I knew abortion was something I would need to address in my blog posts. I was hoping to delay it until I had a perfectly worded rationale, but given what has been happening in our nation with restricted access to safe abortions, the criminal charges placed on those who seek abortions, and violations of women’s rights, I don’t think this is a time to wait to for the perfect way to address these issues. As a woman, as a feminist, as a pastor, I need to have some sort of response to my rights to my own body being stripped away by people who say they are acting according to their Christian values.
According to the Presbyterian Mission Agency website, “Presbyterians have struggled with the issue of abortion for more than 30 years, beginning in 1970 when the General Assembly, the national governing body of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), declared that, “The artificial or induced termination of a pregnancy is a matter of careful ethical decision of the patient . . . and therefore should not be restricted by law . . .” (Minutes of the 182nd General Assembly (1970), United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., p. 89)” Abortion/Reproductive Choice Issues Presbyterian (U.S.A.) Mission Agency
Yes, for those of you doing the math, 1970 was more than 40 years ago… almost 50 years ago, but this statement still stands as one on upon which the PC(U.S.A.) continues to base its policies on reproductive rights. I imagine for some 1970 doesn’t seem that long ago. Important times in our lives can feel like only moments ago (and we would rather not do the math). Like for me 1992, a formative time for me reproductively (my first period was in December of 1992, a couple weeks away from my 11th Birthday) and in my faith, doesn’t seem that long ago. I was in fifth grade Sunday School and looking forward to next year being the first year to go on a middle school retreat with my church group and ready to be part of the group of middle schoolers (not kids) doing adult things and learning about adult faith issues. I was officially too old to be a “kid” at Vacation Bible School, but I could be a “helper”. I was growing up and my church took that seriously. Soon I would be a “teen” and then a “young adult”.
In 1992 the highest governing body of the PC(U.S.A.) met and of the many topics they gathered around were abortion and reproductive rights. This is my favorite quote from the 204th General Assembly which took place in 1992: “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.” (Minutes of the 204th General Assembly (1992), Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), pp. 367-368, 372-374)
I think this statement must have influenced my Sunday school teachers, Christian Education director, and other “parents” of my faith. They talked to me about empathy and privilege before those were buzz words. They hoped that I would never be in a situation where I would need to consider abortion but taught me that there are people who don’t have the same life I do. They hoped that I would not demonized those who found themselves in that position (or demonize the demonize-rs). And most of all, they taught me that listening to and helping the powerless, the oppressed, the poor, and those in need of help were values of the people of God. Our job is not judgement, our job is to help. Our job is not to persecute, our job is to support. Our job is not to hate, our job is to love.
My first memory verse (from earlier in my Sunday School years but still rings in my ears) was 1 John 4:19 “We love because God first loved us”. The actual verse says “he” instead of “God”, but I grew up in a church that tried to use inclusive language whenever possible for God. The point was that we should love others, because God loves us, and we should try to love others in the way that God loves us. I was taught to love unconditionally.
I believe (that love is the answer) was released in 1995, and while it wasn’t about abortion, the words “Open up your mind and then open up your heart, And you will see that you and me aren’t very far apart, ‘Cause I believe that love is the answer, I believe that love will find the way” have always felt like a Presbyterian thing to say. Education and love have been guiding forces in my life, and so has music. There is a surprising number of songs from the 90s about abortion: What it’s like, Slide, Freshmen, and Brick. I could go on, but honestly a quick google search will get you more songs about abortion than you ever wanted.
Back to what Presbyterians believe. In 2012, the 220th General Assembly put out a resolution on reproductive health affirming the 1970 and 1992 statements and adding an up-dated rationale. You should read the entire document for yourself, but I will try to summarize the main points. Presbyterians understand that deciding what to do about an unplanned pregnancy is difficult and should be decided by individuals and not legislated by government. Those seeking and those providing abortions should not be criminalized. No laws should be enacted that Defund or criminalize family planning services. Instead, we should advocate for access to education and health care for everyone. We believe that education, health care, and of course, love and support will actually reduce the amount of unwanted pregnancies. Abortions should be safe, legal, and rare.