Category Archives: Abortion

No, a Methodist minister did not justify abortion with the claim of original sin

English: Marie of the Incarnation (1566-1618)
English: Marie of the Incarnation (1566-1618) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The ultimate source of all truth on the internet, LifeNews, has been linked to and shared without fact checking a link to a post that misuses (lies?) about John Swomley‘s defense of abortion. Then you have plenty of other people who aren’t fact checking.

The essay can be found in  Compulsory Pregnancy: the War against American Women (Amherst, New York: Humanist Press, 1999) and online, here. The article was first published in 1997. Please read that before you read my commentary.

The blogger and then LifeNews posted this quote:

The first claim is that society should protect innocent human life that is unable to protect itself. The term “innocent,” originally used by various popes, refers to fetal life which has committed no sin. Yet the Roman Catholic Church has proclaimed only one person, Mary, the Mother of Jesus, as having an immaculate conception and hence free from original sin. In any event, public policy cannot be founded on theological claims to innocence.

There is another meaning of “innocence” which comes from two Latin words, in (not) and nocere (to harm), and therefore means “not harmful or dangerous.” However, it is precisely the fact that some pregnant women (and their physicians) view the fetus as harmful or threatening to their health or welfare and hence leads them to consider abortion.

One has to first look at context. Roman Catholics, long before American Protestants did (remember, at one time, even Southern Baptists supported pro-choice initiatives), opposed abortion. Swomley, writing as an ethicist and within the position of the United Methodist Church, was rebutting not merely the post-Roe v. Wade fallout, the Clinton area, but so too the Roman Catholic positions.

As I see it, Swomley is writing against Rome with a heavy hand. But, I will try to not let that shade my understanding of him.

This is the full quote:

Public policy in the United States is and should be guided by scientific considerations rather than theological claims that are inconsistent with medical research. The Constitution of the United States is a secular document which gives no authority to government to legislate theological assertions or to prefer the theological doctrines of one or several religious groups over others. A large number of religious groups in the United States do not accept a “moment of conception” theology or view a fetus as a person or human being.

Public policy must defend the rights of existing living persons as over against religiously based claims made on behalf of fetal life. There are generally three claims made for fetal life other than the claim of human being or personhood, which has been discussed above. The first claim is that society should protect innocent human life that is unable to protect itself. The term “innocent,” originally used by various popes, refers to fetal life which has committed no sin. Yet the Roman Catholic Church has proclaimed only one person, Mary, the Mother of Jesus, as having an “immaculate” conception and hence free from original sin. In any event, public policy cannot be founded on theological claims to innocence.

There is another meaning of “innocence” which comes from two Latin words, in (not) and nocere (to harm), and therefore means “not harmful or dangerous.” However, it is precisely the fact that some pregnant women (and their physicians) view the fetus as harmful or threatening to their health or welfare and hence leads them to consider abortion.

A second claim made on behalf of fetal life is that there is a right to life that takes precedence over the life or health or welfare of the pregnant woman. In discussing this claim we must distinguish between a virtue, that is, doing something that may be considered desirable, and a right. If I am walking along the bank of a river or lake and someone who cannot swim falls or jumps in, we could argue that I ought also to jump in, to rescue the drowning person, even if my own life is at stake. But the person who jumps or falls in cannot claim that I must jump in because he/she has a right to life. The mere fact that I ought to rescue another does not give that person a right against me.

His argument here, is not that abortion is meritorious or allowable on the doctrine of original sin, only that the 1.) theology is not an evidence in determining science or political realities and 2.) the Roman Catholic position can leave some room in arguing against their stated position. So, Swomley first says theology is not to be the determining factor in settling matters and then proceeds to tell you why — because theology is rarely cut and dry.

Note, he is specifically speaking in this claim about the Roman Catholic definition of abortion, which he repeats as: “It is therefore appropriate to accept the official Roman Catholic church definition that any intentional termination of a pregnancy after the moment of conception is an abortion.”

He then attempts to refute that claim from Scripture. I say attempt, because that is for you to decide.

He goes to cite another religious group:

Members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) have a long tradition and witness in opposition to killing of human beings, whether in war or capital punishment or personal violence. On the basis of this tradition, some Friends believe that abortion is always wrong.

