From the Worldwide Faith News archives

[PCUSANEWS] Abortion-related issues spark lively debate

Date 17 Jun 2002 20:44:50 -0400

Note #7246 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:

Abortion-related issues spark lively debate
June 17, 2002

Abortion-related issues spark lively debate 

Speakers express concern about PC(USA) stance on late-term abortions

By Eva Stimson

COLUMBUS, OH - More than 50 people with strong feelings on abortion-related issues testified during a June 17 hearing of the General Assembly committee on health and social issues.
The speakers included  advocates and opponents of four abortion-related overtures and of a proposed "clarification" of the Presbyterian Church (USA)'s policy on late-term abortions.  

	Several urged that the policy clarification, prepared by Assembly advisory committees on Social Witness Policy (ASCWP) and the Litigation (ACL), be replaced by an overture (02-37) put forward by Huntingdon Presbytery that would say late-term abortion should only be considered "when a live delivery threatens the physical safety of the mother."

	The Rev. Anita Bell, a Philadelphia pastor, recalled her experience as a commissioner to the 1997 Assembly, which tried to stake out a position on the morality of the "intact dilation and extraction" procedure commonly called "partial-birth" abortion.

"We took a courageous, prophetic stand, calling partial-birth abortion a matter of grave moral concern," Bell said. "We made a choice to protect the lives of viable babies who can live outside the womb."

	Bell said the proposed "clarification" of policy by ACSWP and ACL would weaken the church's stance by saying that a pregnancy may be ended after the point of fetal viability "to preserve the woman's health in circumstances of a serious risk to the woman's health."

	Terry Schlossberg, executive director of Presbyterians Pro-Life, dismissed the proposal as a product of "national-level advocacy committees seeking to alter public policy." On the other hand, she said, the Huntingdon overture comes "from churches seeking to meet pastoral needs."

	Speaking in support of the ACSWP/ACL proposal, the Rev. Bob Brashear, pastor of West Park Presbyterian Church in New York City, reminded the committee that "commissioners who sat in seats just like you" asked for the clarification of policy. "Late-term procedures are difficult and painful choices," he said. "This proposal most accurately says who we are as a people in facing difficult decisions."

	The Rev. Michael D. Smith, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Grinnell, Iowa, said approving the proposed clarification would "continue the Presbyterian policy of trusting women to make good, faithful and moral decisions about their lives."

	A shorter, but equally lively debate was provoked by an overture (02-48) from the Presbytery of Redstone, which would stop the use of Board of Pensions funds the "intact dilation and extraction" procedure. Supporters of the measure argued that many church members would be upset to know that money they gave to the church might be used for the purpose.

	But the Rev. Judith Michaels of National Capital Presbytery said approving this overture would amount to a church decision "to practice medicine without a license." 

	Several speakers urged defeat of an overture calling for a new abortion study, citing concerns about cost and expressing support for the current policy. No one spoke in favor of that overture.

	One supporter of an overture calling for the development of pastoral resources for those who have experienced abortion described her anguish over an abortion she underwent at age 18.  However, the Rev. Janet Lowery, of Akron, Ohio, said abortion is but one of a broad range of pastoral-care needs that should be addressed if new resources are to be developed.
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