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The Rev. Beth Ann Cook, Indiana Conference, introduces a petition from the Church and Society legislative committee regarding The United Methodist Church's association with the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. The vote took place May 19 at the denomination's 2016 General Conference in Portland, Ore. Photo by Maile Bradfield, UMNS.

Photo by Maile Bradfield, UMNS

The Rev. Beth Ann Cook, Indiana Conference, introduces a petition from the Church and Society legislative committee regarding The United Methodist Church's association with the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. The vote took place May 19 at the denomination's 2016 General Conference in Portland, Ore.

Church ends membership in reproductive health coalition

By Kathy L. Gilbert
May 19, 2016 | PORTLAND, Ore. (UMNS)

The 2016 General Conference voted May 19 to withdraw United Methodist membership from the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.

The United Methodist Church was a founding member of the organization in 1973. The United Methodist Board of Church and Society and United Methodist Women are currently members.

The 2004, 2008 and 2012 General Conferences have debated staying in the organization, because some church members disagree with the coalition’s position on abortion. The argument to stay is to have “a voice at the table.”

RCRC is a coalition of national religious organizations. According to the coalition’s website, “the views of each denomination or organization are their own and often vary.”

The Rev. Beth Ann Cook, Indiana Conference, said, “the time has come to withdraw” because The United Methodist Church’s positions on abortion differ from some of the policies of the coalition. She pointed to RCRC supporting gender-selection abortions and late-term abortions.

The Rev. Rebecca Girrell, New England Conference, said the coalition provides a religious voice on the issue of reproductive health care for all women. They provide training for churches to talk to people who may be considering an abortion or have had an abortion, she said.

“The United Methodist Church’s position on abortion is carefully nuanced,” she said. “RCRC does not speak for The United Methodist Church but we speak to it.”

Women were dying

Susan Burton, executive with the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, said some United Methodist pastors formed the coalition because women in their congregations were dying trying to give themselves abortions. She also said no church dollars directly fund the coalition. 

“We advocate for The United Methodist Church’s position on abortion. This interfaith organization is richer from hearing our voice,” Burton said.

But Iowa delegate Darcy Lynn Rubenking disagreed.

“Abortion is murder. I don’t want the name of my church or finances associated with RCRC,” Rubenking said.

Courtney Fowler, Great Plains, said she works in maternal health care.

“As a woman of faith, it saddens me that some women die in childbirth because they do not have access to adequate health care,” she said. “We cannot do this work alone. We need all the voices of faith to reduce abortions, not reduce women’s access to reproductive health care.”

The issue of the church’s membership in the coalition has been coming up for 12 years, said Katherine Rohrs, West Ohio. “We have been saying we need to be at the table because our voice matters, but nothing has changed.”

Delegates voted in favor of withdrawing from the organization by a vote of 425-268. A second petition deleting language supporting RCRC from the Book of Resolutions also passed.

Gilbert is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service. Contact her at (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.