United Methodist Women and the Issue of Abortion

In the last Renew newsletter, I stated that conservative, orthodox churches should carefully consider their relationship with United Methodist Women who have changed their bylaws hoping not to lose any UMW units when the church separates in 2022. UMW’s National Office is known for taking controversial positions on any number of social issues. Their position on abortion is just one example.

In September 2021, the New York headquarters of United Methodist Women  National (UMWN), issued a press release that came out against the Heartbeat Act, sometimes called the Texas Abortion Law. UMWN touted the position of the United Methodist Church and claimed the Texas law was, “…a danger to women and an intrusion on families.” They also stated the Texas law usurps the critical decision-making process of women and families claiming the law bands abortion before most women know they are pregnant.UMW was correct in saying that “United Methodist Women, like the United Methodist Church, believes “governmental laws and regulations do not provide all the guidance required for the informed Christian conscience. Therefore, a decision concerning abortion should be made only after thoughtful and prayerful consideration by the parties involved, with medical, family, pastoral, and other appropriate counsel.” Nevertheless, the UMW statement misrepresents the Heartbeat Law and adds to the erroneous claim that Texas is banning abortion.

When one looks into the facts concerning the Texas law, a very different story emerges than that of the UMWN press release.

On September 30, 2021 Brian Hughes, author of the Texas law wrote in the Wall Street Journal titled, The Texas Abortion Law Is Unconventional Because It Had to Be. In the article, he explained:

The law does not ban abortions after six weeks. It requires that a physician performing an abortion first check on a fetal heartbeat. If there is a heartbeat, the physician may not abort the child. When a physician performs an abortion without checking for a heartbeat, or finds a heartbeat and performs the abortion anyway, he has performed an illegal abortion.

The Texas law does not take away the option of abortion, but it does prioritize the life of the baby and protects him/her from undue suffering. Hughes explains that no governmental authority can mete out punishment, but the law does provide for the doctor to be sued; the mother cannot be sued. Additionally, Texas’ commitment to women and the unborn does not begin and end with the passage of the Heartbeat Law.

Before this law was passed, the state had already passed the Alternatives to Abortion Program which provides counseling, classes, and other necessities to women who face unwanted pregnancies. Texas has provided over $100 million dollars to fund this program. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the UMW and the entire church put as much energy and financial resources into encouraging adoption and foster care not to mention programs to offer positive alternatives to abortion?!

The Texas law was a creative attempt to put the questions of abortion back into the hands of American democracy. It is an unconventional means of regulating abortion.

The law is not without its problems. As flawed as some say it is, there is no excuse for UMWN to claim that the Texas Abortion Law prevents women from “access to medically safe reproductive health services.” Nor does the law pose a danger to women or an intrusion on families as UMW’s press release contends.

UMWN for some time has expressed their position on abortion in the language of providing women with full access to comprehensive reproductive health education and care for women. When the 2016 General Conference voted to withdraw denominational support for the pro-abortion lobby, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC), Harriet Jane Olsen, General Secretary and CEO of UMW and Rev. Dr. Susan Henry-Crow, the General Secretary of the General Board of Church and Society (GBCS), issued an Open Letter to the RCRC. In it, they regretted that they would no longer be at the table to represent the United Methodist “theological framework and carefully nuanced position on abortion,” and the UMW commitment to reproductive health.

Both agencies complimented RCRC for providing, “important ministries in support of pastors who are counseling with women and families during the ‘tragic conflicts of life with life’ when abortion may be considered according to the Discipline of the United Methodist Church.” They failed to inform the readers of the Open Letter that neither RCRC, the UMW nor GBCS had ever lobbied for any restriction on abortion—even late-term and partial-birth abortion. They claim to respect the sacredness of life, but do they? Can this be possible when they have never found any reason for restricting an abortion?

The United States is one of 59 countries that allow abortion without restriction as to reason. The US is one of only seven countries that allow abortion without restriction in the third trimester. Restrictions on abortion are common in 139 countries. UMWN has consistently rejected all limitations on abortion even those based on the fact that a fetus as early as six weeks has a heartbeat and at 20-24 weeks is capable of suffering and feeling pain.

UMWN defines “health of the mother” in the most liberal way. This in essence means that no matter what restrictions are passed by states, abortions cannot be kept from happening. As Michael Stokes Paulsen wrote in the October 2021 edition of First Things:

The right to abortion may be exercised for essentially any reason, including social convenience, economic concerns, sex-selection, or even spite. And the right is super protected against all other interests, at all stages of pregnancy, up to and including the point of birth.

Why is this? Paulsen goes on to write, “…because abortion still must be allowed for any health reason—with health being defined, strangely, as including any ‘emotional, psychological, familial,’ or ‘age’ consideration agreed upon by the woman and abortionist as a sufficient reason for abortion.” The Texas abortion bill found a way around this health provision.

Also at the 2016 General Conference in a separate action, the church did not readopt UMW’s “Responsible Parenthood” resolution. This piece of legislation had long been used to validate the UMW support for all forms of family planning including abortion. Olson and Henry-Crow issued a joint statement claiming that,  “In failing to adopt this measure, The United Methodist Church missed a great opportunity to stand with women and the girl child by supporting basic family planning.Abortion is not “basic family planning.” As Paulsen explains,Abortion kills a living human being …The act of abortion ends a distinct, unique human life.” We should also add, the life aborted is one that cannot defend itself.

The UMWN and GBCS say they regret tragic conflicts of life with life; but they have done little if anything to prevent abortion from happening on a massive scale. Since 1973, over 62 million babies have been aborted. That number rises every day. UMWN seems to have forgotten that women have a full range of reproductive options other than abortion.

In their statement, Olsen and Henry-Crow added, “Misinformation on this issue abounds.” By that they mean abortion can be a moral choice, because women need the option of abortion in order to make responsible decisions concerning family planning.  If “misinformation on this issue abounds,” formulating their support for abortion in terms of comprehensive reproductive health is misleading and also results in misinformation.

 “Misinformation abounds” is certainly an accurate description of the UMW’s New York headquarters misrepresentation of the Texas law. It has long been a concern for Renew that UMWN does not always give women an objective perspective on critical issues. Over the years, Renew has warned women that they do not always receive balanced information nor all the facts when UMWN issues Press Releases and Action Alerts such as the release titled United Methodist Women Opposes Texas Abortion Law. Women who get their information from UMWN concerning critical social issues that face the church and our society are often ill informed. That is because the UMW staff in most cases present only one-sided progressive positions based on a political conception of justice and rights. For some time UMWN has offered the church little if any biblical grounding for their position on abortion.

The issue of abortion is just one of several that have brought the UMC to the crisis that has led us to recognize that the church must separate if it is to go forward.  The new Global Methodist Church has stated it will be unashamedly committed to a culture of life. We can look forward to the new church supporting and lobbying for programs like Texas’ Alternatives to Abortion Program and many other constructive measures that will offer real hope to women and families. Even more important, the GMC is committed to bring solid theology and biblical truth that reflects God’s heart both for women and the unborn into the new church’s deliberation of sensitive social issues.

Unrestricted abortion has been anything but constructive. It has been destructive to women and profoundly unjust for the babies whose lives have been aborted. The new church will have much to do if it is to present the way, the truth and the life that Jesus calls us to offer our confused and hurting world. We must do better. In the Global Methodist Church we will.

Katy Kiser

Katy Kiser

Katy teaches in her local church and serves on several committees. She served for seven years on the Good News board of directors. Along with writing for Renew, Katy is a freelance writer, and co-author with Faye Short of Reclaiming the Wesleyan Social Witness – Offering Christ.
Katy Kiser

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