The argument can only be made if Scripture is taken completely out of its historical context and interpreted with contemporary liberal ideas, rather than by the moral tradition that was handed on from Apostolic Age. Quotations from Early Church Fathers make it abundantly clear that Divine Revelation via Sacred Tradition resoundingly condemns abortion as a grave evil, and upholds the personhood of the fetus. Many of these quotes were taken from the Priests for Life website.
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. "Do not covet your neighbor's property; do not commit perjury; do not bear false witness"; do not slander; do not bear grudges. Do not be double-minded or double-tongued, for a double tongue is "a deadly snare." Your words shall not be dishonest or hollow, but substantiated by action. Do not be greedy or extortionate or hypocritical or malicious or arrogant. Do not plot against your neighbor. Do not hate anybody; but reprove some, pray for others, and still others love more than your own life. (1st Century AD)
"I saw a gorge in which the discharge and excrement of the tortured ran down and became like a lake. There sat women, and the discharge came up to their throats; and opposite them sat many children, who were born prematurely, weeping. And from them went forth rays of fire and smote the women on the eyes. These were those who produced children outside of marriage and who procured abortions."
"Those who slew the unborn children will be tortured forever, for God wills it to be so."
How are they dead unless they were first alive? But still in the womb an infant by necessary cruelty is killed when lying twisted at the womb's mouth he prevents birth and is a matricide unless he dies. Therefore there is among the arms of physicians an instrument by which with a rotary movement the genital parts are first opened, then with a cervical instrument the interior members are slaughtered with careful judgment by a blunt barb, so that the whole criminal deed is extracted with a violent delivery. There is also the bronze needle by which the throat - cutting is carried out by a robbery in the dark; this instrument is called and embryo knife from its function of infanticide, as it is deadly for the living infant.
This Hippocrates taught, and Asclepiades, and Erasistratus and Herophilus, the dissector of adults, and the milder Soranos himself, - all of them certain that a living being had been conceived and so deploring the most unhappy infancy of one of this kind who had first to be killed lest a live woman be rent apart. Of this necessity of crime, Hicesius, I believe did not doubt, as he added souls to those being born from blows of cold air, because the word itself for "soul" among the Greek relates to such a cooling.
- De Anima 25.5 - 6
They [John and Jesus] were both alive while still in the womb. Elizabeth rejoiced as the infant leaped in her womb; Mary glorifies the Lord because Christ within inspired her. Each mother recognizes her child and each is known by her child who is alive, being not merely souls but also spirits.
- De Anima 26.4
Thus, you read the word of God, spoken to Jeremias: "Before I formed thee in the womb, I knew thee." If God forms us in the womb, He also breathes on us as He did in the beginning: "And God formed man and breathed into him the breath of life." Nor could God have known man in the womb unless he were a whole man. "And before thou camest forth from the womb, I sanctified thee." Was it, then, a dead body at that stage? Surely it was not, for "God is the God of the living and not the dead."
- De Anima 26.5
It is not permissible for us to destroy the seed by means of illicit manslaughter once it has been conceived in the womb, so long as blood remains in the person.
- Apologia, cap 25, line 42
To the governors of Roman provinces and to the Emperor Septimus Severus, defending Christianity against various charges:
'That I may refute more thoroughly these charges ['we are accused of observing a holy rite in which we kill a little child and then eat it', Apologia 7.1], I will show that in part openly, in part secretly, practices prevail among you which have led you perhaps to credit similar things about us.
- Apologia 9.1
In our case, murder being once for all forbidden, we may not destroy even the foetus in the womb, while as yet the human being derives blood from other parts of the body for its sustenance. To hinder a birth is merely a speedier man - killing; nor does it matter whether you take away a life that is born, or destroy one that is coming to the birth. That is a man which is going to be one; you have the fruit already in the seed.
- Apologia 9.6
Give us your testimony, then, ye mothers, whether yet pregnant, or after delivery (let barren women and men keep silence), - the truth of your own nature is in question, the reality of your own suffering is the point to be decided. (Tell us, then,) whether you feel in the embryo within you any vital force other than your own, with which your bowels tremble, your sides shake, your entire womb throbs, and the burden which oppresses you constantly changes its position?
Are these movements a joy to you, and a positive removal of anxiety, as making you confident that your infant both possesses vitality and enjoys it? Or, should his restlessness cease, your first fear would be for him; and he would be aware of it within you, since he is disturbed at the novel sound; and you would crave for injurious diet, or would even loathe your food - all on his account; and then you and he, (in the closeness of your sympathy,) would share together your common ailments - so far that with your contusions and bruises would he actually become marked, - whilst within you, and even on the selfsame parts of the body, taking to himself thus peremptorily the injuries of his mother!
Now, whenever a livid hue and redness are incidents of the blood, the blood will not be without the vital principle, or soul; or when disease attacks the soul or vitality, (it becomes a proof of its real existence, since) there is no disease where there is no soul or principle of life. Again, inasmuch as sustenance by food, and the want thereof, growth and decay, fear and motion, are conditions of the soul or life, he who experiences them must be alive. And, so, he at last ceases to live, who ceases to experience them. And thus by and by infants are still - born; but how so, unless they had life? For how could any die, who had not previously lived? But sometimes by a cruel necessity, whilst yet in the womb, an infant is put to death, when lying awry in the orifice of the womb he impedes parturition, and kills his mother, if he is not to die himself.
