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The Social Principles in the Book of Discipline, is one of the places to read the church's statement on abortion. Photo by United Methodist Communications.

Photo by United Methodist Communications

In the Social Principles, The United Methodist Church affirms the sanctity of the life of the unborn child and his or her mother. Photo by United Methodist Communications.

The United Methodist Church and the complex topic of abortion


A Feature by Joe Iovino*
November 3, 2015

The United Methodist Church affirms these two sentences in The Social Principles:

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
and the unborn child. (Book of Discipline ¶161.J)

These statements express the complexity of a topic that does not lend itself to easy answers.

We affirm the sanctity of unborn human life. We similarly understand that the pregnant woman is also a life of sacred worth, and that there are circumstances in which the needs of the woman may justify abortion.

Additional official statements of The United Methodist Church express our reluctance to affirm absolute perspectives either supporting or opposing abortion which do not account for the individual woman’s sacred worth and agency (see the links below for more information).

Let’s start with several important points also contained in The Social Principles.

  • The United Methodist Church does NOT affirm abortion as a means of birth control. By this, we mean that reproductive health practices including contraception and family planning, comprehensive sexuality education, and initiatives improving the quality of life for women and girls should be pursued in order to reduce unintended pregnancy and improve outcomes for desired pregnancies and parenting.
  • We also “unconditionally reject” abortion “as a means of gender selection or eugenics.”

The Social Principles also recognizes, however, “tragic conflicts of life with life that may justify abortion, and in such cases we support the legal option of abortion under proper medical procedures by certified medical providers.”

All Christians faced with such decisions are called to enter them with prayer, searching the Scriptures, and all other means of seeking God’s will, guidance, and wisdom. We also strongly encourage such persons to seek the counsel of parents, other family members, clergy, and professionals in both medicine and counseling.

When faced with an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy, “We particularly encourage… the option of adoption.” When a woman selects adoption as the outcome of her pregnancy for which she feels best, the Social Principles encourage churches to assist her with appropriate resources and support.

What we are doing

While we understand the need for women to have access to safe, legal abortions, we also “mourn and are committed to promoting the diminishment of high abortion rates.” We encourage ministries that reduce unintended pregnancies, such as sex education, access to voluntary family planning, contraception, and “initiatives that enhance the quality of life for all women and girls around the globe.”

Finally, we are committed to ministering with those who have had an abortion, providing support and encouragement.

To learn more:

Social Principles: 

Book of Resolutions: 

General Board of Church and Society

*Joe Iovino works for at United Methodist Communications. Contact him by email or at 615-312-3733.
Susan Burton, Director, Women’s and Children’s Advocacy, General Board of Church and Society, contributed to this story.