Christianity is blessed with extremely strong and clear teaching on abortion found in ancient texts from the earliest church fathers.
Regarding the history of Christianity and abortion, the question of the value of life inside the womb was really quite simple and direct. It didn’t revolve around highly technical questions of when life and personhood began. Still, these early teachers of Christian orthodoxy had a very direct and irrefutable rationale.
- If abortion is needed to bring the death of a child, that child is considered to be living.
- If living, the child had to have received that gift of life from God – the giver of all life – and God is actively sustaining that new life in His goodness, even in the secret of the womb, as Psalm 139 teaches.
- Therefore, abortion is to be condemned because it rejects the goodness and sovereignty of God.
Many biblical passages talk about God’s value of life. However, we can also see in the history of Christianity and abortion that Christians have held this belief, inherited from their Jewish roots, since the beginning. They also held it boldly and consistently. Therefore, let’s examine the earliest orthodox Christian sources outside of scripture itself.
EARLY CHURCH FATHERS SPEAK ON CHRISTIANITY AND ABORTION
Before the official canon of the New Testament was finally established, the early church drew from a rich array of writings from the Apostles and other beloved and respected church leaders. These writing were widely circulated between local churches. Then, they were studied, read aloud in Sunday morning services and deeply valued by individual believers for instruction and encouragement in Christian discipleship. Essentially, this is the primary collection of teachings on the topic from early Christian church literature over the first three centuries.
First Century Didache or Teaching of the Apostles
“The Didache” (pronounced did-a-kay) was a basic manual on proper Christian conduct for all believers. Although the date of its creation is not known exactly, it is increasingly considered a first-century document, even before there was a New Testament. It was read universally across the early churches, introduced to the reader and received by believers with the authoritative title, “The Lord’s Teaching Through the Twelve Apostles to the Nations.”
Concerning the value of earliest life, right there between charges to shun practicing witchcraft and never coveting your neighbors’ goods, it commands:
- “You shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill that which is born,” and those who do so are judged “murderers of children, destroyers of the handiwork of God.” (Chapters 2 and 5)
Even though we are careful today in talking about abortion, the early Christians did not shrink from referring to abortion as murder. And they did so from the very beginning. To take the life of a child – born or pre-born – was to interrupt God’s loving care and sovereign purpose. That is why abortion is wrong for everyone. But the Didache is not the only early Christian teaching condemning abortion in Christianity. There are many rich sources.
The 4th Century Apostolic Constitutions
Just as the Didache teaches in its first line that “there are two ways, one of life and one of death, and between the two ways there is a great difference,” so does another important 4th-century Christian manual. The Apostolic Constitutions or Constitutions of the Holy Apostles helped its readers understand “The Two Ways – The Way of Life and the Way of Death.”
This document explains, “the former is from God, and the latter of error, from the snares of the adversary.” In section 3 of Book 7, drawing from and expanding upon the earlier Didache, all Christians are authoritatively instructed,
- “You shall not slay your child by causing abortion, nor kill that which is begotten; for everything that is shaped, and has received a soul from God, if it be slain, shall be avenged, as being unjustly destroyed.”
Early Christians consistently believed that not only was the preborn child created and cared for by God, but possessed a God-given soul. To take that life was to snuff out God’s very personal, precious and eternal gift. There was no debate about this fact whatsoever, anywhere in traditional Christian writings.
Epistle of Barnabas
Many letters or epistles were written by the apostles and other Christian leaders that were considered orthodox and useful, even though they never made it into official New Testament Scripture. Just like Christians today read and share important writings from wise Christian teachers, the church did so universally from the beginning.
One such piece of writing is the Epistle of Barnabas. It is attributed to the apostle Barnabas, Paul’s close missionary companion. Of course, it is not included in the canon of scripture, but it was widely read by and taught to early believers.
- “Thou shalt not murder a child by abortion, nor again shalt thou kill it when it is born.”
This was not some obscure command to believers. It is stated in the same breath as the fundamental Christian orthodoxy of not doubting the sovereignty and power of God, not taking the Lord’s name in vain, being sure to love one’s neighbor and teaching one’s son or daughter the fear of the Lord. All these commands are taken from the earliest days. Showing the history of Christianity and abortion is not up for debate.
