The Oregon-Idaho, California-Nevada, New England , New York and the Pacific-Northwest Conference all voted to join the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and support the faith coalition that advocates for women’s reproductive health and abortion.
The California-Nevada Conference resolution had the conference join both the national coalition and and the California Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. The Rocky Mountain Conference passed a resolution affirming its membership in the Colorado Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.
The moves are in direct opposition to action taken in May by General Conference 2016, which voted to discontinue membership in the organization The United Methodist Church helped found more than 40 years ago.
“We in Oregon-Idaho stand with women in recognizing reproductive choices should be between a person and their doctor. We want to clearly say that we disagree with removal of the denominational membership and offer our public support instead,” stated the petition approved during the June 16-18 annual conference session.
The New England resolution was brought by the Rev. Rebecca Girrell, pastor at Lebanon United Methodist Church in New Hampshire and chair of the Conference Board of Church and Society.
The United Methodist Board of Church and Society and United Methodist Women wrote an open letter to RCRC on June 7 withdrawing from membership because of the General Conference vote.
The international gathering also did not support “Responsible Parenthood.” That resolution, in the United Methodist Book of Resolutions since 1976, addresses abortion and the right to use birth control.
Those two votes did not change the church’s official stand on abortion, however.
The United Methodist Social Principles recognize “tragic conflicts of life with life” that may justify abortion, but reject abortion as means of birth control, gender selection or eugenics, as well as the use of late-term abortion.
Closer to pro-life
However, many United Methodists and other faith leaders saw the defeat of those two petitions as moving the church closer to a pro-life stance.
“This is a necessary and good step towards affirming that the unborn are persons of sacred worth. This also shows the United Methodist Church moving away from other liberal, declining, ‘mainline’ denominations to embrace a new faithful, global identity,” said John Lomperis, a delegate and United Methodist Action director.
The Rev. Beth Ann Cook of the Indiana Conference, representing the Church and Society Committee 2 at General Conference, presented the petition that described RCRC as “a one-sided political lobby that opposes all disapproval or limitation of abortion.” She said its advocacy often directly contradicts the church’s Social Principles.
“Our United Methodist Church has a carefully nuanced official position on the difficult issue of abortion. It is not as strong as some of us would like nor as clearly pro-choice as others would like,” Cook said in presenting the petition.
“This group is neither nuanced nor moderate.”
Reproductive health for women
Harriett Jane Olson, top executive for United Methodist Women, said reproductive health for women is a lifelong issue.
“We really can’t talk about women’s health without talking about reproductive health. Abortion is just one procedure available for one part of a women’s life cycle. It is tiny in comparison to the whole need of women’s health,” she said.
RCRC is a coalition of religious groups that support clergy and members of churches as they offer pastoral care to women before and after abortions, Olson said. There are many different points of views among faith groups and RCRC helped navigate those differences in public discussions, she added.
“Faith voices must speak up for women who are vulnerable. Our voice has been removed from the table of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC) — a coalition comprised of partners from many faiths dedicated to women’s health — but we will continue to speak up for women and girls,” said the Rev. Susan Henry-Crowe, top executive of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society.
The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice also issued a statement on the decision.
“Yesterday (May 19) the United Methodist Church General Conference voted to rescind its formal participation in the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. We send prayers and support to the tens of thousands of Methodists of conscience who still stand on the side of promoting the inherent dignity of all people to make a decision about their own reproductive lives — including the decision to pursue compassionate abortion care.”
In their action, the Oregon-Idaho Conference responded to RCRC’s invitation.
“Since the General Conference denied to participate in reproductive health advocacy for women, I’m glad my annual conference has chosen to maintain the relationship, although at a lower level than before. This shows that what General Conference undoes, the annual conferences can lead on, albeit in a patchwork form,” said the Rev. Jeremy Smith, minister of discipleship at First United Methodist Church in Portland, Oregon. He writes a blog, Hacking Christianity.
Another blogger, Irene R. DeMaris, shared her disappointment with the denomination’s decisions in an article, “Should women leave the church to be heard?”
“Responsible Parenthood, a holistic view of what it means to choose to be a parent and affirmation of birth control as a way for women to have control over our reproductive health, was voted down. Other legislation regarding women and girls was left in the dust, taking out our voices from The Book of Resolutions,” she wrote.
Reproductive health for all girls and women is no less important because of the General Conference action, Olson said.
“The need for women to have the care they need in order for them to thrive so that their families can thrive is very compelling,” she said.
Gilbert is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service. Contact her at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected].