By Erik Nelson
Related item: Abortions are not medically necessary procedures
The meeting of the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP), held in New York City on October 18th through 21st, featured what they called a "problem pregnancy" discussion with the Advisory Committee on Litigation (ACL). The primary concern of this meeting, however, was not pregnancy issues, but the language of a draft document which defends a woman’s right to a post-viability abortion. Though the meeting fell under the terms of the General Assembly’s Open Meeting Policy and openness applies to reports as well as the discussion taking place, those attending the meeting as observers were not permitted to see the document under discussion.
Judging from the discussion, the effect of the document in question will be to render null and void a decision by the General Assembly in 1997. That Assembly approved a statement which opposed partial-birth abortion. Two years ago, the ACL took advantage of several Supreme Court decisions favorable to the practice in order to have the church take another look at the issue. They asked for, and received from the General Assembly a charge to the ACL and ACSWP to create a joint recommendation clarifying church policy on late-term abortion.
This meeting opened the discussion between the two committees of the document prepared for the meeting by ACL. The only resolution to a "problem pregnancy" that they considered in this meeting was abortion. Other actions the church might take to address problem pregnancy issues, such as adoption or even preventative educational methods, were not even mentioned.
ACSWP committee member Ron Stone felt that there was language in the draft document that was "open to misinterpretation, and gives in to Catholic and Fundamentalist pro-life positions" which he wanted to be sure the final document omitted. Stone advocated a hard-line position. "It is not a time to appease Pro-life politics," Stone asserted.
Stone also urged that the "dark" language around certain words in the document be removed. Words like "grave moral concern" and "most dire" should be stricken from the document, he said. He felt that use of this language had surrounded the decision to abort a child with a cloud of hostility and moral ambiguity. Stone wanted the document to clearly state that abortion was "a moral possibility" and that it should avoid "just war" language. He said he meant that abortion should be a possibility even in the absence of a moral justification, that the decision was not one that demanded more or less of a person than other typical medical decisions.
Judy Woods of the ACL explained that the document should focus on "principles" rather than particular procedures. "Methodology is a medical decision," she explained. By dealing with principles the language would adapt better to changes in medical procedures. The committee generally agreed that the church should not address specific medical procedures because "that was a decision between the mother, her pastor, and her doctor." But the real motivation that emerged in the discussion was to protect practices like partial-birth abortion. This is an abortion procedure, described by one of its providers in 1995, in which a baby is fully delivered except for the head. Scissors are then inserted into the base of the skull and the contents of the skull evacuated after which the delivery of a then dead baby is completed.
The committee also felt that they had the support of the vast majority of Presbyterians. They made reference to a poll conducted by the Presbyterian Panel which claimed that 72% of Presbyterians supported abortion in some circumstances, while only 22% believed abortion to be unacceptable in all circumstances. Ruy Costa, ACSWP’s moderator, reassured committee members that they were not developing policy by poll, but policy "where most people are."
Costa’s claim about where "most people are" is misleading. The results of the poll were those from a survey done in 1990. More recent polls of the general public show a shift away from acceptance of abortion. The committees examined no recent polls which claim that a majority of Americans, let alone Presbyterians, would support such practices as partial-birth abortion.
Judy Woods then broached a new topic – noting the document’s change of focus from the "life of the mother" to the "health of the mother." She explained that most feel the Supreme Court is inclined toward allowing late-term abortions in cases where there is no physical distress to the mother, but where there is some mental health risk. She felt that the group would be abrogating their responsibility to Presbyterians if they did not include that in their document.
Linda Blackman of the ACL noted that by stating "maternal life and health," the mental health aspect, although not explicitly stated, could be read into the language later. Judy Woods backed this up stating, "This is the kind of language we lawyers love," she said, "We can make the language mean whatever we want."
ACSWP member Jananne Sharpless and staff person Vernon Broyles agreed. "Ambiguity is better at this point," so that the language could not be limited later, Sharpless explained. "Leave the language general," Broyles agreed. By keeping the language of the church ambiguous, the committee believed it could anticipate further liberalized abortion law, thus supporting new legal innovations with already-existing language even though there might not be support for such procedures generally among Presbyterians.
In addition to their reliance on survey results from more than a decade ago, the committees discussed using an old policy on abortion from 1983 as support for "maternal health and life" language.
These committees are committed to a "pro-choice" agenda. Rather than grapple with tension between preserving the lives of viable unborn babies and women in crisis that characterizes the current policy of the General Assembly on abortion, they have decided what is best for the church. The committees are determined to be, in their own words, "prophetic" – which one committee member defined as "pulling the church into the future."
Erik Nelson is a research assistant with the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C.
Wording of the 1997 GA statement:
"That the 209th General Assembly (1997) offer a word of counsel to the church and our culture that the procedure known as intact dilation and extraction (commonly called "partial birth" abortion) of a baby who could live outside the womb is of grave moral concern and should be considered only if the mother's physical life is endangered by the pregnancy."
A physician wrote to the ACSWP/ACL on the subject of when an unborn baby is viable, what a post-viability abortion is and for what reasons they are performed. Click here.
Abortions are not medically necessary procedures
News Digest for 2 November 2001
A prominent Canadian pro-abortionist has conceded that abortions are not medically necessary procedures. In a submission to the finance committee of the Canadian House of Commons, Marilyn Wilson, executive director of the Canadian Abortion Rights Action League (CARAL), said that women sought abortions "for socio-economic reasons". Mr Jason Kenney, a member of the finance committee, said that her admission was very significant because CARAL had always claimed that abortions were medically necessary and should therefore be financed by provincial governments.
Source: LifeSite, 1 November