Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” John 13:34
These words from the Gospel reading for the Fifth Sunday of Easter shape our most basic motivations as Christians. Following Jesus’ commandment to love one another animates who we are and what we do. Our commitment to love stands front and center as we hear and respond to recent legislation about abortion, reproduction and women’s health in our highly politicized era.
The Episcopal Church has held our arms of love wide open across the decades in the midst of political and moral debate about these matters. We assert without equivocation the sanctity of human life. “All human life is sacred,” we affirmed at the 69th General Convention in 1988. “Hence, it is sacred from its inception until death. 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.”
In a series of statements over the decades we as a Church have fleshed out our understanding of the sacredness of human life, the lives of women as well as the lives of the unborn. We have declared “that we emphatically oppose abortion as a means of birth control, family planning, sex selection, or any reason of mere convenience.” We have also declared our “unequivocal opposition to any legislation on the part of national or state governments which would abridge or deny the right of individuals to reach informed decisions [about the termination of pregnancy] and act on them.”
At our most recent General Convention last summer we resolved 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.” A complete summary of General Convention resolutions on abortion and women’s reproductive health can be found here.
Our statements about abortion and women’s reproductive health are bound together by our unshakable affirmation that all life is sacred and all human beings are worthy of abiding love. As a woman, as a child of God and as a bishop, I hold my own arms wide open in love to support women in making informed decisions about their bodies and their reproductive health. I reach out with pastoral care toward those women who chose to end a pregnancy and to those who choose to give birth in difficult circumstances. I call on our legislatures to provide access to adequate health care, education, safety and freedom from violence for all who are born. While honoring the sanctity of life for all people and upholding our Church’s teachings about the seriousness and “tragic dimension” of abortion, I will do what I can to keep our society from returning to an era of backroom abortions in which the lives and health of women are threatened. With arms held wide open in love, we can reach out to people on the many different sides of these issues without becoming polarized. God bless us all as we navigate these waters in the love of Christ Jesus.
Episcopal Diocese of Virginia