The Apocalypse of Peter
The condemnation of abortion is more detailed and dramatic in The Apocalypse of Peter, a vision Jesus purportedly gave the Apostle Peter of the reality of heaven and hell. It was widely read among believers in the early church and is the first Christian document to give a detailed description of hell.
Of course, this text is not in the official canon of scripture like John’s Revelation, but it was considered inspired by leading orthodox teachers like Clement of Alexandria, and was cited authoritatively in other early Christian writings.
Even though Peter’s revelation was rejected from the final canon of Scripture by Church Fathers in the 4th century, it was valued as instructive for Christian insight. It mentions abortion in a vivid way.
Apocalypse of Peter and Preborn Babies
The Apocalypse of Peter speaks of babies who were abandoned by their parents via exposure after birth and abortion before being tenderly loved in heaven by “care-taking angels.” It continued that each “shall obtain salvation” having “mercy shown to them.” Christians have always believed God has a profoundly tender and compassionate heart for the life He creates and sustains in the womb. There is no evidence whatsoever to the contrary.
In chapter 8 of a historical version of The Apocalypse of Peter, the aborted children in heaven,
- “…sigh and cry to God because of their parents saying, ‘These are they who despised and cursed and transgressed your commandments and delivered us to death: they have cursed the angel that formed us and have hanged us up and begrudged us the light which you have given all creatures.”
Whether this vision is to be taken literally or not, early Christians believed there was a severe penalty for abortion. And even while The Apocalypse of Peter did not make it into the final canon of scripture, it certainly was not seen as heretical or outside the scope of Christian orthodoxy.
Abortion and the Early Church
This judgement of what abortion is in Peter’s vision is similar, but more dramatically portrayed, compared to what we read in The Epistle of Barnabas. As Dr. Michael J. Gorman explains in his important scholarship Abortion & the Early Church:
- “These texts are important for their powerful presentation of the destiny of aborters and the aborted. It is evident that this picture is drawn, even with apocalyptic imagination, from deep ethical and emotional convictions… Whatever judgment on that idea is made, the theological basis for the entire text must be seen as an understanding of abortion as the culpable murder of a human being.” (Emphasis added)
As difficult as these conclusions are, no early orthodox Christian teachers are on record trying to soften their blow to readers and the larger culture. Christians understood that abortion was actually telling God, “I know what is best. You cannot be trusted and Your gift of life is not good.”
Clement of Alexandria Explains Abortion Takes More Than a Child’s Life
Clement was a major theologian and teacher in the very early Church. In his three-volume Paedagogus (The Instructor/Tutor), he offers Christ’s instruction on how Christians should respond to the love of God. Clement explains that abortion is more than just the death of a child created by God’s providence. It is also the death of the feelings of those involved in it.
- “Our whole life can go on in observation of the laws of nature, if we gain dominion over our desires from the beginning and if we do not kill, by various means of a perverse art, the human offspring, born according to the designs of divine providence; for these women who, in order to hide their immorality, use abortive drugs which expel the child completely dead, abort at the same time their own human feelings.”
The baby is not the only one who suffers from the loss of a life that God created. The woman also aborts a part of her own natural sense and goodness as a life-giver and sustainer.
Athenagoras Appeals to Life
Early within Christianity arose The Apologists, those who studied deeply and were gifted at defending and explaining the truth of Christianity to an unbelieving and mocking world. As one historian of early Christianity explained, “In the ancient world, the new Christian faith had two unavoidable tasks: self-definition and self-defense.” The first was the work of theologians. The second of the apologists. Both were unspeakably important in the early formation of the faith. Another historian of early Christianity explained that “of all the criteria” determining the righteousness of Christian leaders, “orthodoxy was primary.”
Athenagoras Defense of Christianity
Athenagoras was one of the leading early apologists for Christianity. He was an Athenian philosopher who converted to Christianity. Like Clement, Athenagoras also taught at Mark’s Catechetical School of Alexandria. He made a famous defense of Christian belief and practice to the great emperor Marcus Aurelius and his son Commodus in 177, answering many charges made against the curious practices of Christians.
