Sections "I. E." (Policy Development) and "III. A.-E." (Recommendations) of the Report of the Special Committee on Problem Pregnancies and Abortion to the 1992 General Assembly Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). PDF Print E-mail

I. E. Policy Development

Clearly there is both agreement and disagreement in our use and interpretation of Scripture. There is also agreement and disagreement on the basic issue of abortion. The committee agreed that there are no biblical texts that speak expressly to the topic of abortion, but that taken in their totality the Holy Scriptures are filled with messages that advocate respect for the woman and child before and after birth. Therefore, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) encourages an atmosphere of open debate and mutual respect for a variety of opinions concerning the issues related to problem pregnancies, and abortion.

The following areas of substantial agreement form the policy for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.):

  1. Areas of Substantial" Agreement on the Issue of Abortion
      1. The church ought to be able to maintain within its fellowship those who, on the basis of a study of Scripture and prayerful decision, come to diverse conclusions and actions.
      2. Problem pregnancies are the result of, and influenced by, so many complicated and insolvable circumstances that we have neither the wisdom nor the authority to address or decide each situation. Christians seek the guidance of Scripture in the midst of relationships and circumstances of awesome proportions that affect their interpretation and decision making.
      3. We affirm the ability and responsibility of women, guided by the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit, in the context of their communities of faith, to make good moral choices in regard to problem pregnancies.
      4. We call upon Presbyterians to work for a decrease in the number of problem pregnancies, thereby decreasing the number of abortions.
      5. The considered decision of a woman to terminate a pregnancy can be a morally acceptable, though certainly not the only or required, decision. Possible justifying circumstances would include medical indications of severe physical or mental deformity, conception as a result of rape or incest, or conditions under which the physical or mental health of either woman or child would be gravely threatened.
      6. We are disturbed by abortions that seem to be elected only as a convenience or to ease embarrassment. We affirm that abortion should not be used as a method of birth control.
      7. Abortion is not morally acceptable for gender selection only or solely to obtain fetal parts for transplantation.
      8. Under circumstances in which abortion is the decision, it is preferable for it to happen earlier rather than later.
      9. We do not wish to see laws enacted that would attach criminal penalties to those who seek abortions or to appropriately qualified and licensed persons who perform abortions in medically approved facilities.
      10. We reject the use of violence and/or abusive language either in protest of or in support of abortion, whether this occurs in places where abortions are performed, at the homes of physicians who perform abortions, or in other public demonstrations.
      11. As God has expressed love and grace in Jesus Christ, so we are to express that love and grace to one another when faced with this difficult and complex subject. Despite our diversity of opinion, we should pray for
      12. The strong Christian presumption is that since all life is precious to God, we are to preserve and protect it. Abortion ought to be an option of last resort. The large number of abortions in this society is a grave concern to the church.
      13. The Christian community must be concerned about and address the circumstances that bring a woman to consider abortion as the best available option. Poverty, unjust societal realities, sexism, racism, and inadequate supportive relationships may render a woman virtually powerless to choose freely.
      14. Presbyterians hold varying points of view about when human begins. The five most common viewpoints are
        1. at conception, when a woman's unfertilized egg is fertilized by a male's sperm, producing a zygote,
        2. when the following criteria, developed by the Harvard Medical School, are met: (a) response to eternal stimuli, (b) presence of deep reflex action, (c) presence of spontaneous movement and respiratory effort, and (d) presence of brain activity ascertained by the electroencephalogram. These criteria would be met by the end of the third month in almost all cases.
        3. at "quickening," when movements can be subjectively perceived by the woman, usually around four to five months.
        4. at "viability," when the unborn child is potentially capable. of living outside the woman's womb with artificial help (life support system). Today, our medical technology makes this possible at around 20 weeks.
        5. at birth, when the baby is physically separated from the woman and begins to breathe on its own.

        Those holding these varying points of view agree, however, that after human life has begun, it is to be cherished and protected as a precious gift of God.
        While Presbyterians do not have substantial agreement on when human life begins, we do have agreement that taking human life is sin.

      15. By affirming the ability and responsibility of a woman to make good moral choices regarding Problem pregnancies, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) does not advocate abortion but instead acknowledges circumstances in a sinful world that may make, abortion the least objectionable of difficult options.
      16. It must be clearly stated to the individual who has undergone an abortion and who believes the abortion to be sinful that there is no biblical evidence to support the idea that abortion is an unpardonable sin.

        We all sin and fall short of God's purpose for us. In caring, compassionate love, we who have experienced God's amazing grace are called to be instruments of healing, comfort, and support to all who are struggling through traumatic experiences. Together we become God's redeemed, forgiven, forgiving, community--the church.

