Thursday, March 22, 2007

UMC on abortion

I spoke with a friend who is in training to become a United Methodist Pastor, and he was telling me the torment he was experiencing over the UMC's stance on abortion, which he saw as condoning it. I decided to look up our statement, which I have included below. I have put in parentheses what I consider to be the least clear part of the statement.

The beginning of life and the ending of life are the God-given boundaries of human existence. While individuals have always had some degree of control over when they would die, they now have the awesome power to determine when and even whether new individuals will be born.

Our belief in the sanctity of unborn human life makes us reluctant to approve abortion. But we are equally bound to respect the sacredness of the life and well-being of the mother, for whom devastating damage may result from an unacceptable pregnancy. In continuity with past Christian teaching, we recognize tragic conflicts of life with life that may justify abortion, and in such cases we support the legal option of abortion under proper medical procedures. We cannot affirm abortion as an acceptable means of birth control, and we unconditionally reject it as a means of gender selection.

We oppose the use of late-term abortion known as dilation and extraction (partial-birth abortion) and call for the end of this practice except when the physical life of the mother is in danger and no other medical procedure is available, or in the case of severe fetal anomalies incompatible with life. We call all Christians to a searching and prayerful inquiry into the sorts of conditions that may warrant abortion. We commit our Church to continue to provide nurturing ministries to those who terminate a pregnancy, to those in the midst of a crisis pregnancy, and to those who give birth. We particularly encourage the Church, the government, and social service agencies to support and facilitate the option of adoption. (See ¶ 161.K.)

Governmental laws and regulations do not provide all the guidance required by the informed Christian conscience. Therefore, a decision concerning abortion should be made only after thoughtful and prayerful consideration by the parties involved, with medical, pastoral, and other appropriate counsel.

From The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church -
2004. Copyright 2004 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission.

Two questions I have are:
1) What is considered devastating damage? Could that be having to step down from the cheerleading squad? Or is that talking about the death of the mother?
2) What is considered an unacceptable pregnancy?

I hold the pro-life position. I'm not sure what we're trying to say with this "official statement" of the UMC. How do you other folks out there interpret this statement? (I'm not asking necessarily what your position is, but how you interpret this statement.)


Brett said...

From reading the statement, I think the term unacceptable has to be from the point of view of the mother.
I think it is intentionally vague to give a loophole.

Jason Woolever said...

that's kind of what i thought too

The Bass Player's Wife said...

Yes, it is vague, though I am not sure it is to leave a loophole, per se. I think it is in keeping with much of the UMC's values.

I like the last paragraph, though. Basically they are saying that just because something is legal, doesn't make it right.

Larry B said...

I would be curious to see how this statement developed (ie are there prior BOD's with different statements). It sounds so much like a committee consensus that represents no one's actual view who sat on the committee but a mish mash of several views that was put together to garner enough votes for passage.

I agree it appears intentionally vague.

JD said...

I do not like the vagueness of the statement. It bothers me that there is even a loophole. The opening line:

"The beginning of life and the ending of life are the God-given boundaries of human existence."

to me, is in direct conflict with this:

"Our belief in the sanctity of unborn human life makes us reluctant to approve abortion. But we are equally bound to respect the sacredness of the life and well-being of the mother, for whom devastating damage may result from an unacceptable pregnancy. In continuity with past Christian teaching, we recognize tragic conflicts of life with life that may justify abortion, and in such cases we support the legal option of abortion under proper medical procedures."

I really do not get it, and after some of the conversations on Methoblog recently, I wonder where the UMC is going in terms of scriptural authority.

Signed, a really concerned Methodist.


John said...

The position seems to be a typical failed attempt to straddle the fence on the issue. But there really is no moderate position on abortion.

Jason Woolever said...

I think Larry's idea about how this statement was developed says it all. You can just imagine a bunch of pro-lifers and pro-choicers sitting in a room and getting no where, so they come up with a statement that is vague enough that a pro-lifer interprets it his way and a pro-choicer his way. Unfortunately, this is incredibly unhelpful in helping lay people understand where the denomination stands.

Carol Herdien said...

Perhaps by "unacceptable pregnancy" means becoming pregnant by rape or incest.

Jason Woolever said...

that could be. its hard to tell by the phrasing.

Brett said...

Carol -
You just made the point everyone is making. If that is what it means to you, then that's what it means. It's relative, not absolute, and that is the problem.

bandlady said...

I challenge anyone who considers "unacceptable pregnancy" such as rape or incest justification for abortion.

Before you get angry at my statement, let me clarify that I think rape and incest are despicable acts that no one should suffer through. HOWEVER, being an adopted person who has no idea how she came to exist in this world, I would certainly choose life over death if I had the ability to make that decision 37 years ago. Thankfully, Roe vs. Wade was not yet law.

