Last year I took a class on Roman history and I was recalling it recently when I realized something specific that our present-day society has in common with theirs. The Romans were very practical. We all know how good they were at building amazing roads and aqueducts all throughout Europe. However, something that struck me recently was that this pragmatic way of dealing with problems also extended into the family structure. The Roman household, without going into detail, was basically headed by a male member—usually the father or eldest brother—and everyone else in the family and household was in a sense property of the paterfamilias. Everyone in the household had a value, and that value was decided ultimately by the head of the household. Value could be entirely monetary, as in the case of slaves. The value of the wife and children were calculable as well to a certain extent, based on their usefulness and their potential to serve the household.
I recently made the connection that this pragmatic way that the Romans viewed the value of people is very similar to the way in which our society often values people. A child in the womb is considered valuable only if he or she is wanted by his or her parents.
The Romans very often exposed their infants by leaving them outside the city walls if they did not want them, for whatever reason—deformity, poverty, illegitimacy…is this much different from a pro-abortion mentality that ends the life of unwanted children for pragmatic reasons?
I would argue that very few Romans exposed their infants out of hatred for them—it was done rather because they were not needed or wanted for pragmatic reasons.
I acknowledge that mothers do not desire abortion. They do not seek it out of hatred for their child but rather because the circumstances they are in have driven them to believe that abortion is their only option. Mothers and fathers who are faced with an unplanned pregnancy can face real obstacles such as lack of means, complication of lifestyle, and discomfort—obstacles that our society needs to acknowledge and address.
The motives for infanticide on the part of the Romans and the common motives for abortion today are very similar. I would hope that we have progressed in our understanding of problem solving since then. I would hope that we will see that a society which discards its unwanted members for pragmatic reasons is ultimately a cruel one; children are valuable because they are children and not because of pragmatic reasons.
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