A few years, the Irish Times' Women's Podcast looked into the historical relationships between the Catholic Church and abortion, based on extant old religious texts (mostly from Ireland). There's lots of interesting stuff here, but I found this the most fascinating:
The Penitential of Vinnian (often attributed to Finnian of Clonard) takes an even more permissive attitude to abortion. … If [a woman] has an abortion, she is to fast on bread and water for six months and refrain from wine and meat for two years. "But if she bears a child and her sin is manifest, (she shall do penance) for six years, as is the judgement in the case of a cleric, and in the seventh year she shall be joined to the altar, and then we say her crown can be restored and she may don a white robe and be pronounced a virgin." Presumably this restored virginity after six years of penance for childbirth applied specifically to nuns, not laywomen.
Significantly, however, Vinnian treats religious men's sexual and reproductive sins much more severely. If a cleric has sex only once and covertly, he is to fast a full year on bread and water and two years without wine and meat; if it's habitual, three years on bread and water, three years without wine and meat, and loss of office. A cleric who begets a child and commits infanticide must fast for three years on bread and water, followed by three years without wine and meat for two-thirds of each year and one-third on bread and water as well as "exile from his own country, until a period of seven years is completed." Only after all that is he eligible to be restored to office. Vinnian concludes that section by declaring, "If, however, he has not killed the child, the sin is less, but the penance is the same." For abortion, the sin must have been significantly less, as the penance was nowhere near the same.
It continues to baffle me how many Americans base their voting habits entirely on the abortion issue. I can certainly understand why some might be opposed to abortion; but I can't wrap my head around the insistence of those whose entire political belief system is centered on forcing medical decisions on other human beings. Most of the time, these people use religion as a shield, to justify their dictatorial views. But, as this research shows, religious history tells a different story.
(and as modern research shows: the best way to reduce abortions is to comprehensive sex education and easy access to contraceptives.)
Saints once did abortions – it was a lesser sin than oral sex [Maeve Callan / The Irish Times]
Image: Debra Sweet/Flickr (CC 2.0)