The Church Still Supports Women’s Reproductive Health, but We Have Work to Do

The Church Still Supports Women’s Reproductive Health, but We Have Work to Do

General Conference celebrated United Methodist Women’s 150th year in mission with women, children and youth—and then demonstrated why women still need to organize for mission and advocacy in the 21st century.

The Church still calls for women to have access to comprehensive reproductive health education and care. This did not change at General Conference, and it’s supported in numerous resolutions. However, the Responsible Parenthood resolution was not readopted. For many years the direct language of the Responsible Parenthood resolution provided a strong foundation for this work all in one place. This resolution upheld the church’s affirmation of families’ sacred responsibility to plan when and how many children to have and guarded women’s right to access comprehensive reproductive health care, including the ability to end a pregnancy legally and safely when this is necessary. This resolution also challenged the gender inequality that leaves many women in the world with little or no say in their own health care decisions.

In failing to adopt this measure, The United Methodist Church missed a great opportunity to stand with women and the girl child by supporting basic family planning.

Misinformation Abounds

Misinformation on this issue abounds. Contrary to some reports, reproductive health care is not a code word for abortion. Women’s reproductive health is central to women’s total health care throughout the childbearing years and beyond, for as women age the reproductive system becomes more at risk for disease.

Also misleading are reports that The United Methodist Church changed its stance on abortion at General Conference. This did not happen. The denomination’s carefully nuanced position on abortion states:

“Our belief in the sanctity of unborn human life makes us reluctant to approve abortion. But 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, and in such cases we support the legal option of abortion under proper medical procedures by certified medical providers. …

“The Church shall encourage ministries to reduce unintended pregnancies such as comprehensive age-appropriate sexuality education, advocacy in regard to contraception, and support of initiatives that enhance the quality of life for all women and girls around the globe.”

–Paragraph 161J, The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church

The Responsible Parenthood resolution detailed how to fulfill the church’s call within its abortion statement to reduce unintended pregnancies and to support initiatives that enhance the quality of life for women and girls. Comprehensive reproductive health education, care and nutrition and unfettered access to contraception are essentials for accomplishing these stated goals.

Bringing Attention

Since 1976, the Responsible Parenthood resolution was one of the ways we have sought to bring attention to the importance of providing women with full access to reproductive care in accordance with the denominational stance found in the Social Principles. In recent years, this resolution has evolved to include a much broader, global perspective. It brought to light the harsh realities of life for women and girls around the world, including child marriage, spousal disapproval, lack of access, legal restrictions, gender inequality and financial barriers, all of which limit women’s access to safe contraception. It called on the church to work to reduce these barriers and address the systemic oppression that keeps women from being able to choose the timing and spacing of their pregnancies, which is critical to the ability for women and infants to thrive.

The Gospel is clear that Jesus valued women and children. Jesus called the children to him. Women were the first witnesses to his resurrection. Jesus trusted women. Jesus prioritized children and people who were marginalized.

Likewise, United Methodist Women will continue to prioritize the needs of women and the girl child, including their need for comprehensive reproductive health education, care and nutrition. The health of women and girls has been an integral part of United Methodist Women’s mission outreach since our beginning in 1869, when our foremothers organized to send a woman doctor to India to serve women and girls who could not be seen by male doctors.

One of the denomination’s four areas of focus is global health. There can be no global health that does not include the health of women and girls. Reproductive health care is intrinsic to the health of women and girls. United Methodist Women will work to ensure women and girls are not left behind.

Posted or updated: 6/1/2016 11:00:00 PM