One was the ridiculous charge of cannibalism stemming from rumors that “those Christians” gathered regularly in secret to eat the flesh and blood of a man. In chapter 35 of Athenagoras’ A Plea Regarding Christians, he dispels this myth by explaining the Christian’s deep regard for all life and profound aversion to the death of gladiators in the colosseum and the unborn.
- “What man of sound mind, therefore, will affirm, while such is our character, that we are murderers? For we cannot eat human flesh till we have killed someone. …We have given up such spectacles [of even the gladiator games]. How can we commit murder when we will not even look at it, lest we should contract the stain of guilt?”
- “What reason would we have to commit murder when we say that women who use drugs to induce abortions commit murder, and will have to give account to God? For the same person would not regard the foetus in the womb as a living, created being, and therefore an object of God’s care, and at the same time slay it once it had come to life. Nor would he expose an infant, because those who expose them are chargeable with child-murder, and on the other hand, when it has been reared to destroy it. But we are altogether consistent in our conduct. We obey reason and do not override it.”
Athenagoras Concludes All Life is Valuable
It was of utmost importance to Athenagoras to explain by reason that even those who surpass their unbelieving fellow citizens in caring for the youngest human life could never participate in the ghoulish act of cannibalism.
As we will see later, these bold words from Christian apologists, backed by the actions of other believing leaders, indeed influenced the political leaders and led to eventual change in Roman law to protect children.
Tertullian: Soul of the Preborn
One of the most eloquent and productive early Christian apologists was the African Tertullian, earning him the titles “the father of Latin Christianity” and “the founder of Western theology.” He worked tirelessly, defending Christianity from external persecution and internal heresy. He was one of the first Christian writers to use the word trinity and profoundly advanced this foundational theological truth. He sadly became a bit of a cranky separatist later in life, but the bulk of his writing remains important to orthodox Christianity.
His teaching on the ethics of abortion was strong. In his Apology, which he addressed to the provincial governors of the Roman Empire (where we also find his famous quote, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church”), Tertullian gives us one of the most beautiful pro-life statements in the history of the Church.
- “In our case, murder being once for all forbidden, we may not destroy even the fetus in the womb, while as yet the human being derives blood from the mother’s body to make a new creature. Prevention of birth is premature murder, nor does it matter whether you take away a life that is born, or destroy one that is coming to the birth. The future person is a person already; you have the fruit already in its seed.” (Chapter 9)
Size does not matter when it comes to the value of life for the Christian, for to destroy the seed is to destroy the fruit or the tree. It is all the same. God created and sustains both in His good pleasure, and no one has any right to interrupt that good work.
Tertullian and the Scriptures
- “Consider the wombs of the most sainted women instinct with the life within them, and their babes which not only breathed therein, but were even endowed with prophetic intuition. …Consider, again, those extraordinary conceptions, which were more wonderful still, of the barren woman and the virgin… They [John the Baptist and Jesus] were both alive while still in the womb. Elizabeth rejoiced as the infant leaped in her womb; Mary glorifies the Lord because Christ within inspired her. Each mother recognizes her child and is known by her child who is alive, being not merely souls but also spirits.”
Christianity is a Faith that Started in the Womb
Tertullian is reminding all Christians, and the world, that Christianity is a faith that literally started in the womb of two women – Mary and Elizabeth – and their preborn children. How can Christians not value and protect what happens there? The great theologian continues,
- “Accordingly, you read the word of God which was spoken to Jeremiah, ‘Before I formed thee in the belly, I knew thee’ Since God forms us in the womb, He also breathes upon us, as He also did at the first creation, when ‘the Lord God formed man, and breathed into him the breath of life.’ Nor could God have known man in the womb, except in his entire nature: ‘And before thou cast forth out of the womb, I sanctified thee’ Well, was it then a dead body at that early stage? Certainly not. For ‘God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.’”
Dr. Gorman tells us, “Tertullian is the first Christian to make the explicit connection between these biblical passages and the issue of abortion” and thus condemns “the practice of abortion,” showing “that even therapeutic abortion is the taking of a human life.” “For Tertullian,” Gorman adds, “the witness of the Incarnation and of Scripture is to the humanity of the fetus.” And so it is for all of Christianity.
