Abortion: Report of the Task Force on Abortion
A Statement of The American Lutheran Church, 1980
In this document induced abortion is defined as the deliberate removal of the fetus from its life-support system within the uterus with the intention of ending the life of the fetus.
Action by the Convention: GC80.4.49
WHEREAS, The Task Force on Abortion has submitted its report; therefore be it
Resolved, That the 1980 General Convention express its gratitude to the members of the task force for the diligent work; and be it further
Resolved, That the report of the task force be accepted as a statement of comment and counsel, one expression of views to be considered by members of congregations of The American Lutheran Church along with the 1974 General Convention statement, Christian Counseling on Abortion, and the 1976 General Convention statement, The Value of Human Life, and its appended A Statement on Abortion. Ballot vote tally: Yes-618; No-274; Abstained-5; Voided-1; A 68.9% favorable vote.
A. BASES FOR OUR INTEREST
1. The American Lutheran Church has an intense interest in the abortion issue and its implications. Our desire is to clarify the values related to such issues as: equal rights for women; the Supreme Court decisions regarding abortion; respect for life, born and unborn; responsible reproductive freedom; male dominance and control; protection of family life; the agonizing choice of whether or not to terminate fetal life; and political activism related to the abortion issue. Our desire is to encourage open discussion so that rational and informed courses of action will be promoted.
2. We express ourselves on the abortion issue and its implications because:
a. We seek to be faithful disciples of our Living Lord, desirous of saying and doing that which we believe God would have us say and do;
b. We value each human life as unique, distinctive, and worthy of dignity and respect;
c. We deplore the tendency to turn to abortion as a quick and easy solution to an unplanned or a problem pregnancy;
d. We recognize that abortion is a multi-faceted issue which concerns the family and the community and that the interests of women are paramount;
e. We see that the abortion issue includes biological, psychological, humanitarian, social, ethical, political, and theological dimensions. It is far larger than merely a medical, a legal, or a personal choice issue;
f. We regret that the burdens of abortion and abortion decision making fall unduly heavily upon the poor, minority group persons, and persons otherwise disadvantaged, who are pressured in their decisions by economic constraints;
g. We encourage congregations to meet the overwhelming need for open discussion of the complexities of the abortion issue. Thereby the members can help one another become informed about the values intrinsic to the several sides of the issue.
3. Abortion is not a new issue. In fact, the percentage of American women seeking an abortion may or may not be greater today than in the past. The difficulty of obtaining accurate information for comparing the present with the past makes any precise data suspect. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court decisions on abortion since 1973 have raised the issue of abortion to national attention. We disagree with the view that because abortion is now legal the moral issues have been resolved. We are increasingly conscious both of the enormous number of abortions, legal and illegal, that take place and of the many and tragic circumstances that lead women to take such a step. It is clear that these are questions that should concern the church today as they should have concerned the church prior to the several Supreme Court decisions regarding abortion.
4. As responsible Christians we must confront the complexities of these issues. We take into account the findings of competent scholarship in all disciplines. We strive to uphold the teachings of our faith. At the same time we recognize the brokenness of humanity and our responsibility to deal equitably with this condition. We must work to promote healing and to restore a sense of wholeness.
B. BIBLICAL-THEOLOGICAL FOUNDATIONS
5. Lutherans approach the abortion issue, as any other, on the basis of their faith assumptions derived from Scripture. Therefore, a major question for Lutherans is, "What is the biblical witness?" In seeking that witness which the Old and the New Testaments would speak to us today we take into account alike (a) the text of any specific Bible reference, (b) the context in which that reference occurs, and (c) its probable meaning(s) in light of the whole of Scripture with its central theme of God's loving purpose to save the world through Jesus Christ (John 3:16-17). Differences of opinion and of interpretation will arise even among those who appeal to the same Bible, out of the same confessional tradition. In this spirit we turn to the biblical witness for guidance.
a. The only scripture verse which appears explicit to the loss of fetal life is Exodus 21:22. This calls for payment of a fine to the husband should a woman suffer a miscarriage as a result of being injured in a struggle. The following "life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth" penalty in verse 23 is not applied so long as the woman herself suffers no direct hurt. This suggests that the death of the fetus is not of the same order as personal harm or injury. Yet, the context of this verse so complicates the problems of interpretation that there is no consensus on the meaning of this passage.
b. Other passages of Scripture often cited in abortion discussions, however, do not speak as explicitly to the issue. For example, Psalm 139:13-16 and Job 10:9-1 1 are seen by some as descriptive of the creative processes God established for the intrauterine development of human life. Isaiah 44:2 and Jeremiah 1:5 can be read as God's special calling and foreknowledge. edge of what these messengers would do in his service. Luke 1:44 expresses the meaning Elizabeth gave to the "leap" many a pregnant woman normally experiences. Such passages help to inform the discussion, but have not led to consensus on the specific issues.
c. Scripture passages which forbid murder (Ex. 20:13, Matt. 5:21-22, for example) or which provide penalties for murder (Gen. 9:6, Matt. 26:52, Rom. 13:3-5, for example) depend for their interpretation upon the definition given to the fetus by the reader.
