Abortion (pre-Reformation)

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Quotes on Abortion that were recorded prior to the Reformation (beginning shortly after 1500 AD) are listed in order of date, with quotes from the same date listed in alphabetical order according to the name of the speaker.

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  • Exodus 21:22 If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman's husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. 23 And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life. 24 Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.


  • I will give no deadly medicine to any one if asked, nor suggest any such counsel; and in like manner I will not give to a woman a pessary to produce abortion.


  • [T]he line between lawful and unlawful abortion will be marked by the fact of having sensation and being alive.
    • Aristotle, Politics, bk. 7, ch. 6 at 294 (T.A. Sinclair trans. 1962) (325 B.C. or thereabouts).


  • The difference between the way of life and the way of death is great. Therefore, do not murder a child by abortion or kill a newborn infant.
    • The Didache, book of Christian apostolic teachings, circa 80 A.D.


  • The law, moreover enjoins us to bring up all our offspring, and forbids women to cause abortion of what is begotten, or to destroy it afterward; and if any woman appears to have so done, she will be a murderer of her child, by destroying a living creature, and diminishing humankind.


  • The Way of Death is filled with people who are...murderers of children and abortionists of God's creatures.
    • The Didache, book of Christian apostolic teachings, circa 100.


  • You shall not kill either the fetus by abortion or the new born.


  • I saw a gorge in which the discharge and excrement of the tortured ran down and became like a lake. There sat women, and the discharge came up to their throats; and opposite them sat many children, who were born prematurely, weeping. And from them went forth rays of fire and smote the women on the eyes. These were those who produced children outside of marriage, and who procured abortions.

    Those who slew the unborn children will be tortured forever, for God wills it to so.


  • We say that women who induce abortions are murderers, and will have to give account of it to God. For the same person, would not regard the child in the womb as a living being and therefore an object of God's care and then kill it.... But we are altogether consistent in our conduct. We obey reason and do not override it.
    • Athenagoras, Petition to Emperor Marcus Aurelius, circa 150.


  • Our whole life can go on in observation of the laws of nature, if we gain dominion over our desires from the beginning and if we do not kill, by various means of a perverse art, the human offspring, born according to the designs of divine providence; for these women who, if order to hide their immorality, use abortive drugs which expel the child completely dead, abort at the same time their own human feelings.


  • Reputed believers began to resort to drugs for producing Sterility and to gird themselves round, so as to expel what was conceived on account of their not wanting to have a child either by a slave or by any paltry fellow, for the sake of their family and excessive wealth. Behold, into how great impiety that lawless one has proceeded, by inculcating adultery and murder at the same time.


  • Some women take medicines to destroy the germ of future life in their own bodies. They commit infanticide before they have given birth to the infant.


  • They [John and Jesus] were both alive while still in the womb. Elizabeth rejoiced as the infant leaped in her womb; Mary glorifies the Lord because Christ within inspired her. Each mother recognizes her child and is known by her child who is alive, being not merely souls but also spirits.


  • For us [Christians] we may not destroy even the fetus in the womb, while as yet the human being derives blood from other parts of the body for its sustenance. To hinder a birth is merely a speedier man-killing; nor does it matter when you take away a life that is born, or destroy one that is coming to birth. That is a man which is going to be one: you have the fruit already in the seed.


  • Concerning women who commit fornication, and destroy that which they have conceived, or who are employed in making drugs for abortion, a former decree excluded them until the hour of death, and to this some have assented. Nevertheless, being desirous to use somewhat greater lenity, we have ordained that they fulfill ten years [of penance], according to the prescribed degrees.


  • The poor expose their children, the rich kill the fruit of their own bodies in the womb, lest their property be divided up, and they destroy their own children in the womb with murderous poisons, and before life has been passed on, it is annihilated.


  • She who has deliberately destroyed a fetus has to pay the penalty of murder...here it is not only the child to be born that is vindicated, but also the woman herself who made an attempt against her own life, because usually the women die in such attempts. Furthermore, added to this is the destruction of the child, another murder... Moreover, those, too, who give drugs causing abortion are deliberate murderers themselves, as well as those receiving the poison which kills the fetus.


  • Let her that procures abortion undergo ten years' penance, whether the embryo were perfectly formed, or not.


  • Why sow where the ground makes it its care to destroy the fruit? Where there are many efforts at abortion? Where there is murder before the birth? For you do not even let the harlot remain a mere harlot, but make her a murderer also. You see how drunkenness leads to whoredom, whoredom to adultery, adultery to murder; or rather something even worse than murder. For I have no real name to give it, since it does not destroy the thing born but prevents its being born. Why then do you abuse the gift of God and fight with His laws, and follow after what is a curse as if a blessing, and make the place of procreation a chamber for murder, and arm the woman that was given for childbearing unto slaughter?


  • They drink potions to ensure sterility and are guilty of murdering a human being not yet conceived. Some, when they learn that they are with child through sin, practice abortion by the use of drugs. Frequently they die themselves and are brought before the rulers of the lower world guilty of three crimes: suicide, adultery against Christ, and murder of an unborn child.


  • Those who give drugs for procuring abortion, and those who receive poisons to kill the foetus, are subjected to the penalty of murder.
    • Council of Trullo, canon XCI, 692.


  • Observe, O man, and see whether the dog goes after the bitch after she has conceived. Look at the cow or certainly at the mare, and notice whether the bulls or stallions bother them after they are with young. Obviously, they forego the pleasure of intercourse when they sense that they are unable to produce offspring. Therefore, since bulls and dogs and other kinds of animal show such regard for their young, it is men alone, whose teacher was born of the Virgin, who have no fear of destroying and killing their little ones, made in the image of God, just so that they can satisfy their lust. This is the reason why many women practice abortion before their term is complete, or certainly why they discover means of mutilating or damaging the tiny and still fragile limbs of these little ones. And thus, as they are impelled by their incentives to lust, they are first murderers before they become parents.
    • St. Peter Damian, letter 96, Letters 91-122, Fathers of the Church: Medieval Continuation, Owen J. Blum, O.F.M., 1998, Catholic University of America Press, pp. 62-63, ISBN 0813208165 ISBN 9780813208169. Editor's note: "Here we have one of the few references, perhaps the only explicit one, in Damian's letters, to the practices of abortion. And to the horror of post-modern feminists he puts the blame on 'the many women who practice abortion', charging them 'with being murderers before they became parents'. This discussion and its context are important evidence from the Central Middle Ages, reflecting the constant opposition of the Church to abortion from the Council of Elvira (ca. 302) to the present".


  • If one strikes a pregnant woman or gives her poison in order to procure an abortion, if the foetus is already formed or quickened, especially if it is quickened, he commits homicide.
    • Henry Bracton, 2 On The Laws and Customs of England, 341 (S.E. Thorne trans., George E. Woodbine ed. 1968) (1250 A.D. or thereabouts).