I didn't always think this way. When I was in college, I read a book called "The Missing Piece" by Lee Ezell. To sum up, Lee was the victim of a terrible rape and decided that rather than get an illegal abortion (this event occured in 1963), she had the baby, prayed for her daily, and put her up for adoption. Her anger toward God for her horrific circumstances made her realize that a precious life was now in her, not by her choice, and God knew she could carry out His will and make a terrible event a joyous one for someone else.

Below is the summary of the book:

Book Description:

Lee Ezell tells the dramatic story of her remarkable reunion with her daughter Julie. It began in 1963, when Lee, a confused and frightened 18-year-old-the victim of a brutal rape-bravely chose to have her baby and give her up for adoption. In the years that followed, Lee's life changed dramatically: She had a successful marriage and two beautiful adopted daughters, and she became a popular Christian writer, speaker and radio personality. But she would always feel a piece missing from her heart. Then one day, more than twenty years later, her daughter Julie appeared. The part of Lee's past that had once haunted her returned to bless her. Lee Ezell's poignant, powerful story of her reunion with her daughter reveals not only her pain but also her strengthened faith in God and the way in which He works to reveal His purpose in our lives.

People may feel I have an extreme opinion, but I think we as a society put too little value on life and intentionally make our positions weak (such as the UMC statement) to as not to hurt or offend anyone.

God is very clear--life is sacred.

That's my two cents. (BTW, I'm a woman, so those of you who think I'm some guy who would have no idea what it's like from a woman's perspective...think again.)

Jason Woolever said...

powerful insights bandlady. thanks for sharing that!

Anonymous said...

Clearly a compromise that allows the reader to see what they choose, starting with the "beginning of life" passage. It's actually kind of artfully done - you can imagine everyone sitting around the room nodding until they begin to understand what some other person considers the beginning of life, an unacceptable pregnancy and so on. Those definitions are where the issue really gets joined, but the statement treats them as premises and moves on.

Dana said...

*grin* That was THREE questions, Jason ;D

1) Because we do not adequately prepare girls for motherhood and boys for fatherhood, a pregnancy the mother isn't ready for is often seen as "OMG, my life is OVER." Abortion is presented as a way to "de-pregnant-ize" (which it isn't). Then it's a choice of "my life is over" or "the life of this child is over."

It's not about cheerleading or other activities; it's about The Look - that half-pitying/half-horrified glance that says "You RUINED your LIFE."

2) According to this document? One that the mother decides is unacceptable. As others have said, it's VERY subjective. And it's obviously from the mother's perspective, because according to God, NO pregnancy is unacceptable!

3) This is an acknowledgement that recriminalizing abortion is not going to happen, but that there are other ways to approach the situation. For example, "sex ed" shouldn't just be about sex, but about how to be a good parent. When a woman approaches an unplanned pregnancy with the idea "this isn't what I'd chosen for this part of my life, but... I think I can do it!" she's MUCH more likely to carry to term.

Woo! Sorry to be so verbose :)

Jason Woolever said...

good stuff, Dana. I heard recently at a pastor's meeting that the largest number of abortions are not among teenagers but career-minded 20-somethings.

Anonymous said...

You are all missing the point, the statement is vague because IT DEPENDS ON THE SITUATION. You are all trying to break it down into a black and white situation, which it isn't. This is a complex issue. You couldnt possibly list down instance after instance of where abortion would be acceptable and where it wouldnt be acceptabe, hence the reason why the statement is so vague. You would have to look at it case by case.

sprite8 said...

Agreed, agreed... It appears that it's intentionally left open and vague to allow interpretation per situation.

I offer this scenario: I was once thought by my doctor to be pregnant at age 18. Not only that, but they believed that the fertilized egg had started to develop up in the fallopian tube (ectopic pregnancy), which would not only have been impossible for the embryo to survive-- but would have also killed me in the process. In that case, wouldn't the termination be justified? The baby wouldn't have survived and would have taken me with it. Surely, the church couldn't frown upon me for that.

Granted-- I hadn't had sex yet in my life at that time, so that point is moot. (Immaculate conception #2? I don't think so! HAHA. It was a cyst that ended up rupturing. ouch!)

What I'm getting to is that there have to be loopholes in statements like these, b/c no one can possibly foresee the infinite number of circumstances behind this tragic issue.

We have to try to lead people to making the RIGHT decisions by using God's word, the church, the people, and so on for guidance and support. We cannot allow our words to get tangled and used against God's wishes for someone's own twisted self-justification for a bad decision. Nor can we condemn someone for having to choose against their own beliefs... as I would have had to have done, had I truly been pregnant in such a way.

Jason Woolever said...

hey sprite, thanks for sharing your deeply personal experience. the conversation definitely goes from theoretical to practical when someone opens up like that.