This is an old article and factually in error on a few things, I think, but still great.
Life and Death. In the ancient world abortion, the exposure of infants, infanticide, and suicide were common and legal. At the coming of Christ, the Roman governor in Judea, Herod the Great, in an attempt to murder Jesus, ordered that all the male infants in Bethlehem and the region surrounding it, from two years old and younger, be put to death.
The head of the Roman family had the power of life and death—patria potestas—over his children and slaves. At birth, the midwife would place the newborn on the ground, where he would remain unless the father took the child and raised him from the earth. If the father did not raise the child, he—or more likely she—was left to die in some public place. The pagans exposed their children because they were poor, ambitious, or concerned about their “quality of life”: “so as not to see them corrupted by a mediocre education that would leave them unfit for rank and quality,” to quote Plutarch. The first Christians rescued thousands of children discarded by the pagans. Thousands were also rescued by pagans, who would raise them to be slaves and prostitutes. If infants were born with defects, they were frequently killed, rather than exposed. Infanticide was not merely the practice of the pagans, it was their doctrine as well: Plato and Aristotle endorsed infanticide, and Seneca wrote: “What is good must be set apart from what is good for nothing.”
According to Roman law, the power of the father over his children remained as long as he lived. An adult Roman man could do nothing without his father’s consent; his father could even sentence him to death."