Does ECUSA have a stand on Abortion?
The Episcopal Church at the national level supports and helps fund the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, an organization advocating abortion rights in the U.S.; the stand seems relatively recent for our church, and it has recently drawn criticism from some on the Anglican/Catholic right. But as far as I can tell, it seems these critics have incorrectly read ECUSA on abortion--at least I hope. They see the Episcopal Church as permitting abortion without qualification, or at least outside the narrow range of extreme circumstances.
As far as I can find, the position expressed by ECUSA's support of RCRC is voiced in resolution GC1994-A054. Take a breath; it's a tad long-winded, and you have to stay awake until the end:
"Resolved, the House of Bishops concurring, That this 71st General Convention of the Episcopal Church reaffirms resolution C047 from the 69th General Convention, which states:
All human life 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 and physiological 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 conscience 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 the individual conscience is respected, and that the responsibility of individuals to reach informed decisions in this matter is acknowledged and honored as the position of this Church;
and be it further
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."
The long part before the bold-type paragraph wavers around weakly, but in the end agrees with the Church of England's current official position: abortion is morally wrong except in a narrow range of extreme cases. I've taken the liberty of enlarging and underlining those passages that render ECUSA's disapproval of unconditional abortion obvious.
The paragraph in bold at the very end of the resolution gives voice to another point of view: Come what may, ECUSA should support the Roe v. Wade status quo, as that status quo protects a right, et al (although, just what exactly is the right--one to information, or one to an abortion, or both? Hard to say, if not impossible, from the text). Anyhow, these normal and bold faced sections are, in fact, logically consistent.
That last paragraph, the one in bold, is the one committing ECUSA to RCRC; nothing in the previous paragraphs is similarly effective. The feeling/strategy/panic evident from the last paragraph might be this:
"Without the work of groups like RCRC, abortions will not be available, even in the narrow range of extreme cases. There is no similarly efficacious alternative. The danger of the procedure being entirely eliminated is that severe."
Of course, I do not know.
While ECUSA has never said, to my knowledge, Abortions outside extreme circumstances are permissible, and its support of RCRC does not entail support of such permissibility; indeed, there is disapproval in the resolution for abortion outsiode the narrow range. Still,one should wish for clearer moral guidance here.
Why? The number of abortions performed in the U.S. seems to exceed the number one would expect if abortion were in practice generally a matter of extreme circumstances--we're apparently talking millions. Given the very high numbers of abortions performed yearly, any broad support of abortion rights might well be seen as support for abortion simpliciter.
ECUSA has a teaching office here, a duty to support and render intelligible the dignity and moral significance of human life. To support a legal right to something ECUSA has officialy said is seriously immoral, even "tragic" to use ECUSA's word, is dangerous and risks the appearance of incoherence.