Abortion Essay - The Church Was Pro-Choice

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The Church Until Recently Was Pro-Choice

From a sermon delivered on February 15, 1998 at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, by the Rev. Elaine Gallagher Gehrmann:

Most of us know that the Roman Catholic church teaches that life begins at conception, and yet most of us don't know that this is a relatively recent change. It wasn't until 1869 that Pope Pius IX decreed that "ensoulment" takes place at conception. Up until then, the Catholic church had taught that "life" begins at 40 days gestation for a male and 80 days for a female, and therefore abortions before those 40 or 80 day periods were not viewed as murder. (Gehrmann)

The above claim that before 1869 the Catholic Church did not oppose abortion and the sometimes accompanying claim that Catholic theology held that the father provided the soul to the fetus are both false. Further, the allegation that the Catholic Church which has consistently opposed contraception would be indifferent to induced abortion must be considered suspect on its face.

By way of background: St. Paul in his epistle to the Galatians uses the Greek word "pharmakeia" in condemning the effects of self-indulgence which can include abortion and other uses of drugs with magical or evil intent. The first recorded explicit "Catholic" opposition to abortion can be found in the Didache (written circa 80 AD). Though it was not included in the Canon of the Bible, the Didache condemned abortion as "the way of death" by men who are "killers of children." The letter of Barnabas written around 140 AD also condemned abortion: "Thou shalt not kill the fetus by an abortion or commit infanticide." (Jurgens)

St. John Chrysostom, one of the Greek...

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...omas. "Treatise on Man." Summa Theologica." Question 90.

Gehrmann, Elaine Gallagher. Sermon delivered on February 15, 1998 at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Urbana-Champaign, Illinois.


Jurgens, William A. The Faith of the Early Fathers. N.p.: Liturgical Press, 1998.

McHugh, John, O.P., and Charles J. Callahan, O.P. Translation and Notes -- Catechism of the Council of Trent for Parish Priests. 11th edition. New York: Joseph F. Wagner, Inc., 1949.

Noonan, John A. Jr. editor. The Morality of Abortion: Legal and Historical Perspectives, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press,1970.

-- -- -- . Contraception: A History of Its Treatment by the Catholic Theologians and Canonists. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press of the Harvard University Press, 1966.

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