Hippolytus: Abortion and the Scriptures
Hippolytus of Rome gave Christianity a rich body of writings defending an orthodox belief, scriptural commentary, history, eschatology and direction on church order. He is the first writer to give detailed directions on pastoral ordination. In Book 9 (chapter 7) of his Refutations of All Heresies, he explains how some women, claiming to be believers, resorted to aborting their own children. Hippolytus explains,
- “Whence women, reputed believers, began to resort to drugs for producing sterility, and to gird themselves round, so to expel what was being conceived on account of their not wishing to have a child either by a slave or by any paltry fellow, for the sake of their family and excessive wealth. Behold, into how great impiety that lawless one has proceeded, by inculcating adultery and murder at the same time!”
Yes, there were medicinal means of abortion in the ancient world. And the “girding themselves round” was an effort to cause death and miscarriage of the child growing within. Professor Gorman explains, “In the face of growing immorality, especially among wealthier believing women, Hippolytus continued to hold forth the orthodox belief that abortion is murder.”
Cyprian of Carthage Calls Out Christian Leader for Abortion
There were indeed evil church leaders in the early days who needed to be called out. Cyprian of Carthage was one who did the calling out because, as one historian explains, “orthodox belief and practice were closely related” for the Fathers. Cyprian condemned the murder of a preborn child by the terribly abusive and schismatically heretical Novatus, who was finally excommunicated from the Church.
Novatus’ many wicked behaviors included financial fraud that cheated orphans and widows out of care, allowing his own father to starve in the street and refusing to help bury him. But, according to Cyprian, Novatus “committed still greater and graver crimes,” including the murderous abuse of his wife. In chapter 2 of his 48th Epistle, we learn,
- “The womb of [Novatus’] wife was smitten by a blow of his heel; and in the miscarriage that soon followed, the offspring was brought forth, the fruit of a father’s murder. And now does he dare to condemn the hands of those who sacrifice [to idols], when he himself is more guilty in his feet, by which the son, who was about to be born, was slain?”
Minor Christian Apologists Defend Christianity
Marcus Minucius Felix was a distinguished lawyer from Africa (living in Rome) who later in life converted to Christianity from Stoicism. While almost nothing is known of his life and few Christians today know his name, Felix served the Christian community as a learned defender of the faith against attacks from pagan critics.
In his Octavius, an apologetic debate on Christianity between a believer and a pagan, Felix explains in chapter 30 that “the story about Christians drinking the blood of an infant that they have murdered is a barefaced calumny.” He explains that such behavior would never exist unpunished by Christians, and is more the behavior of the pagans themselves:
- “There are some women who, by drinking medical preparations, extinguish the source of the future man in their very bowels, and thus commit a parricide [killing of a direct family member] before they bring forth. And these things assuredly come down from the teaching of your gods. For Saturn did not expose his children, but devoured them. With reason were infants sacrificed to him by parents in some parts of Africa… To us [Christians], it is not lawful either to see or to hear of homicide, and so much do we shrink from human blood, that we do not use the blood even of eatable animals in our food.”
All Christians were remarkably consistent in their defense of preborn life through the ages.
Basil of Caesarea: Punishment for Abortion
As the Church matured and developed fuller rules for Christian discipleship and church discipline in the 4th Century, it also developed specific consequences for taking the life of the preborn in church discipline. The great Basil of Caesarea, known through history as “a luminary of the Church” and a theologian who championed the orthodoxy of the Nicene Creed and helped establish Eastern monasticism, spoke powerfully against abortion.
Early in one of his pastoral letters dealing with theological matters (numbered 188), Basil explains clearly and directly, in section 2, what Christians believe about life in the womb,
- “The woman who purposely destroys her unborn child is guilty of murder. With us, there is no nice inquiry as to its being formed or unformed. In this case, it is not only the being about to be born who is vindicated but also the woman herself who made an attempt against her own life; because in most cases women die in such attempts. The destruction of the embryo is an additional crime, a second murder, at least according to the intentions of those dare such things.”
- “The penance [exclusion from the Eucharist] of these women should not be for life but for the term of ten years. And let their treatment depend not on mere lapse of time, but on the character of their repentance.”
