Bas-relief at Angkor Wat,Cambodia, c. 1150, depicting a demon inducing an abortion by pounding the abdomen of a pregnant woman with apestle.
"French Periodical Pills." An example of a clandestine advertisement published in an 1845 edition of the Boston Daily Times.Since ancient times abortions have been done using herbal medicines, sharp tools, with force, or through other traditional methods. Induced abortion has long history, and can be traced back to civilizations as varied as China under Shennong (c. 2700 BCE), Ancient Egypt with its Ebers Papyrus (c. 1550 BCE), and the Roman Empire in the time of Juvenal (c. 200 CE).There is evidence to suggest that pregnancies were terminated through a number of methods, including the administration of abortifacient herbs, the use of sharpened implements, the application of abdominal pressure, and other techniques. One of the earliest known artistic representations of abortion is in a bas relief at Angkor Wat (c. 1150). Found in a series of friezes that represent judgment after death in Hindu and Buddhist culture, it depicts the technique of abdominal abortion.
Some medical scholars and abortion opponents have suggested that the Hippocratic Oath forbade Ancient Greek physicians from performing abortions;other scholars disagree with this interpretation, and state the medical texts of Hippocratic Corpus contain descriptions of abortive techniques right alongside the Oath. The physician Scribonius Largus wrote in 43 CE that the Hippocratic Oath prohibits abortion, as did Soranus, although apparently not all doctors adhered to it strictly at the time. According to Soranus' 1st or 2nd century CE work Gynaecology, one party of medical practitioners banished all abortives as required by the Hippocratic Oath; the other party —to which he belonged— was willing to prescribe abortions, but only for the sake of the mother's health.
Aristotle, in his treatise on government Politics (350 BCE), condemns infanticide as a means of population control. He preferred abortion in such cases, with the restriction "[that it] must be practiced on it before it has developed sensation and life; for the line between lawful and unlawful abortion will be marked by the fact of having sensation and being alive." (1585–90) was the first Pope to declare that abortion is homicide regardless of the stage of pregnancy; the Catholic Church had previously been divided on whether it believed that abortion was murder, and did not begin vigorously opposing abortion until the 19th century. Islamic tradition has traditionally permitted abortion until a point in time when Muslims believe the soul enters the fetus, considered by various theologians to be at conception, 40 days after conception, 120 days after conception, or quickening. However, abortion is largely heavily restricted or forbidden in areas of high Islamic faith such as the Middle East and North Africa.
In Europe and North America, abortion techniques advanced starting in the 17th century. However, conservatism by most physicians with regards to sexual matters prevented the wide expansion of safe abortion techniques. Other medical practitioners in addition to some physicians advertised their services, and they were not widely regulated until the 19th century, when the practice (sometimes called restellism)was banned in both the United States and the United Kingdom. Church groups as well as physicians were highly influential in anti-abortion movements. In the US, abortion was more dangerous than childbirth until about 1930 when incremental improvements in abortion procedures relative to childbirth made abortion safer.Soviet Russia (1919), Iceland (1935) and Sweden (1938) were among the first countries to legalize certain or all forms of abortion.In 1935 Nazi Germany, a law was passed permitting abortions for those deemed "hereditarily ill", while women considered of German stock were specifically prohibited from having abortions. Beginning in the second half of the twentieth century, abortion was legalized in a greater number of countries. A bill passed by the state legislature of New York legalizing abortion was signed by Governor Nelson Rockefeller in April 1970.