While it may seem that eighteenth century British social commentary may hold no bearing on the present day, Defoe strikes down this assumption with his commentary on the subject of abortion in his novel, Moll Flanders. “I wish all those Women who consent to the disposing their Children out of the way, as it is call’d for Decency sake, would consider that ‘tis only a contriv’d Method for Murther; that is to say, a killing their Children with safety” (137).
Defoe, through Moll Flanders, seems to be taking an anti-abortion stance. This makes sense within context of the novel. Moll is born inside Newgate Prison and is left an orphan. Moll freely admits that this situation left her as a “…poor desolate Girl without Friends, without Cloaths, without Help or Helper in the World…” (5). Despite that unfortunate outcome, Moll says that, regardless of situation, killing your child is wrong, even if it is justified as the decent thing to do.
At time of publishing, abortion was a legal practice in London. Defoe uses Moll’s childhood and the line on page 137 to illustrate his point that abortion is “murther.”In fact, it was not until the Malicious Shooting or Stabbing Act of 1803, eighty years after the publishing of Moll Flanders, that abortion after quickening became a capital crime.
Defoe’s satire provided the perfect opportunity to comment on the present social situation of abortion, an issue that is still hotly contested today. While this is not the only topic that Defoe comments on or satirizes, I think that it is a prominent point that he attempted to communicate with a wide audience, which was vastly female.