  2. Implications for the Life and Witness of the Church

    It is a strong part of our Reformed heritage that the Christian is always under obligation to try to shape public. life according to the will of God. The church and individual Christians, therefore, are called to work for laws of the state that will accord with their understanding of the will of God. But the church must remember that it fulfills its obligation to try to shape public life not by the imposition of law, but by preaching, teaching, and living its gospel, The church cannot demand that its ethic, which is born out of its faith in the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the authority of Scripture, become the law of the state (especially of a pluralistic state like ours) for all persons. To give an analogy, from the standpoint of the Church's faith, idolatry is a violation of the first and greatest commandment. But the Church cannot demand that the state punish by legal means all of those who do not worship the God we worship.

    However, the church should do everything in its power to further the will of God in the body politic, For example, it can remind the state continually that it is not absolute, but stands under the governance and judgment of God, just as it reminds every individual of those facts. It should assist those who face difficult situations in bearing and rearing children. It should hold up before society biblical standards of sexual morality and Christian family life. And it should, by the example of all its members, model the Christian way of life, which stands in such contrast to the lifestyles of our secular society.

    The church should lead the community in wholesome nurture and loving support of people. This should include children, singles, families, and those who bear and raise families -- often in tragically poor circumstances. Because we view parenthood as a vocation, the church should provide training in parenting skills. This should emphasize the responsibility of both mother and father with mutual support.

    We recognize the concern that men and other family members have in decisions related to abortion, and we urge their inclusion in pastoral counseling surrounding the woman's decision.

    The church cannot take lightly the violations of women by men, which frequently lead to problem situations. All too often, the loneliness, neglect, and even abandonment of women result. The church is called upon to challenge the societal norms that allow these tragedies to continue.

    Even in more natural settings, the man as well as the woman share the burden of guilt for irresponsible sexual decisions.

    In the community of faith, positive male/father role models must be displayed and lived out on a daily basis. This is essential especially for young men who are surrounded by models of exploitive masculinity, absentee fathers, and dysfunctional families.

    Creative youth ministry in the context of the transforming work of the Spirit of God can assist in establishing relationships that are both responsible and faithful to the gospel of Christ Jesus.

    The church has the opportunity to provide pastoral care for all who are troubled and in need. While the church, of necessity, must speak boldly and firmly about exploitation, injustice, and the causes of problem pregnancies, it needs to speak gently and sensitively with those in need (Psalm 46: 1).

    In this situation, it carries on its ministry with humility as sinner with sinner. The community of faith is called upon to provide pastoral care in at least the following ways:

    • work with men and women in times of critical decision;
    • seek to nurture faithful and responsible relationships;
    • proclaim the gracious gift of God's mercy and forgiveness;
    • encourage new life in the spirit of God.

    It is with this understanding of the church's role in society that the following public policy initiative and suggestions for the life of the church are encouraged as ways that might both reduce the numbers of unintended pregnancies and the numbers of women who choose abortion.

    1. Encourage a Climate That Supports Responsibility:

      We believe that the church must work to create a climate, both within our own midst and in the world, that supports the equal responsibility of men and women for sexual activity and that is opposed to both early sexual activity and to irresponsible sexual activity at any age. Because some adolescents are so much at risk of unintended pregnancy, many of our efforts, both in the church and in the larger community, must be devoted particularly to them.

      This means that we proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, a part of which is that sexual activity is understood to belong in the context of a marriage marked by love and faithfulness for God, love for each other, respect for our partner and his or her bodily integrity, self- respect, and equality, mutual support and caring, and fidelity. Responsible sexuality in such a setting may include the use of contraceptives. Much as we might wish it otherwise, the church recognizes that sexual activity happens outside the marriage relationship. Thus the church continues to proclaim to the world the importance of love, respect for our partner, self-respect and equality, mutual support fidelity, and the use of contraceptives.

      In order to encourage a climate that supports responsible sexuality, our committee has considered and supports the following kinds of activities:

      (1) Influence the Media

      Influence the media -- including television, print and TV advertising, magazines, newspapers, and the music industry -- through such means as letter writing campaigns and boycotts. Our hope would be that the various media might be encouraged to: (1) more frequently portray men and women in caring, committed relationships of mutual respect and equality, rather than in abusive or adulterous relationships in which one or both partners are treated merely as objects; (2) portray sexual activity both less frequently and more responsibly, for instance, by including in story lines the use of contraceptives; and (3) show that sexual activity has consequences, many of which may be tragic and unintended.

      (2) Work to Limit Pornography

      Work to limit pornography through such means as:

      1. writing letters to the media with views in opposition to pornography;
      2. communicating with television networks and cable services about opposition to programming considered to be pornographic;
      3. communicating with store owners about opposition to the inappropriate display of pornographic materials; and
      4. boycotting materials and companies which market or produce pornographic materials (from the Recommendations section of Pornography: Far from the Songs of Songs, a study paper adopted by the 200th General Assembly (1988) of the PC(USA) [Minutes, 1988, Part I,]).

      The Special Committee on Problem Pregnancy and Abortion commends this report to anyone interested in further study of the effects of pornography,

      (3) Encourage and Provide Training for Quality Sex Education

      Sex education is one key to preventing unintended pregnancies and subsequent abortions. Christian sex education should first be done within the family and the church can help to support and train. parents in this important task. The church can also provide quality Christian sex education. (See God's Gift of Sexuality.- A Study for Young People in the Reformed Tradition in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Reformed Church of America, Presbyterian Publishing House, 1989, including a leader's guide, a book for parents, a book for younger youth, and one for older youth.) Finally, the church can advocate quality sex education programs in the public schools, beginning in the elementary grades. Such school programs should include discussions of the value of abstinence outside marriage and discussions of how to build relationships with the opposite sex based on mutual respect and equality.

      (4) Support and Provide Programs That Promote Healthy Family Life

      As we all know from our own experience, families come in many shapes and sizes -- from two parents with children to single parents with children, from grandparents caring for grandchildren to stepparents with stepchildren, from unmarried adults with no children to multiple generations under one roof. Whatever shape cur family takes, communication, cooperation, openness to the feelings and ideas of others, commitment, power sharing, mutual respect and self-respect are all elements of a healthy family that need to be worked at and practiced over a lifetime. The church can provide within its own walls programs that teach and model Christian family life. It can also provide, and support within the larger community, programs such as peer counseling, parenting classes, and support groups that will help some to overcome dysfunctional family backgrounds and that will encourage healthy relationships in all families.

      (5) Promote Quality Public Education

      Although this committee has neither studied nor can we claim to be experts in the field of public education, we feel strongly that the public education system can contribute to the lessening of unintended pregnancies and abortion. In particular, we am concerned about.- (1) lack of self-esteem in our young people; (2) lack of respect for the rights and property of others; (3) low expectations for the future and an inability to set goals and meet objectives-, and (4) lack of learning as a necessary preparation for a fruitful role in society. These are certainly problems not only for the schools -- many are perhaps first of all deeply rooted family problems. But most families cannot change without help, and our flawed social welfare system is already overburdened and under funded. Our schools have an opportunity to change lives by creating and nurturing in our young people self-respect and respect for others — by encouraging a sense of personal responsibility for one's own future and for the future of the community, by teaching the process of moral decision making, and by teaching fundamental values that should be shared by all members of our society. The church must support and assist our schools in this effort by participating in their work whenever possible and by being advocates for their needs.

      (6) Provide Appropriate Activities for Young People After School and in the Evenings

      Even though we live in a society and an age when the lives of many of our young people seem to be programmed to the point of exhaustion, our committee still feels that the church has a role to play in offering to young people activities grounded in our Christian commitment to community and to leading valuable, useful lives. We encourage churches to provide youth programming such as support groups, church sponsored sports, tutorial sessions, recreational programs, and Bible studies after school and in the evenings.

    2. Contraception

      In addition to creating a climate opposed to unintended pregnancies, the church must also address itself to questions of contraceptive access and education if its intention is to help reduce unintended pregnancies. Leaving aside for the moment questions of how different contraceptives work, churches must nonetheless support

      • mutual responsibility for contraception, with particular emphasis on programs and educational material that stress the equal role of men in preventing unplanned pregnancies;
      • contraceptive education as an integral element of quality sex education programs,
      • full and equal access to contraceptive methods; and
      • contraceptive research to develop both safer and more reliable methods and to develop specifically male contraceptives.

      In recent years, contraceptive access and education have also because important because of the growing AIDS epidemic, as it has become clear that some contraceptives inhibit the, spread of the AIDS virus.

    3. Reducing the Number of Abortions

      Because it will never be possible to eliminate completely unintentional pregnancies, our denomination and its member congregations must commit themselves, to reduce the overwhelming number of situations in which women choose to abort. There is an alarming trend in the large numbers of women making this difficult choice. The church must affirm the importance of trying to reduce these numbers. Three general directions the church might take are as follows:

      (1) Address Economic Realities

      It is the economic realities of many women's lives that cause them to consider abortion. This society does not vigorously support children, parents or families. Many women cannot imagine how they might afford to bring a child into a world in which they have a poorly paying job or no job at all. Many have no husband or have children with an absent father who provides little or no child support. Many have no guaranteed health care for themselves or their children. There are few affordable, quality day-care centers where they might safely and with integrity leave their children while they work or go to school. There is much the church can do within its own walls to help such women, for example church based health clinics or day-care centers. But ultimately, if we are to reduce the number of abortions that take place, we must commit ourselves as a church to working for legislative measures that will secure economic strength and stability for women and children. Our committee encourages the following kinds of activities:

      • Advocate universal access to health care so that pregnant mothers and families with few economic resources might feel assured that their own and their children's health will be protected.
      • Advocate measures that can help to break the cycle of poverty -- such as job training-, affordable, safe, and accessible day care; and efforts to provide affordable, adequate housing.
      • Advocate increased effort to persuade the child's father to provide economic and social support by measures to collect child support, provide marriage counseling, and reformed divorce and separation laws to better protect the child.
      • Advocate workplace policies, that support parenthood and children -- such as family leave and pregnancy leave policies that guarantee income and job protection, or onsite day care.
      • Advocate and provide respite care for families whose children are disabled.

