It is only occasionally that a professor reads a student's paper and think that it is so profound, so timely, so scholarly, and so well written that it demands publication. The beginning of this book was such a paper. I am sure that when Bruce Metzger read his student's paper he knew that the readable style of Michael J. Gorman couples with his scholarly detail would make a great impact on a church and a culture struggling with the issue of abortion. Gorman makes the early church, as well as Judaism, come alive as he portrays their own response to a surrounding culture that treated human life with much disrespect.
Gorman surveys the history of abortion in the ancient world and finds many similarities in both their motives and methods to the modern world. They used abortion to conceal illicit sexual activity as well as a means of birth control. They used both poisons and mechanical means, of which Gorman graphically illustrates, in the attempt to abort. He quotes Plato and Aristotle, as well as many others, to demonstrate that in the ancient world the individual and family were viewed as existing solely for the state. The Greek city states had problems of overpopulation, while the Romans later had problems of underpopulation. Thus they changed their policy of abortion accordingly. Although Gorman does not draw the correlation, these policies sound very similar to the abortion policies of the U.S.S.R. and Red China, as well as similar to many of the Western world scientific elite who desire such control.
Even though "rich and poor, slave and free, young and old aborted themselves and were given abortions" (p. 27), various pagans in the fields of medicine, law, rhetoric, philosophy, and religion criticized some of the motives and methods of abortion. The Oath of Hippocrates included a definite promise not to perform an abortion. Inscriptions on several Greek temples indicated that abortion caused ritual, though not moral, uncleanliness. Among the Romans, Ovid, Favorinus, and especially the Stoics condemned abortion. Most believed that abortion was against the nature of sex, the logic of large families, and an offense against the gods, rather than an offense against the fetus who was considered human only after birth.
Gorman discusses two Jewish views of abortion, the Alexandrian and the Palestinian, and shows that although there are some differences, they strongly unite on the most important issues. Deliberate abortion was consistently condemned as disrespectful of life and as bloodshed. Their discussions were confined to only accidental and therapeutic abortions. They also confined their discussions about the personhood of the fetus to the legal aspects rather than the moral. The Alexandrian school, as well as some of the Palestinian school, agreed that the fetus had legal personhood. The primary division of opinion was over the severity of the penalty exacted for the accidental or therapeutic abortions.
Like the Jewish views, the early church was also consistently against deliberate abortion. Concern for the fetus distinguished the Christian position from pagan disapproval of abortion. Abortion was consistently viewed as murder. Abortion was a means of preventing or attacking human life, and thus wrong in the eyes of God. The early Christians, according to Gorman, were consistently pro-life and thus forbade Christian involvement in war, gladiator fights, and capital punishment, as well as abortion.
Gorman draws the conclusion that Christians today are inconsistent in their positions of pro-life or pro-choice. Pro-life groups who oppose abortion usually support a strong national defense, just war, and individual ownership of handguns. Pro-choice groups who say that women should have the choice over whether or not to abort also take many pro-life positions, such as working on behalf of the poor, and standing against nuclear arms build up, individual ownership of handguns, and capital punishment. Gorman pleads for contemporary Christians to be consistently pro-life, following the example of the early church.
Although Gorman had done a brilliant job discussing the early church's views on abortion in their historical context, his conclusions and applications can be criticized. "Pro-life" and "pro-choice" might not be the most accurate categories in which to place all the contemporary social issues. Those who support free market economics and a limited government that has a very limited involvement in welfare do so in the name of the poor. Those who support nuclear arms build up believe that it will prevent a war with the U.S.S.R., who have consistently broken every treaty regarding nuclear limitations and have an explicit policy of world domination. Those who support capital punishment do so in the name of justice, human creation in the imago Dei, and biblical commands. Thus, it seems that they are consistently pro-life and pro-freedom, whereas, as Gorman points out, the "pro-choice" groups are inconsistently supporting abortion.