Washington Office says women have ‘constitutional right to choose abortion’
By Craig M. Kibler, Staff Writer, April 27, 2007
Saying that it is “a woman’s constitutional right to choose abortion,” the Washington Office of the Presbyterian Church (USA) is criticizing the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upheld a ban on partial-birth abortion.
President Bush, who signed the law in 2003 banning the procedure carried out in the middle-to-late second trimester and appointed two of the justices who upheld it in a 5-4 vote April 17, said the prohibition “represents a commitment to building a culture of life in America.” The decision, Bush said, “affirms that the Constitution does not stand in the way of the people’s representatives enacting laws reflecting the compassion and humanity of America.”
The Washington Office, in an e-mail alert sent to Presbyterians around the country, stated that the ruling “basically determined that the law does not violate a woman’s constitutional right to choose abortion.”
“Advocates of a woman’s right to make the determination to carry a pregnancy to term or to end it if necessary,” the Washington Office said, “have indicated that the decision is vague and may cause confusion as it is written regarding procedures that may be used after twelve weeks in a pregnancy and that there is no exception to allow its use if the woman’s health is in serious danger.
“The fear,” the e-mail alert stated, “is that this is a step toward overturning the Roe v. Wade decision [legalizing abortion] that has stood for over 30 years.”
Longtime advocate for abortion
The Washington Office has long been an advocate for abortion. In 2004, for example, it used the home page of its Web site to summon women to join a political march in Washington, D.C., to oppose any restrictions on abortion.
The PCUSA also was listed as one of the co-sponsors of what was billed as “The March for Women’s Lives,” whose theme was to advocate absolute choice: “To ensure that all women have the right to choose to have or not to have children, with reproductive health options that are safe, affordable and accessible.”
After the march, the Rev. Elenora Giddings Ivory, director of the Washington Office, urged Presbyterians to watch a program about the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, another lobbying group whose aggressive pro-abortion policies conflict with General Assembly positions.
The coalition favors no limit on a woman’s choice to have an abortion, including so-called late-term or partial-birth abortions. It has been virulently critical of pro-life groups, whose concerns have been reflected in abortion-policy statements by the General Assembly. For instance, the General Assembly has said that abortion should not be used as a birth-control method and has recognized the deeply held convictions of pro-life advocates. Nonetheless, the PCUSA is one of the denominations affiliated with the coalition.
Calling it “exciting news,” Giddings Ivory said the “Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice will be featured on the PBS television program NOW with Bill Moyers,” adding that, “We are thrilled that Judith and Bill Moyers believe in highlighting the importance of RCRC’s unique and important role in the pro-choice movement.”
No changes in PCUSA’s stance on abortion advocated
During the 2004 General Assembly, Giddings Ivory appealed to the audience at the Women’s Ministries Luncheon to guard against any changes in the denomination’s stance on abortion, saying, “We have to be diligent.”
She spoke as commissioners at the 216th General Assembly were considering several overtures that seek major changes in that stance.
Giddings Ivory drew an analogy between the youth of an earlier generation and today’s young women. She said the earlier generation was involved in civil rights and similar issues, but “today’s younger women are working on gay and lesbian issues and reproductive choice.”
In 2003, the Washington Office engaged a leading abortion advocate to speak at its annual awards dinner during the General Assembly in Denver on May 29. The speaker, U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), was described as “leading the fight in Congress to counter the Bush administration’s attacks and protect a woman’s right to choose,” according to EMILY’s list, a political action group that has raised millions of dollars for pro-choice women who are Democratic candidates. At the time, DeGette was the chair of the Pro-choice Caucus in the U.S. House, a group that advocates partial-birth abortion.
In 2002, the Washington Office presented a “Partners in Mission Award” to the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. In preparing a report on the “Partners in Mission Award” for the National Ministries Division of the General Assembly Council, Giddings Ivory praised the Coalition for seeking “to ensure reproductive choice by upholding women as responsible, moral decision-makers.”
