By Joseph Slife
A representative of the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) appeared at a news conference on November 16 to denounce an amendment—included in the House-passed health care bill—that would prohibit taxpayer-funded abortion.
Linda Bales Todd, director of the Louise and Hugh Moore Population Project at GBCS, was among several speakers at the National Press Club briefing, which was sponsored by the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.
Todd said the House health bill’s “Stupak amendment” (named for its author, Rep. Bart Stupak—D-Michigan) “penalizes women and immigrants [who don’t have the] economic resources” to pay for an abortion.
The amendment, which passed the House by a vote of 240-194, would prohibit any public health insurance plan, or any private plans that receive federal subsidies, from covering abortion services. (GBCS later lobbied against the Senate version of the amendment, proposed by Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Nebraska), a member of Rockbrook United Methodist Church in Omaha. The Nelson amendment was defeated 54-45.)
At the November news conference, Todd criticized the Stupak amendment, which was supported strongly by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, as being guided by a “narrow” religious viewpoint. “Measures like this effectively limit access and delivery of reproductive health care based on one, narrow religious doctrine,” she said.
Speaking at the same news conference, Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said he would rather Congress fail to pass health care legislation than to pass a final bill that includes the Stupak language. “I believe it would be better to dump this entire bill than allow it to become law with these noxious provisions intact,” he said.
Other speakers at the news conference included Carlton W. Veazey, president of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, Sammie Moshenberg of the National Council of Jewish Women, Jon O’Brien of Catholics for Choice, and Sandra Sorensen of the United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries.
Earlier, the General Board of Church and Society issued a written statement about the House bill, noting that its opposition to the Stupak amendment is based on Resolution 2026 in the 2008 edition of the United Methodist Book of Resolutions. That awkwardly worded resolution—carrying the title “Responsible Parenthood”—says in part: “We therefore encourage our churches and common society to: …make abortions available to women without regard…to economic status.”
(Note: Apparently due to an editing error that has not been previously noticed, Resolution 2026 also includes extraneous words that make the passage actually read as follows: “…make abortions available to women without regard to economic standards of sound medical practice, and make abortions available to women without regard to economic status.” This error has appeared in The Book of Resolutions since at least 1996.)
A recent report by Liza Kittle of Renew, a network for evangelical women within the UM Church, noted that most items in the Book of Resolutions were written by personnel of various UM boards and agencies.
“The majority of the resolutions which ultimately are included in The Book of Resolutions, and which drive United Methodist policies and social action, originate from a handful of boards and agencies within the Church,” Kittle wrote. “These groups, in turn, use the resolutions to advocate political and social agendas…[that] do not reflect the diversity of beliefs present among United Methodist Church members.”
The Renew report notes that of the 352 resolutions in the current Book of Resolutions, more than two-thirds originated with the General Board of Church and Society, the General Board of Global Missions, or the Women’s Division.
Although resolutions are not binding the same way that language in The Book of Discipline is binding, items in The Book of Resolutions are often used to justify board and agency policy.
In many cases, as noted above, boards and agencies actually write the resolutions, which are then passed at the General Conference with no debate—either due to time pressure or because the items are bundled together with other unrelated matters as part of a “consent calendar” (an omnibus piece of legislation intended for quick passage on a single vote). Once passed by the General Conference, the resolutions are then used to authorize the policies and actions of the boards and agencies that wrote the resolutions in the first place.
Most of the language of the current Resolution 2026 dates to the 1976 General Conference. Delegates, facing heavy time pressure on the final day of the 1976 conference, passed the Responsible Parenthood resolution, authored by the Women’s Division, with no debate. The resolution has stayed largely intact since then.
The matter came to the floor of the conference on May 7, 1976—the last day of the week-and-a-half-long gathering. The Responsible Parenthood resolution was only one section of a larger eight-section, 6,500-word omnibus resolution on “Health, Welfare, and Human Development.” The full resolution filled more than 16 pages in the Journal of the 1976 General Conference.
Each of the eight sections was to be presented separately for debate and then a separtate vote. However, Section IV (the section on health care) engendered so much discussion that, with time running short, Sections V, VI, VII, and VIII—which included the Responsible Parenthood section—were never debated.
The 1976 Responsible Parenthood resolution was amended slightly in 1996 (apparently this is when the editing error mentioned above was introduced) and the item was readopted—again without floor debate. The resolution was bundled with several unrelated items on Consent Calendar B06 and was passed on April 26, 1996.
In 2004, the Women’s Division submitted a petition asking for readoption of the Responsible Parenthood resolution. Again, there was no floor debate. The matter was added to Consent Calendar B04 and was passed.
Two slight changes were made to Responsible Parenthood at last year’s General Conference, and the resolution was again readopted, via Consent Calendar B04, on April 30, 2008.
Although the basic language of Resolution 2026 dates to 1976, the United Methodist Church has turned in a decidedly pro-life direction in the years since then. The 2008 General Conference, for example, passed legislation acknowledging “the sanctity of unborn human life” and noting that United Methodists are bound to “respect the sacredness of life and well-being of [both] the mother and the unborn child.”
It remains to be seen whether delegates to the 2012 General Conference will insist on a full floor debate regarding the future of the “Responsible Parenthood” resolution, as well as other resolutions that have never received a full airing at any General Conference but are nonetheless guiding board and agency policies.
Joseph Slife is a certified lay speaker in the North Georgia Annual Conference and an adjunct instructor in the Department of Communication at Georgia’s Emmanuel College. He blogs at www.MethodistThinker.com.