(PNS) Issues surrounding abortion have been on the agenda of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly almost every year since 1983, when that year’s Assembly established the church’s first basic policy on abortion. That policy supported a woman’s right to choose with virtually no reservations.
Over the years, pro-life Presbyterians have persuaded Assemblies to modify the church’s policy on several occasions, most substantially in 1992.
While the policy remains pro-choice, the church opposes abortion as a means of birth control and gender selection, affirms adoption as a preferable alternative in cases of unwanted children and says that the “intact dilation and extraction” procedure commonly known as “partial birth abortion” is a “matter of grave moral concern.”
The policy holds that abortion should be the choice of last resort in problem pregnancies. The church’s Board of Pensions has established a “relief of conscience” program, in which the Medical Plan dues paid by employers conscientiously opposed to abortion are set apart so they cannot be used to pay for abortions.
With advances in prenatal science, the church’s attention in recent years has turned to “post-viability abortion,” defined as unborn babies well enough developed to survive outside the womb.
The 2003 General Assembly stipulated four circumstances under which post-viability abortion can be an acceptable moral choice: “when necessary to save the life of the woman; to preserve the woman’s health in circumstances of a serious risk; to avoid fetal suffering as a result of untreatable life-threatening medical anomalies; and in cases of incest or rape.”
An overture from Upper Ohio Valley Presbytery in 2004 that would have eliminated fetal suffering, incest and rape from that list was defeated by just four votes.
This year, an overture from Redstone Presbytery seeks further restrictions. It asks the Assembly to “affirm that the lives of viable unborn babies — those well-developed enough to survive outside the womb if delivered — ought to be preserved and cared for and not aborted. In cases where problems of life or health of the mother arise in a pregnancy, the church supports efforts to protect the life and health of both the mother and the baby. When late term pregnancies must be terminated, we urge decisions intended to deliver the baby alive.”
Mississippi Presbytery has submitted an overture opposing abortion except to save the life of the mother or in cases of incest or rape “where there is a finding by a competent, licensed physician that carrying the unborn child to term would, more likely than not, result in serious, long-lasting and debilitating mental and emotional distress of the mother.”
And Beaver-Butler Presbytery has submitted an overture that would “cease (General Assembly) funding of any group that supports or advocates either for or against abortion,” leaving Presbyterians to make those decisions locally.
Issues related to abortion will be considered by Assembly Committee 10 — Health Issues.