Views on Abortion From Church History

In the 2,000 years of her history, the Christian Church has been consistent in this plain and critical matter. Abortion is the unjust killing of an innocent human life and, therefore, it is a severe and devastating sin. The following statements illustrate this. They are taken both from early Church history and more recent times.

"Thou shalt not destroy thy conceptions before they are brought forth; nor kill them after they are born. Thou shalt love thy neighbor more than thy own life. Thou shalt not murder a child by abortion." Barnabas, The Epistle of Barnabas 14:11 (circa AD 125)

"You shall not slay a child by abortion." The Didache or the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles (a 2nd century catechism for young converts to Christianity)

"The Way of Death is filled with people who are...murderers of children and abortionists of God's creatures." Also from the Didache.

"For those who conceal sexual wantonness by taking stimulating drugs to bring on an abortion wholly lose their own humanity along with the fetus." Clement of Alexandria, “Pedagogus” (2nd Century)

"It does not matter whether you take away a life that is born, or destroy one that is coming to the birth. In both instances, the destruction is murder." Tertullian, “Apology” (2nd Century)

"For us, since homicide is forbidden, it is not even permitted… For to prevent its being born is an acceleration of homicide, and there is no difference whether one snuffs out a life already born or disturbs one that is in the process of being born. For he is also a man who is about to be one, just as every fruit already exists in the seed." Also from Tertullian.

In answering the slanderous charge that Christian that Christians were cannibals who took the body and drank the blood of Jesus Christ, Athenagoras wrote in his “Legatio” (165 AD). "How could we kill a man – we who say that women who take drugs to procure abortion are guilty of homicide and that they will have to answer to God for this abortion? One cannot at the same time believe that the fetus in the womb is a living being – as such in God's care--and kill one already brought forth into the light."

"We say that women who induce abortions are murderers and will have to give account of it to God. For the same person would not regard the child in the womb as a living being and therefore an object of God's care and then kill it. But we are altogether consistent in our conduct. We obey reason and do not override it. The fetus in the womb is a living being and therefore the object of God's care." (Again, Athenagoras).

"There are women who swallow drugs to stifle in their own womb the beginnings of a man to be – committing infanticide before they even give birth to the infant.” Minucius Felix, “Octavius (circa AD 180)

"Reputed believers began to resort to drugs for producing sterility and to gird themselves round, so as to expel what was conceived on account of their not wanting 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." St. Hippolytus, “Refutation of all Heresies” (Early 3rd Century).

"If a woman becomes pregnant by committing adultery, while her husband is absent, and after the act she destroys the child, it is proper to keep her from communion until death, because she has doubled her crime." Council of Elvira (circa 305 AD)

"Moreover, those, too, who give drugs causing abortion are deliberate murderers themselves, as well as those receiving the poison which kills the fetus." Basil the Great, “Canon” (4th Century)

"The wealthy, in order that their inheritance may not be divided among several, deny in the very womb their own progeny. By 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 born…Who except man himself has taught us ways of repudiating children?" St. Ambrose of Milan, “Hexameron” (Late 4th Century)

"They drink potions to ensure sterility and are guilty of murdering a human being not yet conceived. Some, when they learn that they are with child through sin, practice abortion by the use of drugs. Frequently they die themselves and are brought before the rulers of the lower world guilty of three crimes: suicide, adultery against Christ, and murder of an unborn child." St. Jerome, “Letter to Eustochium” (Late 4th Century)

"Thou shalt not slay thy child by causing abortion, nor kill that which is begotten. For everything that is shaped, and has received a soul from God, if slain, it shall be avenged, as being unjustly destroyed." The Apostolic Constitutions, (circa 380 AD)

"Why sow where the ground makes it its care to destroy the fruit? Where there are many efforts at abortion? Where there is murder before birth? For you do not even let the harlot remain a mere harlot, but make her a murderer also…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?" St. John Chrysostom, Homily 24 on Romans (Late 4th Century)

"Surely at such a time (conception), the order of nature established by God in procreation should be followed." Martin Luther

"The fetus carried in the mother's womb is already a man and it is quite unnatural that a life be destroyed of one who has not yet seen its enjoyment. For, it seems more unworthy that a man be killed in his home rather than in his field because for each man his home is his safest refuge. How much more abominable ought it to be considered to kill a fetus in the womb who has not yet been brought into the light." John Calvin

"It is a great cruelty to kill the child in the mother's belly, to kill this innocent in his first mansion, which should have been the place of his refuge; the tunicle in which he is wrapped in his mother’s belly is called Shilo, because the young infant should live peaceably in it, in his mother’s womb, as in a place of refuge." John Weemse (17th century)

"We regard the destruction by parents of their offspring, before birth, with abhorrence, as a crime against God and against nature." Presbyterian Convention, Pittsburgh1869.

"He who destroys germinating life kills a man." Karl Barth

"Destruction of the embryo in the mother's womb is a violation of the right to live which God has bestowed upon this nascent life. To raise the question whether we are here concerned already with a human being or not is merely to confuse the issue. The simple fact is that God certainly intended to create a human being and that this nascent human being has been deliberately deprived of his life. And that is nothing but murder…” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Ethics”

"Once impregnation has taken place it is no longer a question of whether the persons concerned have the responsibility for a possible parenthood; they have become parents." Helmut Thielicke

"A high view of Scripture and a high view of life go hand-in-hand. You cannot be faithful to what the Bible teaches about the value of human life and be in favor of abortion." Francis Schaeffer

"The unborn child is a human being created in the image of God, and to deny this is to deny the authority of the Bible. It is impossible to read Psalm 139 and truly believe what it says without realizing that life in the womb is human life. It is impossible to truly believe in the incarnation and not realize that the child conceived in Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit was indeed the Son of God from the time of conception.

If we truly believe the Bible, there is no question when human life begins. And to deny this is to deny the authority of the Bible. Are we so blind not to see what is involved…?

Yet much of the [Christian] world carries on business as usual, saying they are not for abortion except for this or that, saying that we should not make an issue of this because it might be derisive, or saying we should not draw a line – even when millions of human lives are at stake.

But if we are not willing to take a stand even for human life, is there anything for which we will stand?” (Francis Schaeffer)