6. Our confessional position as Lutherans requires that we ground any doctrinal statements on the Word of God as presented and explained in our symbolical books (the ancient ecumenical creeds, the unaltered Augsburg Confession, and Luther's Small Catechism, along with the other documents in the Book of Concord of 1580). Since abortion was not an issue in controversy when these were written, none contains any reference to abortion. The Bible and the confessions do speak clearly, however, on a variety of matters which have special relevance for the abortion issue.
Among such matters are:
a. God is the creator, sustainer, and redeemer of human life, with the intent that human beings live in loving concern for each other, in harmonious relationships with one another.
b. Living within society, humans regulate many of their relationships by means of law. Christians share the responsibility to work for laws which are wise and just. Nevertheless, human law can never be fully equated with the divine will; the struggle for justice requires constant reassessment of human laws.
c. Human beings do not have it within their power to eliminate the condition called sin. Christians live from the forgiveness and new life effected by God's redeeming activity in Christ. The gospel calls Christians to live in the world and not to withdraw from it. The gospel does not free us from making decisions, but frees us to make responsible decisions in a sinful world. The decisions we are freed to make have consequences for the neighbor as for self as well as for our relationship with God.
d. Believing that humans are created in the divine image, and living out of a vision of eternal life, Christians affirm that human life deserves care, honor, respect. These attitudes begin in the family, where children are to be seen as a blessing of God. It is the responsibility of the church to exemplify and to work for such care, honor, and respect.
C. SOME SPECIFICS
7. Life is a continuous process from conception through death. The union of sperm and ovum at conception begins a new, unique, individual life. Normally, the conceptus implants in the uterus, and moves through the zygote and embryo stages during the first 60 days of development to a fetus, which on birth is known as an infant. The infant moves through the stages of life from childhood through old age to death. Biologically, life is a continuum.
8. We affirm that life is valuable as a gift of God. However, we recognize there is a common tendency to ascribe value to a human being by steps in relation to nearness to the time of birth or to the time of death. These value judgments are colored by the number, variety, and quality of the person's relationships either present or in prospect. Some insist that full personhood exists from the moment of conception, others reserve the term person from the time of birth, while still others suggest viability as the critical time. All of these judgments are based upon differing interpretations of the same set of biological data. To pinpoint a specific time when personhood exists is very difficult and the search for a single decisive development overlooks the complexity of the substance of personhood. External changes which occur in late fetal life evoke recognition and affective emotions in actual persons. Affective recognition is important because personhood has social status as well as developmental status. A determination of the exact time when personhood occurs independent of the time of birth is fraught with difficulty. For all these reasons the necessity of protecting fetal life assumes increasingly greater significance the nearer the time when the fetus is able to live without the woman's life support systems.
9. Recognizing that life is present from conception, the real problem occurs when our respect for potential human personhood collides with the needs and values of actual persons. The decisions are never easy. The decision process is usually one of weighing responsibilities: responsibility to the potential human person, responsibility to the potential parent(s), and responsibility to others intimately involved in the situation. Very few persons make these decisions without real pain. Whether the decision is to have an abortion or to give birth, the pregnant woman deserves the compassionate support of her church community.
l0. a. We reject the matter of third trimester (28-40 weeks) abortion as the fetus is certainly viable at this stage. Termination of pregnancy this late should be done only to protect the life or health of the woman with the expectation of delivering a live infant accorded all the medical facilities necessary to continue its life. Second trimester abortions should be rare. Most are done when the parent(s) must wait for the results of lengthy genetic studies, when women (usually teens) don't know they are pregnant or are afraid to tell anyone, or when serious health complications develop.
10. b. The majority of abortions are performed during the first trimester. The reasons for requesting this procedure are numerous and varied. Abortion is always a serious matter. Individuals have the responsibility to make the best possible decision they are capable of making in light of the information available to them and their sense of accountability to God, neighbor, and self.
