Adventists and Abortion

EDITOR'S NOTE: Perspective articles are the views of each author and do not necessarily represent the official stance of the North Pacific Union Conference or the Gleaner. We believe, however, they are words worthy of thought and discussion by our Northwest members.

Abortion is a controversial topic among Adventists. Many conscientious members defend abortion to preserve free choice, including freedom of religion. Others (myself included) see it as a matter of human life and death. Our dilemma is how to uphold both freedom and life — each a fundamental gift from God. Following are my conclusions, which I submit for your consideration.

Abortion is a hot potato we would rather not handle. In fact, the Seventh-day Adventist Church resisted making an official statement on the subject until nearly 20 years after Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in America. 

According to the “Christian View of Human Life” document voted at the 1992 Annual Council, “prenatal human life is a magnificent gift from God.” It naturally follows we should respect and preserve heaven’s gift of life. Yet our church statement (cautiously) sanctions a woman’s decision to abort a baby under “serious jeopardy to her health.”

Defending women’s health is a popular entrance ramp in secular society to the abortion freeway (and everybody knows it). If an otherwise healthy woman with a healthy fetus feels distress about losing a promotion by carrying her baby to term, then arguably she may have an emotional health issue that justifies abortion.

Even apparently conservative language in our official statement (“serious jeopardy to her health”) does not restrain elective abortions, since debilitating depression can result from unwanted pregnancy. Assertions such as “the church does not condone abortions of convenience” need not prevent even a single abortion, since a woman’s concern about her career involves more than mere inconvenience.

Summarizing so far. Our attempt to preserve personal well-being and freedom of choice has produced an Adventist abortion policy with pro-life foliage but pro-choice fruit. It is designed to appear conservative while allowing permissive interpretation, rendering it useless in safeguarding unborn human life.

The Bible Affirms Unborn Life 

Scripture is not silent about prenatal human life. Hebrew and Greek both use the same words to describe a baby before and after birth. It was a baby, not disposable fetal tissue, who leaped in the womb of Elizabeth (Luke 1:44) when Mary visited her.  All of us may be thankful the virgin mother did not abort the incarnate Son of God within her. Adventists who teach that the fetus is not human life need to explain what happened to Jesus for the nine months He lived in Mary’s womb.

In light of all this, what justification can there be for destroying prenatal life, having acknowledged it as “a magnificent gift from God”? Is this not breaking the sixth commandment? And in facilitating abortion, are we not making ourselves the lords of life and death — thus also violating the fourth commandment, which memorializes the creation of life?

At the 1992 Annual Council debate about abortion, the General Conference Ministerial Association powerfully advocated for prenatal life. Our September issue of Ministry magazine that year featured articles and editorials on the subject. During the debate, I remember holding up a health magazine that described coffee drinking by pregnant women as “unborn child abuse.”

I asked fellow delegates, “If causing the fetal heart to race a few minutes because of caffeine consumption is child abuse, then what is it when you invade the womb and literally tear apart that beating heart? How can we possibly pass a policy that permits that?”

Nevertheless, the abortion document was voted overwhelmingly. And now we find ourselves in an embarrassing and inexplicable situation: Public media report that Roman Catholics defend creation life in the womb while Seventh-day Adventists do not. I believe it is time to revisit our official church policy on abortion.

Some of us on the General Conference executive committee in 1992 supported an alternative Bible-based pro-life statement, presented by a minority group of the human life committee. The statement, as I recall from having helped write it, made allowance for special circumstances such as the life of the mother, rape, incest and grave fetal abnormality. While convictions differ, these exceptional cases comprise perhaps 3 percent of potential abortions.

Can we congregate on the side of creation life regarding the other 97 percent of pregnancies? That provides sufficient common ground for respectful dialogue about elective situations that are indeed legitimate, such as saving a mother’s life.

Here’s the bottom line, as I see it: Creation life is more than just a doctrine to teach in Adventist classroom; it’s also a living reality to protect by taking a stand against abortions that needlessly destroy unborn life from God.

Finally, what about a woman’s free choice? It’s much easier to “choose life” (Deut. 30:19) within a community where grace reigns with truth. This facilitates the viable option of adoption for expectant mothers unable to raise their children. And, when we are a grace-filled community, we will not shun anyone who chooses differently. Those who thoughtfully pursue another path also deserve our compassion and understanding.

June 19, 2018 / Perspective
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