Basil talks about Christianity and Abortion Providers
Gorman explains, “Here Basil removes any notion of legalism which minimize either the seriousness of abortion or the grace of God.” But it is not only the woman who is guilty.
In section 8 of Letter 188, those who participate in administering abortion, be they a medical professional, another woman or husband, are also guilty.
- “[Those] who administer drugs to cause abortion, as well as those who take poisons to destroy unborn children, are guilty of murder.”
The early church walked a very serious line between abortion and the Christian grace of God in light of true repentance.
Child Abandonment Becomes Illegal
The strong moral teaching, acts of compassion and direct political persuasion by the early Christians on the value of very young life were felt throughout the ancient world. In fact, they strongly influenced new legal prosecution of child abandonment and exposure in the Roman Empire. There were a number of laws passed by various Emperors correcting previous laws to make sure that abandoned newborns were cared for and protected. Though these did not extend to abortion directly, it shows the concept of valuing life.
This is demonstrated in Title 52 of The Enactments of Roman Civil Code. We read, “Title 52. Concerning the abandonment of children both free and slave, and concerning those who received newborn children for the purpose of rearing them.”
- “The Emperors Valentinian, Valens, and Gratian to Probus, Praetorian Prefect.”
- “Every person should support his own offspring, and anyone who thinks that he can abandon his child shall be subjected to the penalty prescribed by law. We do not give any right to masters or to patrons to recover children who have been abandoned, when children exposed by them, as it were, to death, have been rescued through motives of pity, for no one can say that a child whom he has left to perish belongs to him.”
Ambrose: Abortion is Contrary to All Nature
The next fourth-century Father to teach the morality of abortion is Ambrose in his eighth sermon in his Hexameron on the fifth day of creation. He writes at length about how the animal world works and how countless species care for and protect their young. But mankind – not always.
- “Those who are very poor expose their infants and refuse to lay claim to them when they are discovered. Even the wealthy, in order that their inheritance may not be divided among several, deny in the very womb their own progeny. By the use of parricidal mixtures, they snuff out the fruit of their wombs in the genital organs themselves. In this way life is taken away before it is given. Who except man himself has taught us ways of repudiating children?” – Chapter 18 (58)
Abortion is contrary to all nature. It is contrary to God. It is not what we are made for and never what God intended.
John Chrysostom: Some Sins Lead to Hidden Murder
John of Antioch earned the nickname Chrysostom – by which he is known through millennia – because of his peerless eloquence in preaching. Chysostomos means “golden-mouthed.” His writings were powerful as well. An anonymous copyist of his work observed John’s works “cross the whole globe like flashes of lightning.” In his 24th homily on the book of Romans, addressing Romans 13:14 where we are called to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh,” Chrysostom addresses the sin of sexual infidelity. He admonishes the importance of sowing and reaping righteously and explains how some sins snowball, leading to murder itself:
- “Why then bring disgrace upon all these? Why sow where the ground makes its care to destroy the fruit? Where there are many efforts at abortion? Where there is murder before the birth? For you do not even let the harlot remain a mere harlot, but make her a murderess also. You see how drunkenness leads to whoredom, whoredom to adultery, adultery to murder; or rather something even worse than murder.”
- “…Why then do you abuse the gift of God and fight with His laws, and follow after what is a curse as if a blessing, and make the place of procreation a chamber for murder, and arm the woman that was given for childbearing unto slaughter?”
John, the golden-mouthed, taught the church from the beginning that abortion turns what God intends on its head, taking that which is good – the place of procreation, the female body – into something horrific.
Jerome Mourns Death of Mother and Child in Abortion
Jerome was another 4th century great, usually at his desk, writing and copying important texts of Apostles and earlier Christian writers. He also regularly engaged with great passion and liveliness the false teachers who sought to corrupt the orthodoxy of true Christianity. Jerome famously proclaimed, “Ignorance of the Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” Alongside his scholarship, Jerome was also known as an “uncompromising and outspoken critic of contemporary morals.”
