|220th GA Report: Part IV - Advocacy for abortion access softened, but not averted|
Item 21-03 was adopted as it came out of committee. Commissioner, Rev. Justin Marple sought to amend the committee's recommendation to remove items 1-3, but at nearly 1:00 am commissioners seemed to hear only two things: 1) Health Issues committee "worked so hard to find balanced language even though they were deeply divided," and 2) the 1992 policy is "awesome" and commissioners wanted to affirm that. Unfortunately, the part of the 1992 policy that commissioners affirmed and re-stated in the amended Item 21-03 is the heart of the platform for legislative advocacy that has fueled one-sided pro-abortion advocacy for the last 20 years. It protects only the woman's decision to choose abortion and does nothing to protect life in the womb—also created in God's image and also a life for whom Christ died.
Commissioners in committee 21 heard testimony by a local Pittsburgh PC(USA) member who is the Executive Director of Women's Choice Network overseeing 5 pregnancy care centers in Pittsburgh. The original overture from Albany Presbytery sought to place restrictive requirements on pregnancy centers while liberating abortion clinics from restrictions and advocating for public funding for the latter.
Amy Scheuring shared with commissioners the good ministry of pregnancy care centers and informed them that many PC(USA) churches are among those that support these centers through mission partnerships. "I didn't know all the good things pregnancy centers do," one woman's advocate shared with me privately after open hearings in the committee. Ms. Scheuring's testimony helped to influence commissioners to delete the unbalanced advocacy in recommendation 4 of the overture.
Commissioners wrestled for hours to edit the overture seeking to find a more balanced advocacy. Unwilling to let go of advocacy for "access" to both contraceptive and abortion services, they sought to include language affirming life. The resultant uncomfortable pairing is illustrated in the paragraph below.
"Recognizing that women and men deserve full access to health care as a basic human right" whether or not medical insurance is available, the 220th General Assembly (2012) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) seeks to protect all women's and men's access to comprehensive health care, including access to health services that enable responsible family planning and honor the exercise of individual conscience and the gift of human life, by..."
Unfortunately, the balance was not retained as the hour grew later and commissioners just wanted to move on. Pro-Life Presbyterians will recognize that "full access" means to include abortion services and that to include it in "private and public health plans" is to deny choice to those whose for whom participating in a health insurance covering abortion is morally wrong (underline mine).
"1. encouraging the church, its members and councils, and directing the Office of Public Witness to support full access to reproductive health care for both women and men in both private and public health plans; and directing the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations to support similar access through international aid organizations and programs;
Commissioners sought to protect the conscience of some, but in requiring the involvement of the whole church in abortion decisions, they assault the integrity of individual conscience for those who are convinced that life in the womb belongs to God and it cannot be a 'good moral decision' to abort that life because the taking of another human life is prohibited by God as taught in Scripture.
"2. protecting the integrity of individual conscience by affirming the ability of women and men to make good moral decisions in matters of reproductive health, including decisions about infertility, parenthood, and responses to problem pregnancies, in consultation with their families, pastors, health-care professionals, and scientifically accurate medical information;
The odd pairing of two divergent concepts is not new to the church when it comes to abortion. The very language of the 1992 report that commissioners chose to affirm contains its own paradox.
"3. affirming the position of the 204th General Assembly (1992) Majority Report "Response to the Report of The Special Committee on Problem Pregnancies and Abortion," Item 3, pages 14–15, Items a. through h.:
"(a) The state has a limited legitimate interest in regulating abortions and in restricting abortions and in restricting abortions in certain circumstances.
"(b) 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.
"(c) 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.
"(d) No law or administrative decision should provide for a complete ban on abortion.
"(e) No law or administrative decision should
"(i) limit access to abortions;
"(ii) limit information and counseling concerning abortions; or
"(iii) limit or prohibit public funding for necessary abortions for the socially and economically disadvantaged.
"(f) No law should prohibit access to, nor the practice of contraceptive measures.
"(g) No law should sanction any action intended to harm or harass those persons contemplating or deciding to have an abortion.
"(h) No law should condone mandatory or forced abortion or sterilization. Such laws should be abolished where they do exist;"
"And further affirming that no state or federal law should be enacted to defund or criminalize family planning for the purpose of denying or delaying access to family planning services;
Through hard work in committee commissioners did avert language in the original Albany overture that targeted pregnancy centers as deceptive and sought to require public disclosure of their "anti-abortion affiliations". Commissioners saw the bias in that and realized there are "bad apples" on both sides. They substituted language (#5) that seeks honesty from all organizations dealing with reproductive health care. Recs. 5-7 are statements of advocacy that the whole church can support and provide an example of advocacy that has potential for a united voice "speaking truth to power". One last attempt to delete Recs. 1-3 by a commissioner in plenary did not prevail. It would have been refreshing and healing if the GA had decided to only say those things that we could heartily support as one voice:
"5. supporting effective and full public disclosure of information regarding reproductive health care and opposing public funding of any organizations shown to provide misinformation concerning reproductive health issues;
"6. encouraging the church, its members and councils, and directing the Office of Public Witness to advocate for more generous paid family and medical leave policies and corresponding policies that provide quality childcare and preschool programs in order to strengthen the family life of working parents and promote the development of children.
"7. encouraging the church, its members and councils, and directing the Office of Public Witness to identify and support programs that research shows to be effective in reducing unintended pregnancies and teenage pregnancy, thereby reducing the number of abortions in the U.S."