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Writings from the Fathers on the Sacred Gift of Life


They marry, as do all others; they beget children, but they do not destroy their offspring (literally: “cast away fetuses”).  – Letter to Diognetus (2nd century)


You shall not slay the child by abortions.  – The Didache (1st century)


You shall not destroy your conceptions before they are brought forth, nor kill them after they are born.  – Letter of Barnabas (c. 70)


As for woman who destroy embryos professionally, and those who give or take poisons with the object of aborting babies and dropping them prematurely, we prescribed the rule that they be treated as public penitents up to five or even three years at most.  – St. John the Faster (fl. 580, Canon XXI)


Why do you sow where the field is eager to destroy the fruit?  Where there are medicines of sterility?  Where there is murder before birth?  You do not even let a harlot remain only a harlot, but you make her a murderess as well.  Indeed, it is something worse than murder, and I do not know what to call it; for she does not kill what is formed, but prevents its formation.  What then?  Do you condemn the gifts of God, and fight with His laws?  What is a curse, do you seek as though it were a blessing?  Do you make the anteroom of slaughter?  Do you teach the women who are given to you for procreation of offspring to perpetuate killing?  - St John Chrysostom (345-407)


A woman who aborts deliberately is liable to trial as a murderess.  This is not a precise assertion of some figurative and inexpressible conception that passes current among us.  For here there is involved the question of providing justice for the infant to be born, but also for the woman who has plotted against her own self.  For in most cases the women die in the course of such operations.  But besides this, there is to be noted the fact that the destruction of the embryo constitutes another murder, at least in the opinion of those who dare to do their things.  It behooves us, however, not to extend their confessions to the extreme limit of death, but to admit them at the end of the moderate period of ten years, without specifying a definite time, but adjusting the cure to the manner of penitence.  – St Basil the Great (Canon 2) (c. 330-79)


The life in the womb may not be destroyed.  – Tertullian (c. 223)


We acknowledge, therefore, that life begins with conception, because we contend that the soul begins at conception.  Life begins when the soul begins.  – Tertullian (c. 223)


As for women who furnish drugs for the purpose of procuring abortions, and those who take fetus-killing poisons, they are made subject to the penalty for murderers.  – Sixth Ecumenical Council, Canon 91 (681)


Regarding women who become prostitutes and kill their babies, and who make it their business to concoct abortives, the former rule barred them for life from communion, and they are left without recourse.  But, having found a more philanthropic alternative, we have fixed the penalty at ten years, in accordance with the fixed degrees.  – Council of Ancyra , Canon 21 (314)


The woman who purposely destroys her unborn child is guilty of murder.  The hair-splitting difference between formed and unformed makes no difference to us.  In this case, it is not only the being about to be born who is victimized, but the woman in her attack upon herself; because the woman who makes such attempts in most cases dies.  The destruction of the embryo is an additional crime, a second murder, at all events is we regard it as done with intent.  The punishment, however, of these women should not be for life, but for the term of ten years.  – St Basil the Great (+ 379)


Women who were reputed to be believers began to take drugs to render themselves sterile, and to expel what was conceived, since they did not want to have a child.  See then into what great impiety that lawless one (Callistus, the Emperor) has fallen, by teaching both adultery and murder at the same time.  – St Hippolytus of Rome (c. 170-236)