This past month, as the information in the secret Planned Parenthood videos has been released, many of us have been appalled. And we are told there are more videos yet to be released. Abortion itself is karma making, but imagine the additional karma of harvesting the organs of the babies for profit, in some cases removing these while the baby is still alive! This degree of hatred of the child is unthinkable. These shocking videos challenge our notion of the sanctity of God-given life. Unfortunately, for the karma of people living on this planet, infanticide has been prevalent throughout history and in all cultures. Probably, we have all been victims or perpetrators in some lifetime and have opportunities to atone for what many call murder today. We certainly want it stopped.
Let me share with you some of this history of the practices of infanticide exposed by D. Keith Osborn, author of Early Childhood Education in Historical Perspective. This information is not general knowledge, certainly never got included in any history book I ever studied in school and is a damming record that seems still to be with us as evidenced by the Planned Parenthood videos. He reports that in general, throughout history, children born to families of poverty, or children with birth defects, or otherwise unwanted children, particularly girls, were left to die in the elements, thrown over walls, or drowned. As long as 5000 years ago, there is an historical record in the Yangshao culture of China that infanticide, especially of female babies, was commonplace. However even as recently as the 1930’s the practice of infanticide continued in China. My own father told me about seeing babies left to die beside the roads in northern China where he grew up as a boy.
Infanticide was commonly practiced in ancient Greece as well and once again, it was the female babies that were deemed undesirable. The common practice here too was to put babies out to die from exposure to the elements. Aristotle wrote that abortion would be more preferable than the Greek practice of leaving babies to die by exposure. “Suffer the little children to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven”, said Jesus. We usually think of Jesus as having made this statement to encourage the children in the crowd to draw nearer to him, but maybe he intended a wider interpretation. He lived in a society where infanticide was common because babies were often seen as an unavoidable consequence of sex, nothing more. Perhaps Jesus was also alluding to the abolishment of this practice.
It wasn’t until several centuries after Jesus, that Christians outlawed the practice of infanticide and denounced the practice as pagan, calling it murder. In 318 AD, Emperor Constantine declared that killing a child was a crime. So then, instead of being killed, children were simply abandoned. The Council of Nicene in AD 325 ordered the establishment of orphanages so parents who couldn’t afford to raise their children could take them to these places. Augustus, a later emperor, offered a stipend to any family that would rear a foundling (an abandoned child). By 400 AD, Christian churches were demanding a stop to both infanticide and abandonment. Still the practice continued.
During the Middle Ages, it became a crime to willfully dispose of children. However if a child died from injury, then there was no punishment. As a result, a common form of death was called “overlaying”, where the adult smothered the child by lying on them in bed. The punishment for infanticide was a year of penance. “A quote from a civil authority during the Middle Ages perhaps reflects the prevailing view of society in general: “Parents who commit infanticide are to be congratulated.” In the 1700’s, the use of opiates, starvation, and dunking a youngster in very cold water were used to kill. In 1784, a law was passed in Austria forbidding parents from sleeping with children because overlaying had become such a problem.
During the 1800’s, in an effort to curb infanticide, large cities in Europe established foundling homes. Some of these were quite large. In St. Petersburg, Russia there were 25,000 children in a single home. The London Hospital admitted 15,000 children during a four-year period. The mortality rate for these children was high, often 30-40%. During the Industrial Revolution, working mothers often left their children with wet nurses, who were actually hired for the purpose of disposing of the infants. This practice was known as baby farming and the nurses were called “killer nurses” or “angel makers.” The general attitude towards children was not to become attached to them, because they could die from diseases of various kinds, as many did between the ages of birth and 4. A child who lived past the age of 4, had more love and affection lavished on them. Finally, in the U.S. in 1872, the Infant Life Protection Act was passed protecting newborn children’s lives.
This is not a pretty picture of the history of the treatment of infants. Since the practice of infanticide was so widespread in ancient times, the chances are pretty good that we have somehow been involved. So, let us take this opportunity to forgive ourselves and others, and actively work to stop the practices of modern day versions of infanticide in our respective countries. Certainly, we need to object to the sale of baby parts, the use of parts of babies for medical research at major institutions, the rights of parents to assign their aborted baby over to physicians, and continue to advocate for the reversal of Roe vs. Wade. At some point, as a society, we have to be ready to say “Enough is enough.” Let us respect God’s life from the time of conception and give full rights to the developing child.
Dr. Celeste Miller
Holy Bible. Mark 10:14
Osborn, D. Keith. (1991). Early Childhood Education in Historical Perspective. GA, Athens: Daye Press, Inc.