Friends also have a tradition of respect for the individual and a belief that all persons should be free to follow their own consciences and the leading of the Spirit. On this basis, some Friends believe that the problem of whether or not to have an abortion, at least in the early months of pregnancy, is one primarily of the pregnant woman herself, and that it is an unwarranted denial of her moral freedom to forbid her to do so.

We do not advocate abortion. We recognize there are those who regard abortion as immoral while others do not. Since these disagreements exist in the country in general as well as within the Society Of Friends, neither view should be imposed by law upon those who hold the other.

Recognizing that differences among Friends exist, nevertheless we find general unity in opposing the effort . . . to say that abortion shall be illegal.

I note his language of “we.” Perhaps he joined, in some way, the Society of Friends.

There are several other statements that should be pointed out:

  • The “rightness” or “wrongness” of abortion as the solution of a problem pregnancy is not the critical issue here. The issue is the larger ethical one: can any one of us stand in the role of judge for the personal decisions of others? What robes shall we wear? Greater than the debatable immorality of terminating an undesired pregnancy is the immorality of refusing a woman access to medical help when she has determined that she needs it.”
  • One answer is that the rights of living persons take precedence over any rights of potential persons, just as immediate or present needs take precedence over probable future or potential needs. This question can also be stated as: What right does anyone have to impose mandatory pregnancy on a woman? The ethical question is not whether abortion can be justified, but whether we focus on an embryo or fetus as the object of value or whether we focus on the woman who as a free moral agent must have freedom of choice.
  • Finally, public policy must conform to constitutional guarantees of separation of church and state. Theological definitions of “human being” and “personhood” or religious rules about sex, the status of women, or reproduction ought not to be written into law unless scientifically validated and required for the health or safety of the state or its citizens.

HIs goal, it seems, is simply to say that one theological group cannot govern the others. This is fair, I think. Further, he is careful in his allowance for abortion. There are very specific issues at play here. Finally, he seems to be okay with outlawing abortion, if it was scientifically grounded. I do think that is a problem, investing too much into science, but I think he is something of a libertarian here.

Let’s not deceive ourselves and others. Our cause cannot stand that. If we are going to attack Swomley on his arguments, let us make sure we get his arguments right.

And in regards to this “pro-life is idolatry” quotes, read his essay. 

Bill Mefford, the #Pro-Life #UMC, and Grace

English: Lakeville United Methodist Church, th...
English: Lakeville United Methodist Church, the oldest UMC in New England (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The other day, the civil rights director at the Global Board on Church and Society did something stupid. This is not beyond ordinary for the GBCS, as they, as routine as Monday is to the first day of the week, do stupid things. He went to the March for Life rally, wrote a sign, too a picture, and posted in twitter. The usual sources picked up on it and went bananas.  What is not usually noted is that Bill issued an apology. Since his blog is by access only now, and his twitter account deleted, I have decided to repost it via Google cache:

It seems my picture of me holding a sign that said “I March for Sandwiches” has been taken entirely out of context and has caused quite a stir among some in the Twitter and social media world. I tend to hate general apologies – when people say they are sorry for “whatever they may have done that offended people.” I don’t think those are very sincere.

I also want to say that when I was at the event holding my sign I received nothing but laughter and cheers. Making folks laugh was my sole intent – it really was! It was afterward when this started making the rounds on social media that the hurt and anger began to rise. I understand why people are angry.

So, I am deeply sorry for the hurt and anger that this has caused people since the event. I honestly love to make people laugh and think, and the hurt and anger that people are feeling is not something I enjoy. At all.

I hope you will accept this if you are one of those who are offended. I would prefer to talk face to face, or to message somehow. I honestly believe that is how true reconciliation happens and I am more interested in that than in general apologies which might or might not be sincere. So, please reach out to me if you prefer that too. Maybe we can all be strengthened through this.

If you only want to hammer me, go ahead. Hey, it’s only Twitter.

I am committed to making a better world. And a funnier world. And that is why I post this now.

In a comment on this post, Bill writes,

Context matters so I will explain, I saw the march and was, as usual, impressed with the turnout and the good nature of the crowd. I then saw pro-choice marchers and marching and there was an instant change of the mood when they came into contact. In that context of anger between the two sides that I wanted to be funny. I actually talked to folks in the crowd and there was genuine laughter between me and the crowd while I was there. The anger and hurt have come later and for that I am truly sorry. I hope that helps.

