Mennonite Church USA
Mennonite Church USA
Statement on Abortion
Based on former Mennonite
Church (1975) and
General Conference Mennonite Church (1980) statements
Draft #10 for Assembly
believe that God has created human beings
in the divine image. God formed them from the dust of the earth and
gave them a special dignity among all the works of creation. Human
beings have been made for relationship with God, to live in peace with
each other, and to take care of the rest of creation."1
(Article VI, Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective)
II. We believe
- Human life is a gift
from God to be valued and protected. We oppose abortion because it runs
counter to Biblical principles.
- The fetus in its
earliest stages (and even if imperfect by human standards) shares
humanity with those who conceived it.
- There are times when
deeply held values, such as
saving the life of the mother and saving the life of the fetus, come in
conflict with each other.
- The faith community
should be a place for discernment about difficult issues like abortion.
- Abortion should not be
used to interrupt unwanted pregnancies.
- Christians must
provide viable alternatives to abortion that provide care and support
for mothers and infants.
- The church should
witness to society regarding the value of all human life.
- Professionals whose
ministry involves dealing with
the moral dilemmas of abortion and reproductive technologies need our
III. We confess
- We have failed to
offer a clear voice affirming life
as an alternative to our society’s frequent reliance upon abortion as
the solution to problem pregnancies.
- We have failed to show
compassion for those who are suffering the consequences of abortion.
- We have failed to work
for a just health care system that would assist poor families in caring
for their children.
IV. Commentary2 (corresponding to Sections II
life is a gift from God to be valued and protected. Humanity and
humans have a special place in God’s creation. The Bible
teaches that all human life is a gift of God and of immeasurable worth
in His sight:
- The Psalmist speaks of
God’s intimate involvement in
the creation of human life. "For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am
fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know
very well." (Psalm 139:13, 14).
- Abortion runs counter
to biblical principles which
give a high value to human life. "Portrayal of God as the author and
giver of life creates a general presumption against any human decision
to terminate life."3
- We are created in
God's image (Genesis 1:26, 27; 2:7-9; 9:6; Psalm 8).
- We are protected and
admonished by the commandment, "You shall not murder" (Exodus 20:13).
- We are instructed to
act in the best interests of
our neighbor (Matthew 22:39; John 15:17; Romans 13:8-10; 1 Corinthians
- Throughout the Bible
we are called to demonstrate
special concern for the defenseless, the widow, the orphan, the
oppressed, the stranger, and the one who has no advocate. Though the
Bible does not explicitly say so, in our day concern for the
"defenseless" should also extend to the fetus.4
The fetus in its earliest stages (and even if
imperfect by human standards) shares humanity with those who conceived
Bible does not speak directly to the
question of abortion. A biblical passage that indirectly speaks to the
status of the fetus (Exodus 21:22-25) seems to place a higher value on
the life of the mother than the fetus. For the death of the fetus the
husband is to be compensated with money, but where the wife suffers
hurt or death, there shall be "life for life, eye for eye."5
The Bible places a high value on the life of the fetus, though it does
not necessarily support its defense to the exclusion of all other
understand that the fetus is not just a piece of tissue to be
discarded at will. On the other hand, neither is the fetus treated as a
in the full sense of that term. Human life begins at conception. We
agree that any attempt to define the beginning of humanness at a point
along the spectrum of development is a mistake, tempting as it may be.6
At the same time, our martyr tradition and our hope in eternal life do
not insist has never insisted that human life trumps all other values.
people will choose the life of the mother if a
choice must be made about the survival of either the mother or the
fetus. In those rare situations when a choice must be made between the
life of the mother and the life of the unborn child, Christians should
prayerfully seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit with a group of
believers committed to discerning the will of God.
though we wish every child to have a healthy
body and a strong mind, the lack of such does not make the child less a
person in God's sight. Some persons7 pose a test of
"personhood." For utilitarians, personhood requires higher thought
processes called "preferences."
persons believe that since a fetus or newborn
has few, if any, preferences, it should not be recognized as a person.
We believe that such a test of personhood could lead to screening
fetuses in order to eliminate people with disabilities or those with
genetic diseases that will likely limit their life or restrict the
enjoyment of life. For many families, the presence of a handicapped
child has become the source of great joy. At the same time we recognize
the special challenges faced by families caring for developmentally
disabled or handicapped children. We believe that the possibility of
deformity or mental handicap is not sufficient reason to choose
There are times when deeply held values come in
conflict with each other.
stress the importance of respect for the
life of the fetus. We condone abortion only under the most exceptional
of circumstances. When abortion appears to be the least bad choice
among several undesirable options, we stress the need for discernment
in the faith community.
of the diversity of moral conviction in our
society, we realize that what the law permits is not necessarily moral
behavior for the Christian. We believe, however, that the church should
witness to society in favor of the "general presumption against any
human decision to terminate life."8 We will offer counsel
about alternatives to abortion. We believe that the demands of
discipleship are to be accepted voluntarily, not imposed legally upon
everyone regardless of conviction.
many could support legislation which seeks to
curtail some types of abortion, we recognize that legislation
Legislationbanning all against abortions will not stop abortions from
happening. Instead, it places sanctions on those women who choose
abortion, without regard for the fathers involved or the fact that the
women are already suffering the consequences of their choice. It also
disproportionately affects the poor, as those with means will be able
to find ways to obtain safe abortions. Further, it legislation is using
the government to force others to comply with our Christian standards,
something our forebears forbearers clearly rejected. We believe that
the demands of discipleship are to be accepted voluntarily, not imposed
legally upon everyone regardless of conviction.
