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Has the Church always opposed abortion?

Q. October is Respect Life month. I’m wondering: Has the Catholic Church always been opposed to abortion?

A. Yes. The Catechism of the Catholic Church summarizes: “Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law” (2271).

From the earliest times, Christians have firmly rejected both abortion and infanticide. For example, the Didache and the Epistle of Barnabas, two books written around the same time as the Gospel of John or soon after (late first century or early second century), were widely used for Christian teaching and practice. Both texts explicitly condemned abortion and infanticide. Early Church councils did the same.Admittedly, until modern times little was known about human embryology. Such limited knowledge caused some theologians of the past to speculate about when, in the womb, the individual soul was created by God and joined to the body. But even those who thought that such “ensoulment” took place sometime after conception nevertheless affirmed that abortion at any stage is a grave sin.

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