Board of Pensions Adopts "Relief of Conscience" Process PDF Print E-mail

Measure acknowledges legitimate moral concern regarding abortion

Board of Pensions Asked to Communicate Plan to Churches

(Reprinted from Presbyterians Pro-Life NEWS, Winter 1998)

The Presbyterian Church (USA) Board of Pensions (BOP) voted at their October 25 [1997] meeting to adopt a third "relief of conscience" measure for Presbyterians whose contributions to their churches have been used to provide unrestricted abortion coverage. The measure took effect January 1, 1998. Previous attempts by the BOP to provide relief in the denomination's mandatory medical benefits plan were described by Board president John Detterick as "symbolic." He expressed the hope that Presbyterians will find the new provision effective in providing a measure of relief.

BOP responds to G.A. urging

In 1996 the General Assembly "acknowledge[d] the serious and urgent concern of those relief-of-conscience congregations and individuals" and urged the Board of Pensions to present a plan that would protect those Presbyterians' "moneys from funding abortions."

The recently-adopted measure divides the dues stream so that dollars from those churches and plan subscribers who believe unrestricted abortion to be immoral will be treated differently from dollars from those who do not register moral objections. A description of the "administrative procedure" issued by the BOP staff says,

"The Board of Pensions will divide the dues stream between those employing organizations and subscribers who have not sought relief of conscience and those who have been certified by their presbytery of jurisdiction to be relief of conscience employing organizations. All medical claims for abortion procedures and HMO capitation fees shall be paid from the non- relief of conscience dues stream. A dollar amount equal to the cost of abortion claims from the prior year will be set aside from the relief of conscience dues stream and placed in an account to assist in the medical claims of adopted new born dependents. After payment of those claims and fees, the two dues streams will be joined and all other medical claims and costs will be paid from the merged dues streams."

Because of what the BOP describes as the "community nature of the plan," all plan members will continue to have abortion coverage, and all will be eligible for the adoption assistance.

Previous efforts called "symbolic"

The BOP's action was the result of a combination of General Assembly follow up action and repeated expressions of concern from church members. Since the medical benefits plan became mandatory in the mid 1980's for all installed pastors, presbyteries have overtured General Assemblies for relief because the medical plan pays for any abortion for any reason at any time during pregnancy. When the General Assembly adopted a new abortion policy in 1992, it stipulated that churches ought to be "assured that their mission funds will not be used in violation of conscience on this issue [abortion]." In the first six years the BOP's efforts to comply were what the new BOP president called "symbolic." When he saw the board's second attempt at "relief," attorney and Presbyterian elder William A. Brafford said, "This is the second time the BOP has adopted a 'relief of conscience' measure which is acceptable mainly to those who do not have conscientious objections to abortion."

Following the action by the 1996 General Assembly, the BOP developed the third plan for relief. BOP staff presented the plan orally to Presbyterians Pro-Life representatives; met with representatives of Women's Advocacy, Women's Ministries, and Presbyterians Affirming Reproductive Options; and scheduled four conferences (in California, Ohio, Kansas, and North Carolina) in the fall of 1997 to present their plan to church members and pastors. The concerns expressed by participants in the four conferences resulted in improvements in the measure, the adoption provision in particular.

Board of Pensions Asked to Communicate Plan to Churches

(The following excerpted from Presbyterians Pro-Life NEWS, Fall 1998)

One difficulty of the relief of conscience provision is that few churches are aware of the extent of abortion coverage by our denomination (any abortion, for any reason, at any time during pregnancy - - no questions are asked) or of the provision for relief. The details of this provision have never been communicated to local churches. The 1998 GA asked

"That the Board of Pensions continue to communicate to all sessions and pastors the specific description of the relief of conscience program, including details on how to enroll in it."

The Relief of Conscience Procedure: The governing body of jurisdiction (i.e. the presbytery, not the Board of Pensions) grants Relief of Conscience after it receives a resolution from the session of a church. The church sends the resolution to the presbytery. The presbytery notifies the Board of Pensions. Presbyterians can contact their session, presbytery office, or visit the Board of Pensions web site (on the pulldown menu "About the Board of Pensions" click "Conscience and the Benefits Plan." In the submenu that appears on the left click "Relief of Conscience.") or call 1-800-773-7752 for more information.



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