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Abortion and the Church: a timeline

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Initial post: Feb 17, 2012 10:53:06 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 17, 2012 10:59:44 AM PST
Good Book says:
Outside observers may wonder why the public never used to hear from the Vatican about abortion; and why we hear about very little else from the Vatican, these days, *except* abortion.

The Church forbade Catholic women to seek abortions long before Roe v Wade. But it was a matter between the woman and the Church. The Vatican made at best a feeble attempt to influence legislation -- or even to shape public opinion outside the Roman Catholic Church.

For example, if you search the NY Times historical index, for the terms <abortion> and <vatican>, one comes up with the following hits (*including* letters to the editor, and news summaries, not just articles)
1941-1945: 1
1946-1950: 1
1951-1955: 5
1956-1960: 4
1961-1965: 10

In 1962, Mrs. Robert Fishbein received a legal medical abortion, to terminate the pregnancy of a fetus that was deformed by Thalidomide, a prescription drug that caused thousands of birth defects, especially in the UK. The Vatican made a rare public statement, calling Mrs. Fishbein's and her surgeon criminals ("A crime has been committed..." the Vatican announcement began); an announcement that caused outrage around the world, even among liberal Roman Catholics.

Meanwhile, the Church was debating which forms of birth control besides the unreliable rhythm method should be permitted to Roman Catholics. In December 1965, the Vatican Council was still unresolved whether it would approve condoms and the Pill for contraceptive use. Liberal bishops believed they would carry the day, in getting approval; but the Council failed to come to a decision (See The Catholic Gazette, 12/1966, and "Priest Says Catholics Rebel on Birth Control, NY Times 12/31/66)

1966: 8 news items, etc., in the NY Times

1967: 17

In April 1967, the the majority report of the Vatican Council was disclosed to the world press. As it turns out the majority had expressly sought a papal shift on contraception, affirming not just the unreliable rhythm method, but all "decent and human means of contraception." The Vatican at the time declined comment.

In June 1967, the Vatican issued a statement that Pope Paul VI would "study the need for birth control within the context of the church's eternal values."

1968: 9 news items, etc., in the NY Times
1969: 11
1970: 5

In its decision of January 22, 1973, in Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed a woman's right to choose. The RC church opposed the ruling; continued to assert the Church's right to legislate the rights, family planning, and personal conscience of Catholics; but it did not yet begin the propaganda campaign that has engulfed U.S. religion for the past quarter-century.

In 1984, the Vatican criticized US VP candidate Geraldine Ferraro (RC) for her statement that abortion should be a matter of personal choice and private conscience.

Also in 1984, Catholic nuns in America signed a statement affirming diversity of opinion about abortion, among Roman Catholics. Those courageous sisters were joined by others. The Vatican demanded that they recant; and over the next few years, hardened its opinion on contraception while disciplining and persecuting those clergy and nuns who opposed the Vatican's tyranny.

In 1988, the international order of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur defied the Vatican, refusing to dismiss nuns in its order who had signed the 1984 declaration. Outraged by this challenge to patriarchalist fascism, the Vatican strengthened its assault on dissent, and further hardened its position on both contraception and abortion, thereby escalating its commitment to a wrong idea, and for the wrong reasons.

In 1985, clerical sex abuse became front-page news for the first time, as Louisiana priest Gilbert Gauthe pleaded guilty to 11 counts of molestation of boys. That led to thousands of fresh complaints around the world, and many new court cases -- an epidemic of abuse and litigation that has not abated.

Rising to the challenge, the Vatican very cleverly diverted public and Roman Catholic outrage, from clerical sex abuse, to the "sin" of abortion rights. For the Vatican, it was smart politics: Hammering on the hypothesis that abortion is a sin, the Church could take the high ethical ground on human sexuality. And since abortion is a "sin" that few Catholics committed, the Church risked few defections over that issue. Abortion was an issue around which Catholics could rally, and one with strong emotional appeal when accompanied by graphic photographs, purple rhetoric, and the language of criminality. Moreover, abortion proved an emotional issue that cold enrich church coffers in donations.