      (2) Emphasize Alternatives to Abortion

      Christian churches have historically been leaders in providing assistance to women with unintended pregnancies. 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. In addition, the church should advocate legislative measures that would buttress alternatives to abortion, such as tax incentives for adoption.

      (3) Reduce Some Medical Reasons for Abortion

      There are many reasons why men and women turn to drugs and alcohol -- family patterns of abusive behavior, low expectations for the future, peer pressure, and economic frustrations. Whatever the reasons, alcohol and drug abuse, and diseases such as AIDS that may be consequent upon such abuse, can result in fetal deformity and are thus sometimes a reason for abortion. Many of the measures we have already discussed -- better public education, universal access to health care, job training, affordable day care -- may help a parent or family break a pattern of substance abuse. In addition, churches can also support, within their communities, family development programs, the aim of which is to break the repeated pattern of abuse that can exist within multiple generations of a family.

  3. The Church and the Law

    There is diversity of opinion in the church as to whether or not abortion should be legal and on the extent to which the government should be permitted to regulate or prohibit abortions. The church acknowledges that many of its members find fault with the philosophical basis of Roe v. Wade and its division of pregnancy into three trimesters, preferring that the state be permitted to regulate and even prohibit abortions throughout the pregnancy, rather than just at the stage of viability. Others feel that Roe's framework effectively safeguards the constitutional liberties of pregnant women while also recognizing the state's interest in protecting the unborn child and the woman.

    The special committee also recognizes that if fetal development is no longer the, standard by which the government measures the extent of its involvement in abortions, then our lawmakers must find some other acceptable standard by which the rights of the mother to terminate her pregnancy will be balanced against the state's interest in protecting the unborn child. Based on prior experiences of the courts and legislatures, it will not be easy to present a standard that will balance the competing interests in manner that will not lead to additional litigation. Courts and legislatures have not always well represented the interests of the economically disadvantaged, the undereducated, and women. Some among these groups historically have had greater difficulty in circumventing the obstacles posed by restrictive abortion legislation than have the more affluent.

    The special committee concedes that we cannot respond definitively to every legal aspect of the abortion issue in a manner that will garner consensus among the church constituency. We believe that in the shaping of the future law the following affirmations are of vital consideration.

    1. The state has a limited legitimate interest in regulating abortions and in restricting abortions in certain circumstances.
    2. Within this context of the state's limited legitimate interest, no law should impose criminal penalties against any woman who chooses or physician who performs a medically safe abortion.
    3. Within this same context of the state's limited legitimate interest, no law should deny access to safe and affordable services for the persons seeking to terminate a problem pregnancy.
    4. No law or administrative decision should provide for a complete ban on abortion.
    5. e. No law or administrative decision should
      (1) limit access to abortions;
      (2) limit information and counseling concerning abortions; or
      (3) limit or prohibit public funding for necessary abortions for the socially and economically disadvantaged.
    6. No law should prohibit access to, nor the practice of, contraceptive measures.
    7. No law should sanction any action intended to harm or harass these persons contemplating or deciding to have an abortion.
    8. h. No law should condone mandatory or forced abortion or sterilization. Such laws should be abolished where they do exist.

III. Recommendations

  1. The Special Committee on Problem Pregnancies and Abortion recommends that the General Assembly approve this paper and adopt as policy Section. I. E.
  2. We recommend that future publications of the denomination and its ministry units reflect the diversity of positions about problem pregnancies and abortion found herein.
  3. The special committee, having experienced in its own work the value of open debate and mutual respect, encourages the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) at all levels to seek such an atmosphere in the future in this and other areas of controversy and debate.
  4. We recommend that the General Assembly acknowledge the prerogative of Presbyterian entities to participate in ecumenical and interfaith organizations that represent different points of view concerning abortion. We also urge the General Assembly Council and the presbyteries to affirm procedures by which particular churches may be assured that their mission funds will not be used in violation of conscience on this issue.
  5. We recommend that the Special Committee on Problem Pregnancies and Abortion be dismissed with thanks and also that it be commended for its efforts to address the difficult issue of problem pregnancies and abortion in a reconciling and healing manner.
 

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