Abortion: An Orthodox Statement


By V. Rev. Timothy Baclig

Abortion means the intentional removal of an embryo or fetus from the womb of a pregnant woman as a result of chemical agents or surgical procedure.  The Orthodox Church has always opposed the practice of abortion and condemnations have been recorded in the writings of Church Fathers from apostolic times.  In the second Century, Tertullian (2c.) stated that “prevention of birth is precipitation of murder; it does not matter whether one takes away a life when formed, or drive it away while forming.  He also is a man who is about to be one.  Even every fruit already exists in its seed” (Apology 9).  St. Basil the Great (4c.) who also wrote on the subject, addresses abortion as premeditated murder.  He writes in canons 2 and 8: “She who purposely destroys the fetus shall suffer the punishment of murder.”  He goes on to elaborate that there is no distinction between a fetus that is formed or unformed. The earliest Synodal decision on abortion was the 63rd canon of the Synod of Elvira in .  The Synod restricts the Holy Eucharist from women guilty of abortion until on their deathbed.  The 21st canon of the regional Synod of Ankara (314 AD) decreed that offenders be given a penance of abstinence from Holy Communion for a long period of time and be permitted to attend the Divine Liturgy in contrition and only from the exterior of the church.  Abortion is clearly condemned as murder, and consenting pregnant mothers and abortionists as murderers in Canon 91 of the Quinisext Ecumenical Council.  In practice, it must be noted that the Orthodox Church has been compassionate to mothers whose lives were jeopardized without an abortion.  St. Gregory of Nyssa (4c.) formulated a theory based on the principle that an organism is given life and grows from the moment of its existence.  The mind of the Church on the subject of abortion, it must be noted, is rooted in an understanding which is implicit in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, and celebrated within the full context of the liturgical life of the Church.  The Feasts which bring focus to the subject include: the Conception of St. John the Baptist (Sept. 24), of the Holy Virgin Mother of God (Dec. 8), and of our Lord Himself (Mar. 25).  Among the references of scripture the Psalmist records: “For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13).

In conclusion, it can be said that: human beings are first conceived, receive life at inception, develop and grow as persons created in the image and likeness of God.

For further reading see: Breck, John; The Sacred Gift of Life; Orthodox Christianity and Bioethics; St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Crestwood; 1998.