By Mark Tooley, Institute on Religion and Democracy, July 9, 1998
For the abortion rights movement, it is difficult to impossible to allow for any possibility that abortion under any circumstances is not an absolute “right,” no less than freedom of speech or religion.
The latest example involves the church-backed Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC), which is supported by the United Methodist, Presbyterian (U.S.A.) and Episcopal Churches, along with some Jewish groups and Catholics for a Free Choice. Although supposedly reflecting a Judeo-Christian perspective on abortion, RCRC echoes secular abortion rights groups in opposing the Child Protection Act now before Congress. The act would prohibit transporting minors across state lines for an abortion to circumvent parental notification or consent laws.
You do not have to be an adamant pro-lifer to believe that parents should at least be notified (if not asked for consent) when their child is seeking an abortion. But RCRC wants none of it. Episcopal priest Katherine Ragsdale, RCRC president, testified before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee against the bill.
Calling it “punitive” and “mean-spirited,” Ragsdale recounted how she had herself transported an underage girl to an abortion clinic because the girl could not bring herself to talk to her parents. If the Child Protection Act is passed, said Ragsdale, she as a priest would break such a law. Her ordination vow to “proclaim by word and deed the Gospel of Jesus Christ” would preclude any compliance with the injustice of this legislation, she insisted. (Ragsdale has called access to abortion a “religious freedom.”)
Even most liberal Christians would feel a little uncomfortable invoking the Gospel to justify helping with an abortion for a child without telling parents. And most adults who want to help young girls get abortions without informing the parents are probably not Episcopal priests. They are more likely to be adult boyfriends or abortion clinic personnel.
The average parent is more capable of making a judicious decision about his or her daughter’s pregnancy than the frantic father of the unborn child or a clinic employee with a financial interest in the abortion. (Most parental notification laws allow for court intervention if parents are shown to be abusive or irresponsible.)
The spokespersons for religious institutions might be expected to understand this point. Christians and Jews have for millennia stressed the importance of family cohesion and parental responsibility. They also have strong, traditional beliefs about the sacredness of all human life.
So the stance of RCRC is puzzling. Leaders of its member denominations have advocated liberal abortion laws since the early 1970’s, predating even the Supreme Court Roe versus Wade decision legitimizing abortion. But few church leaders of that era who advocated “pro-choice” positions envisioned 30 million abortions in this country, or the promotion of abortion as a right so absolute and sacred that it supersedes even parental custodial rights.
In explaining RCRC’s opposition to parental notification laws, Ragsdale has explained, “Children can’t trust their parents with this information.” She implies that not only abusive parents, but any parents who might elicit embarrassment or discomfort from their daughter are unworthy to be informed of their daughter’s pregnancy. Ragsdale, in place of parental notification laws, wants governments and schools to provide contraceptives to children, ostensibly so as to make abortion less frequent. Of course, parental consent is also unnecessary for contraceptives, she believes. RCRC seems to imply that minors, starting at whatever age, have the “right” to become sexually active, with access to a “full range of reproductive services,” without any required parental involvement. Presumably progressive school nurses are more trustworthy than parents.
It is a striking position to adopt, when not only Ragsdale’s church but most of RCRC’s other member denominations still have official teachings about sexuality and family relationships that are considerably more stringent than Ragsdale lets on. When explaining her own personal theology last year, she has explained, “We are called to be faithful people. That means to give up the ideas that we can cling to some moral certainty.” Her amoral philosophy is in tune with our current popular culture, but it is radically divorced from the rich moral heritage of both Christianity and Judaism. Ragsdale claims most mainline church goers are pro-choice. Most polls I have seen show Methodists, Presbyterians and Episcopalians about as equally divided as America at large. But do even pro-choicers want their underage daughters driven across state lines to an abortion clinic by God knows whom without a parent’s knowledge? The House Judiciary Committee did not seem to think so. It voted 17-10 in favor of the Child Protection Act. How sad that a congressional committee should have more moral discernment than a purported spokesperson for America’s mainline religious institutions.