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Q: Has the Church always opposed legal abortion?
A: Some critics of the Church’s teaching on abortion have attempted to twist history and make it seem as if the Church has only recently opposed abortion. But a through look at the writings of the Church fathers and members of the magisterium shows that this is simply not the case. Consider the following examples of Church teaching on the issue of abortion (available from Catholic Answers):
“You shall not procure [an] abortion, nor destroy a newborn child”
— Didache 2:1–2 70 A.D.
“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”
—Tertullian. Apology 9:8 – 197 A.D.
“Let her that procures abortion undergo ten years’ penance, whether the embryo were perfectly formed, or not”
—St. Basil the Great. First Canonical Letter, canon 2 – 374 A.D.
John Paul II recounts how the Popes of the 20th century carried on this ancient tradition and says this in Evangelium Vitae:
“Given such unanimity in the doctrinal and disciplinary tradition of the Church, Paul VI was able to declare that this tradition is unchanged and unchangeable. Therefore, by the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors, in communion with the Bishops — who on various occasions have condemned abortion and who in the aforementioned consultation, albeit dispersed throughout the world, have shown unanimous agreement concerning this doctrine — I declare that direct abortion, that is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, always constitutes a grave moral disorder, since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being. This doctrine is based upon the natural law and upon the written Word of God, is transmitted by the Church’s Tradition and taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium.”