Likewise, Bill Mefford’s boss, issued an apology.

This hasn’t stopped anyone from demanding Bill’s head, consequences, or even firing. Further, you now have Red State, that great bastion of right wing intellectual virtue, wading in, declaring the the UMC is pro-abortion.

I reached out to Bill during this fiasco yesterday to tell him he is in my prayers. Don’t get me wrong, I think the entire thing was stupid on his part. But, I also think we should take him at this word, that this was a poorly judged attempt at humor. Further, has asked forgiveness, said he was sorry, and acknowledged the hurt he has caused. As a Christian who proclaims that the man who said that we must forgive 70*7 is the same man who said, without anyone asking him to, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” is the same man Bill and I both declare is Lord.

If someone asks forgiveness, then give it to them.

Before one actually assumes The United Methodist Church is “pro-abortion” you need to read two statements. The first one is by Stephen Fife. The other one is the official stance of the UMC. Not only does the UMC reject late term abortions, but:

We recognize 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. We support parental, guardian, or other responsible adult notification and consent before abortions can be performed on girls who have not yet reached the age of legal adulthood. We cannot affirm abortion as an acceptable means of birth control, and we unconditionally reject it as a means of gender selection or eugenics.

See also here.

If you browse the right wing sources, you will see all manner of diatribes against the pro-abortion UMC. Yet, our governing documents does not support this. What they want is an anti-abortion stance, even if the life of the mother is at stake. What they fail to realize is that virulent anti-abortionism among Protestants is something relatively new.

We need to be better than we are. Human dignity, I believe, begins at conception but does not end at sin or stupidity. What Bill did was stupid, but he apologized. Ask yourselves: if you were stupid, but asked forgiveness, wouldn’t you want it?

The Red State blogger who is attempting to lie about Bill and the UMC has since blocked several of us on Twitter. As such, I’m including a picture of the tweet mentioned above:


What Is Expected And Reasonable?

Reason has more than one side. That which is reasonable and fair has to have other considerations than simply an “imposition” which is what “reasonable” is when it is one sided. A very poor constructed sentence, but it depicts exactly the mistake many are making today when they claim that “modern changes in societal rules and even laws” cannot be challenged by those who have benefited for centuries by the old ways even if it has been proven for centuries that the old ways have worked well and may not require changes.

Christians, and all kinds of conservatives, or other derogatory names one wants to use for this group not only have the right, but the duty to, and in fact, are doing society a favor, when they contest, protest and manifest against the rapid changes in society today because some of these changes have no track record of benefiting humanity. It seems that scholars and scientists will always appeal to history, evidence and a track record of fact to ascertain that whatever issue they are attempting to establish is feasible and that its implementation will be of a benefit to all. Except when it comes to issues where religion and/or tradition is involved. Then, who needs evidence, who needs history, who needs facts? It is almost as if they have made up their minds: “If it is religiously or traditionally prescribed, then it is wrong; let us change it”, even when in fact, there is history, a time span as old as history itself, that the old ways have worked so far.

No, this is not to say that we should not change and modernize society and make if fairer and comfortable to all! This is simply to say that it is fair for Christians and all kinds of conservatives to struggle with the idea of change for “change’s sake” in that which they perceive to be a threat to what they have known as the best for humanity in general. Not always stating that something is wrong is purely a religious exercise. Although I acknowledge that more frequent than not it is a religious exercise, some are sincerely concerned whether the recent changes in society, such as marriages, rules about “respecting other cultures to the point of surrendering to them” may not be solely basing their concerns on religion. People can protest for other reasons and it is fair and good that they do so when changes are in the process of proving itself as useful to society as it is for a group within that society, who, because of factors beyond our understanding, decided to impose their view of society upon all others.