Accordingly, among surgeons' tools there is a certain instrument, which is formed with a nicely - adjusted flexible frame for opening the uterus first of all, and keeping it open; it is further furnished with an annular blade, by means of which the limbs within the womb are dissected with anxious but unfaltering care; its last appendage being a blunted or covered hook, wherewith the entire fetus is extracted by a violent delivery. There is also (another instrument in the shape of) a copper needle or spike, by which the actual death is managed in this furtive robbery of life: they give it, from its infanticide function, the name of ….., the slayer of the infant, which was of course alive.
Such apparatus was possessed both by Hippocrates, and Asclepiades, and Erasistratus, and Herophilus, that dissector of even adults, and the milder Soranus himself, who all knew well enough that a living being had been conceived, and pitied this most luckless infant state, which had first to be put to death, to escape being tortured alive.
Of the necessity of such harsh treatment I have no doubt even Hicesius was convinced, although he imported their soul into infants after birth from the stroke of the frigid air, because the very term for soul, forsooth, in Greek answered to such a refrigeration! Well, then, have the barbarian and Roman nations received souls by some other process, (I wonder) for they have called the soul by another name than ….? How many nations are there who commence life under the broiling sun of the torrid zone, scorching their skin into its swarthy hue? Whence do they get their souls, with no frosty air to help them? I say not a word of those well - warmed bed - rooms, and all that apparatus of heat which ladies in childbirth so greatly need, when a breath of cold air might endanger their life. But in the very bath almost a babe will slip into life, and at once his cry is heard! If, however, a good frosty air is to the soul so indispensable a treasure, then beyond the German and the Scythian tribes, and the Alpine and the Arguan heights, nobody ought ever to be born!
But the fact really is, that population is greater within the temperate regions of the East and the West, and men's minds are sharper; whilst there is not a Sarmatian whose wits are not dull and humdrum. The minds of men, too, would grow keener by reason of the cold, if their souls came into being amidst nipping frosts; for as the substance is, so must be its active power. Now, after these preliminary statements, we may also refer to the case of those who, having been cut out of their mother's womb, have breathed and retained life - your Bacchuses and Scipios.
If, however, there be any one who, like Plato, supposes that two souls cannot, more than two bodies could, co - exist in the same individual, I, on the contrary, could show him not merely the co-existence of two souls in one person, as also of two bodies in the same womb, but likewise the combination of many other things in natural connection with the soul - for instance, of demoniacal possession; and that not of one only, as in the case of Socrates' own demon; but of seven spirits as in the case of the Magdalene; and of a legion in number, as in the Gadarene.
Now one soul is naturally more susceptible of conjunction with another soul, by reason of the identity of their substance, than an evil spirit is, owing to their diverse natures. But when the same philosopher, in the sixth book of The Laws, warns us to beware lest a vitiation of seed should infuse a soil into both body and soul from an illicit or debased concubinage, I hardly know whether he is more inconsistent with himself in respect of one of his previous statements, or of that which he had just made. For he here shows us that the soul proceeds from human seed (and warns us to be on our guard about it), not, (as he had said before,) from the first breath of the new - born child.
Pray, whence comes it that from similarity of soul we resemble our parents in disposition, according to the testimony of Cleanthes, if we are not produced from this seed of the soul? Why, too, used the old astrologers to cast a man's nativity from his first conception, if his soul also draws not its origin from that moment? To this (nativity) likewise belongs the inbreathing of the soul, whatever that is.
- De Anima 25
Now we allow that life begins with conception because we contend that the soul also begins from conception; life taking its commencement at the same moment and place that the soul does" (ibid., 27).
The Law of Moses, indeed, punishes with due penalties the man who shall cause abortion [Ex 21:22-24]" (ibid., 37).
How, then, when we do not even look on, lest we should contract guilt and pollution, can we put people to death? And when we say that those women who use drugs to bring on abortion commit murder, and will have to give an account to God s for the abortion, on what principle should we commit murder? For it does not belong to the same person to regard the very foetus in the womb as a created being, and therefore an object of God's care, and when it has passed into life, to kill it; and not to expose an infant, because those who expose them are chargeable with child-murder, and on the other hand, when it has been reared to destroy it. But we are in all things always alike and the same, submitting ourselves to reason, and not ruling over it.
-A Plea for the Christians 35.4
She who has intentionally destroyed [the fetus] is subject to the penalty corresponding to a homicide. For us, there is no scrutinizing between the formed and unformed [fetus]; here truly justice is made not only for the unborn but also with reference to the person who is attentive only to himself/herself since so many women generally die for this very reason.
-First Letter 2
Let her that procures abortion undergo ten years' penance, whether the embryo were perfectly formed, or not.
- The First Canonical Epistle of Our Holy Father Basil, Archbishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia to Amphilochius, Bishop of Iconium.
…those who give the abortifacients and those who take the poisons are guilty of homicide.
-First Letter 8
-Ambrose, Expositio evangelii secundum Lucam, lib. 10, line 283 [private translation]
And elsewhere the same Ecclesiastes, being an old man, guarded him better whom his mother had cast out by abortion, because he did not see these bad things which they make in this world, he neither came into these shadows nor walked in vanity, and for that reason he who did not come into this life will have more of a rest than he who came.
- De bono mortis, cap 2, par. 4, line 11
The poor get rid of their small children by exposure and denying them when they are discovered. But the rich also, so that their wealth will not be more divided, deny their children [when they are] in the womb and with all the force of parricide, they kill the beings of their wombs [while they are] in the same fruitful womb. In this way life is taken away from them before it has been given.
-Hexameron V.18.58 [private translation]
- Epistula 22
-Homily 24 on Romans
-Euporiston III, VI, 23
-Moralia, Bk. IV, line 3 [private translation]