Episcopal Church and Diocesan Positions on Abortion
Following the June 24, 2022, decision of the Supreme Court in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization to overturn Roe v. Wade and hold that the Constitution of the United States does not confer a right to abortion, the Episcopal New Yorker presents our readers here with a summary of diocesan and Episcopal Church positions on this issue.
The Diocese of New York
The Diocese supports freedom of choice in abortion. The Diocesan Council in 1969 endorsed “repeal of all laws governing the performance of an abortion by a licensed physician.” Diocesan Convention in 1972 gave support to New York’s new law permitting prospective mothers “to choose to give or not to give birth to a child.” Diocesan Convention in 1974 (reaffirmed in 1986) endorsed the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court “allowing women to exercise their own conscience in the matter of abortions.”
The Episcopal Church
This is the complete text of the May 17, 2019 “Summary of General Convention Resolutions on Abortion and Women’s Reproductive Health,” published by the Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations.To read this online, together with links to all relevant General Convention resolutions, please go to dioceseny.org/tec-abortion-summary.
Clergy throughout The Episcopal Church counsel women and others who give birth, men, and families who must make decisions relating to pregnancy and childbirth, adoption, family planning, and who face infertility. Our ordained and lay leaders walk alongside Episcopalians and others who struggle with this intimate and challenging aspect of human life. Over the past several decades, the General Convention has addressed the topic of abortion from a position informed by this ministry and personal lived experience of clergy and laity within their own families. As a result, the General Convention of The Episcopal Church recognizes the moral, legal, personal, and societal complexity of the issue. The diversity of views within the Church represents our common struggle to understand and discern this issue.
The Episcopal Church teaches that “all human life is sacred. Hence, it is sacred from its inception until death. The Church takes seriously its obligation to help form the consciences of its members concerning this sacredness. Human life, therefore, should be initiated only advisedly and in full accord with this understanding of the power to conceive and give birth which is bestowed by God.” Our liturgical text Enriching Our Worship calls for great pastoral sensitivity to the needs of women, others who give birth, and all involved in decisions relating to “abortion, or mishaps of pregnancy and infertility.” This ministry is particularly important in situations that result in the loss of a pregnancy or inability to become pregnant and as a Church, we have experienced that all of these have “a tragic dimension.”
In a series of statements over the past decades, the Church has declared that “we emphatically oppose abortion as a means of birth control, family planning, sex selection, or any reason of mere convenience.” At the same time, since 1967, The Episcopal Church has maintained its “unequivocal opposition to any legislation on the part of the national or state governments which would abridge or deny the right of individuals to reach informed decisions [about the termination of pregnancy] and to act upon them.”
The Church urges dioceses and congregations “to give necessary aid and support to all pregnant women.” General Convention “commends the work and mission of pregnancy care centers which stress unconditional love and acceptance, for women and their unborn children.” We have urged support of “local pregnancy care centers” that “develop an outreach of love to pregnant women and to mothers and their children.”
At the General Convention in 2018, The Episcopal Church called for “women’s reproductive health and reproductive health procedures to be treated as all other medical procedures.” The Convention declared “that equitable access to women’s health care, including women’s reproductive health care, is an integral part of a woman’s struggle to assert her dignity and worth as a human being.”
We continue to advocate that “legislating abortions will not address the root of the problem. We therefore express our deep conviction that any proposed legislation on the part of national or state governments regarding abortions must take special care to see that the individual conscience is respected, and that the responsibility of individuals to reach informed decisions in this matter is acknowledged and honored as the position of this Church.”
The Church also sees education as an essential component of engaging with issues relating to family planning, child spacing, adoption, infertility, and abortion. The global Anglican Communion, of which The Episcopal Church is a member, first supported the use of contraceptives in 1930, and as Christians we affirm responsible family planning. General Convention policy states “it is the responsibility of our congregations to assist their members in becoming informed concerning the spiritual, physiological and psychological aspects of sex and sexuality.” The Book of Common Prayer affirms that “the birth of a child is a joyous and solemn occasion in the life of a family. It is also an occasion for rejoicing in the Christian community” (p 440)