by Ernest L Ohlhoff
Where Do the Churches Stand?
National Right to Life Director of Outreach
The following is a review of some of the major denominations and
their positions and activities on abortion and related issues.
Some are based on official church documents and
some are based on observable activities and statements of some
It should be noted that prior to the 1960s virtually all religious
denominations in America opposed the legalization of abortion
and considered abortion except to save the life of the mother as a
While some denominations may have a strong position one way or
the other on the abortion issue, individual pastors and regional
church bodies may have an entirely different position. Some
pastors and congregations in pro-abortion denominations are
staunchly pro-life. Almost all denominations listed have independent,
quasi-independent, or internal pro-life groups which
work within their denominationís structure to develop or strengthen
its pro-life position.
As a result of the dedicated work by denominational pro-life
groups and growing pressure from grassroots congregations,
virtually all denominations who still espouse a pro-abortion position
are inching slowly toward a more "pro-life" position. This
office is not aware of a single denomination that has moved
toward the pro-abortion side in the last 15 years.
For the names and addresses for pro-life groups working within
specific denominations, please write or call the Outreach
Department at NRLC.
- The Roman Catholic Church
- has continuously and steadfastly opposed the legalization of abortion
and has supported virtually all meaningful pro-life legislation
and public policies. The bishops have testified before Congress on
numerous occasions pleading for restoration of respect for all
human life. The National Conference of Catholic Bishops
has prepared several pastoral letters clearly defining the Catholic
Churchís pro-life position. Most dioceses have active respect life
offices and parish pro-life committees.
Many dioceses are beginning to establish Project Rachel programs
to assist women (and men) who are recovering from postabortion
syndrome. And a large number of dioceses also maintain
hotlines and provide services to help women with problem pregnancies.
- The Lutheran Church -- Missouri Synod (LCMS)
- has passed a series of resolutions beginning in 1971 opposing abortion
on demand and supporting the restoration of legal protection
to the unborn child. It has urged all agencies of the LCMS to "continue
to give testimony to its pro-life stance to all levels of government
in the U.S." The LCMS has called for development of pro-life
educational material for all age levels. The LCMS has vehemently
opposed the so-called "Freedom of Choice Act" (FOCA)
and strenuously supported the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act
(PBA Ban Act.)
- The United Church of Christ (UCC)
- has strongly supported the legalization of abortion since
1971. The UCC supported FOCA and strongly opposed the PBA
ban to the point of joining the National Abortion and Reproductive
Rights Action League (NARRAL) in a statement affirming
President Clintonís veto of the PBA Ban Act in 1996. The UCC
has also called for the church to support abortion in any national
health care bill.
- The Southern Baptist Convention
- initially called for legislation in 1971 that would allow
for the possibility of abortions under such conditions as rape,
incest, clear evidence of severe to fetal deformity, and carefully
ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional,
mental, and physical health of the mother. In 1976, the convention
changed its position to oppose abortions used as a means
of birth control. In 1980, the convention strengthened its position
by supporting legislation and/or a constitutional amendment prohibiting
abortion except to save the life of the mother.
In recent years the Southern Baptist Convention has taken an
active leadership role in supporting pro-life legislation, including
backing the PBA Ban Act
and opposing FOCA and other pro-abortion
measures. The convention has also developed a broad
range of pro-life educational material for all levels, including a
comprehensive pro-life Sunday school curricula and materials for
Sanctity of Life Sunday in January.
- American Baptist Churches
- leaves abortion policy to local churches and individuals. A resolution
adopted in 1988, updated in 1994 and accepted as current policy,
"acknowledges diversity of ... convictions within our fellowship,"
making no distinction between those who believe that human life
begins at conception (with the consequence that abortion is immoral),
and those who believe it can be morally acceptable based on "compassion
and justice." This relativism gives no protection to the
unborn child, and little guidance to women and men who must live
with the consequences of their choice.
- Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)
- "has taken a very strong pro-life position, believing
that the unborn child is a human being whom God is creating." The
position paper of 1978, which is also accepted as the current position,
expresses a clear understanding of the sanctity of human life.
"Abortion is the intentional killing of an unborn child between conception
and birth. ... Scripture leaves no doubt about the continuity of
personhood that includes the unborn child, and therefore, under
the Sixth Commandment, prohibits shedding innocent blood." At the
1996 General Assembly, PCA strongly condemned partial-birth
abortions "as a murderous and horrifying practice and a grave
offense against almighty God," and petitioned the President and
Congress "to act in accord with this Biblical standard."