From 1985 to the present, abortion has continued to be the Vatican's frontline issue, for at least one simple reason: it distracts loyal Roman Catholics from getting too concerned over clerical child abuse - which is something that laymen cannot control. But "baby murders" are occurring all over the world -- and that is an issue that the Vatican would like all good Catholics to get exercised about.

Here's the corker: The Church knows that its grounds for prohibiting abortion is one big lie. God's Word is absolutely explicit that the spirit (Hebrew ru'ach, Greek pneuma) begins at the exact moment when the human organism draws its first independent breath. God's Word is explicit, as well, that the organism becomes a soul (Hebrew nephesh, Greek psyche) when that first breath is drawn. That teaching of Scripture is consistent in both Old and New Testaments, right from the get-go:

Genesis 2:7: "And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life [ru'ach]; and man became a living soul [nephesh].

The Old Testament teaching is affirmed in the New Testament. Paul, for example, offers a close paraphrase of the verse I have just cited, from Genesis:

I Cor. 15:45: "And so it is written, The new Adam [Christ] was made a quickening *spirit* [at the birth of Jesus; from pneuma, breath; for OT Hebrew ru'ach, breath], just as the first man, Adam, was made a living *soul*" [psyche, for OT Hebrew nephesh].

Lacking Scripture to support its cynical anti-abortion crusade, the Vatican has directed the clergy to enlist such material as can be cobbled together from the Bible, such as Psalm 139:13-14 ("You knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made"), where it is alleged that "knit" refers to the stitching together of the body, soul, and spirit (absurdly so; every Bible scholar knows that the Hebrews of the Davidic era believed no such thing). Another favorite is Jeremiah 1:5: "Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you" (which is a verse also cited by the Mormons, to prove that the soul, or psyche, or nephesh, predates birth and the first breath); as if the Lord and David were in communication before the fetus drew breath.

That the spirit of the fetus precedes the first breath at birth is a rubbishy, cynical, and false reading of Scripture - and the Church *knows* that. In denouncing women who have had an abortion as "evil," as "murderers," as "baby-killers," the Roman Catholic Church is cynically covering for its own evil of child-molesters; while perpetrating an additional evil against hundreds of thousands of conscientious woman around the globe, who when faced with a difficult choice, chose not to bring their fetus to term.

What's most outrageous is that the Roman Catholic Church, having ramped up its rhetoric, year after year, from 1985 to the present, has now enlisted copycat evangelical groups, in calling abortion "murder." Fetuses that have never drawn breath, nor ever harbored a single thought in their undeveloped brains, are spoken of as victims of murder. Women who have received abortions are criminalized as the killers of their own human children. That practice is vicious, evil, and unfair to all human life on the planet, not just to those women who are being vilified by the Church.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of living children die unnecessarily every single day, due to poverty, malnutrition, and lack of medical care.
Millions of black Africans have died, or remain desperately ill, whose lives would be saved from HIV/AIDS were it not for the Vatican's hardline position on condoms. For those humans, too, the Church registers its contempt; but they are black, and poor, and are seen as a drain on the Church's coffers.

If it were up to me, I would deny tax-exempt status to the Roman Catholic Church, and to any so-called nonprofit organization that spends more money and energy fighting abortion rights than it does on the suffering poor. Let the Vatican impose its perverse morality, and its non-Scriptural definition of murder, on Roman Catholics; but its authority stops there. And let Roman Catholic laymen stop trying to impose their topsy-turvy moral judgments on the rest of us women, whose bodies, and conscience, are our own. There are now more than seven billion living humans on this planet, most of whom live a hand-to-mouth existence. Pope Benedict: if you truly care about children, then do something about those living children who will be dead tomorrow, if you do not take action, today. And before you call those women "murderers" who are, in fact, making a thoughtful choice, please bite your tongue and begin to clean up your own house.

