RCRC Responds to False Accusations by Protestant "Renewal" Groups
Reverend Carlton Veazey printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Fri Jun 09, 2006 at 03:42:47 PM EST
President and CEO, Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice

We are delighted to welcome Rev. Veazey as a guest front pager. His post is a timely counter to yet another divisive and disruptive campaign by IRD. -- ed

With mainline Protestant churches in the midst of their large regional and national conferences, so-called "renewal" groups are trying to stir up turmoil by attacking the churches' historic support of women's reproductive choice. As in many years past, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice is a target of these "renewal" groups, in particular of The Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD), an ultra-conservative political lobby in Washington DC.  The IRD's campaign against the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice is perhaps best characterized as an effort to distort our mission and work and vilify our good name. Repeatedly over the years, the mainline denominations have seen through this deceitful effort and rejected it.

Reproductive choice is not the only sensitive issue that is exploited by the IRD and its allies. Gay rights and doctrinal interpretation are also targets of their attacks.

As more research and documentation about the "renewal" movement becomes available, there is greater awareness that this is a coordinated effort to undermine mainline Protestantism by exploiting certain issues. The ultimate goal is to render America's largest denominations incapable of standing up to right-wing politics.

Currently, the IRD and its allies are circulating sample resolutions among the denominations that misrepresent the Coalition's history and positions. One such resolution, "Urging Prayerful Reflection About Church Membership in Abortion Coalition," starts out with a list of distortions, misinformation, and an outright lie, all couched in seemingly reasonable, logical rhetoric. In the interest of accuracy and fairness, interested persons should read the resolution, RCRC's responses, and judge for themselves. The resolution states: " Whereas, 1) RCRC goes significantly beyond what many self-described "pro-choice" people believe, 2) opposing parental notification requirements for abortions performed on minor girls, 3) supporting taxpayer funding of medically unnecessary abortions, and 4) denouncing legal protections for health care professionals who do not want to be forced to participate in abortions..."

Point 1) In fact, RCRC is a 33-year-old interfaith coalition of religious and religiously affiliated organizations with diverse views on abortion that reflect the views of American society as a whole. Member organizations agree on two foundational principles: 1) reproductive choice is consistent with the traditions and beliefs of each member group and 2) in a pluralistic society such as ours, government has the responsibility to protect diverse religious views, not impose laws based on any one belief. Along with most religions, the Coalition communicates the grave moral nature of abortion and advocates for education and prevention to reduce unintended pregnancy and encourage responsible sexual behavior. Rather than condemn those who contemplate abortion, RCRC offers information and resources to help individuals and families who struggle with this complex moral issues. RCRC views "pro-choice" in a broad sense, supporting family planning, sexuality education, and greater access to healthcare; one of its main programs is All Options Clergy Counseling, which trains clergy to assist women in making decisions in the context of their faith and beliefs. Research and polling repeatedly show that most people agree with basic RCRC principles and positions.

Point 2) RCRC's faith-based sexuality education curriculum and All Options Clergy Counseling training actively encourage parental involvement and guidance in teens' lives and decisions. We know that voluntary parent-teen communication is important in developing healthy behavior and preventing an unintended pregnancy and the possible need for an abortion. RCRC agrees with child health experts that mandatory family communication may result in harm--for example, where incest and abuse are involved. Accordingly, RCRC opposes the government mandating family communications in the case of abortion.

Point 3) The term "medically unnecessary abortion" is pejorative. Doctors determine medical necessity, in consultation with their patient; this is a private determination, according to standard medical practice. RCRC has never taken a position on "taxpayer funding of medically unnecessary abortions"; however, RCRC supports women as moral agents capable of making wise decisions about continuing a pregnancy and does not discriminate against women based on economic status. RCRC thus conforms to denominational positions.

Point 4) The claim that RCRC has denounced "legal protections for health care professionals who do not want to be forced to participate in abortions" is baseless. In October 1974, RCRC adopted a policy statement on "Public Responsibility for the Use of Public Funds," asserting that religiously affiliated health institutions that accept public funds assume a public trust to provide health care, which includes abortion care. RCRC's position affirms that individuals must NOT be forced to act against their religious beliefs or conscience BUT ALSO that individuals must not be deprived of needed and desired healthcare, including abortion services. The individual has the right to refuse to provide abortion services but institutions that serve the public and receive public funds do not have that right and are responsible for providing services. It is important to note that "protections" against being forced to provide and participate in abortions have been in place since 1973, when Congress passed the Church Amendment (named for Senator Frank Church).

The IRD also attacks RCRC as pro-abortion and pro-"partial-birth abortion." As I have repeatedly and clearly stated, RCRC is pro-choice, not pro-abortion. Further, we have never taken a position on a medical procedure because we are not medical experts and to do so would be inconsistent with the purpose of RCRC as stated above. Regarding so-called "partial-birth abortion," our Board has opposed t his legislation because 1) politicians should not be making medical decisions, 2) it will outlaw abortion as early as the 14th week of pregnancy, and 3) it is in actuality a political campaign that aims to outlaw all abortions, which is why the U.S. Supreme Court found it unconstitutional in 2000 and three federal appeals courts did the same in 2005. Regarding late-term abortion, our Board passed a policy position in March 1982 advising that this issue should be left to the individual member groups.

Similarly, IRD's claim that RCRC lacks respect for human life is absurd. As our Clergy for Choice Pledge states, " We honor the value and dignity of all human life, but recognize that different religious traditions hold different views regarding when life begins and when ensoulment occurs. Because of these honest disagreements and because we live in a society where all are free to live according to their own consciences and religious beliefs, we do not believe any one religious philosophy should govern the law for all Americans." Our Clergy for Choice members pledge "to work to create a society where every child is welcomed with joy into a family and a community that is equipped to sustain, nurture, and raise up that child in peace and love."

