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Decision No. 683

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October 29 1992
In Re: Consistency of Support of Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights with Par. 71(g) of the 1988 Discipline.

Digest of Case

Support of the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights is consistent with Par. 71(g) of the 1988 Discipline.

Statement of Facts

The 1992 General Conference defeated a petition which called for withdrawal of support of the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights (RCAR). RCAR's membership includes the General Board of Church and Society of The United Methodist Church and the Women's Division of the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church. The General Conference voted to refer to the Judicial Council the question of whether support of RCAR is consistent with the Social Principles, specifically Par. 71(g) of the 1988 Discipline. The Judicial Council held oral arguments on this issue on Thursday, October 29, 1992 in the Law School Auditorium at Boston University. Appearing were Tex Sample, representing the General Board of Church and Society, Joyce Hamlin, representing Women's Division of the Board of Global Ministries, Walter M. Deriso, Jr., and Phil Granger. JURISDICTION The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under Par. 2615 of the 1988 Discipline . ANALYSIS Since specific questions have been raised concerning the Judicial Council's jurisdiction in this matter, we must clearly explain our acceptance of jurisdiction to avoid future confusion. By Par. 2615, the Judicial Council has jurisdiction to make a "declaratory decision as to the constitutionality, meaning, application, or effect of the Discipline or any portion thereof or of any act of legislation of a General Conference." It is to be noted that the scope of the Judicial Council's interpretive powers is not limited to the Constitution, but rather encompasses the entire Discipline, which includes the Social Principles. Furthermore, in this instance, the act of the 1992 General Conference not to withdraw from RCAR fits squarely within the review powers given in this paragraph. Additionally, the relationship between General Church policy and General Boards and Councils must be noted. Neither the "General Conference of The United Methodist Church" nor "The United Methodist Church" is a member of RCAR, nor could they be, because as stated in Par. 113 of the 1988 Discipline, "Under the constitution and disciplinary procedures set forth in this Book of Discipline 'The United Methodist Church' as a denominational whole is not an entity, nor does it possess legal capacities and attributes. It does not and cannot hold title to property, nor does it have any officer, agent, employee, office, or location. Conferences, councils, boards, agencies, local churches, and other units bearing the name 'United Methodist' are, for the most part, legal entities capable of suing and being sued and possessed of legal capacities." Although the General Boards, Councils, etc., are the bodies which function year round, they cannot speak for the General Conference. Par. 610.1 of the 1988 Discipline states: "No person, no paper, no organization, has the authorityto speak officially for The United Methodist Church, this right having been reserved exclusively to the General Conference under the Constitution. Any written public policy statement issued by a general church agency shall clearly identify either at the beginning or at the end that the statement represents the position of that general agency and not necessarily the position of The United Methodist Church." The General Conference has spoken officially concerning its position on abortion in Par. 71(g) of the Social Principles. A General Board, Council, etc., may not declare that its own position is that of the whole church if this position is in conflict with the official position as determined by General Conference (See Decision No. 458) and each General Board, Council, etc., is specifically required to follow the Social Principles in its functioning. The responsibility of the General Council on Ministries includes: "To keepunder review the concurrence of general program agencies with the Social Principles (Par. 70-76) of The United Methodist Church." (Par. 1006.14) Par. 1104 states: "Prime responsibility of the board [General Board ofChurch and Society] is to seek the implementation of the Social Principles . . ." The General Board of Global Ministries has authority to make bylaws and regulate its proceedings so long as they are "in harmony with the Discipline of The United Methodist Church." (Par. 1404). Clearly, then, the issue before the Judicial Council is whether support of RCAR by General Boards, Councils, etc., is consistent with the General Conference policy on abortion as stated in Par. 71(g) of the Social Principles. The narrowness of the issue before the Judicial Council cannot be over-emphasized. This issue does not include an evaluation of the interest, concerns or history of any General Board, Council, etc. This issue does not include a determination of when life actually begins or what the scriptures say about abortion, or whether any given position about abortion is unchristian. To determine the intent of Par. 71(g), its legislative history is very helpful. The first declaration about abortion in the Social Principles, in 1972, supported the removal of abortion from the criminal code, recognized tragic conflicts of life with life which may justify abortion, and called Christians to prayerful inquiry as to conditions which may warrant abortions. In 1976, the following sentence was added: "We support the legal option of abortionunder proper medical procedures." There were no changes in 1980 or 1984. In 1988, the following sentence was added: "We cannot affirm abortion as anacceptable means of birth control, and we unconditionally reject it as a means of gender selection." A comparison of Par. 71(g) of the 1988 Discipline with written publications and statements on the purposes of RCAR show consistency: I. COMPARISON ON RESPECT AND SACREDNESS OF LIFE: Par. 71(g) states: "Our belief in the sanctity of unborn human life makes us reluctant to approve abortion. But we are equally bound to respect the sacredness of the life and well-being of the mother, for whom devastating damage may result from an unacceptable pregnancy.... [W]e recognize tragic conflicts of life with life that may justify abortion, and in such cases support the legal option of abortion under proper medical procedures." RCAR statement: ("Abortion: Why Religious Organizations in the United StatesWant to Keep It Legal"): "We hold in high respect the value of potential human life and do not take the question of abortion lightly. RCAR members believe it is important for the religious community to provide leadership and guidance on the moral and ethical aspects of this sensitive issue." II. COMPARISON ON MATTER OF BIRTH CONTROL AND GENDER SELECTION: Par. 71(g) states: ". . . cannot affirm ... means of birth control,... reject it as a means of gender selection." RCAR Publication statement: ("Faith in God ... Faith in Women") "Does RCAR encourage women to have abortions? Of course not. RCAR members do believe, however, that if a woman becomes pregnant and decides that she simply cannot commit herself to care for a child at this time, she should have access to safe, affordable abortion services. Only if such services are legal can she be assured they will be safe." RCAR letter May 17, 1991 signed by Patricia A. Tyson, Executive Director of RCAR: "RCAR has never supported abortion as a means of birth control nor have we ever supported abortion for gender selection." III. COMPARISON ON MAKING A DECISION CONCERNING ABORTION: Par. 71(g) states: "Therefore, a decision concerning abortion should be made only after thoughtful and prayerful consideration by the parties involved, with medical, pastoral, and other appropriate counsel." RCAR statement: ("Abortion: Why Religious Organizations in the United StatesWant to Keep it Legal"): "Because each denomination and faith group ... members hold widely varying viewpoints as to when abortion is morally justified. This plurality of beliefs leads us to the conviction that the abortion decision must remain with the individual, to be made on the basis of conscience and personal religious principles, and free from government interference." A review of RCAR documents reveals nothing which conflicts with the General Conference policy. RCAR acknowledges that each denomination and faith group represented by its members approaches the abortion issue from its own theology. RCAR affirms this diversity, thereby permitting The United Methodist Church to continue to espouse its position as given in the Social Principles while also continuing its support of RCAR.

Decision

Support of the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights is consistent with Par. 71(g) of the 1988 Discipline.

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