11. A special case is that of a pregnancy where the diagnosis ofgenetic disease and/or a developmental abnormality indicates thatcontinuing development will result in a severely handicapped or mentally retarded person. The development and refinement of amniocentesis provides a procedure for attempting to confirm the presence of an abnormally developing fetus after 14-16 weeks of pregnancy. The agony associated with the possibility of giving birth to a severely handicapped child requires caring, sensitive, and informed counseling. The dangers of undue pressure and coercion must not be underestimated in such circumstances. We affirm that parents in such circumstances should have the right to make the decision for the utilization of amniocentesis and the concomitant decision to terminate a pregnancy or carry the fetus to term if a serious genetic and/or developmental abnormality is confirmed. We reject the implication that this situation requires an abortion. At the same time we empathize with the decision to terminate a pregnancy in which a life is encumbered by genetic and/or developmental problems. The procedure of amniocentesis allows for a choice, one of which is the opportunity to prepare for the birth of a handicapped child.
12.a. Alternatives to abortion must be more publicized and acceptable. Much can be done to make adoption an emotionally tolerable choice to the married as well as unmarried in situations in which keeping and rearing a child is not believed to be possible by the mother and family, whether for reasons of physical and/or psychological stamina, or general economic and social conditions. We recognize that adoptive placement can be a responsible and self-sacrificing act, fraught with emotional and spiritual anguish but nevertheless an act of love toward the child.
12. b. At the same time the church must nurture programs for maternal and infant health so that the pregnant woman in weighing alternatives can identify keeping and rearing her child as an option which offers hope and a realistic chance for healthy growth for her child and herself.
D. SOME PREVENTIVE MEASURES
13. We advocate positive measures for preventing those situations where abortion may seem an option. We reiterate and endorse (with minor amendments we have made below) the responsible preventive measures advocated by the Seventh General Convention (1974), looking toward:
a. Teaching the meaning of human life and relationships as lived in Jesus Christ, in love for God, for family and neighbor, and for self;
b. Helping the parent(s) grow in understanding of the joys, satisfactions, and duties of parenthood, of the individuality of each child, and of the trust given for the nurture of these children;
c. Communicating the meaning of the gift of joy and pleasure in human sexuality when expressed within a marriage relationship of commitment, love, and faithfulness;
d. Advocating research and development leading to safer, more reliable, inexpensive, and simple contraceptives;
e. Encouraging comprehensive family planning services to be made available to person(s) who want or need such help;
f. Fostering informed family life education which advocates responsible management of male and female reproductive powers, including self-control and effective, consistent use of reliable contraceptive measures;
g. Encouraging women and men to share in all parental responsibilities, including child care;
h. Providing just, adequate, and effective private and governmental programs for income maintenance, health and medical care, education, and social services to enable parent(s) to rear children in self-respect and dignity; and
i. Building a sense of fellowship within the congregation so as to support all persons: the family and all its members; the single person; the widowed; the divorced; the handicapped; the homeless child; the child born out of wedlock; the woman with an unwanted pregnancy who elects to bring that pregnancy to term, either to keep the child or place it for adoption; as well as the woman who has made the decision to have an abortion. All are children of God; all deserve the church's care, support, and acceptance.
14. We advocate mutuality and wholeness between men and women as equal members of the human community in matters sexual, procreational, economic, employment, political, and other relationships.
15. We endorse, with minor amendments we have made in the text that follows, these ideas adopted by the 1978 General Convention in its statement on Christian Social Responsibility:
a. The church as a fellowship of believers is concerned to meet human needs through deeds of love and justice. It does this through acts of direct service to persons, both through the congregation and its resources and through its social service agencies. And it does this through efforts to change the social structures in which persons are hurt and debased.
b. Other avenues of direct involvement in the struggle for justice and the solution of social problems include:
(1) advocacy on behalf of the poor, the weak, the disenfranchised, and others least able to defend their own rights;
(2) helping to formulate and support sound goals of public policy relating to justice and a responsive society;
(3) joining in cooperative ventures and supporting programs of community action directed toward the overcoming of poverty, hunger, family breakdown, racism, sexism, crime, and other forms of injustice;
(4) using corporate purchasing power and investment funds to support enterprises and activities which advance the cause of social justice.
c. Every action, or failure to take action, on the part of the corporate church is a witness as to what it believes and teaches. It also seeks healing and reconciliation among its members and strives to reach out in love and justice toward those outside its fellowship. The church strives to be God's agent, so that social systems and structures may become more responsive to God's will for the world.