First, I want to again thank the Rev. Diana Walworth and the Rev. Deacon Anthony Estes for sharing their thoughts on resolutions during a very busy time for me at the college. I am most grateful for their help!
This has also been a very busy week with the Walkabouts and Clergy Meet and Greet with our four candidates for bishop. Despite my focus on all things diocesan, I have been aware of national events and concerns that have an effect on all of us. I continue to be troubled by the divisiveness we’re experiencing expressed on too many fronts right now. This week a lot of news has been focused on the abortion and right to life legislation being presented in many states. I am aware this is a very emotional issue for all of us and I do not presume to have all the answers; however, I do think it is important for us to know what The Episcopal Church has said on this topic. Last Friday, I decided that this would be my topic for the coming week and, thankfully for me and my research, the Episcopal Public Policy Network (EPPN) and the Office of Government Relations published a summary of resolutions from General Convention addressing Women’s Reproductive Health and Abortion later that day. I could not say it better so, for those of us who haven’t read this online, here is their summary:
Clergy throughout The Episcopal Church counsel women, men, and families who must make decisions relating to pregnancy and childbirth, adoption, family planning, and who face infertility. Our ordained and lay leaders walk alongside Episcopalians and others who struggle with this intimate and challenging aspect of human life. Over the past several decades, the General Convention has addressed the topic of abortion from a position informed by this ministry and personal lived experience of clergy and laity within their own families. As a result, the General Convention of The Episcopal Church recognizes the moral, legal, personal, and societal complexity of the issue. The diversity of views within the Church represents our common struggle to understand and discern this issue.
The Episcopal Church teaches that “all human life is sacred. Hence, it is sacred from its inception until death. The Church takes seriously its obligation to help form the consciences of its members concerning this sacredness. Human life, therefore, should be initiated only advisedly and in full accord with this understanding of the power to conceive and give birth which is bestowed by God.” Our liturgical text Enriching Our Worship calls for great pastoral sensitivity to the needs of the woman and others involved in decisions relating to “abortion, or mishaps of pregnancy and infertility.” This ministry is particularly important in situations that result in the loss of a pregnancy or inability to become pregnant and as a Church, we have experienced that all of these have “a tragic dimension.”
In a series of statements over the past decades, the Church has declared that “we emphatically oppose abortion as a means of birth control, family planning, sex selection, or any reason of mere convenience.” At the same time, since 1967, The Episcopal Church has maintained its “unequivocal opposition to any legislation on the part of the national or state governments which would abridge or deny the right of individuals to reach informed decisions [about the termination of pregnancy] and to act upon them.”
The Church urges dioceses and congregations “to give necessary aid and support to all pregnant women.” General Convention “commends the work and mission of pregnancy care centers which stress unconditional love and acceptance, for women and their unborn children.” We have urged support of “local pregnancy care centers” that “develop an outreach of love to pregnant women and to mothers and their children.”
At the General Convention in 2018, The Episcopal Church called for “women’s reproductive health and reproductive health procedures to be treated as all other medical procedures.” The Convention declared “that equitable access to women’s health care, including women’s reproductive health care, is an integral part of a woman’s struggle to assert her dignity and worth as a human being.”
We continue to advocate that “legislating abortions will not address the root of the problem. We therefore express our deep conviction that any proposed legislation on the part of national or state governments regarding abortions must take special care to see that the individual conscience is respected, and that the responsibility of individuals to reach informed decisions in this matter is acknowledged and honored as the position of this Church.”
The Church also sees education as an essential component of engaging with issues relating to family planning, child spacing, adoption, infertility and abortion. The global Anglican Communion, of which The Episcopal Church is a member, first supported the use of contraceptives in 1930, and as Christians we affirm responsible family planning. General Convention policy states “it is the responsibility of our congregations to assist their members in becoming informed concerning the spiritual, physiological and psychological aspects of sex and sexuality.” The Book of Common Prayer affirms that “the birth of a child is a joyous and solemn occasion in the life of a family. It is also an occasion for rejoicing in the Christian community” (p 440).
The resolution from the 2018 General Convention to which EPPN referred is D032:
D032 Equal Access to Health Care Regardless of Gender
Resolved, the House of Deputies concurring, That the 79th General Convention of The Episcopal Church acknowledge the need for universal and equitable access to good quality health care that allows for equal utilization for those with equal need; and be it further
Resolved, That this Convention acknowledge that equitable access to women’s health care, including women’s reproductive health care, is an integral part of a woman’s struggle to assert her dignity and worth as a human being; and be it further
Resolved, That The Episcopal Church call for women’s reproductive health and reproductive health procedures to be treated as all other medical procedures, and not singled out or omitted by or because of gender; and be it further
Resolved, That The Episcopal Church support health care that takes into account the specific health care needs of all persons, including women; and be it further
Resolved, That this Convention direct the Office of Government Relations and the Episcopal Public Policy Network to urge all Episcopalians to advocate for government to address the specific needs of health care for everyone, especially women’s and girls’ health care, by:
– Supporting legislation that creates equal utilization of health care for those in equal need, regardless of ability to pay, and reject reasons for unequal use as well as strategies that promote unequal access to health care;
– Advocating for everyone to have the right to make decisions about their bodies and those decisions should be between themselves and their provider (reaffirming 1994 A054: That The… “Episcopal Church express its unequivocal opposition to any legislative, executive or judicial action on the part of local, state or national governments that abridges the right of a woman to reach an informed decision … or that would limit the access of a woman to safe means of acting on her decision.) ;
– Ensuring equal access to every health care service regardless of gender (reaffirming 1994 A055: that the… “General Convention urge adequate government funding and support for research and development, prevention and treatment in matters affecting the health and quality of life of women, including domestic violence, AIDS, heart disease, breast, ovarian and endometrial cancer, safe and effective contraceptives, and other methods of pregnancy prevention, maternity care, menopause and chronic illnesses unique to or prevalent among women ) ;
– Ensuring health care is equal in coverage and cost regardless of gender.
Other resolutions and actions from The Executive Council of The Episcopal Church include:
General Convention Resolutions
1976-D095 – Reaffirm the 1967 General Convention Statement on Abortion
1982-B009 – Reaffirm the Church’s Guidelines on the Termination of Pregnancy
1982-D016 – Reaffirm the Right to the Use of Artificial Conception Control
1982-A065 – Condemn Use of Abortion for Gender Selection and Non-serious Abnormalities
1988-D124 – Condemn Acts of Violence Against Abortion Facilities and Their Clients
1988-C047 – Adopt a Statement on Childbirth and Abortion
1988-A089 – Promote Use of Materials on Human Sexuality and Abortion for All Age Groups
1991-C037 – Oppose Legislation Requiring Parental Consent for Termination of Pregnancy
1991-A096 – Continue Discussion on the Use of Fetal Tissue for Research Use
1994-D105 – Commend the Work of Pregnancy Care Centers
1994-D091 – Deplore Practice of Forced Abortions and Sterilization in China
1994-A054 – Reaffirm General Convention Statement on Childbirth and Abortion
1994-D009 – Reaffirm Family Planning and Control of Global Population Growth
1997-D065 – Express Grave Concern Over Misuse of Partial Birth Abortion
2000-D104 – Affirm Adoption and Support Legislation on Adoption Counseling
Resolves of the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church
Our closing prayer at St Michael’s each week asks our God to “send us out to do the work you have given us to do, to love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.” If I’m to be faithful in my service, I need to grapple with these tough issues so that I might be able to love those who stand on all sides of this discussion. Won’t you join me in becoming faithful to God’s call?
Let us pray –
Heavenly Father, the beauty and dignity of human life was the crowning of your creation. You further ennobled that life when your Son became one with us in his incarnation. Help us to know the sacredness of human life and to respect all live around us. Give us courage to speak with truth and love. Help us to extend the gentle hand of mercy and grace to those who do not share our understanding. To all, grant pardon for the times we have failed to be loving as you are loving. We ask this in Jesus’ Name. Amen.
~ The Rev. Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council