Posted on Feb 17, 2012 11:00:33 AM PST
Rev. Otter says:
rembember when Jesus tended to the sick on Sabbath and the pharasees got all mad and stuff, but Jesus said STFU because helping people is more godly than following some religious rule?

good times, good times.

Posted on Feb 17, 2012 11:00:35 AM PST
A Customer says:
I'll never understand why some people feel the need to use sockpuppets

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 17, 2012 11:06:40 AM PST
Good Book says:
Thank you, Rev. Otter, for reminding us of where Jesus' priorities lay.

It is perhaps worth noting as well that it took exactly 43 seconds for my lengthy post to receive its first vote of "no." Okay, one person (now two) believe my message does not add to the discussion, even without having read it. I think that indicates pretty clearly what's at stake here -- and it's not the evidence, or the history, or God's Word, that matters to the anti-woman crowd. For at least one so-called "pro-life" poster, what matters is to squash discussion, and to suppress the historical record.

Good Book

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 17, 2012 11:20:36 AM PST
A customer says:
"I'll never understand why some people feel the need to use sockpuppets"

Quips the petulant poster with multiple accounts.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 17, 2012 11:29:32 AM PST
Good Book says:
Dear Mr. Macheath (I assume you are a man),

Please take your jokey, snide cynicism elsewhere. and please do not come back to this thread. Your smug attitude is revolting. I recognize that this is a contentious issue, both for the state and for the church, and for individual citizens. But if you wish to join in the discussion, then be a man about it (or a woman, for that matter).

No one is "PRO" abortion as a means of birth control. It's a legal and medical option when other means fail to prevent pregnancy. And I know from experience that it's pretty traumatic, made more so by the rhetoric of murder that has nothing to do with anything, except rhetoric.

Has someone you love ever been faced with the difficult decision, whether or not to bring an unwanted fetus to term, and decided on abortion? Do you think that is a decision for which your smug glibness is appropriate? Or is no-voting and sarcasm your big funny idea of a thoughtful conversation?


In reply to an earlier post on Feb 17, 2012 11:38:27 AM PST
A Customer says:
Lou, the fact that you racked up 3 yes votes in seconds tells me you're up to your old games again
Your reply to A Customer's post:
To insert a product link use the format: [[ASIN:ASIN product-title]] (What's this?)

Posted on Feb 17, 2012 11:44:16 AM PST
M. Hatter says:
Now how bout a timeline on Pedophilia?

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 17, 2012 11:45:53 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 17, 2012 11:48:53 AM PST
Reesey says:
Good Book:

The CC has condemned abortion since the first century. Just b/c you didn't "know" this, doesn't mean much. The REASON you are hearing more from the CC today, is b/c it's the first time, since ancient Roman culture, that abortion has been approved in Law:

The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles

The Didache

(1st Century AD)

The Lord's Teaching to the Heathen by the Twelve Apostles:

1 There are two ways, one of life and one of death; and between the two ways there is a great difference.

2 Now, this is the way of life:...

The second commandment of the Teaching: "Do not murder; do not commit adultery"; do not corrupt boys; do not fornicate; "do not steal"; do not practice magic; do not go in for sorcery; do not murder a child by abortion or kill a newborn infant."

Consistent teaching since the first century. Sorry if that doesn't "fit" with your bias. And, BTW, "sorcery" comes from "Pharmakeia" - which included potions to prevent pregancy and/or kill a nascent human.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 17, 2012 11:48:55 AM PST
Rev. Otter says:
<<do not corrupt boys>>

mote, eye, beam, etc.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 17, 2012 11:49:08 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 17, 2012 11:51:37 AM PST
A Customer says:
It's not "bias", it's simply hate. Obama is trying to divide the country, because he has nothing else to run on, and his loyal soldiers are now ramping up the Catholic hatred for his campaign to demonize the Catholic Church (I guess demonizing Wallstreet wasn't going to win it for him so he's got a new target).

