Challenges to the Roman Church’s stand against “direct” abortion, those that are elective and lack medical justification have become more numerous in recent years. Perhaps, these attacks are typified by a speech given by Hillary Clinton on April 23, 2015, which, in part, reads; “And deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed” (italics mine). Secretary Clinton, and other politicians, have placed abortion into “reproductive health care”. Groups that attack the Roman Church’s teachings on abortions and demand change overlook the fact that this is not a modern question; it did not go back only to Roe v. Wade. Abortion teaching goes back to the earliest generations of the Church.
The first teaching that has been connected to the Apostolic generations is the Didache. The term translates to “teaching” and the document is also known as The Lord's Teaching Through the Twelve Apostles to the Nations. Most scholars argue that its source is the “Apostolic Fathers” and is dated, largely based on its similarities to the Gospel of Matthew, to the second half of the 1st century.
The Didache was strongly against abortion nor does it hesitate to list abortion (and infanticide) with other gross violations of the natural and moral law: murder, adultery, pedophilia, sexual immorality, magic and sorcery, coveting, perjury, greed, and conspiracies (2:1–7). Specifically, it reads; You shall not procure [an] abortion, nor destroy a newborn child” At approximately the same time, 74 A D, is the Letter of Barnabas which, in part, reads; “Thou shalt not slay the child by procuring abortion; nor, again, shalt thou destroy it after it is born”
Moving into the 2nd century, we see very powerful words written about abortion. The Apocalypse of Peter contains the following; “And near that place I saw another strait place . . . and there sat women. . . . And over against them many children who were born to them out of due time sat crying. And there came forth from them rays of fire and smote the women in the eyes. And these were the accursed who conceived and caused abortion” (The Apocalypse of Peter 25).
Athenagoras powerfully writes; “What man of sound mind, therefore, will affirm, while such is our character, that we are murderers? . . . [W]hen we say that those women who use drugs to bring on abortion commit murder, and will have to give an account to God for the abortion, on what principle should we commit murder? For it does not belong to the same person to regard the very fetus in the womb as a created being, and therefore an object of God’s care, and when it has passed into life, to kill it; and not to expose an infant, because those who expose them are chargeable with child-murder, and on the other hand, when it has been reared to destroy it” (A Plea for the Christians 35 [A.D. 177]). The Father of the Church, Tertullian, strongly connected abortion with infanticide, in a most graphic way; In our case, a murder being once for all forbidden, we may not destroy even the fetus in the womb, while as yet the human being derives blood from the other parts of the body for its sustenance. To hinder a birth is merely a speedier man-killing; nor does it matter whether 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 its seed” (Apology 9:8 [A.D. 197]).
“Among surgeons’ tools there is a certain instrument, which is formed with a nicely-adjusted flexible frame for opening the uterus first of all and keeping it open; it is further furnished with an annular blade, by means of which the limbs [of the child] within the womb are dissected with anxious but unfaltering care; its last appendage being a blunted or covered hook, wherewith the entire fetus is extracted by a violent delivery.
“There is also [another instrument in the shape of] a copper needle or spike, by which the actual death is managed in this furtive robbery of life: They give it, from its infanticide function, the name of embruosphaktes, [meaning] “the slayer of the infant,” which of course was alive. . . .
“The doctors who performed abortions all knew well enough that a living being had been conceived, and [they] pitied this most luckless infant state, which had first to be put to death, to escape being tortured alive” (The Soul 25 [A.D. 210]).
“Now we allow that life begins with conception because we contend that the soul also begins from conception; life taking its commencement at the same moment and place that the soul does” (ibid., 27).
“The law of Moses, indeed, punishes with due penalties the man who shall cause abortion [Ex. 21:22–24]” (ibid., 37).
Finally, the “Apostolic Constitutions” dated to around 400 A D, summarizes these teachings; Thou shall not slay thy child by causing abortion, nor kill that which is begotten. (7:3)
Therefore, the Roman Church can not ignore 2000 years of Sacred Tradition and teachings about life in the womb and beginning with conception. People who attack the Church want to ignore Apostolic and Patristic authority and desire to make this authority subject to societal whims, not the guidance of the Holy Spirit. .