarious procedure will do more to stop the practice than any argument that I can offer. If the statistics of the mortality be attentively considered, few will willingly run the risk of life which this record of "figures which do not lie will tell them. And yet, any statistics attainable are very incomplete. False certificates are daily given by attending physicians. Men, if they are only rich enough, die of "congestion of the brain, not "delirium tremens, and women similarly situated do not die from the effects of abortion, but of inflammation of the bowels,'' etc.
     One lady, to whom I was called in consultation six hours before her death, confessed to me that she had produced abortion upon herself twenty one times previously! The certificate given, I afterwards learned, was "dysentery. Statistics, therefore, are unreliable; so, while it is safe to say that we may trust implicity to all the deaths given, we may, mentally, perhaps double the number. How many are the deaths confessedly resulting from abortion ?
    Jardien * (* Jardien, "Etude Medico-1ega1e sur l'infanticide.) reports that in thirty-four cases of criminal abortion, where their history was known, twenty-two were followed, as a consequence, by death. In fifteen cases, necessarily produced by physicians, not one was fatal.
     This mortality is evidently, however, greater than would occur when the patient had the care of a family, and when attended by proper nurses, skilful physicians, etc. It refers to those cases where concealment is the great aim, and where everything is sacrificed to that. Still under all cases, forced abortions are necessarily operations of great danger as well as suffering, and death under the best possible contingencies will be not infrequent;
     But death is not the only result. A lady who one November came to me "to get rid of a baby, because her husband was going to Europe in the spring, and she wanted to go with him and couldn't be bothered by a young one, failing to enlist me in this nefarious scheme, finally found a-I was going to say, physician-a somebody, who effected the object, and, perhaps, as carefully as it could be done. But inflammation ensued- as it so frequently does-and was not easily arrested. I was called to her some weeks afterwards, and she was almost exhausted with cellulitis and pyaemia. Her husband sailed for Liverpool in June without her, as she had not been able to sit up for nearly six months!
     It is now five years since, and if there is a woman to be pitied in this city, it is she. Physically she is a miserable invalid, with no disease except the consequence of that utter exhaustion resulting from the forced abortion. She had then three children; her oldest son was accidentally drowned, and, her two daughters died of scarlet fever while the family were spending a winter in Matanzas for the mother's health. She now lives in her magnificent palace, with hundreds of thousands of dollars at her disposal; but her home is desolate and her heart lonely, for the result of that disastrous inflammation is the disorganisation of both ovaries, and she is inevitably childless, and bitterly does she mourn her past follies. I can enlarge upon this point with numerous like illustrations-so can your next door physician- but it is useless.
    The death and illness of the mother, prolonged, as it often is, is bad enough; but there are results of this crime which possibly may be considered more deplorable. I think any mother might so admit it.
    A lady, determined not to have any more children, went to a professed abortionist, and he attempted to effect the desired end by violence. With a pointed instrument the attempt was again and again made, but without the looked-for result. So vigorously was the effort made, that, astonished at no result being obtained, the individual stated that there must be some mistake, that the lady could not be pregnant, and refused to perform any further operations. Partially from doubt and partially from fear, nothing further was attempted; and in due process of time the woman was delivered of an infant, shockingly mutilated, with one eye entirely put out, and the brain so injured that this otherwise robust child was entirely wanting in ordinary sense. This poor mother, it would seem, needs no future punishment for her sin. Ten years, face to face with this poor idiot, whose imbecility was her direct work-has it not punished her sufficiently?
     Yet, with such facts before us, brown stone palaces will continue to be built in the Fifth Avenue, and the business of abortion will thrive, and the rich occupants will snap their fingers at the laws; for have they not the reputations of the wives and daughters of lawyers, juries, aye, even of the judges themselves in their hands? Lucky, indeed, if they cannot, for like reasons, control him who alone has the power to pardon, if, by chance, found guilty!
     The heinousness of the sin; the possibility of death immediate and painful; the likelihood of prolonged illness and future debility; the chance of a blighted being constantly before the sight- these are all insufficient to prevent this horrible iniquity which is so common to-day! I went into a fashionable boarding-house yesterday, in. which were four wives of several years' standing, from twenty-two to thirty-five years of age. There was not a baby there, nor had there been; nor was there among them one healthy woman either!
     A popular clergyman of Brooklyn said in the course of a late sermon: Why send missionaries to India when child- murder is here of daily, almost hourly occurrence; aye, when the hand that puts money into the contribution box today, yesterday, or a month ago, or to-morrow, will murder her own unborn offspring?
     "The Hindoo mother, when she abandons her babe upon the sacred Ganges, is, contrary to her heart, obeying a supposed religious law, and you desire to convert her to your own worship of the Moloch of Fashion and Laziness and love of Greed. Out upon such hypocrisy!"
     I see no resort left, no staying this tide of sin, unless it be in the power of the Church. There should be no queazy sensibilities, no mawkish delicacy; the. sin should be grappled with and crushed out. The pulpit of every' denomination should' make common cause and fulminate its anathemas against every abettor of this enormity. I know not why there should be such tenderness of speech on the part of the clergy, for there is no such modesty on the part of the actors concerned. Arrayed in gorgeous silks, satins and velvets, covered with flashing gems-mine is but the common story of every physician-I have had unknown women walk into my office, and inquire, "Are you the doctor? and upon an affirmative reply, without further preface, say, "I want you to produce an abortion for me, as coolly as if ordering a piece of beef for dinner.
     Do the clergy consider this less a sin than lying, blaspheming, or stealing? Do they sympathise with it? It is impossible for them to ignore it, for it is everywhere. Do they think it enough to publish, once a year, resolutions against it, which few men and no women ever see. Rev. John Todd* (* Todd, "Serpents in the Dove's Nest.) has come out boldly and eloquently. Should not it be the subject of, at least, one sermon yearly by every clergyman in America and the world?
     I have dedicated this volume to the clergy of America, because they are the great moral lever- power of the country. They can make this vice disgraceful; they can compel it to be kept dark; they can prevent it being the common boast of the women, "that they know too much to have babies.
     I have endeavoured to put the physical argument in their hands; I have striven to enlist their hearty co-operation in the cause, and now I leave it with the confidence that He who founded this great nation, carried it through such great vicissitudes, will not leave it to self-destruction and moral degradation.

Augustus K Gardner, The Conjugal Relationships as regards 
Personal Health & Hereditary Well-being, 1894