- The Presbyterian Church (USA)
- historically opposed abortion. As recently as 1965, it said,
"The fetus is a human life to be protected by the criminal law
from the moment when the ovum is fertilized ... As Christians, we
believe that this should not be an individual decision on the part of
the physician and the couple. ..."
In 1970 the PCUSA issued a study report which regarded
abortion as help for unwanted pregnancies and in 1972 language
regarding "personal choice" and "responsible decision"
regarding abortion began to appear in church documents.
In 1983, the PCUSA General Assembly adopted a policy which
affirmed abortion as a "stewardship responsibility." PCUSA
today actively supports the Religious Coalition for Reproductive
Choice (RCRC, formerly known as the Religious Coalition
for Abortion Rights, or RCAR). In 1992, after restudying the issue,
the General Assembly adopted a new policy which states that
"there is a basis in our tradition not only for a womanís difficult
choice for abortion, but also for the preservation of the lives of
the unborn because they are human beings made in Godís
image." In 1997, the PCUSA broke with other pro-abortion
churches to become the first major mainline denomination to
take a position expressing "grave moral concern" about partial-birth
- The United Methodist Church
- began in the early 1970s to view abortion as a "choice". The United
Methodist position in favor of abortion has been so strong that
two of its institutions helped organize and affiliate with the
Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights. For many years RCAR
used office space in the United Methodist Building which is
located across the street from the U.S. Supreme Court. In both 1996
and 1997 the United Methodist Church publicly supported
President Clintonís veto of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act.
While the 1996 United Methodist Churchís Book of Discipline still
maintains a strong pro-abortion position, it now includes wording
recognizing the "sanctity of unborn human life." It further
states, "We cannot affirm abortion as an acceptable means of
birth control and we unconditionally reject it as a means of gender
- The Episcopal Church
- as late as 1958 held a strong pro-life position, stating, "Abortion and
infanticide are to be condemned." In 1967, the 62nd General
Convention of the Episcopal Church supported abortion law
"reform," to permit the "termination of pregnancy" for reasons of
life, rape, incest, fetal deformity, or physical or mental health of
the mother. In 1982, the 66th General Convention condemned
the use of abortion as a means of gender selection and non-serious
By 1988, the 69th General Convention had developed a position
that stated, "All human life is sacred. Hence it is sacred from its
inception until death." The statement goes on to call for church
programs to assist women with problem pregnancies and to
emphasize the seriousness of the abortion decision. In 1994, the
71st General Convention expressed "unequivocal opposition
to any ... action ... that [would] abridge the right of a woman to
reach an informed decision about the termination of her pregnancy,
or that would limit the access of a woman to a safe means of
acting upon her decision." In 1997, at the 72nd General Convention,
the delegates approved a resolution that did not condemn
partial-birth abortions but expressed grave concerns about the
procedure, "except in extreme situtions."
- The Evangelical Lutheran of Church in America (ELCA)
- is a union of three smaller Lutheran denominations which merged in
1988. Each had different views on on abortion. In 1990, the ELCA
adopted a statement that accepts abortion but only as a "last
resort" in the most extreme circumstances. The statement goes
on to say that it opposes abortion ist except in the cases of "clear threat
to the life of the woman", "extreme fetal abnormality"
incompatible with life, and in cases of rape and incest. Beyond
these cases "this church neither supports nor opposes" other
abortion-restricting legislation. At the ELCA's 1997 convention,
a resolution to restrict ELCA funding of abortions to the three cases
stated above was rejected 70%-30%.
The ELCA funds elective abortions in the churchís health
care coverage for pastors and professional church workers, and
some Lutheran-affiliated hospital perform elective abortions.
- Orthodox Churches
- have consistently maintained strong opposition to legalization of abortion
and support virtually all pro-life legislation. Various bishops and
of priests have testified at hearings ty, and have attended pro-life
conventions, rallies, and marches. The Orthodox Church in America
made a public statement opposing President Clintonís veto of the
Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act.
- Independent Bible Churches and Evangelical Churches
- have usually maintained a pro-life position based on biblical
teaching. Since these churches are not part of formal associations
or structures, they do not have denominational statements or
resolutions on the abortion issue. But the great majority would support
pro-life legislation and oppose continued abortion on
|For more information, contact:
NRLC Outreach Department|
419 7th St, NW, Suite 500
Washington, DC 20004
Posted 12 Sep 2000.
Copyright 1998 by National Right to Life
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