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 17, 2012 11:53:09 AM PST
A customer says:
"It's not "bias", it's simply hate. Obama is trying to divide the country..."

Yes, because the country wasn't divided about much of anything, let alone abortion, until Obama took office. That dirty Kenyan is just stirring up trouble.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 17, 2012 11:57:53 AM PST
[Deleted by Amazon on Feb 17, 2012 12:25:33 PM PST]

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 17, 2012 12:02:47 PM PST
Good Book says:
M. Hatter says, "Now how bout a timeline on Pedophilia? "

M. Hatter, I agree that pedophilia is a terrible crime, though it is not one that I or anyone in my family ever experienced. If you would be willing to confine your remarks to abortion rights -- on either side of that divisive and vexed issue -- I think that would be helpful. Thank you.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 17, 2012 12:07:46 PM PST
Good Book says:
Yes I know that the Church has forbidden abortion for many centuries (though it was widely tolerated, with various herbal abortifacients available (even from the clergy). My point is that it is a recent development for the Church to become involved, not only in legislation and politics on this issue, but to act as if its authority extended beyond Roman Catholics to all women.

I do not know the Didache book that you have cited, and cannot read Latin or Greek. I will take your word for it that your English quotation is accurate until shown otherwise, but that does not change my point: are you saying that this book, 'The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles,' was enforced upon anyone except those under the authority of the Church?


In reply to an earlier post on Feb 17, 2012 12:17:56 PM PST
Good Book says:
Rev. Otter,
If you are really a Catholic or Protestant clergyperson, would you please check the accuracy of Reesey's quotation from "The Didache," which states that abortion is described as "do not murder a child by abortion"? I am finding that quotation nowhere except on shrill anti-choice Websites. What I find in the scholarly translation (Loeb Classical Library) is this:

"the teaching is this: 2 "Thou shalt do no murder; thou shalt not commit adultery; thou shalt not commit sodomy; thou shalt not commit fornication; thou shalt not steal; thou shalt not use magic; thou shalt not use philtres; thou shalt not procure abortion, nor commit infanticide; "thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's goods"; 3 thou shalt not commit perjury, "thou shalt not bear false witness"; thou shalt not speak evil; thou shalt not bear malice. 4 Thou shalt not be double-minded nor double-tongued, for to be double-tongued is the snare of death. 5 Thy speech shall not be false nor vain, but completed in action. 6 Thou shalt not be covetous nor extortionate, nor a hypocrite, nor malignant, nor proud; thou shalt make no evil plan against thy neighbour. 7 Thou shalt hate no man; but some thou shalt reprove, and for some shalt thou pray, and some thou shalt love more than thine own life. "

I don't dispute that the book forbids abortion, as a command, along with others. But I wonder if Reesey may have been honestly deceived by the Church's false propaganda campaign, which has involved alleged falsification of the documentary record, and the alleged publication of tendentious translations.

Thank you for your help, Rev. Otter, or anyone else who may know the orginal text and can say which is the correct translation.


In reply to an earlier post on Feb 17, 2012 12:30:56 PM PST
dischism says:
You may be interested in this history of how abortion has been viewed within the Catholic church, explaining how it has changed quite drastically over the centuries.

Posted on Feb 17, 2012 12:34:52 PM PST
Good Book says:
For someone who can read ancient Greek, the text quoted by Reesey is availble online at

I have now found another English translation, which seems to deny that abortion is referenced at ALL, in the Greek text of the Didache -- but only filicide (thou shalt not kill a chld) or infanticide (a new-begotten).