In 1999, the 211th General Assembly voted down an overture from the Presbytery of Donegal that called for the withdrawal of membership in and financial contributions to the Coalition because it “describes itself as a national religious coalition promoting abortion rights, which does not reflect the position of the Presbyterian Church (USA).”
In 2002, 2003 and 2004, general assemblies voted in favor of the practice called partial-birth abortion (terminating a baby’s life in the process of delivery), even though Congress had declared the procedure unlawful. Presbyterian legislators in both houses voted overwhelmingly against the procedure.
Lay Committee ‘grieved’ at PCUSA policy
After the first vote, in an open letter to all Presbyterians, the members of the Board of Directors of the Presbyterian Lay Committee said they “are deeply grieved by the action of the 214th (2002) General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) that removed any significant moral restrictions from killing babies who could otherwise live outside the womb.”
“The official stance of the denomination now permits, for almost any reason, infanticide by the tragic and gruesome process known as ‘partial-birth abortion.’ Condoning such a procedure is a catastrophic moral failure that rivals the Old Testament sins of Israel as it left the Law of God and adopted the pagan practices of its neighbors.
“We strongly condemn our denomination’s failure to cherish and protect the lives of infants. Such callous disregard for the gift of life destroys our witness to the Lord God, author and sustainer of life, whose son Jesus Christ came “that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10: 10b). Our General Assembly’s action separates us from the Christian community worldwide and through the ages. It is an affront to all who are called to be ‘unashamed of the Gospel.'”
Shortly before Bush signed the measure into law that bans partial-birth abortions in this country, Giddings Ivory sent an “Action Alert” e-mail from her office’s Legislative Action Center that criticized U.S. legislators because they “took the easy way out” and approved the measure.
“As expected,” she wrote, “both the Senate and the House have passed the so-called ‘partial-birth’ abortion bill regarding a particular late-term procedure. Many in Washington believe that some legislators took the easy way out and voted for this knowing that the current Supreme Court will make the ultimate decision when a case is brought before it based on this bill.”
Giddings Ivory included in her e-mail a statement from the Coalition that said it “opposes the legislation because support for it has been built by deception and fear, and it is so overbroad that it will unlawfully interfere with access to abortion generally, and it lacks the morally as well as legally required health exception.”
In 2006, commissioners to the 217th General Assembly in Birmingham approved a policy that superseded previous votes on the issue. That policy affirms “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.”
In response to the Washington Office criticism of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Jim Berkley, the director of Institute on Religion and Democracy’s Presbyterian Action Committee, stated:
“The Presbyterian Church maintains a rather mixed position on abortion – reluctantly allowing it on the one hand, but discouraging it and seeking to limit it on the other. But in terms of terminating late-term pregnancies, the most recent General Assembly resolution is clear: Choices need to be made that allow both babies and mothers to live.
“By no stretch of the imagination would partial-birth abortion fit within Presbyterian policy,” he said. “It gruesomely destroys an all-but-delivered baby. The Supreme Court decision ought to be applauded by all Presbyterian entities, including the Washington Office, because it supports Presbyterian convictions about the sanctity of life.
“This is simply another instance of the Washington Office advocating its leaders’ politics,” Berkley said, “rather than the policy of the Presbyterian Church (USA). The Washington Office cannot be allowed to continue to resist the authority that constituted it and for which it is supposed to speak.”
Mark Tooley, the director of the Institute on Religion and Democracy’s UMAction Committee, agreed, saying:
“The UMC position on partial-birth abortion is clear. During the 2000 General Conference, an effort to add a vague ‘health’ exception to the position in the Social Principles was summarily rebuffed.
“The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice,” he said, “exists solely to provide a faith-based veneer for aggressively promoting the availability of abortion. Its goals clearly contradict the UMC’s official positions.
“The United Methodist Church clearly opposes partial-birth abortion, so to remain affiliated with a coalition that aggressively supports it is inappropriate. It is time for United Methodist agencies to sever all affiliation with the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.”
Craig M. Kibler is the Director of Publications/Executive Editor of The Layman and The Layman Online. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.