What date did anti-abortion become a major Christian/Catholic issue?

I sent out an email yet again debunking the myth that Barack Obama is a Muslim to my family, and some of them have replied by insisting that Obama is absolutely “not a Christian” because he supports abortion rights. That’s one of the most outrageous assertions I’ve ever heard, but facts and the truth are important to me, so I don’t want to argue against bullshit with my own bullshit.

It seems to me that by that “definition”, most Christians and Roman Catholics of the last 2,000 years wouldn’t qualify as “Christian”, because it is my belief that opposing abortion didn’t become an issue until sometime in the 20’th century.

But as I said, I don’t want to claim any falsehoods, so I need a fact check. Can anyone point me to a reliable source discussing the approximate date that opposing abortion became a significant issue in Catholicism/Christianity?

Also, were infanticide and abortion common in the time and place of Jesus?

Note that I chose “General Questions” specifically, because I didn’t want to engender a debate. I’m just looking for evidence and/or facts here.


Abortion and infanticide have always been considered serious sins in traditional Christianity; it’s just that abortion wasn’t legal or socially approved before. Early Christians made a pretty big deal about being against infanticide, unlike the Romans. I don’t know about ancient Jews, though I presume that idea was inherited from Judaism.

Abortions have always been available somehow or other, but they used to be limited to desperate girls or women getting them from people who weren’t too worried about the morality aspect. Some few doctors and poor women would perform them either for enough cash or, more rarely, out of pity (and cash).

Sorry, I haven’t got an online citation; just what I’ve gathered from lots of reading.

I don’t have all of the references to the early patristic writings to hand, but the Catholic Church’s position clearly pre-dates the twentieth century. The Catechism of the Council of Trent, published in 1566, referred to abortion as murder.

Lots of reading materials you may not have realized were propaganda does not for a cite make. Abortion may have been looked down upon, but it is most assuredly not listed as a sin in the Bible, which I’ve read. It lists a good many sins, abortion not among them. The Bible does not mention abortion, which has been practiced throughout history. There are many people who interpret the Bible to speak to abortion, but it does not mention the word at all ever, in any translation. The Bible is not shy about using the word sin with respect to specific practices and does so many times.

That’s not correct; abortion was legal in the Colonial era “before the time of quickening” – basically, before you could feel the baby move.

This came from the English common law of the time.

But that’s all I asked for. I didn’t ask for personal recollections.

The Didache, a Christian document possibly as old as the NT, or at least the next generation, forbids abortion. Also, Christians were looked at oddly by the Romans because not only didn’t they expose their “defective” babies, but they collected & raised those who were left for exposure.

I seem to remeber something from the fuss about Nancy Pelosi and abortion, something to the effect that abortion was always considered a sin, going back to the first mention of it in Christian writings. I forget the exact cite but the first known Christian catechism listed it as a sin. It was never not considered a sin by the Catholic church. I think the major issue came about with the Supreme Court decision, before that it was a state decision. State matters tend to present a less clear debate, and are too many and too variable to fit into a TV news broadcast. The Supreme Court gave both sides a clear, national opportunity to fight.

My own research of that claim contradicts your claim, but I am still open to being shown to be wrong. Many disingenuous people (I’m not referring to you, since I am still open to being shown to be wrong) claim that the Council of Trent explicitly condemns abortion, but it does no such thing based on my research thus far. It merely states that people who claim that baptism isn’t necessary for salvation are “anathema”

Please provide direct evidence for your claim for us to evaluate.

Cite, please.

This would only cover the issue as far as a particular subset of Protestant Christianity, who subscribe to the Sola Scriptura doctrine. In the case of Catholic/Orthodox Christianity, the text of the Bible is **not **the sole source of dogma. Cunctator just made a reference that as far back as 1566 official Roman Catholic documents define abortion as a mortal sin. **Friar Ted **has referenced the *Didache *and a cite has been requested.

As mentioned, there seems to be a variation as to a pattern of legality v. illegality and social acceptability v. censure, varying much according to the particular culture, locally dominant version of Christianity, and even social divisiond of class or ethnic group. There have been peaks and valleys of looser and tighter norms. Through the history of “Christian” societies, it has NOT always been the case that all/only things considered “sinful” by the dominant church, automatically were both socially reprehensible and criminal in the eyes of society.

The question seems to be, not when did the churches determine it was sinful, but when did abortion (or FWIW, reproductive rights) become such a deal-breaking “litmus test” as a matter of a public policy (and public politics) position so that you don’t even bother waiting for an explanation. In the case of the Roman Catholic Church the big moment seems to come with the publishing fo the Encyclical letter Humanae Vitae, in 1968, which established that the RCC would take a hard-line position on reproductive rights/sexual morality, against ANY artificial hindrance of reproduction and against nonmarital, nonreproductive sexual conduct.