The faith community should be a place for discernment.
believe that the New Testament pictures the
church as a community (koinonia), which seeks to discern the will of
God and take responsibility as a group for decisions. The emphasis on
individual rights and autonomy in our society has deeply affected our
community. To call for discernment in the community of faith is counter
cultural in the extreme. We urge members of the faith community to
engage in a discerning process rather than making decisions in
isolation. We recognize that such a process will usually involve only a
small group within a congregation. Through this process of counsel and
mutual accountability the church may promote a standard without
insisting on uniformity for all. The individual woman or couple must
finally decide on the question of abortion. We believe the larger
community should be available for counsel to those making the decision.
urge pastors and congregations to foster a climate
of openness so that these decisions can be worked out prayerfully in
the context of Christian community. We believe that the community
should be supportive of a woman or couple, sharing the responsibility
for, and burden of, that decision. This would include sharing in the
responsibility for the care of that person or family if a continued
pregnancy leads to the birth of a child that brings hardship on a
family or individual.
Abortion should not be used to interrupt unwanted
support responsible decisions to limit
family size. We believe that when pregnancy is not desired, responsible
men and womenpersons will take responsibility for their sexual
behavior. We do not support the use of abortion as a means of birth
control or for limitation of family size.
We are committed to providing care and support for
those infants who are carried to term.
will seek creative alternatives to abortion
that will enhance the well-being of mother, father and child. We commit
ourselves to show concern for individuals who place their children for
adoption. The faith community should be ready to support financially,
and in other ways, the families of all children, including those who
are developmentally disabled.
church should witness to society regarding the value of all human life.
will promote consistency in favor of
human life along the entire spectrum of human existence. We stand in
opposition to sacrifice of life in the womb, in the death chamber and
through war in all its forms.
We commit ourselves to support professional caregivers.
know that the church has often left the
difficult task of dealing with persons facing abortion to the
professionals in medicine, law, mental health, or social work. We
commit ourselves to support our professionals whose ministry includes
dealing with moral dilemmas of abortion and reproductive issues. When a
person for reasons of conscience chooses not to perform or participate
in performing abortions we will advocate on their behalf.
We will advocate for a society that does not rely on
abortion as the primary solution to problem pregnancies.
we have affirmed the high value
of human life and we continue to do so. We express deep dismay over the
millions of abortions in North America since the Roe v. Wade decision
in 1973. Three of ten conceptions (approximately 1.5 million each year)
end in destruction of the fetus.9 On the 30th
anniversary of Roe v. Wade we restate the biblical call for
preservation of life even as we recognize the difficulty of addressing
moral issues by government legislation.
recognize that within our fellowship we hold a
wide variety of convictions about abortion. We acknowledge that there
are situations in which some Christians may seek abortions for what
other Christians regard as selfish or inadequate reasons.
We will act with compassion toward those who choose to
have an abortion.
will support persons who are suffering
as a result of their decision to have an abortion. We have too often
failed to care, nurture and support the mother or family with an
seek to become a more compassionate body, rather than judgmental of
those with unwanted pregnancies.
Bible reflects an attitude of compassion toward
the sinner. Jesus’ harshest words were directed against the
self-righteous. He warned against judging others. He spent much time
with outcasts and sinners and he told those who caught the woman in an
act of adultery, "Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first
to throw a stone at her." (John 8:7). We believe that persons who have
an abortion for reasons regarded by others in the Christian community
as wrong should be treated with love, so that Jesus’ word of redemption
may become operative, "Go your way and from now on do not sin again"
We commit ourselves to work for a just health care
system that will assist poor families in caring for their children.
we are concerned about just health care for all, we will:
- Recognize that
protests against abortion have greater integrity when they are combined
with concern for all human life.
- Commit ourselves to
work for a just health care
system that will assist poor families in caring for their children,
thus eliminating conditions that help create a culture of abortion.
- Urge our members to
consider becoming adoptive or foster parents to care for abused and
- Become persistent
advocates for a national health care policy which controls costs while
emphasizing quality care.10 (From MC and GC Delegate
Assembly Resolutions on Health Care, 1992 and 1993)
- We believe that the
use of abortion among the poor
is driven at times by the inequities and gaps in the present health
care system. An informed woman with financial resources has always been
able to get a safe abortion while a poor woman who is less informed has
resorted to abortions under expensive, dangerous and clandestine
affirm life even as we grieve the conditions that lead persons to
V. A Call to the Congregation
congregation can be a place of healing or
a hostile place for persons who have had or are considering abortion.
