Wednesday, January 11, 2023

The Episcopal Church’s Stated Position on Childbirth and Abortion

At the 14th Convention of the Diocese of Fond du Lac held on Oct. 29, 2022,, a resolution was proposed regarding the church’s teaching on abortion (see the first comment below).

To address this resolution, I will be posting a series of teachings on the subject over the next several weeks beginning with listing below the resolutions passed by the General Convention of the Episcopal Church over the last several decades.

There is perhaps no moral issue more contentious, more polarizing, more emotionally charged, and, more complicated than abortion. It is a daunting topic to engage. Women and men with varying opinions have deeply held convictions and emotions on the issue. Many feel conflicted and ambivalent. This complexity is reflected in the resolutions passed over the years by the General Convention of the Episcopal Church.

In 1967, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church passed a “Statement on Abortion.” That statement has been reaffirmed with some revision in several subsequent General Conventions, reaching its latest and fullest expression in 1994. Additional resolutions related to childbirth and abortion have been adopted at General Conventions. Taken together, these resolutions affirm the sanctity of life while also defending safe and legal abortion as a necessary option for women.

These resolutions constitute the closest thing the Episcopal Church has to an official teaching. The Episcopal Church has no pope or magisterium by which teaching or dogma are promulgated such as to be binding on the conscience of every member. Historically, the Episcopal Church, and the Anglican Tradition more generally, have allowed for more freedom of conscience than some other Christian traditions. That is part of the beauty of our tradition.

That does not mean that members of the Episcopal Church are free to believe whatever they want or to simply rely on their own wisdom or prejudices. The Book of Common Prayer and our Constitution and Canons do contain teaching on doctrine and morals. Beyond that, we are committed to testing our thinking and behavior against the teaching of scripture guided by tradition using faithfully formed and informed reason as best we can. I think we can add as another guide to our discernment what the great Anglican theologian, Richard Hooker, called the “works of nature” and those before him called the “Book of Nature.” In other words, we also seek understanding by contemplating and studying creation.

Together we seek to have our imaginations and our lives shaped by those sources of our faith. We all affirm the faith as defined in the Book of Common Prayer. Beyond that, as Christians have always done, we will disagree on some things. We will seek to persuade one another in charity and encourage one another to deeper faithfulness. And we will continue to gather to worship the One who weaves us together and together weaves us into the eternal life and love and joy of the Holy Trinity.

While the following resolutions are not binding and members may disagree with all or parts, they do represent what we have affirmed as a body gathered in General Convention. Therefore, they are to be taken seriously and it is good for Episcopalians to be familiar with them. To that end, I encourage you to read them carefully.


General Convention Resolutions       

Resolution 1994-A054: Reaffirm General Convention Statement on Childbirth and Abortion

Resolved, That this 71st General Convention of the Episcopal Church reaffirms resolution C047 from the 69th General Convention, which states:

All human life is sacred from its inception until death. The Church takes seriously its obligation to help form the consciences of its members concerning this sacredness. Human life, therefore, should be initiated only advisedly and in full accord with this understanding of the power to conceive and give birth which is bestowed by God. It is the responsibility of our congregations to assist their members in becoming informed concerning the spiritual and physiological aspects of sex and sexuality.

The Book of Common Prayer affirms that "the birth of a child is a joyous and solemn occasion in the life of a family. It is also an occasion for rejoicing in the Christian community" (p. 440). As Christians we also affirm responsible family planning.

We regard all abortion as having a tragic dimension, calling for the concern and compassion of all the Christian community.

While we acknowledge that in this country it is the legal right of every woman to have a medically safe abortion, as Christians we believe strongly that if this right is exercised, it should be used only in extreme situations. We emphatically oppose abortion as a means of birth control, family planning, sex selection, or any reason of mere convenience.

In those cases where an abortion is being considered, members of this Church are urged to seek the dictates of their conscience in prayer, to seek the advice and counsel of members of the Christian community and where appropriate, the sacramental life of this Church.

Whenever members of this Church are consulted with regard to a problem pregnancy, they are to explore, with grave seriousness, with the person or persons seeking advice and counsel, as alternatives to abortion, other positive courses of action, including, but not limited to, the following possibilities: the parents raising the child; another family member raising the child; making the child available for adoption.

It is the responsibility of members of this Church, especially the clergy, to become aware of local agencies and resources which will assist those faced with problem pregnancies.

We believe that legislation concerning abortions will not address the root of the problem. We therefore express our deep conviction that any proposed legislation on the part of national or state governments regarding abortions must take special care to see that the individual conscience is respected, and that the responsibility of individuals to reach informed decisions in this matter is acknowledged and honored as the position of this Church; and be it further

Resolved, That this 71st General Convention of the Episcopal Church express its unequivocal opposition to any legislative, executive or judicial action on the part of local, state or national governments that abridges the right of a woman to reach an informed decision about the termination of pregnancy or that would limit the access of a woman to safe means of acting on her decision.

Resolution 1982-A065: Condemn Use of Abortion for Gender Selection and Non-serious Abnormalities

Resolved, That the 67th General Convention of the Episcopal Church strongly condemns the act of abortion when the sole purpose of such action is the selection of the sex of the child; and be it further

Resolved, That this new ability to diagnose serious abnormalities in the fetus before birth is a welcome gift to reduce pain and sorrow in the parents and suffering in the newborn, but that abortion after the diagnosis of non-serious or trivial abnormalities, or abortion in a case where purely cosmetic abnormalities are discovered, is also strongly condemned.


Resolution 1988-D124: Condemn Acts of Violence Against Abortion Facilities and Their Clients

Resolved, That this 69th General Convention of the Episcopal Church condemn all actions of violence against abortion clinics; and be it further

Resolved, That this Convention deplore any acts of violence against those persons seeking the services available at such clinics.


Resolution 1988-A089: Promote Use of Materials on Human Sexuality and Abortion for All Age

Resolved, That this 69th General Convention call on the Presiding Bishop and the Executive Council to provide and promote the use of materials on human sexuality, birth control and family planning for all age groups as part of this Church's on-going Christian Education curricula as reflective of God's creation; and be it further

Resolved, That the topic of abortion be included in the Church's education curricula and that these materials be explicit, with a full understanding of the physical, emotional and spiritual realities and risks involved in abortion; and be it further

Resolved, That we encourage the members of this Church to give strong support to responsible local public and private school programs of education in human sexuality.

Resolution 1991-C037: Oppose Legislation Requiring Parental Consent for Termination of Pregnancy

Resolved, That, in the matter of requiring parental notification or consent when minor women seek safe means of acting on their decisions to seek termination of pregnancy, this 70th General Convention go on record as opposing efforts to legislate requiring such notification or consent, unless such notification or consent laws allow non-judicial bypass, in the event of the inability to notify parents or where family dysfunction may put such minors at serious physical, psychological or emotional risk, whereby such minors can make an informed decision with the notification or consent of some other responsible adult with experience and/or expertise, such as a clergy person, teacher, guidance counselor, mental health professional or other family member.

Resolution 1991-A096: Continue Discussion on the Use of Fetal Tissue for Research Use

Resolved, That the 70th General Convention rejects conception for the purpose of providing fetal tissues for therapeutic or medical research usages; and be it further

Resolved, That this 70th General Convention rejects the use of fetal tissues aborted for financial profit for use in therapy and medical research, and be it further

Resolved, That the discussion concerning the use for therapeutic or medical research purposes of tissues from healthy fetuses, aborted to save the life of the mother, be continued during the next triennium.

Resolution 1994-D105: Commend the Work of Pregnancy Care Centers

Resolved, That the 71st General Convention commend the members of this church who minister through pregnancy care centers, thereby helping to accomplish the will of General Convention to "assist those faced with problem pregnancy" (1988 General Convention Resolution on Abortion); and be it further

Resolved, That this General Convention commends the work and mission of pregnancy care centers which stress unconditional love and acceptance, for women and their unborn children; and be it further

Resolved, That we encourage the work of local pregnancy care centers to develop an outreach of love to pregnant women and to mothers and their children.


