The Beliefs and Actions, Past and Present, on Church and Abortion
For as long as there has been recorded history, there have been recordings of the procedure now known as abortion. The Bible appears to be silent on the topic, which is of no support to Christian groups, especially Catholics, who believe that abortion is a mortal sin. In his book, “The Morality of Abortion: Legal and Historical Perspectives,” John T. Noonan (1970) states that “The Old Testament has nothing to say on abortion” (6). John Connery (1977) agrees with Noonan in his book “Abortion: The development of the Roman Catholic Perspective” where he writes, “If anyone expects to find an explicit condemnation of abortion in the New Testament, he will be disappointed. The silence of the New Testament regarding abortion surpasses even that of the Old Testament” (34). This is a difficult silence to understand when one considers the fact that abortions were widely practiced during the New Testament era in the Middle East. There were few recorded legal prohibitions against abortion in antiquity, and even fewer ancient laws protecting the practice (Gilbert 1).
Although abortion was not a big issue at the time, infanticide, or killing the baby outside the womb after delivery, was a prominent subject of debate, much like abortion is today (1). At the time, this seemed to be a safer way to deal with an unwanted pregnancy. Both Hippocrates, the “father of modern medicine” and Soranos, the “Greatest of the ancient gynecologist,” both opposed abortion, but their reasons for opposition are unclear and could have been for either the protection of the mother or the fetus (1). The more sophisticated medical methods for abortions became, the more they were met with criticism, because they were more common and less secretive. The Catholic Church, which still today is extremely anti-abortion, felt compelled to condemn the practice rather early. For much of their history, Catholics viewed abortions performed prior to the point that the fetus first moves as permissible and tolerable (Flanders 29). It was not until 1960 that Pope John Paul VI forbade all abortions, therapeutic or otherwise (30). Only surgery to save the mother’s life is morally sanctioned by the Catholic Church (30). By doing this, the Catholic Church believes it is defending the lives of millions of powerless fetuses (31).
Due to the fact that they changed their minds, it causes the main debated in the battle over whether abortion is morally acceptable. At times in church history, the point at which life was thought to begin varied. Some thought human personhood began at conception, while others believed in the Aristotelian concept that life began 40 to 80 days after conception when the soul enters the body (Childress and Macquarrie 2). Today, science shows that although the human ovum, or egg, is alive when it enters a woman’s fallopian tubes, it is not considered a human being until it meets with a sperm...