No, New York Times, Christianity’s Opposition to Abortion Is Anything But New

Kristof: Christian opposition to abortion is "relatively new in historical terms," could not be more wrong as history shows otherwise.

But early Christians did more than just condemn this barbarity. They frequently adopted these abandoned babies. Benignus of Dijon (late 100s A.D.) provided protection and nourishment for abandoned children. The former prostitute Afra of Augsburg launched a ministry to care for abandoned children — in the 200s A.D. Finally, the Christian Emperor Valentinian (who was influenced by Bishop Basil of Caesarea) criminalized child abandonment in 374.


Over the weekend, The New York Times‘s Nicholas Kristof penned an ode to a Christian abortionist, Dr. Willie Parker. In explaining how a Christian could favor abortion, Kristof (who once asked Tim Keller if he was a Christian) argued that the Christian opposition to abortion is “relatively new in historical terms.” He could not be more wrong.

“[L]et’s remember that conservative Christianity’s ferocious opposition to abortion is relatively new in historical terms,” Kristoff argued. He cited various events in the 1960s and 1970s, when the Southern Baptist Convention passed resolutions to legalize abortion, and Republicans were more likely than Democrats to say abortion was a private matter.

More insidiously, Kristof argued that the Bible does not explicitly discuss abortion, “and there’s no evidence that Christians traditionally believed that life begins at conception.” He also cited St. Thomas Aquinas, who considered abortion murder only after God imbues a fetus with a soul, and mentioned the common view that life begins at quickening, when a mother can feel the baby’s kicks.

Kristof is right to say that Christians did not traditionally believe life begins at conception — only with modern genetic advances did science reveal that at conception a distinct individual with the full complement of human DNA comes into existence. Nevertheless, once this was discovered, it was a natural application of Christian teaching to forbid abortion post conception.

Indeed, the Bible arguably does condemn abortion — and not just abortion, but chemically induced abortion, which was the central issue in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. “Medications” to induce abortion, commonly referred to as “abortifacients,” either in the form of pills or various herbs or potions, have been with humanity for thousands of years — and are arguably condemned in the Bible.

In his letter to the Galatians (penned in approximately 55 A.D.), St. Paul issued a catalogue of sins (Galatians 5:20). Among other sins, he condemned pharmakeia, the making and administering of potions. In Revelation 21:8, St. John the Evangelist condemned “sexual immorality,” and then he immediately went on to condemn pharmakois, the plural form of the same word Paul used in Galatians 5:20.

While the word is often translated “sorcery” or “witchcraft,” Alvin J. Schmidt, in his book How Christianity Changed the World, noted that “it is quite likely that when Paul used the word pharmakeia in Galatians, he meant the practice of abortion, because administering medicinal potions was a common way of inducing abortions among the Greco-Romans.”

The pagan Plutarch used the word pharmakeia to refer to contraception and abortion potions, and the early Christian document the Didache (or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, written between 85 and 110 A.D.) argues that abortion is forbidden, using the words ou pharmakeuseis, “you shall not use potions,” immediately followed by “ou phoneuseis teknon en phthora,” “you shall not kill a child by abortion.”

Other early Christians, including Clement of Alexandria, Minucius Felix, Bishop Ambrose, and St. Jerome, mentioned and condemned the common practice of women using potions (pharmakeia) to commit abortion. Even if the word pharmakeia in Galatians and Revelation does not refer to abortion, early Christians almost unanimously condemned the practice.

Perhaps one of the clearest statements came from Tertullian, a North African church father who died around 220 A.D. In his Apology, Tertullian wrote, “We may not destroy even the foetus in the womb,” and added, “Nor does it matter whether you take away the life that is born or destroy the one that is coming to birth.”

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Read another article on this topic: When There Is Theological Debate, Err on the Side of Death?