Columbus, OH -- The nation's largest Presbyterian denomination yesterday affirmed the unrestricted right to abortion as long as the unborn child is too young to survive outside the womb. After that, abortion is still acceptable, but only in limited circumstances and with pastoral and medical counseling, said a statement adopted by delegates to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) at the Greater Columbus Convention Center.
Some delegates called the statement a reasonable compromise but opponents viewed it as a step backward.
The measure, the result of two years of study, passed 394-112 with four abstentions. Once an unborn child is viable, it said, abortion is permissible only to preserve the life and health of a woman, to avoid fetal suffering or in cases of rape or incest.
"We affirmed the fundamental right to (abortion) prior to viability,'' said Judy L. Woods of Indianapolis, moderator of the denomination's advisory committee on litigation and a convention delegate. "But after viability, we have said that although there is still a right to choose, that choice has to be undertaken after prayer and pastoral consultation . . . and only in certain circumstances."
Pro-life advocates deemed the late-pregnancy restrictions toothless and said they can be easily evaded.
"This allows for so many exceptions; there's no way for the church to counsel that any late-term abortion would be objectionable,'' said Terry Schlossberg of Burke, Va., executive director of Presbyterians Pro-Life.
Di Lupton of Olathe, Kan., a board member of Presbyterians Pro-Life, agreed.
"The adopted statement opens up a lot of categories that are not medically founded and don't speak to the value of the life,'' she said. Also, Lupton objected to the delegates' vote to retain payment for late-term abortion in the church's medical-benefits plan.
The Rev. Joanne Sizoo, a Cincinnati pastor and chairwoman of the denomination's advocacy committee for women's concern, said the statement made yesterday "maintains our moderately pro-choice position in the Presbyterian Church and sees matters related to abortion as matters to be decided in consultation with the physician, her family and her pastor.''