This coming January 22, 2019 will mark the 46th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision. This landmark judgment created a legal line in the sand around which people have taken sides. Since 1971, an average of more than one million helpless pre-born human lives have been snuffed out annually as women exercise their legal rights to privacy.
The very mention of abortion often elicits in the average person feelings of anger, guilt, shame, hurt, remorse, grief, or loss. Thus, discussions around this topic often generate more heat than light. How then might Christians reflect thoughtfully and intelligently about this painful topic? One way is to look for insights from history.
“What did the early Christian leaders and thinkers have to say about abortion?” This is a good question to ask. The early Christians were closest to the life of Christ; we might expect them to have a better handle than we do on the thoughts of Christ. Moreover, the moral climate in Rome during Christianity’s first few hundred years was remarkably similar to ours today. Abortions were commonplace in Rome, performed primarily for convenience and to cover up unwanted pregnancies. Women in that day drank abortifacient brews to remove unwanted fetuses from their bodies and to prevent conception. And their abortions often were performed by gruesome procedures similar to those used by modern medicine.
The primary difference was this: The early church Fathers — those who led the thinking and theology of Christians in the first several centuries of Christianity — universally condemned abortion as a sinful and immoral practice that violated the Scripture and the purpose of God for humanity. They did not waver on this issue as do some who claim to be Christians today. Even though they lacked our understanding of genetics, of the continuity of human life from conception to birth, they soundly condemned abortion at all stages of life. For them, if the aborted baby had already-developed limbs (between eight and ten weeks of pregnancy), the abortion was considered murder. If the life of a fetus was taken prior to this early stage of development, some of the Fathers still considered it murder, and others deemed it a sin, but not necessarily murder.
The early Christians did their best to honor Scripture. How can we, who call ourselves Christians and who know about the continuity of human life do less? Let us resolve to graciously and boldly stand for life at all ages and stages, doing our best to provide alternatives for those who are contemplating abortion. And for those who have suffered abortions, let us also resolve also to be merciful and kind to those precious mothers.
William Campbell is the founder and president of Scripture Awakening.