Mainline Protestants Are Rethinking Pro-Choice Positions on Abortion

WASHINGTON (RNS) – Mainline Protestant denominations – long identified with the pro-choice side of the abortion debate – have begun to revise and reassess their positions on this divisive moral and political issue.

The reassessment has come as opponents of abortion within the denominations have begun to organize themselves more effectively, posing the most formidable challenge to the churches’ pro-choice views since abortion was legalized in 1973.

According to many in the churches, the mainline Protestant activity also is challenging the view that opposition to abortion is purely a matter of Roman Catholic or fundamentalist Protestant doctrine.

For instance, the Presbyterian Church (USA), on October 15, sent study materials on abortion to its 12,000 congregations, launching a four-month period of review of a 1983 statement issued by the denomination. The 1983 position came under attack by local church bodies at the denomination’s annual meeting last July. Many objected to the statement’s view that abortion is not only a right but sometimes an “act of faithfulness before God.”

“The church is not satisfied with its position on abortion. There is a great deal of fermentation and rethinking going on,” said Dr. James Andrews, recently elected as Presbyterian stated clerk, the equivalent of church president.

In other recent Protestant developments on abortion:

-The Lutheran World Federation, which embraces 54 million Lutherans, passed a strong resolution at its August meeting in Budapest, Hungary, opposing the abortion of “pre-born children.”

-The General Conference of the United Methodist Church, meeting last May, tightened its stand on abortion, and touched off a growing dispute in the church over the significance of the revision.

-At its quadrennial meeting in mid-summer, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the second largest black denomination in the country, reaffirmed its opposition to legal abortion except in cases of rape and incest.

-At its 1985 general convention, the Episcopal Church is expected to face the strongest challenge ever to its “unequivocal opposition” to laws against abortion. Mounting the effort now is the newly-incorporated National Organization of Episcopalians for Life, known by its acronym, NOEL.

-In July, delegates to the annual meeting of the Church of the Brethren, a historic “peace” church, tightened its position on abortion by stating flatly that the church “opposes abortion because the rejection of unborn children violates the love of God by which God creates and nurtures human life. “

At the same time, however, the Brethren supported the “integrity of conscience in decision-making in relation to pregnancy and child-bearing This protest against abortion, combined with moral support for those who feel they must undergo an abortion, reflect two main tenets held by the Brethren – respect for life and respect for conscience.

-In June, the 14-million-member Southern Baptist Convention passed its strongest anti-abortion resolution ever, opposing it even in cases of rape and incest. The nation’s largest Protestant denomination first went on record against legal abortion in 1980.

Dr. Andrews of the Presbyterian Church said he sees a “very broad concern and rethinking” on abortion underway in his denomination and possibly throughout mainline Protestantism. . . .

Behind much of the reassessment have been a growing number of organized anti-abortion groups within the churches. Unlike other right-to-life groups, they tend to stay out of the public arena and work, instead, on reversing or modifying their churches’ views.

They often base their appeals on Scripture and “original” Christian teachings, as well as on recent medical advances. The groups have been influenced by new procedures such as those involving medical treatment of the fetus and techniques allowing pregnant women to see and hear their unborn. A heavy emphasis is also placed on services to help troubled pregnant women have their babies. Some denominations have also called for these services as an alternative to laws against abortion (Sword of the Lord [6 November 1984], p. 10).

Guardian of Truth XXIX: 1, p. 12
January 3, 1985