I am a firm believer that one cannot legislate religious beliefs, no matter how well intended they are. Equally, I am a firm believe that one, or a group, cannot legislate their religious unbelief on others. In both counts protest is fair and acceptable. A great scholar is all over social media spreading the notion that Christians are attempting to legislate their beliefs upon society. Well, the facts belie such a scholar, who is not and cannot be a scholar in predicting the future consequences of changing society on society itself! Non-Christians are indeed imposing their beliefs, rather, their unbelief upon Christians with the aggravating circumstance that they practice such imposition against the will of the people of the community they choose to impose their unbelief. I am fully aware that we have to check if an acceptable degree of legal fairness is being afforded to all citizens and not only those who would prefer that tradition would remain as it has been for ages. However it is not by winning in courts that the imposition occurs; the imposition occurs when business, people who exercise their individual conscience, religious or not, have to comply with the peripherals of their victory and now have to act totally contrary to what they have held as truth functioning and comfortable to their own life styles all these years. So, by imposing, forcing, people to comply with their wins, those who win by the act of a single often non-elected office of the court, with his own biases and prejudices, reverse the issue of unfairness and begin themselves to act unfairly. Again, the facts have proven that Christians and other conservatives are adapting to the world that now surround them, but they should not have to live as a blind man by the road side taking whatever others dish out to them; they can rightfully establish limits. Certain services and profession when exercised to a person or group imply endorsement of that group or person. If you do not understand that you have never been in business, and your position is fully understandable. The refusal, however, of a businessman to provide services that automatically imply his endorsement and participation in that which he does not agree should be expected and understood and such understanding would be reasonable!

By now most presume to know that about which I am talking. No, for your surprise it is not only the issue of gays; it is also the celebration of America, American values, supposedly Christian symbols (that are not really Christian), and those that are indeed genuine Christian symbols, the liberation of drugs, and now some ridiculous rulings, which are too ridiculous to mention. People of faith and out of faith who want to preserve a certain heritage without waiving, who love to wear shirts that extol the quality of their military relatives, American Flags, etc. who feel threatened by lawsuits and other artifices of the “indignation industry”, and yes, those who do not agree with abortions and the gay issue, should not now, all of a sudden, be forced to comply or else. What is reasonable? If we want a fair society, then lets offer fairness rather than demanding it and in the process progress in an environment without hostility and division, and such environment is not a fertile ground for corrupt politicians, but not having corrupt politicians coming out of every sewerage is a fringe benefit of this new world of fairness!   That is expected and reasonable!

Would Martin Luther be Pro-Choice?

One of the arguments for pro-choice is the ability to prevent the birth of children that would be drastically malformed. While reading a certain book, I can across this recommendation from Martin Luther,

Eight years ago, there was one in Dessau whom I, Martinus Luther, saw and grappled with. He was twelve years old, had the use of his eyes and all his senses, so that one might think he was a normal child. But he did nothing but gorge himself as much as four peasants or threshers. He ate, defecated, and drooled and, if anyone tackled him, he screamed. If things didn’t go well, he wept. So I said to the Prince of Anhalt: “If I were the Prince, I should take the child to the Moldau River which flows near Dessau and drown him.” But the Prince of Anhalt and the Prince of Saxony, who happened to be present, refused to follow my advice. Thereupon I said; “Well, then the Christians shall order the Lord’s Prayer to be said in church and pray that the dear Lord take the Devil away.” This was done daily in Dessau and the changeling died in the following year.

We know better than to assume that a malformed child is inhabited by the devil — most of us do, anyway — but what do we make of the moral character of this man Luther?

The Mainstream Media didn’t report this about the President? Sickening #prolife

On October 3, researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine published a study with profound implications for policy making in the United States. According to Dr. Jeffery Peipert, the study’s lead author, abortion rates can be expected to decline significantly—perhaps up to 75 percent—when contraceptives are made available to women free of charge. Declaring himself “very surprised” at the results, Peipert requested expedient publication of the study, noting its relevance to the upcoming election.

via Barack Obama, Pro-Life Hero | Sexuality/Gender | Religion Dispatches.

First, you have to understand that abortions would not cease if Roe v. Wade were somehow overturned. It would simply allow the States to outlaw abortion on a State-by-State level. Second, Romney’s surrogates plainly said he would not overturn Roe v. Wade. And of course, you have Mitt Romney in 2002 saying he was pro-choice, more pro-choice than the pro-choicest candidate of them all.

And now… a study (science and all, and if you don’t believe science works in stuff like this, ask Nate Silver) predicts that abortion will decrease by up to 75% under what the Right has termed Obamacare (by the way, this is simply bad marketing). Granted, this includes insurance companies providing contraceptives – which until the President was behind the mandate, was okay with Protestants (btw, he got the idea from Romneycare). So, I guess the decision needs to be made.

Do you really fight to reduce abortion or do you not?