New York United Methodist Bishops make statement on Reproductive Health Act
Editor’s Note: The following statement was released on January 31, 2019, by New York Area Resident Bishop, Thomas J. Bickerton, and Upper New York Area Resident Bishop, Mark J. Webb, about the Reproductive Health Act that was signed into New York State law in January.
Grace and peace to you in the name of Jesus Christ!
The conversation about abortion has dominated the media over the last few days. In January, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law the Reproductive Health Act, one of the most sweeping expansions of abortion rights since abortion was legalized in New York State in 1970. Some commend this action as a significant step toward securing women’s rights and health. Others fear the less restrictive provisions of the new law will lead to an increase in abortions and especially late-term abortions.
Although the number of abortions in New York State has declined in recent years (a trend mirrored across the country), New York has twice the number of abortions as any other state according to the Guttmacher Institute, a nonpartisan research organization.
The new law now permits abortion after the 24th week of pregnancy in cases where a woman’s life or health are threatened or when an unborn child is deemed not viable and unable to survive outside its mother’s womb. It also allows health care providers to determine what constitutes a health threat to a pregnant woman and expands authorized health care providers to include not only physicians, but licensed nurse practitioners, physician assistants and licensed midwives.
As United Methodists, we are clear about several things related to abortion. Our Social Principles state, “The beginning of human life and ending of life are the God-given boundaries of human existence. While individuals have always had some degree of control over when they would die, they now have the awesome power to determine when and even whether new individuals will be born.” Our Social Principles also state that, “We are equally bound to respect the sacredness of the life and well-being of the mother and the unborn child. We recognize tragic conflicts of life with life that may justify abortion under proper medical procedures by certified medical providers . . . We cannot affirm abortion as an acceptable means of birth control, and we unconditionally reject it as a means of gender selection or eugenics. We oppose the use of late term abortion known as dilation and extraction (partial-birth abortion) and call for the end of this practice except when the physical life of the mother is in danger and no other medical procedure is available, or in the case of severe fetal anomalies incompatible with life.” (Social Principles, ¶161K)
Our Social Principles challenge us to work for the “diminishment of high abortion rates” by “encourage[ing] ministries to reduce unintended pregnancies such as comprehensive, age-appropriate sexuality education, advocacy in regard to contraception, and support for initiatives that enhance the quality of life for all women and girls around the globe.” We urge you to talk with other leaders about how your church might engage in these kinds of ministries.
We are supportive of our church’s current stance on abortion as expressed in our denomination’s Social Principles and encourage you to use these principles as a basis of education and conversation on this sensitive issue in particular.
We know passions run high on all sides of the abortion debate and in the midst of those conversations we know God calls us to a future where the value of every human life – including every woman and every unborn child - is honored and protected. The way to that future will not be found through finger pointing, legislating, or even church programs, but only by walking the path of Jesus with one another.
Grace and Peace,
Thomas J. Bickerton Mark J. Webb
Resident Bishop, New York Area Resident Bishop, Upper New York Area