Resolution: 1994-D091: Practice of Forced Abortions and Sterilization in China

Resolved, That the 71st General Convention of the Episcopal Church deplore the practice of forced abortions and forced sterilization in the families of the People's Republic of China; and be it further

Resolved, That the Episcopal Church of the United States urge the U.S. government to consider all requests for political asylum by pregnant Chinese citizens and their families in the U. S. subject to forced abortion laws upon return to China; and be it further

Resolved, That this 71st General Convention request the Secretary to communicate immediately the intention of this resolution to Vice President Gore who will head the U.S. delegation to the U.N. sponsored International Conference on Population and Development to be held in Cairo beginning September 5, 1994, and to the U.S. Secretary of State, and to Anglican Bishop Ding of the China Christian Council.

Resolution 1997-D065: Express Grave Concern Over Misuse of Partial Birth Abortion

Resolved, That this 72nd General Convention of the Episcopal Church express grave concern about the use in the third trimester of pregnancy of the procedure known as intact dilation and extraction (commonly called "partial birth abortion") except in extreme situations; and be it further

Resolved, That the 72nd General Convention of the Episcopal Church continue to encourage its Dioceses and Congregations to give necessary aid and support to all pregnant women.

Resolution 2000-D104: Affirm Adoption and Support Legislation on Adoption Counseling

Resolved, That the 73rd General Convention of the Episcopal Church affirm the value of adoption and recognize it is in the best interest of the child to be adopted by a stable person or family to nurture him or her; and be it further

Resolved, That the General Convention of the Episcopal Church urge the U.S. Congress to pass legislation making adoption counseling available to those facing an unplanned pregnancy and to those seeking to adopt.

Resolution 2018-D032: Advocate for Gender Equity, Including Reproductive Rights, in Healthcare

Resolved, That the 79th General Convention of The Episcopal Church acknowledge the need for universal and equitable access to good quality health care that allows for equal utilization for those with equal need; and be it further

Resolved, That this Convention acknowledge that equitable access to women’s health care, including women’s reproductive health care, is an integral part of a woman’s struggle to assert her dignity and worth as a human being; and be it further

Resolved, That The Episcopal Church call for women’s reproductive health and reproductive health procedures to be treated as all other medical procedures, and not singled out or omitted by or because of gender; and be it further

Resolved, That The Episcopal Church support health care that takes into account the specific health care needs of all persons, including women; and be it further

Resolved, That this Convention direct the Office of Government Relations and the Episcopal Public Policy Network to urge all Episcopalians to advocate for government to address the specific needs of health care for everyone, especially women's and girls’ health care, by:

·       Supporting legislation that creates equal utilization of health care for those in equal need, regardless of ability to pay, and reject reasons for unequal use as well as strategies that promote unequal access to health care;

·       Advocating for everyone to have the right to make decisions about their bodies and those decisions should be between themselves and their provider (reaffirming 1994 A054: That The… “Episcopal Church express its unequivocal opposition to any legislative, executive or judicial action on the part of local, state or national governments that abridges the right of a woman to reach an informed decision … or that would limit the access of a woman to safe means of acting on her decision.);

·       Ensuring equal access to every health care service regardless of gender (reaffirming 1994 A055: that the… “General Convention urge adequate government funding and support for research and development, prevention and treatment in matters affecting the health and quality of life of women, including domestic violence, AIDS, heart disease, breast, ovarian and endometrial cancer, safe and effective contraceptives, and other methods of pregnancy prevention, maternity care, menopause and chronic illnesses unique to or prevalent among women);

·       Ensuring health care is equal in coverage and cost regardless of gender.

Resolution 2022-D083: Addressing the erosion of reproductive rights and autonomy

Resolved, that the 80th General Convention recognizes that pregnancy and childbirth are dangerous undertakings that risk permanent disability and death for those who bear children; and be it further

Resolved, that the Episcopal Church reaffirms that parenthood “should be initiated only advisedly and in full accord with this understanding of the power to conceive and give birth which is bestowed by God” (1988-C047); and be it further;

Resolved, that the Episcopal Church recognizes that access to abortion is a key element in preserving the health, independence, and autonomy of those who can bear children; and be it further;

Resolved, that the 80th General Convention affirms that all Episcopalians should be able to access abortion services and birth control with no restriction on movement, autonomy, type, or timing; and be it further

Resolved, that the 80th General Convention understands that the protection of religious liberty extends to all Episcopalians who may need or desire to access, to utilize, to aid others in the procurement of, or to offer abortion services.

Next: A Teaching on Abortion, Part II – Context (I'll post this on Jan 26)


  1. RESOLUTION 2022-03

    RESOLVED, that the 148th Convention of the Diocese of Fond du Lac request the Bishop Diocesan, our Chief Teacher as expressed in the consecration service of the Book of Common Prayer, to provide a series of teachings and theological reflections on the issue of abortion to the members of this diocese over the next six months, and be it further;

    Resolved, that such series include consideration of Episcopal Church General Convention resolutions addressing the issue as they recognize the theological, moral, legal, personal and societal complexity involved, and be it further;

    Resolved, that such series provide an avenue for members of this diocese to respond, either publicly or privately, and be it further;

    Resolved, that through the Advance Reports to the 149th Diocesan Convention, the Bishop Diocesan provide a summary of the series including what was heard from those who may have responded.

  2. Bishop Matt, thank you for bringing these resolutions to our attention. I find them thoughtful, caring and inspiring.

  3. Bishop Matt. I appreciate your attempt at leadership on this issue but there are a few points that continue to divide us both as Christians and Episcopalians/Anglicans. Not to call you out personally but it was only a few years ago when you were both posting and speaking about pro-life virtues. But now you appear to be trying to justify the changes in the church's position to meet recent progressive trends. As we look to make changes to the Book of Common Prayer to suit certain ideologies we seem to be changing the legacy definitions of "sin" to reflect modern social norms. As an example...King James, ESV, and ASV bibles used to be the source of universal teaching in the Christian faith. But now we can find annotations of whatever trends supporting our personal preferences.

    So a few salient points that I am confused about. We first need to address the subtlely of definitions. I have noticed that the EC's position on life states the belief that life begins at INCEPTION...not CONception. They sound the same but they are very distinct. Conception meaning "the point of becoming pregnant" and; inception meaning "the biginning, or birth". I need to assume this is intentional and intended to be a bit deceptive. Can you explain the evolution (or deterioration) of this position?

    The subtle change in that wording (and the definition) seem to be a cute trick to support your other point about how the Bible doesn't specifically address the subject of abortion. Taken at face value I suppose it would technically support your point. But since time and memorial, until recently, the teaching has been "conception", which challenges your assertion. While abortion isn't addressed, murder (and euthanasia and suicide) is discussed extensively. Since when did "Thou shalt not kill" become irrellevant to the unborn?

    These are just a couple of points that come to mind when considering the state of the EC and other progressive faiths these days. Your attempt and justification is thorough, you come at it from a number of angles and cite references. But we still can't get past those two fundimental points...which is what this is really all about anyway. I am confused but I am also respectful of other's views and always interested to learn. Feel free to reach out to me if you want to chat. ++ Chris

  4. Dear Chris,

    Thank you for the comment. I appreciate you engaging with this. I ask you to bear with me. Some of the points you raise and questions you ask will be addressed in due course.

    What do you make of the second post in the series? It seems clear that this has not always been seen as a matter of "progressive faith" verses something older and more traditional. There certainly was no consensus among conservative Protestants well into the 1970's. In a later post we will see that it is not the case that "since time immemorial, until recently, the teaching has been 'conception'".

    There are no cute tricks here. I am trying to take as dispassionate a look at what scripture actually says and what the Christian tradition has said. Those are our fundamental guides, supplamented by our best contemporary knowledge of things. We still need to prayefully and carefully interpret and apply them in our day. That is where it always gets tricky.

    I hope you'll keep reading. And engaging.