We give a high value to life and also respond with compassion to those
who may be considering abortion. We believe the body of Christ must
hold these positions in tension.
call on congregations to form caring teams who are
able to walk with individuals seeking guidance as they deal with
unexpected and unwanted pregnancies. If we want to create safe places
in our congregations where people can talk about their problems, we
must learn to listen in a non-judgmental way to those who fail to live
up to their best intentions.
call on pastors and congregational leaders to
address issues of sexuality and appropriate sexual expression in
sermons, in Sunday school classes and in premarital counseling. We
believe congregations offer life to their communities by being involved
in community organizations that support adoption and foster care.
commit ourselves to provide Christian education
about human sexuality for both young and old and to foster
understanding of various means by which pregnancy can be prevented when
it is not desired. We commit ourselves to teaching sexual chastity
before marriage and faithfulness in marriage.
believe congregations have the ability to talk
about abortion, express their commitment to Scripture and discern its
meaning for today. In many congregations, there are persons who can
share their experiences of being parents, doctors, lawyers, pastors,
nurses, and social workers.
difficult moral issue like abortion requires
ongoing study and discussion. We commit ourselves to continue to search
for God’s will in this matter even as we continue to speak out against
abortion. We are sure that God’s love in Jesus Christ binds us together
in this search: "For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will
see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even
as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these
three; and the greatest of these is love. (I Cor. 13:12, 13)
¨ ¨ ¨ ¨
The reference committee
for this statement included:
Committee members from Constituency Leaders Council
Leah Ann Alcazar, Yvonne Bailey, Elaine Good, Felipe Hinojosa, Janeen
Bertsche Johnson, Ed Kauffman, Joe Longacher
Consultants from Anabaptist Center for Health Care Ethics
Anne Hershberger, George Stoltzfus (writer)
Staff from Mennonite Church USA Executive Board -- J.Ron Byler, Kathryn
Alderfer, Edwin and Helen, eds. Life and values, Mennonite Publishing
House, Scottdale, Pa., 1974.
Birky, Luke "When is
life?" Gospel Herald, January 30, 1968
Bork, Robert H.
"Inconvenient Lives" First Things, December, 1996 pp. 9-13
"Abortion: Review of Mennonite Literature, 1970-1977," Mennonite
Quarterly Review, April, 1979
Burke, Theresa Forbidden
Grief: The Unspoken Pain of Abortion
Confession of Faith in a
Mennonite Perspective, Herald Press, 1995.
Friesen, Duane Moral
issues in the control of birth, Faith & Life Press, Newton, Kan.,
Goodwin, Thomas Murphy
"Medicalizing Abortion Decisions" First Things, March, 1996 pp. 33-36
Harrison, Beverly Wildung
Our Right to Choose Beacon Press, 1983.
Hays, Richard B. The
Moral Vision of the New Testament: A Contemporary Introduction to New
Testament Ethics, Harper Collins, 1996.
Keller, Richard F. "In favor of life" Gospel Herald, September 2, 1975
Kropf, Marlene Y. "How I
decided about abortion," Christian Living, November 1972
Association Abortion Study. Copies available through the office of the
Anabaptist Center for Health Care Ethics
Oswald, Laurie L.
"Witnessing For Life" Mennonite Weekly Review, January 13, 2000
and Ian Genties Women's Health After Abortion: The Medical and
Rudy, Kathy. Beyond
Pro-Life and Pro-Choice: Moral Diversity in the Abortion Debate, Beacon
Strahan, Tom, ed.
Detrimental Effects of Abortion: an Annotated Bibliography with
Wennburg, Robert N. Life
in the Balance: Exploring the Abortion Controversy, William P. Eerdmans
Publishing Company, 1985.
"Who Lives Who Dies? The
disturbing Logic of Peter Singer," The Christian Century, July 3-10,
Yoder, John Howard "The
Biblical Evaluation of Human Life," a 1973 address delivered at the
1 Confession of Faith in
a Mennonite Perspective, Herald Press, 1995, Article VI, page 28
2 All biblical
quotations are from the NRSV.
3 The Moral Vision of
the New Testament: A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics
by Richard B. Hays, Harper Collins, 1996
4 John Howard Yoder
(see recommended reading) speaks of a "prejudice in favor of the
5 Although this has
historically been the interpretation of the text, some people interpret
it to mean that there is a live birth. They therefore believe the text
does not support making a distinction between the status of the fetus
and the mother.
6 See Hays, page 455,
for a more complete discussion.
7 "Who Lives? Who
Dies? The Disturbing Logic of Peter Singer," The Christian Century,
July 3-10, 2002 pp. 24-29
8 See Hays
Lives," First Things, December 1996, page 9
10 See Resolution on
Health Care endorsed by GCMC and MC delegates in 1992 and 1993
Back to Resolutions Index