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Early Christianity

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Early Christian thought on abortion is interpreted in different ways. At different times, early Christians held different beliefs about abortion, while yet considering it a grievous sin.

The earliest Christian texts on abortion condemn it with "no mention of any distinction in seriousness between the abortion of a formed foetus and that of an unformed embryo".

According to sociologist Kristin Luker:

After the beginning of the Christian era... legal regulation of abortion as existed in the Roman Empire was designed primarily to protect the rights of fathers rather than rights of embryos.
...induced abortion is ignored in the most central Judeo-Christian writings: it was not mentioned in the Christian or the Jewish Bible, or in the Jewish Mishnah or Talmud. Abortion, it is true, was denounced in early Christian writings such as the Didache and by early Christian authors such as Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and St. Basil. But church councils, such as those of Elvira and Ancyra, which were called to specify the legal groundwork for Christian communities, outlined penalties only for those women who committed abortion after a sexual crime such as adultery or prostitution. Most importantly, perhaps, from the third century A.D. onward, Christian thought was divided as to whether early abortion - the abortion of an "unformed" embryo - was in fact murder. Different sources of church teachings and laws simply did not agree on the penalties for abortion or on whether early abortion is wrong.

However, that the early Christians agreed in rejecting abortion is more generally accepted. They condemned it as a serious sin, even before ensoulment. While agreeing that abortion was seen as a sin, some writers consider that those Christians viewed early abortion as on the same level as general sexual immorality, or that they saw it as a grave contra-life sin like contraception and sterilization, while others hold that it was for them "an evil no less severe and social than oppression of the poor and needy". Even in cases where abortion was seen as more than a sexual crime, the practice was still sometimes associated with sexual immorality.


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