The last two posts addressed the two most controversial of the decisions of the General Assembly (divestment & Same-gender marriage). While I intend to expand on each of these, my initial concern was to clarify the facts in each of these decisions. Before we can have a discussion or debate, we need to have the facts about what was actually decided- and what wasn’t.
Which brings me to a third controversial issue: Abortion.
This one caught me by surprise. In following the debates and decisions of the General Assembly last week, I hadn’t heard a thing about abortion. That all changed in the past couple days when I started receiving emails from people with links to op-ed pieces asserting that the PCUSA doesn’t care about the fate of babies who survived botched abortions or, even more troubling, is “OK With Killing Born Babies” (or here, or here). How did I miss this story?
Because it didn’t happen.
I don’t mind if people disagree with a particular issue or policy of the denomination. There are plenty of times when I don’t. I do mind when someone distorts the facts just to further their own agenda. I believe that is what has occurred in this instance.
Below is a summary of my responses to the people who emailed me. It includes lots of details and I’ll let you read them and make your own decisions.
One of the things I like about the PCUSA is not only are we unafraid to discuss a wide variety of issues, but that those discussions are accessible and transparent. When it comes to the General Assembly, you can see every overture discussed, the decisions that were made, the votes that were taken, and the rationale behind the decisions.
General Assembly Resource Page
If you want to view this issue (or any of the others that were considered at GA), you can go to www.pc-biz.org . For this issue, click on the tab that says "Committees", on the box on the "Committee List" box on the left, click on "Social Justice Issues", when the list of their business comes up, look for the second item ([09-02] On Entering a Two-Year Season of Reflection..."). Two of the web sites provide a link to this resource, though it appears they didn’t bother to actually read the material.
If they had, they would have seen that they had mischaracterized the Overture and its intent. The first two items that were referred to in their articles are preamble for the real intent, which is to establish a new denomination-wide study with an eye towards developing a more "Pro-Life" set of policies. The fact that this was ignored already suggests the authors have a different motive than reporting on the actions of the GA. That section of the Overture reads (in part):
3. Direct the Moderator to appoint a Special Committee on Abortion Review, carefully balanced with members representing both pro-life and pro-choice viewpoints, to
a. Conduct a thorough assessment of the financial, in-kind, lodgment, publicity, and staff support that the PC(USA) provides to organizations such as Planned Parenthood, Presbyterians Affirming Reproductive Options, Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, and other abortion providers or pro-choice organizations. A similar review should be made of denominational support provided for pro-life organizations and pro-life crisis-pregnancy support centers.
b. Review existing policies and, if needed, propose new policies that will more accurately represent the PC(USA) in its breadth of conviction about abortion, taking into account our churches’ desire to worship God in purest form (Jas. 1:27). Any new policies shall incorporate more fully the voices of pro-life Presbyterians, who have to this point largely been kept silent in denominational advocacy.
In voting the overture down, part of the rationale was that many of the concerns raised have already been addressed by past statements and current policies, the overture misrepresents these policies as well as the process that goes into making changes, and the information it seeks is already known and available.
Far from not "wanting to think about it", as one article asserts, the denomination has done quite a bit of thinking about this issue. As part of the Committees response, it listed statements from the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP), including:
While acknowledging that “we do not have substantial agreement on when human life begins,” (Minutes, 1992, Part I, paragraph 27.102) the church’s concern for the unborn is clearly stated in its current policy on problem pregnancies and abortion, “Do Justice, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly,” (204th General Assembly, 1992). Here the church calls upon Presbyterians to address the concerns that bring women to contemplate abortion: “poverty, unjust social realities, sexism, racism, and inadequate supportive relationships” (Ibid. 27.101). In addition, this policy urges churches to support women by providing various alternatives to abortion:
Presbyterian churches are urged to consider expanding or offering such resources as adoptive services, homes for pregnant women who lack the necessary financial and emotional support for childbirth and child rearing, and pregnancy counseling. In 1986, the General Assembly of the PC(USA) took a step in this direction in recommending that resource centers be set up for alternatives to abortion within each presbytery (Minutes, 1992, Part I, p. 372).
In response to (2), the ACSWP advises that as recently as 2006, the 217th General Assembly clarified the churches policy on late-term abortions or miscarriages:
We affirm that the lives of viable unborn babies—those well-developed enough to survive outside the womb if delivered—ought to be preserved and cared for and not aborted. In cases where problems of life or health of the mother arise in a pregnancy, the church supports efforts to protect the life and health of both the mother and the baby. When late-term pregnancies must be terminated, we urge decisions intended to deliver the baby alive.2
It also addressed the case of Dr. Gosnell directly:
Regardless of one’s support or opposition to legal abortion, the case of Dr. Gosnell is abhorrent to all. While statements in opposition to Dr. Gosnell’s actions would accurately reflect church policy, as well as the standards of our society and the practices of the medical community, the Moderator and Stated Clerk do not typically comment on criminal cases.
These are just some of the highlights of the Committee's (and General Assembly's) response. I would encourage you to look at the whole thing using the link above. The whole document takes up about 5 pages. The denomination's most definitive statement is the "Report of the Special Committee on Problem Pregnancies and Abortion" and it can be accessed through the PCUSA homepage. It is about 20 pages. I also have a summary of PCUSA statements and actions over the years. Copyright stipulates that it is only for congregational use, so I can’t put it on the web. I have made hard copies (it’s about four pages) which are available in the church office.
A Serious Issue
These resources are all readily accessible, available to anyone, and are free. I have no problem with someone who wants to debate the church's policies and statements on abortion (or anything else, for that matter). In fact, part of the church's stance is that these things should continue to be debated and discussed. For someone to put out an op-ed pieces like those above however, leads me to suspect that the authors were either fed this story and were lazy in their research, or they were simply cherry-picking the facts in order to support a predetermined narrative. Writing sensational articles and fueling outrage may drive traffic to their pages (and thus increase ad revenues), but it is also cavalier and dishonest. This is not about Conservatives vs. Liberals or Pro-Life vs. Pro-Choice; this is simply an issue of poor journalism. Abortion is a serious issue. It deserves better coverage. There are plenty of good reasons to advocate for different policies without having to create a bogeyman out of the PCUSA or any other group.
I invite you to read through the materials yourself. If it seems good, pass them on to others who have read the same web sites and share your concerns.