So, for some 400 years at least apparently it** IS **considered a serious sin, but like many other sins, something the Church dealt with mostly at the church/individual sinner level and maybe some stern sermonizing for the greater congregation. Then in the 1960s it becomes a major matter of public-policy positions. (The presumption is that this happens because by the 1960s, the medical science has progressed to the point where safe and effective contraception and abortion are potentially accessible to the population in general, and the social culture has moved in the direction of removing the social oprobium from nonmarital, nonreproductive sex, so with the two main drawbacks of physical risk and social censure removed from the regulation of sexual conduct, the Church is left to cranks up the position of how it’s morally “evil” to use these methods.)

Okay, I found a reference in the Didache, which is most commonly dated to the 2’nd century, which forbids abortion and infanticide. It also condemns magic and sorcery, but I’ll nevertheless agree that that doesn’t diminish the injunctions in question.

It must be noted that the Didache is rejected as non-canonical by most, including the Roman Catholic Church (which accepted it in a lower, non-canonical position), but I personally am leaning towards accepting it for the purposes of one part of my discussion.

But can a layperson “legally” (by official Church doctrine) be rejected as a Christian because they support abortion rights? In other words, is there any papal decree or other official instrument which excludes a layperson from the body of Christianity – or even prohibit them from taking communion – for holding pro-choice views?

Thank you for this solid, factual reply!

While Catholics for a Free Choice certainly aren’t going to win any popularity contests among the church hierarchy, I don’t see anything about them being kicked out of the church.

One thing you have to keep in mind with the Catholic Church is that it often doesn’t make a big deal about subjects until someone contradicts what is taught/believed.
I often hear “The Church didn’t believe X until Y because that was when the council/document was that said X” when in fact the Church had taught something long before that but just made a big deal about defining it at that time because someone had started saying otherwise.

Also, I’d find it strange to find someone being considered non-Christian for being pro-choice. I’d probably think that they are not properly practicing their faith, but its not something I’d deny their Christianity over.

Now some people use Christian to mean a good person so if someones not a good person (for whatever reason) they are not a Christian. So is that could be what they mean.

Thanks for your reply. I personally consider the claim of someone who insists they’re a Christian that someone else isn’t a Christian to be a blasphemer at best, because their own Scriptures insist that only God could judge who is or isn’t a Christian because God has reserved all judgment to Himself.

Yet from what I’ve learned here today, I will not claim that Christianity didn’t oppose abortion until the 20’th century, as I was previously considering doing based on my own erroneous opinion. I appreciate the SDMB so much for keeping me intellectually honest!

The Didache:

2.1 The second commandment of the teaching means: 2.2 You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery. You shall not corrupt children. You shall not fornicate. You shall not steal. You shall not practice magic. You shall not use sorcery. You shall not murder a child by abortion or by killing it once it is born. You shall not covet what belongs to your neighbour.

5-HT beat me to it! Well, as a side note, the Greek NT word for “sorcery” is “pharmakaios”, which probably refers drug use in occult ritual, but may also refer to the brewings of potions and poisons, including, some have theorized, abortifacents.

From the Roman Catechism (adopted by the orders of the Council of Trent)

For what it’s worth, AFAIK nobody considers the Didache as being a part of Biblical canon (except maybe the Ethiopian (Coptic) Orthodox, whose Bible includes everything but St. Jude’s grocery list). However, it was quite widely used in sub-apostolic times as a how-to manual of sorts, and its historicity as document (as opposed to being a later forgery, etc.) is pretty certain.

First, one is a Christian either by professing faith in Christ or by baptism or both, depending on whose doctrine you subscribe to. It is not a matter of toeing the line on doctrine, etc. In Catholicism, if one is excommunicated it does not mean one is no longer a Catholic, merely a Catholic excluded from the sacraments until suitable repentance is done. Compare it to a convict – he does not cease to be an American citizen by being convicted of a crime; he’s a citizen who has been imprisoned for good and sufficient reason.

I personally don’t know of specific Papal prohibitions on pro-choice views. Several Catholic bishops have promulgated various decrees regarding candidates and their support. If it had to be summarized, a good Catholic is prohibited from supporting a candidate because he/she is pro-choice, but may support a pro-choice candidate if in the Catholic voter’s opinion other factors give proportionate grounds to support the candidate despite his pro-choice stance.

(Note: that is not my own perspective, but an attempt to summarize what the Catholic bishops’ teachings appear to be saying.)