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davidtrump

History of Christian thought on abortion

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Christianity and abortion has a long and complex history. There is scholarly disagreement on how early Christians felt about abortion. Some scholars have concluded that early Christians took a nuanced stance on what is now called abortion, and that at different and in separate places early Christians have taken different stances. Other scholars have concluded that early Christians considered abortion a sin at all stages; though there is disagreement over their thoughts on what type of sin it was and how grave a sin it was held to be. Some early Christians believed that the embryo did not have a soul from conception, and consequently opinion was divided as to whether early abortion was murder or ethically equivalent to murder. Some early Christian texts nonetheless condemned abortion without distinction: Luker mentions the Didache, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and Saint Basil. Early church councils punished women for abortions that were combined with other sexual crimes, as well as makers of abortifacient drugs, but, like some early Church Fathers such as Basil of Caesarea, did not make distinction between "formed" and "unformed" fetuses.

While Gregory of Nyssa and Maximus the Confessor held that human life already began at conception, Augustine of Hippo affirmed Aristotle's concepts of ensoulment occurring some time after conception, after which point abortion was to be considered homicide, while still maintaining the condemnation of abortion at any time from conception onward.

Thomas Aquinas reiterated Aristotle's views of successive souls: vegetative, animal, and rational. This would be the Catholic Church's position until 1869, when the limitation of automatic excommunication to abortion of a formed fetus was removed, a change that has been interpreted as an implicit declaration that conception was the moment of ensoulment. Most early penitentials imposed equal penances for abortion whether early-term or late-term, but later penitentials in the Middle Ages normally distinguished between the two, imposing heavier penances for late-term abortions and a less severe penance was imposed for the sin of abortion "before [the foetus] has life".

Contemporary Christian denominations have nuanced positions, thoughts and teachings about abortion, especially in extenuating circumstances. The Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church,  Oriental Orthodoxy, and most evangelical Protestants oppose deliberate abortion as immoral, while allowing what is sometimes called indirect abortion, namely, an action that does not seek the death of the fetus as an end or a means but that is followed by the death as a side effect. Some mainline Protestant denominations such as the Methodist Church, United Church of Christ, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, among others, are more permissive of abortion. More generally, some Christian denominations can be considered pro-life while others may be considered pro-choice. Additionally, there are sizable minorities in all denominations that disagree with their denomination's stance on abortion, an example of which is the group Catholics for a Free Choice.

wikipedia.org

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