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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature


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The crime of procuring abortion is little noticed in the earliest laws. It is a crime of civilization; in a barbarous state of society the parallel crime is infanticide. The practice was horribly prevalent among the Romans of the empire, although punishable with banishment and sometimes with death, and was a ground of accusation by the early Christians against the heathen. Tertullian denounces the practice as homicidal, declaring it to be but the anticipation or hastening of murder. "Prevention of birth is the precipitation of murder."' Minucius Felix declares it to be parricide.

The Council of Ancyra (A.D. 314) limited its punishment to ten years' penance. The Council of Lerida (324) classes the crime with infanticide, but allows the mother to be received to communion after seven years' penance, even when her sin was complicated with adultery. The Council of Trullo classes it with homicide. Pope Gregory III, in the next century, reverts to the ten years' penance, but modifies the sentence to a single year in cases where the child has not been formed in the womb: this is based on Exodus 21. By the Visigothic law, the person who administered a draught for the purpose was punished with death. See Bingham, Christ. Antiq. bk. 16 ch. 10, 4.

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Abortion'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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