From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Panel approves late-term abortion statement

Date 20 Jun 2002 09:09:11 -0400

Note #7279 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:


Panel approves late-term abortion statement

Paper lists situations in which such abortions are permissible

by Evan Silverstein

COLUMBUS, OH - After a marathon hearing, the Assembly Committee on Health and Social Issues emerged on June 18 with a statement on late-term abortions that includes a list of situations in which such abortions might be permissible.

Approved with amendment after nearly four hours of "perfecting" text that outlined the potential conditions, the statement was the most eagerly anticipated of several abortion-related items debated by the committee. 

The proposal, which now goes before this week's 214th General Assembly, is not meant as a new policy abortion, post-viability or partial-birth abortions, but a compilation of prior Assembly statements and a recommendation for refinement of earlier policies, which over the years have been modified, most substantially in 1992.

A minority report is expected when the committee goes before the full Assembly. 

The late-term abortion statement was the product of two years of work by the Presbyterian Church (USA) Advisory Committee on Litigation and Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP). It was originally meant to be a response to a 2000 GA referral. The 2001 Assembly also referred two overtures regarding late-term abortion to the committees.

Judy Woods of the Advisory Committee on Litigation said fetus viability - the point at which a fetus could live outside the womb - was the focal point of the statement. She said viability is a "medical concept" unique to each fetus. 

"Viability is the concept that we have suggested," she said, " ... that ought to be the way to take a look at this issue and focus our discussion around that concept, rather than around particular techniques of abortion  particular thresholds or earmarks of gestational age."

The amended portion of the list of situations in which a late-term abortion may be warranted states:

"The ending of a pregnancy after the point of fetal viability is a matter of grave moral concern to us all, and may be undertaken only in the rarest of circumstances and after prayer and/or pastoral care and when necessary to save the life of the woman, to preserve the woman's health in circumstances of a serious risk to her health, to avoid fetal suffering as a result of untreatable, life-threatening medical anomalies, or in cases of incest or rape."

Some committee members felt that the original text was not specific enough on the conditions under which a late-term abortion might be justified, leading to a series of suggestions for tweaking wording in the final of three paragraphs.

The committee also:

* Answered with its paper on late-term abortion an overture (02-37) from Huntingdon Presbytery that asked the Assembly to make a statement about protecting the lives of mothers and babies late in pregnancy;

* Referred overture 02-52, from Donegal Presbytery, on providing pastoral resources for women who have had abortions (as amended) to the Advocacy Committee on Women's Concerns (ACWC), which is to consult with the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) on the topic;

* Disapproved with comment an overture from Redstone Presbytery (02-48), which sought to keep the Board of Pensions (BOP) from paying for late-term abortions. The comment refers to the GA "relief of conscience" policy, through which churches can have their dues to the board set aside and not used to pray for abortions; 

* Disapproved with comment Muskingum Valley Presbytery overture 02-10, which sought to have a special committee appointed to study the Christian and Reformed view of human life in relation to the practices of euthanasia, assisted suicide, abortion and infanticide (the comment noting that the overture's intent was fulfilled by last year's Assembly); and,

* Disapproved with comment a General Assembly Council request to defer implementation of the end-of-life issues dialogue "until sufficient new funding is provided" (in their comment, the committee is asking the Assembly to direct GAC to implement the dialogue as soon as possible). 
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