My brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, abortion is testing our church." So began a daylong discussion that ended with Potomac Conference delegates voting by an overwhelming majority to request that two Adventist hospitals strictly limit abortions performed. The official action occurred during a special constituency meeting on Sunday, September 29, in Vienna, Virginia.
By a vote of 190 to 58, delegates passed this resolution: "We, the Potomac Conference constituency, appeal to Washington Adventist Hospital and Shady Grove Adventist Hospital to immediately adopt and implement abortion policies that institutionally prohibit abortions for social or economic reasons including convenience, birth control, gender selection, or avoidance of embarrassment; limiting the abortion procedure to those times when a pregnancy threatens the mother's physical life, when the fetus is gravely abnormal, and in cases of rape and incest. The appointment of a committee charged with prospectively reviewing all requests for abortion would be essential to ensure implementation of these guidelines.
"We further ask the Abortion Study Commission to continue monitoring the abortion policies and numbers of abortions performed at our hospitals and to report to our next constituency meeting on the hospitals' response to this appeal. The committee shall consist of at least 50 percent female representation."
The meeting was an outgrowth of an unresolved discussion at a previous constituency meeting in 1987. Two years before that, Washington Adventist Hospital had been the target of an abortion protest organized by nearby Covenant Life Church. Its pastor was quoted in the Washington Post as saying, "We find it very inconsistent for a hospital ran by a Christian church to be practicing murder of unborn children."
Various area Adventists, alarmed by this allegation, launched an investigation of the hospital's abortion policy. Regarding such an explosive moral issue, they decided that Potomac members needed input from hospitals bearing the name of their church within their conference territory. George B. Gainer, now chaplain of Columbia Union College and an associate pastor of Sligo church, organized the initiative that eventually ripened into the resolution just passed at the special constituency meeting.
Delegates wrestled with apparent discrepancies between abortion limits recommended in 1970 and a more liberal policy adopted in 1971 (see Ministry, August 1991). Under the authority of the liberalized "Interruption of Pregnancy" statement, a number of Adventist hospital boards apparently felt obliged to permit what some Potomac delegates described as "abortion on demand." One pastor summarized his concerns: "And if all these abortions in our hospitals merely 'interrupt' a pregnancy, please explain how it gets started again."
Both sides freely expressed their points and counterpoints. Some delegates urged respect for a woman's right to control what happens within her body. Others responded that one person's right to choose ends where an other's body begins, and no human should stop a heart from beating with the life of God.
Defenders of abortion rights insisted that our hospitals must not withhold a legal service from the community. Opponents argued that Adventist institutions have both the option and the responsibility to serve as a moral lighthouse to the community. "Adventists have never been silent about comparative trifles such as makeup and amusements," one pastor's wife observed. "Surely we can stand up and be counted on the greatest moral issue of our time."
Women delegates frequently stepped up to the microphones to voice their convictions. One nurse defended "safe" hospital abortions by describing a teenager's trauma from an illegal "back alley" operation. A pastor's wife told about the depression and remorse of many women whose abortions were legal.
One pastor read the words of Jesus in John 15:13: "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends" (NIV). "Abortion belies the unselfishness of this agape love," he declared.
Debate lasted through the afternoon. The conclusive argument, some said, was that God, the life-giver, wants Adventist hospitals to conduct the ministry of healing human life not the abortion of it.
Most Adventist health-care institutions already disallow abortion in all but extreme circumstances. For example, at Florida Hospital, our largest in the world, policy states that "termination of pregnancy for socioeconomic reasons is prohibited."