A representative of the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) appeared at a news conference this week to denounce an amendment — included in the recently passed House health-care bill — that would prohibit taxpayer-funded abortion.
Linda Bales Todd, director of the Louise and Hugh Moore Population Project at GBCS, was among several speakers at the National Press Club briefing, which was sponsored by the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.
Todd said the House health bill’s “Stupak amendment” (named for its author, Rep. Bart Stupak—D-Mich.) “penalizes women and immigrants [who don’t have the] economic resources” to pay for an abortion.
The amendment, which passed the House by a vote of 240-194, would prohibit any public health insurance plan, or any private plans that receive federal subsidies, from covering abortion services (full text of Stupak amendment—PDF).
|Todd also criticized the amendment as being guided by a “narrow” religious viewpoint. The Stupak amendment was supported strongly by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“Measures like this effectively limit access and delivery of reproductive health care based on one, narrow religious doctrine,” she said.
Speaking at the same news conference, Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said he would rather Congress fail to pass health-care legislation than to pass a final bill that includes the Stupak language. “I believe it would better to dump this entire bill than allow it become law with these noxious provisions intact,” he said.
Other speakers at the Monday news conference included Carlton W. Veazey, president of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, Sammie Moshenberg of the National Council of Jewish Women, Jon O’Brien of Catholics for Choice, and Sandra Sorensen of the United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries.
Earlier, the General Board of Church and Society issued a written statement (PFF) about the House bill, noting that its opposition to the Stupak amendment is based on Resolution 2026 in the 2008 edition of the United Methodist Book of Resolutions.
That resolution — worded rather awkwardly and carrying the title “Responsible Parenthood” — says in part: “We therefore encourage our churches and common society to: …make abortions available to women without regard…to economic status.”
(Note: Apparently due to an editing error that has not been previously noticed, Resolution 2026 also includes extraneous words that make the passage actually read as follows: “…make abortions available to women without regard to economic standards of sound medical practice, and make abortions available to women without regard to economic status.” This error has appeared in the Book of Resolutions since at least 1996.)
A recent report (PDF—6 pages) by Liza Kittle of RENEW, a network for evangelical women within the UMC, noted that most items in the Book of Resolutions were written by personnel of various UM boards and agencies.
[T]he majority of the resolutions which ultimately are included in The Book of Resolutions, and which drive United Methodist policies and social action, originate from a handful of boards and agencies within the Church.
These groups, in turn, use the resolutions to advocate political and social agendas…[that] do not reflect the diversity of beliefs present among United Methodist Church members.
Of the 352 resolutions in the current Book of Resolutions (table of contents here—PDF), more than two-thirds originated with the General Board of Church and Society, the General Board of Global Missions, or the Women’s Division.
Although resolutions are not binding the same way that language in the Book of Discipline is binding, items in the Book of Resolutions are often used to justify board and agency policy.
In many cases, as noted above, boards and agencies actually write the resolutions, which are then passed at the General Conference with no debate — either due to time pressure or because the items are bundled together with other unrelated matters as part of a “consent calendar” (an omnibus piece of legislation intended for quick passage on a single vote). Once passed by the General Conference, the resolutions are then used to authorize the policies and actions of the boards and agencies that wrote the resolutions in the first place.
Most of the language of the current Resolution 2026 dates to the 1976 General Conference, which met in Portland, Oregon. Delegates, facing heavy time pressure on the final day of the 1976 conference, passed the Responsible Parenthood resolution, authored by the Women’s Division, with no debate. The resolution has stayed largely intact since then.
The matter came to the floor of the conference on the afternoon May 7, 1976 — the last day of the week-and-half-long gathering. The Responsible Parenthood resolution was only one section of a larger eight-section, 6,500-word omnibus resolution on “Health, Welfare and Human Development.” The full resolution filled more than 16 pages in the Journal of the 1976 General Conference.
Each of the eight sections was to be presented separately for debate and then a vote. However, Section IV (the section on health care) engendered so much debate that, with time running short, Sections V, VI, VII, and VIII — which included the Responsible Parenthood section — were never debated.
Here is a description of the proceedings from the 1976 Journal:
Kenneth Cooper (Alabama-West Florida) observed that action on this report [“Report 31″ from the Church and Society legislative committee] had already consumed more time than was allotted to it by the Committee on Calendar, and that it was not yet completed.
Mr. [Leroy] Hodapp, Committee on Calendar, replied that it was the judgment of the committee that it was more time consuming to stop a debate that was in progress and re-start it at a later time than to allow it to continue.
At his suggestion, the Chair [Bishop Ellis Finger] inquired whether there were additional amendments to be proposed to the remaining sections of the report; the Chair stated that there did not seem to be any delegates wishing to propose amendments.
Mr. [Gordon] Goodgame [Holston Conference] moved the adoption of Sections V, VI, VII, and VIII, and they were adopted. Report No. 31 was then put to a vote and adopted as a whole.
The 1976 Responsible Parenthood resolution was amended slightly in 1996 (apparently this is when the editing error mentioned above was introduced) and the item was readopted — again without floor debate. The resolution was bundled with several unrelated items on Consent Calendar B06 and was passed on April 26, 1996.
In 2004, the Women’s Division submitted a petition asking for re-adoption of the Responsible Parenthood resolution. Again, there was no floor debate. The matter was added to Consent Calendar B04 and was passed on May 4, 2004.
Two changes were made to Responsible Parenthood at last year’s General Conference, and the resolution was again readopted, via Consent Calendar B04, on April 30, 2008.
As noted above, the basic language of Resolution 2026 dates to 1976. In the 33 years since then, the United Methodist Church has turned in a decidedly pro-life direction.
Last April, the 2008 United Methodist General Conference passed legislation acknowledging “the sanctity of unborn human life” and noting that United Methodists are bound to “respect the sacredness of life and well-being of [both] the mother and the unborn child.”
The United Methodist Book of Discipline also states that the UMC “cannot affirm abortion as an acceptable means of birth control” (¶161J).
Findings from a 2005 study suggest that, at a minimum, nearly three-fourths of abortions are for reasons of birth control. The study found that 74 percent of women having abortions chose to abort their pregnancies because having a child “would dramatically change my life.”
Other research suggests that birth control may be the paramount reason in more than 90 percent of abortion decisions.
In addition, a 2002 study discovered that 54 percent of women having abortions had used contraception during the month they became pregnant, suggesting that abortion is widely used as a “back-up plan” for birth control if other methods are not successful.
Until 2008, the Responsible Parenthood resolution suggested that abortion as a method of birth control could be morally justified.
Part of the resolution read: “When through contraceptive or human failure an unacceptable pregnancy occurs, we believe that a profound regard for unborn human life must be weighed alongside an equally profound regard for fully developed personhood, particularly when the physical, mental, and emotional health of the pregnant woman and her family show reason to be seriously threatened by the new life just forming.”
As a result of a petition to the 2008 General Conference (submitted by former presidential speechwriter Janice Shaw Crouse), the words “through contraceptive or human failure” were deleted from the resolution.