John Paul II, Evangelium Vitæ §58 (25 March 1995):

The moral gravity of procured abortion is apparent in all its truth if we recognize that we are dealing with murder

Is this the first magisterial document to call abortion murder?

  • 2
    Question: Would you consider the Didache a magisterial document? What about the "Church Councils" Ancira and Elvira---each held in the early fourth century? Also, the Church Fathers (I believe) are all in agreement in their condemnation of abortion (as none wrote in favor of it and many, many wrote against it.)
    – DDS
    Oct 16, 2023 at 19:46
  • You may find this journal article pertinent to your question: epublications.marquette.edu/cgi/…
    – DDS
    Oct 16, 2023 at 19:54
  • And this one as well: scholarship.law.nd.edu/cgi/…
    – DDS
    Oct 16, 2023 at 19:55
  • I think (not counting the Didache) the two aforementioned councils offered the first official condemnations of abortion from the Catholic Church (not counting the Church Fathers).
    – DDS
    Oct 16, 2023 at 19:57
  • @I.Chekhov Yes, to both your questions. Also, I'm not looking for condemnations of abortion but specifically for documents that show that abortion is murder (the killing of an innocent human being).
    – Geremia
    Oct 17, 2023 at 0:24

2 Answers 2


No. The Church has considered abortion to be murder long before 1995. As Huser, The Crime of Abortion in Canon Law: An Historical Synopsis and Commentary (1942), p. 154 summarizes (my emphasis):

  1. Ecclesiastical law has always viewed the abortion of an animated fetus as murder, and although the Councils before the Middle Ages enacted penalties specifically against abortion, from the time of the Decretum of Gratian (c.1140) to Pope Sixtus V (1585-1590) the penalty of the general ecclesiastical law was simply the penalty for murder. From Pope Sixtus V to the present day, both the irregularity and the censure of excommunication have been applied specifically to abortion.

Is Evangelium Vitæ §58 the first magisterial document to call abortion murder?

The short answer is no.

Pope Sixtus V was a rigid moral individual. Prior to his papacy, he was recalled from his role as the inquisitor general in Venice due to his intensity. In 1588, he issued a papal bull declaring that abortion at any stage of a pregnancy was homicide, and that the punishement was excommunication that could only be lifted by traveling to Rome to beg for forgiveness.

In 1588 the pope issued a papal bull, Effraenatam or Effrenatam ("Without Restraint"), which declared that the canonical penalty of excommunication would be levied for any form of contraception and for abortions at any stage in fetal development. The reasoning on the latter would be that the soul of the unborn child would be denied Heaven:

Effraenatam perditissimorum

Unde non immerito sexta Synodo Constantinopolitana sancitum est, ut personae quae dant abortionem cientia medicamenta, & quae foetus necantia venena accipiunt, homicidae poenis subiiciantur, sed, et veteri Concilio Ilerdensi cautum est, ut qui conceptos ex adulterio foetus necare studuerint, vel in ventribus matrum potionibus aliquibus colliserint, si postea poenitentes ad Ecclesiae mansuetudinem recurrant, omni tempore vitae suae fletibus, et humilitati insistant, si vero Clerici fuerint, officium ministrandi eis recuperare non liceat, omnesque tam Ecclesiasticae, quam prophanae leges gravibus poenis afficiunt eos, qui in utero matris puerperium interimi, aut ne mulieres concipiant, sive ut conceptos foetus eiciant, nefarie machinantur.

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