Case ‘is’ a horror, but no reason to leave RCRC

By Steve Copley, Special Contributor…

The Kermit Gosnell case is as horrible as you think it is. And it illustrates precisely why it should not be used to argue for further restriction of access.

Women living in poverty in Philadelphia felt that Gosnell was their only option when they needed an abortion, in part because of the current restrictions on Medicaid funding and the dearth of accessible and affordable abortion providers. Using Gosnell as an excuse to further restrict abortion care just creates more unprincipled, back alley charlatans like him who are willing to take advantage of women in desperate circumstances. Gosnell’s case does not show a slippery slope to infanticide; rather, it is a window into a not-too-distant past where women were permanently injured or—too often—died from illegal abortions.

Steve Copley

As a pastor in the South Central Jurisdiction, I’m glad our denomination is involved in the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice because the mission and work of RCRC so clearly fits United Methodists’ position on women’s health, and specifically abortion care, as outlined in the Book of Discipline.

Like many of you, I believe that abortion should be legal, safe and rare. One way to accomplish the “rare” part of that belief is comprehensive sexual education. The Book of Discipline says “(T)he Church should support the family in providing age-appropriate education regarding sexuality to children, youth and adults.” (¶161.F) RCRC has done faithful work around sex-ed that is both age and denominationally appropriate so that young women and men aren’t faced with having to make a decision about abortion in the first place. I know of no other organization inside or outside the denomination that helps us meet that mandate.

The Book of Discipline makes several references to concepts such as self-determination, informed Christian conscience, and thoughtful and prayerful consideration regarding abortion. Those actions are difficult to effect without access to a full range of reproductive health care services. As a coalition, RCRC believes that access to reproductive health care services should be readily available to all people so that we can all experience God’s good gift of sexuality with joy and responsibility, health and wholeness.

One passage from the Book of Discipline that is particularly meaningful to me as someone who pastors those living in poverty is also in the section on abortion: “We call all Christians to a searching and prayerful inquiry into the sorts of conditions that may cause them to consider abortion. The Church shall offer ministries to reduce unintended pregnancies. We commit our Church to continue to provide nurturing ministries to those who terminate a pregnancy, to those in the midst of a crisis pregnancy, and to those who give birth.” (¶161.J) For decades, RCRC has been conducting trainings for clergy in helping women deal with these difficult decisions, as well as in times of reproductive loss.

Being “reluctant to approve abortion,” as our Book of Discipline says, is an indication of the careful thought that a woman undertakes when considering the ending of a pregnancy. But we agree that “. . . 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.” (¶161.J) Indeed, this particular passage models the behavior of recognizing the gravity of the situation, and then thoughtfully and prayerfully proceeding in partnership with loved ones, clergy and medical professionals. It’s important to note here that Gosnell’s actions were not proper and accepted medical procedures, and he in fact is not certified as an OB/GYN.

As United Methodists, we are not called to the easy answers, but rather called to bring our prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness to our Church specifically, and by extension, to God’s vast and complex world. The reasons a woman would choose an abortion are rarely simple or easy, and are made in an environment colored by many factors, including poverty, race, education and class, as well as access to reproductive health care. RCRC’s recent expansion into a frame of reproductive justice includes not only the moral agency of people to make their own decisions about their reproductive lives, but also now a commitment to change the environment in which people make those very decisions. Given the UMC’s long history of social justice and working to help people at the margins, this is a good fit for us—and a good fit to bring our unique voice as a member of the coalition that makes up RCRC.

We’re also called to witness to Christ’s love. We live the gospel best when we do so with action—action that creates an environment where people are able to exercise their conscience with as few barriers as possible.

The Rev. Copley is an ordained elder in the Arkansas Conference, and serves as executive director of the Arkansas Interfaith Conference. scopley438

Special Contributor to UMR

Special Contributor

This story was written by a special contributor to The United Methodist Reporter. You may send your article submissions to

Leave a Reply

The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
3 Comment threads
0 Thread replies
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
3 Comment authors
gregg.pulsfesloprduncan Recent comment authors
newest oldest most voted
Notify of

It seems that you consider the Book of Discipine to be the gospel? How about the Bible? Are you familiar with that whole "You shall not murder" commandment? The United Methodist Church, like many mainstream Protestant denominations, has become lukewarm. Sad!


RCRC seems to act like the NRA with issues that threaten their orthodoxy. NRA leadership (NOT all its members) takes a rigid, sky is falling approach to any meaningful gun sale registration because of the slippery slope toward the end of the 2nd Amendment. RCRC (like their moral parent organization of Planned Parenthood) takes a similar rigidly orthodox approach. Laws that require parents be involved in a minor daughter decision on abortion (even when the condition implies statutory rape)..nope, for that is a ruse by reactionaries to eliminate all abortions. Late term abortions such as the Gosnell tragedy? Just a… Read more »


Thank you, Rev. Copley

%d bloggers like this: