Recent public statements by the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC) reveal how far out of alignment this group's extremist views on abortion are with the current PC(USA) policy statements. A quick tour of RCRC's website reveals a press release despairing the recent Supreme Court's decision on the Partial Birth Abortion ban, a rant against the "medical right" who dare to exercise religious freedom by refusing to participate in abortions, and a protestation against funding for abstinence until marriage education programs. Three PC(USA) entities: PARO (Presbyterians Affirming Reproductive Options), Women's Ministries, and the Washington Office are listed as member organizations. By publishing the name of the Presbyterian Church (USA) on their website, in their publications, and in legal briefs RCRC effectively identifies every PC(USA) member with an alliance that is far outside our denomination's policy on abortion.
RCRC claims it does not advocate for abortion or take positions on specific abortion procedures, but says, "we do advocate for women's right to make medical decisions according to their faith and conscience as well as with factual, compassionate medical advice" (emphasis added). To that end RCRC recently published a series of guidelines for health care providers (see article posted on Presbyweb 4/26/07, "Religious group attacks religion in healthcare" by Maggie Fox). If followed these guidelines would deny the freedom of medical personnel and institutions to choose to refuse to participate in abortions for reasons of conscience and religious beliefs. In other words, freedom of choice to exercise one's conscience is acceptable in order to allow women to take the life of their unborn baby, but it is not acceptable for medical personnel to freely choose not to participate in taking a human life.
The guidelines are far-reaching. They deal with abortion, counseling for sexual and reproductive health, and even advance directives including "do not resuscitate" orders. Fox quoted Larry Greenfield, executive minister of the American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago who helped write the guidelines, "What we have tried to avoid is to be coercive ourselves," Greenfield said. "We have tried to allow for the freedom of conscience of every participant in the health care system" (emphasis added). Greenfield apparently has forgotten his own words posted on the RCRC website.
" 'In Good Conscience' is appearing now to answer the dangerous threat of a few religions wanting to speak for all religions, and wanting to impose their particular teachings on every health care institution and health care provider, and wanting to impose their beliefs on individuals seeking health care," said Reverend Dr. Larry Greenfield, Executive Minister of the American Baptist Churches, Metro Chicago, who helped develop the Guidelines." www.rcrc.org
Is religious freedom and freedom of conscience only for the pro-choice?
RCRC is big on the theme of religious freedom for their side of the debate. Reverend Carlton W. Veazey, President and CEO, in an website article describing The Mission of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice says,
"The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice brings the moral power of religious communities to ensure reproductive choice through education and advocacy. While our member organizations are religiously and theologically diverse, they are unified in the commitment to preserve reproductive choice as a basic part of religious liberty" (emphasis mine).
On one of their FAQ pages RCRC declares, "To be pro-choice is to respect all points of view and respect individual conscience." Contrast that statement with this comment from another RCRC website article on medical institutions who refuse to participate in abortion on religious grounds.
"These institutions must be held to their responsibility to serve the public rather than restricting services to conform to their own religious beliefs."
When medical doctors, pharmacists and nurses choose to exercise their conscience and religious freedom NOT to participate in killing babies in the womb, RCRC uses language that attacks the medical expertise, ethics, and biblical understanding of conscientious individuals in the medical community who seek to live out their faith in their place of work:
"The smallest possible handful of extremist medical organizations is tenaciously attempting to deny reproductive rights based on radical medical opinion. These "medical" organizations want to determine your healthcare rights, based on their interpretation of scripture. We call this group the "Medical Right" and their aggressive anti-choice campaign is dangerous and fanatical."
RCRC's position on abortion lacks the restraints of PC(USA) abortion policy.
PC(USA) policy statements convey concern for woman and the child.
"...taken in their totality the Holy Scriptures are filled with messages that advocate respect for the woman and child before and after birth." Minutes of the 204th General Assembly (1992), PC(USA), p. 367-368, 372-374
And PC(USA) policy expresses concern for the numbers of abortions.
"We call upon Presbyterians to work for a decrease in the number of problem pregnancies, thereby decreasing the number of abortions."
Not all reasons for abortions are found acceptable. The 1992 policy statement notes:
"We are disturbed by abortions that seem to be elected only as a convenience or to ease embarrassment. We affirm that abortion should not be used as a method of birth control."
"Abortion is not morally acceptable for gender selection only or solely to obtain fetal parts for transplantation."
And Presbyterians show concern for how we treat one another in debate
We reject the use of violence and/or abusive language either in protest of or in support of abortion...Minutes of the 204th General Assembly (1992), PC(USA), p. 367-368, 372-374
We hold a high view of community and encourage the involvement of the church.
Families experiencing crisis pregnancies are not to be left to make their decisions as lone individuals, but PC(USA) abortion policy affirms the necessary involvement of the church in the decision-making and care of families in crisis pregnancies.
"Human choices should not be made in a moral vacuum, but must be based on Scripture, faith, and Christian ethics."
"The church has a responsibility to provide public witness and to offer guidance, counsel, and support to those who make or interpret laws and public policies about abortion and problem pregnancies. Pastors have a duty to counsel with and pray for those who face decisions about problem pregnancies. Congregations have a duty to pray for and support those who face these choices, to offer support for women and families to help make unwanted pregnancies less likely to occur, and to provide practical support for those facing the birth of a child with medical anomalies, birth after rape or incest, or those who face health, economic, or other stresses."
"We look to our churches to provide pastoral and tangible support to women in problem pregnancies and to surround these families with a community of care. We affirm adoption as a provision for women who deliver children they are not able to care for, and ask our churches to assist in seeking loving, Christian, adoptive families."
"Our Reformed Tradition recognizes that people do not always make moral choices, and forgiveness is central to our faith. In the Reformed Tradition, we affirm that God is the only Lord of conscience-not the state or the church. As a community, the church challenges the faithful to exercise their moral agency responsibly."
Minutes of the 217th General Assembly (2006), PC(USA), p. 905
RCRC's view of human life is not a reformed Presbyterian view.
RCRC sees the unborn child as a "potential person" having no right to live or identity with humanity. They do not view unborn life as being the creation of God or human life as being created in His image.
"While there is no question of our commitment to the value of all human life, we are alarmed that the Court has taken a step toward valuing a potential person over the woman whose life may be at risk."
How can you value "all human life" but determine that some very human lives in particular stages of development are only "potential persons?" Who gets to decide when "potential" becomes "person"? Who defines the criteria that determine personhood? Presbyterians disagree on when human life begins but they agree in the belief that God is Creator and owner of human life.
"In life and death, we belong to God." Life is a gift from God. We may not know exactly when human life begins, and have but an imperfect understanding of God as the giver of life and of our own human existence, yet we recognize that life is precious to God, and we should preserve and protect it. We derive our understanding of human life from Scripture and the Reformed Tradition in light of science, human experience, and reason guided by the Holy Spirit. Because we are made in the image of God, human beings are moral agents, endowed by the Creator with the capacity to make choices."
"The strong Christian presumption is that since all life is precious to God, we are to preserve and protect it. Abortion ought to be an option of last resort..."
Minutes of the 204th General Assembly (1992), PC(USA), p. 367-368, 372-374
It is long past time to cut our ties with the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. It's time to take back the position of Reformed Presbyterians on the nature and value of human life and our relationship to God. We are created, loved, and called by God---made in His very image to reflect his glory to the world. RCRC clouds that reflection and it's time to end our membership in this "interfaith" but certainly not Christian coalition.