Methodist Church to Clarify Position on Abortion Issues

The Methodist Church of Great Britain's annual Conference voted in favor of a new briefing to clarify its position on issues related to abortion.

The vote comes one week after the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists published a review stating that fetuses in the womb could not feel pain before 24 weeks, therefore making it unnecessary to reduce the time limit for abortions.

The briefing, to be produced by the Joint Public Issues Team over the coming months, will seek to explain the Methodist position on abortion "in modern language" and "place this in the context of modern law and science."

It is intended not to alter the church's official position on abortion but to keep the complex issues surrounding abortion under constant review and help churches think about the issues.

As such, the Methodist Church's original 1976 statement on abortion will remain unchanged. That statement rejected calls for abortion on demand and stated that abortion should not occur after the life is viable outside of the womb. A report in 2008 expanded the Methodist Church's official position on abortion to include mention of the fact that fetuses are created in the image of God.

The Methodist Church's Abortion Statement Working Group stated that there was "no evidence that the Methodist people as a whole wish for a change" and that even those who did feel differently from the 1976 statement felt it should remain as the church's official position on the issue.

Ruth Gee, chair of the Abortion Statement Working Group, said the briefing would make the church's position on abortion "more accessible and useful" to churches as they seek to respond to medical, scientific and technological developments.

Conference representative the Rev. Martin H. Turner, said a briefing would allow new research on fetal pain as well as recent findings on the mental health implications of abortion to be taken into consideration.

The decision to draw up the briefing also received the strong support of Methodist youths.

Simon Pillinger, of the Methodist Youth Assembly said: "There is an increasing rate of teenage pregnancy and abortion [and] as medical technology advances the time life is viable comes closer and closer to conception. I would implore Conference to re-evaluate this situation – issues like this plague young people."

Other issues on the agenda included racial justice, environmental issues and the living wage. The Conference, the governing body of the Methodist Church, heard from minority ethnic members that racism was still "alive and well" within the Church and wider society and that race relations should be regarded as the work of all Methodists, rather than that of minority ethnic members only.

John Howard of the Joint Committee on the Ethics of Investment spoke of the positive impact that the Methodist Church's discussions with corporations like Nestlé and BSkyB on their operations. He expressed concern, however, that environmental issues in some parts of the world were not receiving the attention they were due.

He said: "The quantity of oil spilled every year in the Niger Delta is greater than the oil spilled in the Gulf of Mexico up until now and yet it doesn't get the same publicity."

The Conference heard the call for the minimum wage to equal a living wage and was challenged to pay a living wage to all staff within its churches and charities, although it acknowledged that current budgetary constraints meant it was unlikely this would be achieved within the next five years.

Paul Morrison, policy advisor on the Joint Public Issues Team, said: "By paying a living wage ourselves our voice to promote it to others is greatly enhanced."

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