Monday, October 02, 2006

What General Convention Did (and Didn't Do): Abortion

I’ve written a number of posts about what the 75th General Convention did. However, there were many things that General Convention started and didn’t finish (such as my own resolution on issues at the end of life); and a number that were not addressed at all.

Two such resolutions caught my attention. They were resolution 2006-C048 from the Diocese of Tennessee; and 2006-D063 from the Rev. Lorne Coyle of the Diocese of Central Florida. As the longer text, let me quote from D063:

Resolved, the House of _____ concurring, That the 75th General Convention rescinds the Executive Council’s January 2006 decision to join the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and re-affirms its 1994 Resolution A054 that includes the statement “We emphatically oppose abortion as a means of birth control, family planning, sex selection, or any reason of mere convenience.”

C048 only disagrees by failing to include any reference to previous actions of General Convention.

Now, I wasn’t aware that the Episcopal Church was a member of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC). However, on January 12 of this year the Executive Council did indeed approve a motion from the National Concerns Committee to approve membership in RCRC. It’s reported in this release from the Episcopal News Service.

These two resolutions were in response to this action of the Executive Council. However, neither was reported out of legislative Committee, and so neither was considered by the General Convention.

Now, in any General Convention many resolutions don’t make it through, or even to the floor of either house. There are just too many proposed, and too much discussion on some for all to get considered. This year, with the responses to the Windsor Report on the agenda, I think that was even more true than usual. I’ve referred to a number of resolutions “getting Windsored.”

At the same time, membership in RCRC is in keeping with previous resolutions of General Convention on abortion. Two resolutions have spoken most completely to this issue.

The first was 1988-C047. That resolution reads as follows:

Resolved, the House of Deputies concurring, That the 69th General Convention adopt the following statement on childbirth and abortion:

All human life is sacred. Hence, it is sacred from its inception until death. The Church takes seriously its obligation to help form the consciences of its members concerning this sacredness. Human life, therefore, should be initiated only advisedly and in full accord with this understanding of the power to conceive and give birth which is bestowed by God.

It is the responsibility of our congregations to assist their members in becoming informed concerning the spiritual, physiological and psychological aspects of sex and sexuality.

The Book of Common Prayer affirms that "the birth of a child is a joyous and solemn occasion in the life of a family. It is also an occasion for rejoicing in the Christian community" (p 440). As Christians we also affirm responsible family planning.

We regard all abortion as having a tragic dimension, calling for the concern and compassion of all the Christian community.

While we acknowledge that in this country it is the legal right of every woman to have a medically safe abortion, as Christians we believe strongly that if this right is exercised, it should be used only in extreme situations. We emphatically oppose abortion as a means of birth control, family planning, sex selection, or any reason of mere convenience.

In those cases where an abortion is being considered, members of this Church are urged to seek the dictates of their consciences in prayer, to seek the advice and counsel of members of the Christian community and where appropriate the sacramental life of this Church.

Whenever members of this Church are consulted with regard to a problem pregnancy, they are to explore, with grave seriousness, with the person or persons seeking advice and counsel, as alternatives to abortion, other positive courses of action, including, but not limited to, the following possibilities: the parents raising the child; another family member raising the child; making the child available for adoption.

It is the responsibility of members of this Church, especially the clergy, to become aware of local agencies and resources which will assist those faced with problem pregnancies.

We believe that legislation concerning abortions will not address the root of the problem. We therefore express our deep conviction that any proposed legislation on the part of national or state governments regarding abortions must take special care to see that individual conscience is respected, and that the responsibility of individuals to reach informed decisions in this matter is acknowledged and honored.

This resolution was reaffirmed in toto in resolution 1994-A054, which also added this clause:

Resolved, That this 71st General Convention of the Episcopal Church express its unequivocal opposition to any legislative, executive or judicial action on the part of local, state or national governments that abridges the right of a woman to reach an informed decision about the termination of pregnancy or that would limit the access of a woman to safe means of acting on her decision.

These are really quite balanced statements, acknowledging responsibility for family planning, the “tragic dimension” of abortion, the inadequacy of legislation as a means to resolve this issue, and the importance of a woman’s freedom to make an informed decision regarding a pregnancy, with the support and informed counsel of the Christian community. We oppose abortion when it is undertaken casually, or for “any reason of mere convenience,” even as we also oppose actions of government to “abridge the right of a woman to make an informed decision… or would limit the access of a woman to safe means….”

With more time, the 2006 resolutions might have made it out of committee. At the same time, I don’t believe they would have passed. We have said that in the context of difficult moral decisions individual conscience and choice must be protected. In these times when that moral freedom seems under attack in so many arenas, and not least in legislatures and courts, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice seems good company to be in.

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