The 2000 General Conference added a sentence to “oppose the use of” partial-birth abortion and “call for the end of this practice” in most instances. This established a clear break between United Methodism’s teaching on abortion in its official compilation of Social Principles and the absolutist defense of legal abortion embodied by NARAL, Planned Parenthood, and similar political groups favored by much (but not all) of the denomination’s establishment.
In 2004, another sentence was added to the abortion statement: “We particularly encourage the Church, the government, and social service agencies to support and facilitate the option of adoption.” That year’s General Conference also added separate statements recognizing the reality of post-abortion stress and promoting counseling for its victims.
The April 23—May 2, 2008 General Conference amended the abortion statement to indicate a preference for life, with a new sentence to “affirm and encourage the Church to assist the ministry of crisis pregnancy centers … that compassionately help women find feasible alternatives to abortion.” Other amendments that were adopted endorse adult “notification and consent” for abortions performed on underage girls and support the necessity of family counsel before making “a decision concerning abortion.” The General Conference also adopted a separate, lengthy statement decrying the international problem of sex-selective abortions and describing abortion as “violent” and something to oppose when chosen for “trivial reasons.”
Perhaps more significantly, this last General Conference removed much of the “pro-choice” language in the main abortion statement. This included getting rid of problematic language about “conditions that may warrant abortion,” deleting the assertion that supporting legalized abortion was somehow “[i]n continuity with past Christian teaching,” and replacing “pro-choice” language about “unacceptable pregnanc[ies]” with the very pro-life assertion that “we are equally bound to respect the sacredness of the life and well-being of the mother and the unborn child.”
Now all that remains in the authoritative statement on abortion in the United Methodist Social Principles that is inconsistent with a pro-life witness is a single sentence (out of sixteen) that “support[s] the legal option of abortion” during “tragic conflicts of life with life.” Some pro-life United Methodists have asserted that that statement is open to a pro-life interpretation, particularly in light of the denomination’s opposition to abortion as a means of birth control, which arguably applies to most abortions in the U.S. But with this one sentence intact, the statement lacks to moral clarity one should expect from a church. This is particularly true in light of liberal delegates having prevented that sentence being amended to make clear that this acceptance of abortion only applies to “conflicts of PHYSICAL life with life,” and the way in which some denominational officials continue to use the sentence as a broad mandate for promoting the perspective of NARAL.
Nevertheless, it is encouraging that since 1988, every change made to the United Methodist Social Principles statement on abortion has been life-affirming.