Presiding Bishop Issues Pastoral Message on Abortion

Our unity as Christians is through Jesus Christ, the One who embodies God’s grace among us. Every day we dive into our baptism, through which God promises grace and mercy and draws us out to love and serve neighbors.

Yet, there are times when, even in our unity, we do not agree. The people of this church and this country have various and perhaps contrasting responses to the Supreme Court’s leaked draft opinion on abortion. Regardless of where each of us stands on the issue, the ELCA’s 1991 social statement on abortion speaks to all of us.

In the social statement, this church holds both women and “developing life in the womb” (p. 2) as neighbors. This church declares that any person who has become unexpectedly pregnant has moral agency to discern what to do, and this decision-making usually happens in a community — not only the person who is pregnant but with God, family, partners, friends, doctors and pastors. While this church longs for a future with fewer abortions every year, the social statement points out that outlawing all or nearly all abortions is not the way to do this. The ELCA opposes both “the total lack of regulation of abortion” and “legislation that would outlaw abortion in all circumstances” (p. 9).

This church’s social teaching states that abortion must be legal, regulated and accessible. People who choose to have legal abortions should not be harassed or prevented from accessing abortion due to economic or other factors.

I recognize that the leaked court draft does not represent the Supreme Court’s ruling in its final form; nevertheless, it contradicts this church’s teaching. This church teaches that abortion and reproductive health care, including contraception, must be legal and accessible. But it also teaches that, as a society and as a church, we must continuously strive to mitigate the factors that make it difficult to bear, raise and nurture children: lack of affordable health care, affordable childcare, paid sick time and paid parental leave; high student debt; and compensation that is inequitable based especially on gender or race.

I urge you to work locally to moderate any Supreme Court decision similar to the leaked draft. Not only would such a decision cause grave harm for many people with unexpected pregnancies, but it could create other problems as well. It has the potential to foster communities of conflict and moral policing rather than complex moral discernment. It will likely endanger or cause the deaths of people who need an abortion. And the legal bases established by any such decision threaten people’s access to birth control, same-sex marriage, voting rights and their right to privacy.

Any ruling similar to the leaked draft will upend 50 years of legal precedent in our nation and damage the health and well-being of many. The prospect is daunting. As Christians, we persevere in hope. We must continue to be bold in our prayers and in our public witness for a more just society that cherishes and guarantees the dignity of all. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).

In Christ,
The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton
Presiding Bishop
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Recent Comments

  • 05.24.22

    By: Al Saunders

    Bishop Eaton,

    Humbly, I submit that the original ruling in 1973 amounts to a flawed interpretation of the US Constitution in that the powers not specifically granted to the federal government were therefore reserved for the several states. Given that most states have some level of allowance for abortions in certain circumstances, there is no longer a need (maybe there never was a need) for a federal ruling in this matter.

    The “right” to an abortion for women is not “inalienable” as noted in the Declaration of Independence and was not “endowed by the creator” either. In truth, today’s science now teaches us that life truly does begin at conception as we can clearly see these developing infants through imaging technologies which did not exist in 1973. In light of the plain fact that every abortion results in the death of a child, I would fervently hope that we strive to end easy access and make the procedures safe and rare. May God’s grace be sufficient.

    In Jesus’ Name,
    Al Saunders

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