In reply to an earlier post on Feb 17, 2012 12:36:05 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 17, 2012 12:45:15 PM PST
MycroftH says:
@ Reesey
>Consistent teaching since the first century.<
Not true, Reesey. The Didache was not even canonical.
"The work was considered by some of the Church Fathers as part of the New Testament but rejected as spurious or non-canonical by others, eventually not accepted into the New Testament canon."
Which is why the Didache is not part of the bible.
It's one of many apocrypha, and it didn't make it into the church's teachings. It was lost for about a millennium, until it was rediscovered in 1873 by Philotheos Bryennios...
Not a sign of "consistent teaching", if something isn't mentioned for 1000 years.

>And, BTW, "sorcery" comes from "Pharmakeia" - which included potions to prevent pregancy and/or kill a nascent human.<
Well, theologically, "it is defined as the use of evil supernatural power over people. It is closely connected to witchcraft and the casting of spells" - see Deuteronomy 18: 10-12.
Nothing to do with pharmacy and such. It does not further your intentions if you make things up...

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 17, 2012 12:43:01 PM PST
Good Book says:
Thank you , dischism,
Although this issue is important to me, I never thought to look at early church history on this issue, because I didn't realize there WAS an issue about abortion in the early church. I will go to your source and read it carefully. Thank you very much. In the meantime, I have been reading Wikipedia on the "History of Abortion." And while I mistrust Wikipedia, I find this statement, which I cannot yet verify:

"In Christianity, Pope Sixtus V (1585-90) is noted as the first Pope to declare that abortion is homicide regardless of the stage of pregnancy;[90] the Catholic Church had previously been divided on whether if believed that abortion was murder, and did not begin vigorously opposing abortion until the 19th century." --Wikipedia

I will say, in my survey of the NY Times index, the Catholic Church did not seem much interested in public statements about abortion until 1985, long after Wikipedia states the RCC began "vigorously opposing abortion." But I don't think that the opposition was vigourous outside the doors of Catholic churches and schools. For one thing, Roman Catholics were discriminated against in the US, in the 19th century, and the Church made few public statements about policy.

Thanks again for the link. I am going there, now. I fully expect that it will confirm what I already knew, and and still learning.


In reply to an earlier post on Feb 17, 2012 12:48:52 PM PST
dischism says:
You're welcome, Good Book. :)

Posted on Feb 17, 2012 12:49:26 PM PST
Good Book says:
p.s. I see that Amazon deleted one of my messages. There was nothing abusive about it. I had asked those who had voted for my OP to tell "Macheath" to identify themselves if they were willing, to disprove Macheath's false accusation that I voted for my own posts. But I guess it was against the rules for me to request that, and I withdraw my request. Instead I wish to thank everyone in the forum, male or female, Christian or not, pro-choice or not, for thoughtful discussion, without hateful comments. Thank you.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 17, 2012 12:51:02 PM PST
Rev. Otter says:
well, adding the word "abortion" is trickery IMO.

my own copy's translation is something like "you shall not murder a child, whether it be born or unborn" (from memory 'cuz i don't have it on hand, sorry).

the stretch is deciding the "unborn" part refers to medical abortion, rather than assault as made explicit in Exodus 21:22:

"When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman's husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine."

intentional miscarriage = no harm, no foul? wow.

much of the rest of the chapter deals with owning slaves, beating slaves, and selling one's daughters *into* slavery, so YMMV on the whole shebang.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 17, 2012 12:55:40 PM PST
Good Book says:
Thank you, Rev. Otter!
I will do some more research, and ask someone for guidance, and report back.
Thank you for addressing my question with courtesy and helpfulness.
More soon!

Posted on Feb 17, 2012 12:58:11 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 17, 2012 12:59:21 PM PST
Rev. Otter says:
i should also point out that the Didache was never a central or authoratative document of "the church" ... mainly because there was no unified "church" at that time, just separate congregations of Jewish-Christians.

and by the time that there *was* a unified capital-c Church, the Didache was left out of scriptural canon, and thus considered apocryphal.
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Initial post:  Feb 17, 2012
Latest post:  Mar 6, 2012

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