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When Did the Pro-Life Movement Start?

With everything that is happening culturally surrounding the pro-life movement, it can seem like the past few decades have taken the center stage in importance. However, there has been a long history of pro-life work throughout the world. So, when did the pro-life movement actually start? What is important to know about its history? 

Caring Network is a pro-life organization in the Chicagoland area and beyond. Through the work of our pregnancy centers, families are impacted, women’s lives are changes, and babies are saved. We come alongside a woman in the initial stages of her unplanned pregnancy, and continue to offer support to help set her and her family up for long-term success. To learn more about how we are reaching more women and saving more lives, contact us today!

The Beginning of the Pro-Life Movement

The pro-life movement is known the world over as dedicated Christians from different denominations speak out against the horror of abortion. Even so, few realize the sad truth that abortion has been around for thousands of years, and the first pro-life movement originated not in modern times but in Ancient Rome as early Christians spoke out against the practice. The Didache, an early Christian document dating to the first century AD, clearly stated that a baby should not be killed either by abortion or after he or she was born. The Letter of Barnabas, which dates to the second century AD, also condemns abortion and infanticide. Later Christian leaders, including Augustine of Hippo, Gregory of Nyssa, Maximus the Confessor, and Basil of Caesarea, all condemned abortion, as did various church councils in the third and fourth centuries after Christ’s birth. The practice became outlawed in the 300s when Roman Emperor Constantine became a Christian; unfortunately, it never died out. Furthermore, debate raged even in the church as Christian leaders wrestled with questions regarding when a fetus should be considered “a living being” and what sort of punishment should be doled out for women who had abortions and those who helped them do so. While some equated the practice to taking a life and said that those who had an abortion should be treated as murderers, others noted that poor Christian families struggled to provide for the children they already had; additionally, they pointed out, women often sought abortions out of shame or fear rather than maliciousness.

Pre-Roe v. Wade

In the early 1900s, abortion was still against the law in the United States, but the ban on the practice wasn’t enforced in many instances. It was at this time that the Catholics formed the backbone of what was then the pro-life movement, as the church made it clear that all humans, including the unborn, were formed in God’s image. Even so, the church’s main focus was not on passing laws against the practice but rather on providing care and a strong safety net for the poor and needy. The church rightly realized that providing for low-income families who were most likely to consider abortion would limit the practice and thus protect the unborn from harm.

In the 1960s, states began to pass laws making allowance for abortion under certain circumstances, including rape, incest, fetal deformity, or a mother’s physical or mental health issues directly related to her pregnancy. At this point in time, abortion began to become a contentious political issue. The fight culminated with the 1973 Supreme Court ruling legalizing first-trimester abortion throughout the United States. The ruling was based on a previous case outlining a woman’s right to privacy in choosing to use contraception, but was inherently flawed due to the fact that medical science at the time could not conclusively prove that a fetus was a living being before “quickening”; that is, the point when it began to move around in the womb. While the medical industry eventually realized that a fetus is a living being from the point of conception onwards, Roe vs. Wade remained in place and was even expanded on in 1992 as the Supreme Court rules in the Planned Parenthood vs. Casey case that women could not be restricted from seeking an abortion up until the point of viability.

Post-Roe v. Wade

As attitudes and laws on abortion changed, a growing number of Christians from different denominations began to speak out against the practice. Pro-life protestors began to protest outside of abortion facilities, urging women to reconsider their choices while at the same time condemning abortion providers. Moreover, the pro-life lobby began to lobby lawmakers to create laws restricting abortion. They had limited success; in 1976, the passage of the Hyde Amendment stopped the United States government from using Federal funds for abortion. In 1984, then-United States President Ronald Reagan signed a law making it illegal for recipients of United States aid to use this funding for abortion. At the state level, the pro-life movement sought to motivate state lawmakers to pass laws restricting abortion by either passing “heartbeat bills” that would make abortion illegal after a woman is six weeks pregnant, and/or forcing abortion clinics to adhere to the same standards as other medical facilities. As the pro-life movement became increasingly political, conservative political candidates began to seek its approval and endorsement in order to win political office.

Pro-Life and Christianity

When did the pro-life movement start? Truth be told, it started in Ancient Rome as Christians vocalized their support for some of the most vulnerable members of society. They not only advocated for the end of abortion but also promoted women’s rights, children’s rights, and basic human rights for the poor and downtrodden. They helped the widows, slaves, former slaves, and other vulnerable members of society. Growing Christian influence changed hearts and minds and led to the outlawing of abortion and the introduction of basic human rights for vulnerable people all over the world. Laws permitting men to beat or kill wives suspected of adultery, the practice of leaving unwanted babies outside to die, Gladiatorial games, and other abhorrent customs all became things of the past as Christianity took hold in the years following Christ’s life on earth.

While the term “Pro-Life” is commonly defined as “against abortion,” it means far more than saving the lives of unborn children. Being pro-life is about caring for all lives, regardless of age, skin color, ethnic background, religion, or any other defining criteria. Thus, we strive to live what Jesus taught and provide free care, practical assistance, medical help, and a listening ear to women who would otherwise be led to believe that abortion is the only answer to their current predicament. Our team isn’t here to judge people; rather, we help women deal with the multiple challenges a pregnancy can bring and make smart decisions they won’t soon regret. Get in touch with us at your convenience if you or someone you know needs help, and we will do everything in our power to offer the support and assistance every pregnant mother needs and deserves.

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