In a letter to Eustochium, a deeply faithful Christian woman who followed Jerome to the Holy Land on pilgrimage and settled there for the remainder of her life, Jerome speaks of Satan specifically targeting the precious virtue of young women and how this leads not only to sexual sin, but death in multiple ways. He laments to this young Christian woman:
“I cannot bring myself to speak of the many virgins who daily fall and are lost to the bosom of the church, their mother: stars over which the proud foe sets up his throne. … Some go so far as to take potions, that they may ensure barrenness, and also murder human beings almost before their conception. Some, when they find themselves with child through their sin, use drugs to procure abortion, and when (as often happens) they die with their offspring,”
Jerome is lamenting how sexual sin and abortion go together for believing and unbelieving young women in the church’s earliest days. Since that time, the greatest church leaders have mourned and marshaled a clear moral voice against it because they mourn the loss of life of both the mother and the baby.
Augustine Explains Christianity and Abortion
We end our examination of the early Christian Father’s teaching on abortion with the great Augustine, as he traditionally marks the end of antiquity. No church Father rivaled Augustine in making sure Christians understood the nature and evil of abortion.
In Book I of his treatise On Marriage and Concupiscence, Augustine addresses how human sexuality and childbearing’s proper context is marriage, and how significant problems occur when this order is confused. Of those who get this order mixed up, Augustine warns:
- “Having also proceeded so far, they are betrayed into exposing their children, which are born against their will. They hate to nourish and retain those whom they were afraid they would beget. This infliction of cruelty on their offspring so reluctantly begotten unmasks the sin which they had practiced in darkness, and drags it clearly into the light of day. The open cruelty reproves the concealed sin.”
- “Sometimes indeed, this cruel lust resorts to such extravagant methods as to use poisonous drugs to secure barrenness; or else, if unsuccessful in this, to destroy the conceived seed by some means previous to birth, preferring that its offspring should rather perish than receive vitality; or if it was advancing to life within the womb, should be slain before it was born.”
- “Well, if both parties alike are so flagitious, they are not husband and wife; and if such were their character from the beginning, they have not come together by wedlock but by debauchery. But if the two are not alike in such sin, I boldly declare either that the woman is, so to say, the husband’s harlot; or the man the wife’s adulterer.” (chapter 17)
Augustine Explains that Preborns Have Life
Additionally, in Augustine’s Enchiridion: On Faith, Hope and Love, a manual he wrote upon request so it could be carried around personally by believers as instruction on the basic teachings of the Christian faith, he explained in a section on the truth of the resurrection of the body:
- “On this score, a corollary question may be most carefully discussed by the most learned men, and still I do not know that any man can answer it, namely: When does a human being begin to live in the womb? Is there some form of hidden life, not yet apparent in the motions of a living thing? To deny, for example, that those fetuses ever lived at all which are cut away limb by limb and cast out of the wombs of pregnant women, lest the mothers die also if the fetuses were left there dead, would seem much too rash.”
- “But, in any case, once a man begins to live, it is thereafter possible for him to die. And, once dead, wheresoever death overtook him, I cannot find the basis on which he would not have a share in the resurrection of the dead.” (See chapter 23, section 86)
Again, the consistent case that Christians have made from earliest days is quite simple and direct. If a child exists in the womb, it was created, lovingly placed there, and sustained by God’s gracious hand. And for the general question of when life begins, the early Christians made the wholly reasonable case that death by abortion would not be necessary if there was not life in the womb. And that life would not be there had God not placed it there and sustained it moment by moment.
Christian Councils’ Statements on Abortion
As the church grew and matured, various official councils were held to discuss how the Christian church would handle various theological and ministry-based problems that arose. These actually started in the Acts of the Apostles. While not considered an official church council, Acts 6 tells about how the twelve Apostles gathered together to officially appoint deacons to care for widows and the distribution of food. This was so that the Apostles were not distracted from their ministry of the Word of God. The first official council actually took place in Jerusalem, as explained in Acts 15, driven by confusion among various churches over the question of circumcision.
These councils continued in various locales over the centuries as well as in major church-wide or ecumenical councils like the Councils of Nicaea, Constantinople, Ephesus and Chalcedon. Some of the smaller local councils addressed the issue of abortion and how Christian clergy should deal with those who resorted to abortion. What did Christian discipleship and ecclesiastical discipline call for?
