Abortion often seems like a modern issue of debate, but it has been around for thousands of years. In fact, the early Church was vocally opposed to abortion, seeing it as the killing of another human person.
St. John Paul II gives a brief history of the Church’s view in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae.
From its first contacts with the Greco-Roman world, where abortion and infanticide were widely practiced, the first Christian community, by its teaching and practice, radically opposed the customs rampant in that society, as is clearly shown by the Didache mentioned earlier. Among the Greek ecclesiastical writers, Athenagoras records that Christians consider as murderesses women who have recourse to abortifacient medicines, because children, even if they are still in their mother’s womb, “are already under the protection of Divine Providence.”
Among the Latin authors, Tertullian affirms: “It is anticipated murder to prevent someone from being born; it makes little difference whether one kills a soul already born or puts it to death at birth. He who will one day be a man is a man already.”
The Didache is one of the earliest records we have of the Church’s stance against abortion, dating to around the year 70 AD.
The second commandment of the teaching: You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not seduce boys. You shall not commit fornication. You shall not steal. You shall not practice magic. You shall not use potions. You shall not procure [an] abortion, nor destroy a newborn child.”Didache 2:1–2 [A.D. 70]
Roughly 2,000 years later, the Catholic Church has not changed her stance regarding abortion, as Pope Francis is one of the most vocal opponents of abortion.
While the Church has always opposed abortion, throughout the centuries the Church also stressed respecting the dignity of every human person, caring for both mother and child.
The Church believes women should not have to go through an unplanned pregnancy alone, but be surrounded by a network of people who support her and her child.