What, then, is accurate to say about the Coalition?

We consist of different religions working together to reduce unintended pregnancy and the need for abortion and to preserve the individual's ability to make decisions about childbearing, free from government interference or coercion.

We recognize that decisions about childbearing and family formation involve a person's deepest beliefs and hopes. We believe that women must be able to make these most deeply personal decisions with full and accurate information and according to their religious beliefs and conscience.

Rather than condemn or mock those who contemplate abortion, we offer information and resources to help individuals and families who struggle with complex moral issues. We encourage decisions concerning a problem or unintended pregnancy to be made in consultation with clergy and we provide training to clergy to assist women in examining all their options and reaching the decision they feel is most appropriate.

It would be a grave error to believe that the Institute on Religion and Democracy and its allies in the "renewal" movement are concerned about women and families. Rather, they are part of a movement in American politics and culture that happily uses personal issues to agitate and rally people to their cause. The "renewal" groups are a stark contrast to the mainline churches and Jewish traditions, which have been models of compassionate, respectful, and thoughtful discernment about human reproductive issues and have assiduously sought to be inclusive of the diverse views of their members.

In the name of justice and decency, it is time to end the silence about the IRD and the "renewal" movement.

I've always had a problem with the term "choice." To my mind, in these circumstances it's an unfortunate use of the word; it trivializes the issue.

Personally, when I think of "choice," I think of "what to wear today" or "one from Column A and one from Column B," and I'm sure a similar thought springs to a lot of other people's minds as well. When those people happen to be of a fundamentalist/dominionist bent, that word can (and does, I think) do a lot of damage, because in their minds it trivializes the issue too.

I've always looked at it as a woman's responsibility to decide - not only whether to terminate a pregnancy, but in everything associated with the question of whether and when to get pregnant and have children.

Given the weight of the consequences - that the task of nurturing a young human being for the next 20 years or so is almost certainly going to fall overwhelmingly to her - "choice" doesn't even begin to describe the situation. No one else knows the state of her ability and readiness to take on that awesome task, and no one else - not even her spouse/significant other (at least until men can get pregnant too, in which case they should be the ones to do it if they want children that badly) - should presume to decide for her or harass her about it in any way whatsoever, no matter what she decides.

To those who say she should have the baby and give it up for adoption, I would answer that they should go through that awful trauma themselves before recommending it to anyone else. At the very least, they should put their money where their mouth is and adopt a child themselves. When I meet someone like that, my question to them is, "How many adopted children do you have - and of those, how many are 'special needs' children?" Given that usually they don't, that shuts them up in a big hurry. (grin)

In an ideal world, every woman would have ready access to a variety of effective contraceptives and the freedom to use them without censure or guilt, and abortion would be practically unheard of. But in the real world, accidental pregnacies happen in spite of our best efforts, and that is definitely not something to say "oh well.........." about.

Off the soap box and on to the funny story:

In one of my activist phases (I tend to come out of my shell and go back in every so often, just as I go in and out of being active in a church) 20-some years ago, I was involved with the RCRC (then RCAR) in Kentucky by way of a small Christian Church/Disciples of Christ church on the outskirts of Louisville.

On one occasion - I forget what the event was - another woman and I took a shift at the RCAR table. We got as many strange reactions from passers-by for who we were - a dignified Georgia Peach "lady of a certain age" whose real name was Hattie Belle (God rest her sweet, beautiful soul!) and a 6-months-pregnant young woman - as we did for the reason we were there!

by anomalous4 on Sat Jun 10, 2006 at 11:58:28 AM EST

Anomalous4, as site co-owner, a friendly nudge -- please reread the site guidelines. This site is about the religious right and what to do about it. There are very few absolute no nos here, but offering up personal views about abortion per se, is absolutely off topic and indeed, to the threads that relate to the subject, and I think your comment strays into that territory. My guess is that this may seem strange to you, but there are solid reasons for it. One of them is that it is difficult to talk about the religious right, and the temptation is always to talk about something else. There are lots of places in the blogpshere, and generally in life to talk about something else -- but only one place to talk about the religious right and what to do about it. It is important for us to keep our focus, and it takes all of us to do it.

by Frederick Clarkson on Sat Jun 10, 2006 at 02:35:55 PM EST
Hadn't occurred to me that the bulk of the comment was. There's been significant discussion here about "framing" in the context of responding to the religious right and getting our message through. I saw this comment primarily as an attempt to address that issue in regard to abortion. anomalous4 seemed to be making a distinction between the use of 'choice' - which can be interpreted and dismissed by the religious right as frivolous or irresponsible and 'responsibility' which implies a broader consideration of decisions about conceiving and rearing children.

As a 'for instance' and relevant to this post, is there a difference in message between Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and Religious Coalition for Reproductive Responsibility?

This in no way is meant to detract from the value or importance of Rev. Veasey's post or suggest that he change the name of his organization. I was delighted to see his straightforward, point by point refutations of IRD talking points. This is an approach that needs to be used more frequently. But I think other approaches are worthy of consideration as well. The religious right likes to accuse us of being pro-abortion. Seems we could give them less ammunition and be more accurate in discussing reproduction. Accusing us of being pro-reproductive responsibilty isn't likely to be something they'd be anxious to do.

by Psyche on Sat Jun 10, 2006 at 04:43:18 PM EST

Yes, one can and should talk about framing, (which is very different than diction or "message". The debate over the word choice has been talked about for decades without resolution.) But this has to take place in the explicit context of the religious right and what to do about it.

We are not an "issue" blog. And we will keep our focus on the religious right and what to do about it.

by Frederick Clarkson on Sat Jun 10, 2006 at 05:07:16 PM EST

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