One of the first to enact official punishment for abortion was the Council of Elvira in Spain in 305/306.
Council of Elvira Thoughts on Christianity and Abortion
This council (or synod) consisted of 19 bishops from all over Spain who developed 81 rules (called canons) for church discipline, two of which were on abortion.
Canon 63 declares,
- “If a woman, while her husband is away, conceives by adultery and after that crime commits abortion, she shall not be given communion even at the approach of death, since she has doubled her crime.”
Canon 68 likewise issues punishment for infanticide,
- “A catechumen, if she has conceived a child in adultery and then suffocated it, shall be baptized [only] at the approach of death.”
Council of Ancyra Thoughts on Christianity and Abortion
In 314, the Council of Ancyra was convened in the capital of Galatia to address many administrative questions, such as what to do with the lapsed believers who had denied the faith to avoid persecution, but then repented. It addressed other church discipline topics as well, including abortion and infanticide. In Canon 21, the church offers grace toward those who involved themselves in destroying the unborn:
- “Concerning women who commit fornication, and destroy that which they have conceived, or who are employed in making drugs for abortion, a former decree excluded them until the hour of death, and to this some have assented. Nevertheless, being desirous to use somewhat greater lenity, we have ordained that they fulfill ten years [of penance], according to the prescribed degrees.”
Such individuals could not partake in holy communion until that time of penance was fulfilled.
Council of Trullo Thoughts on Christianity and Abortion
The later and much larger Council of Trullo, held in 692 and attended by 215 bishops, took place in Constantinople. It was designed to bring greater clarity to important moral issues for a larger number of churches. Canon 91 plainly states the severity with which the church viewed abortion.
- “Those who give drugs for procuring abortion, and those who receive poisons to kill the fœtus, are subjected to the penalty of murder.”
It does not explain what that penalty was, but the judgement was clearly severe, involving all those facilitating the process of taking unborn life.
Christian Pro-Life Response Today
Many Christians believe that the topic of abortion and God’s value of all life, no matter how young or old, is something individual believers can agree to disagree on. As we have seen, this was certainly not the case in the earliest centuries of the Church. There was crystal clarity on the matter, expressed with strong and unwavering conviction. And the only thing that has changed in recent years is politics and rhetoric. These certainly do not determine proper Christian belief, conviction and practice.
Thankfully, the Christian church has grown increasingly responsive to life in the womb and the needs of women dealing with unexpected pregnancies. We can confidently say that today is the golden age of Christians responding to the needs of the unborn and their mothers in need. As Warren Cole Smith, president of Ministry Watch, illuminates so well:
- “The idea that pro-lifers don’t care for babies after they are born has been a convenient slander hurled against pro-life Christians. To cite just one example, U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass) once said pro-lifers believe “life begins at conception and ends at birth.”
Smith counters, “The biggest problem with that clever line is that it is simply not true.” He explains that today there are more than 2,500 pro-life pregnancy centers where the staff show up to work every day with one single purpose: to compassionately aid pregnant women in hard places and help them and their child thrive.
Pro-Life Pregnancy Clinics
The staff, donors and volunteers who do such ministry every week number in the hundreds of thousands. This is unrivaled in Christian history.
Smith adds, “The total amount of money these organizations spend in support of women and babies is not known, but it likely exceeds $1 billion annually.” He adds, “We should also note that the vast majority of adoptions in this country (U.S.A.) are done by Christian families and through Christian adoption agencies.”
Honoring the Christian History and Work Against Abortion
Focus on the Family alone has distributed millions in grants to enrich the work of these local centers working to assist women with unplanned pregnancies. And there are exponentially more pregnancy help centers across America working for life every day than abortion-selling clinics. Those fighting for life continue to grow while those taking lives are disappearing. The ratio is not even close.
This is primarily because of brave, robust Christian compassion and action.
Every corner of Jesus’ body throughout the earth must continue the expansion of this true and uncompromising teaching about the evil of abortion and the inestimable value of pre-born life, coupled with compassionate action toward those in need.
© 2022 by Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. First published on FocusOnTheFamily.com in July