The Women’s Division lawsuit for government-funded abortion was defeated when the US Supreme Court ruled in 1980 that such restrictions are unconstitutional. The court also ruled that the plaintiffs lacked legal standing in the suit. Women’s Division chief Theressa Hoover lamented the ruling “would indicate that no citizen…can challenge a law…unless they themselves are directly involved.” Board of Church and Society President Bishop Joseph Yeakel of New York West Conference regretted the ruling because it excluded the poor “from an opportunity to exercise their right of choice.” [“Abortion Funding Restrictions Are Constitutional”, Newscope (July 4, 1980)]. (I believe in the right of choice…abstinence, adoption, parenthood. Murder happens to not be one of the choices.) Women’s Division executive Peggy Billings denounced the ruling as “basically wrong” because it is “discrimnatory” against poor women seeking abortions. Billings insisted United Methodism was not “pro-abortion” but only “pro-choice.” (I hope that helped clear her conscience.) The “church takes no position on what she [a pregnant woman] should choose,” she explained, claiming this was the “classic Protestant position.” (Where did she get this?) Women’s Division staffer Ellen Kirby similarly surmised: “The need for active participation of church people is greater than ever at both state and federal levels.” (I guess that she had not yet heard that politics did not belong in the church.) She insisted state funding of abortions should be “strongly supported.” [“United Methodist Women to Fight Abortion Decision”, New Pittsburgh Courier (July 19, 1980) Page 1]. (With the love that Jesus had for children I cannot imagine Him supporting such a position.)
As the 1980 presidential campaign heated up, Bishop James Armstrong denounced pro-life leaflets left in church parking lots aimed at pro-abortion rights senators like George McGovern in his home state. The bishop said McGovern was called a “killer of ‘pre-born’ children.” He denounced the “misuse of ecclesiastical authority and the circulation of venomous campaign literature,” while citing the Council of Bishops’ opposition to the “one issue campaign.” [“Armstrong Blasts Anti-Abortion Campaign Leaflets”, Newscope (July 11, 1980) Page 3].
Not all United Methodists agreed with the official church stance on abortion. “If Jesus came back to the earth today, He would not bother going into the temples and turning over the money changer’s tables; instead He would go into the abortion chambers and yank out the vacuum aspirators killing His children,” declared the head of “United Methodists for Life” in 1980. Another pro-life United Methodist minister led a group of pro-life Protestants to demonstrate outside the Methodist Building in 1981 to “dispel the allusion that abortion is just a Catholic or fundamentalist issue.” He declared: “We are here because the love of God has stirred our hearts to act in ways we’d rather not use.” On the same day, the RCAR hosted a pro-abortion rights workshop service, which included Baltimore-Washington Bishop D. Frederick Wertz and Women’s Division President Ruth Daugherty. She emphasized the “strong support of the Women’s Division for the Supreme Court decision of 1973” and “expressed the concern of UM Women in the context of equal rights” for prohibitions against government funded abortion. [“UM’s on Both Sides of Abortion Issue Recall Court Ruling”, Newscope (January 30, 1981) Page 3]. (I suppose that if the government approves and puts up the money, then the ‘murder’ of the unborn is OK.)
In 1981, United Methodist Reporter editor Spurgeon Dunnam III challenged Moral Majority leader Jerry Falwell to a debate about abortion and other issues: “I believe that the public needs to recognize that not all Christians are narrow-minded, un-thinking, Bible thumpers who spout anti-ERA, antiabortion and antihumanism slogans while ignoring those aspects of the biblical message which do not support New Right political ideology.” In response to President Reagan’s discussing a Supreme Court nomination with Falwell, Dunnam declared: “The Moral Majority has come to epitomize a type of political activity draped in religious terminology which I consider fundamentally at odds in many respects with the gospel of our Lord, Jesus Christ.” [“Editor Challenges Falwell to Debate Abortion”, Washington Post (August 1, 1981) Page B6]. While Falwell declined the challenge, Dunnam declined a subsequent challenge to debate abortion from a pro-life United Methodist minister in Baltimore. Dunnam used the excuse that it would not be beneficial to the Church for two UM ministers to have a debate. [“UM Editor Declines Debate with Pastor on Abortion Issue”, Newscope (September 4, 1981) Page 2].
In 1981, the United Methodist Council of Bishops disagreed with the US Roman Catholic bishops’ support for a constitutional amendment allowing states to restrict abortion: “Because there may be extreme circumstances that warrant abortion, and because we do not believe the Constitution of the United States should reflect particular religious or sectarian points of view, we stand strongly opposed to a constitutional amendment designed to prohibit abortion. [“World of Religion”, Washington Post (December 4, 1981) Page B14]. (Does this mean that the Judeo-Christian principles used by our Founding Fathers to establish this nation should be set aside? Should we go back to public stoning or child sacrifice, just to name a few?) In 1983, Justice Blackmun, recalling his authorship of the abortion ruling, noted he had received letters of condemnation from Methodist clergy. [“Blackmun Accepts Aftermath of Writing Abortion Opinion”, New York Times (January 18, 1983) Page A20]. ( I guess that these clergy had not heard that politics was not to be in the realm of the church.)
In their Episcopal Address to the 1984 General Conference in Baltimore, which was delivered by North Carolina Bishop William Cannon, the bishops declared: “Sexual expression” can only be approved “in the marriage of man and woman.” When persons “remain in the unmarried state, the church expects from them both male and female, a life of chastity, continence and celibacy.” They further said that abortion “must never be permitted to become the means for promiscuity,” adding, “Though abortion may be essential in extreme circumstances, to say that the fetus in a woman’s womb is her own property to do with as she pleases, and to use abortion for immoral purposes, is a barbarous act displaying the lowest form in degeneracy.” [“Methodist Bishops Call for Chastity, Celibacy”, Baltimore Sun (May 2, 1984) Page A1]. (Some of the bishops must have been reading the Bible since the last General Conference.) However, the General Conference rejected amendments to the church’s abortion stance that would have condemned “abortion on demand,” while reaffirming “we recognize tragic conflicts of life of the child with life of the mother that may justify abortion.” [“Methodists to Revise Hymnal”, Baltimore Sun (May 9, 1984) Page D1].
We will touch briefly on the excuse some have used to justify abortion…women’s health. We have been told that abortion is healthcare. If I am not mistaken, healthcare is to maintain or restore physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Abortion does none of these things. Research tells us that post-abortive women are 81% more likely to experience mental health struggles such as anxiety, depression, alcohol abuse, and marijuana abuse. Women who have had an abortion are 155% more likely to commit suicide. Grief, sadness, guilt, anger, helplessness, and feeling isolated are drastically higher in women and men dealing with ramifications of choosing abortion. Additionally, not even abortion advocates believe that abortion is equal to healthcare. If they did, they would have no problem ensuring that abortion facilities are up to par with health codes and guidelines for all medical procedures. In both Whole Woman’s Health vs. Hellerstedt and June Medical Services vs. Russo, the abortion lobby fought vehemently against health and safety standards for women undergoing abortion procedures. In both cases, the last year’s Supreme Court turned its back on protecting life and protecting women. We have a new Court now so maybe things will change.
Next week we will continue with the church’s struggle with pleasing God or condoning the taking of innocent life to appease a sect of their membership. Had the church followed the Bible from the beginning this dilemma would not be impacting the church. This is what happens when we try to please two ‘masters’.
“Open your mouth for the speechless, In the cause of all who are appointed to die.” Proverbs 31:8