Rape, Incest, and the Overall Wellbeing of Women in Seventh-day Adventism’s 2019 Statement on Abortion

The 2019 Seventh-day Adventist Statement on Abortion does not provide all the Scriptural evidence it promises. Even if this is not a shortcoming, it is a shortfall.

Specifically, it does not show that Scripture allows for the possibility of abortion in cases of "potentially fatal prospects and/or acute, life-threatening birth anomalies" but does not allow for this possibility in the cases of rape, incest, and very serious threats to the pregnant woman's overall wellbeing. Either the Statement overlooks the places where Scripture makes this distinction or Scripture doesn't make it.

The Scriptural evidence the Statement does provide either justifies the possibility of abortion in all five cases or it justifies it in none of them. This is that we live in a sinful world in which horrible things happen that sometimes require us to make very difficult decisions. “Potentially fatal prospects” and “life-threatening birth anomalies” are certainly among them. But so are incest, rape, and the serious languishing of women. Absent biblical evidence which the statement doesn’t provide, it is safe to presume that all five are the consequences of sin and that all five sometimes require us to make decisions we would rather not.

When asked why the Statement does not allow for the possibility of abortion in cases of rape, one of its presenters explained that rape is a violent act against the woman which does not justify a violent act against the fetus. Yet the Statement does not show where Scripture makes this point. Also, this explanation does not take into account that fetuses sometimes lose their lives in other attempts to save the lives of women or to prevent them from suffering life-long physical or psychological devastation.

This demonstrates how careful biblical scholars must be in discussions of ethical issues. If they see themselves as presenting what Scripture actually meant to those who first heard its words, they should use all of their talents and advanced training to tell us as precisely as possible what this was and nothing else. In this case, they are functioning as historians and only those who are also functioning as historians can challenge them.

If, on the other hand, they see themselves as also presenting what Scripture ought to mean to us today, they are doing the work of expositors who must combine their best interpretations of what Scripture said with their best interpretations on what is happening here and now. This is not something which biblical scholars who are functioning wholly and solely as historians can do on their own. Their historical work is necessary but not sufficient. Either because they or others provide it, their historical evidence must be supplemented with other lines of evidence and everyone should openly acknowledge this.

On issues like abortion, the evidence which only scientists and clinicians can provide is also absolutely necessary. Not to give their contributions very serious consideration is risky because it can contribute to unanticipated and unwanted outcomes. As the last paragraph of this article indicates, this is what happens in this Statement.

Those who deny that they are incorporating considerations which are not found in Scripture often do so the most because they are the least self-aware and self-critical of what they are doing. This is a difficult situation because they often do not see where they have gone beyond what Scripture actually says even though others do. This can allow them to feel attacked and for others to see them as deceitful. Neither is usually the case. The fact is that it is difficult for all of us to see our work as others see it. Painful though it is, this is why all of us must subject what we do to public criticism. None of us should shield ourselves from this, especially by trying to hide behind what we honestly think Scripture says.

The 1992 Guidelines have the advantage of being explicit about this matter. On the one hand, its Appendix provides the primary biblical evidence which makes it clear that God values human life and that we should too, but also that we live in a sinful world in which horrible things sometimes happen that require us to make difficult decisions. On the other hand, its main text interprets and applies these biblical materials to our circumstances while a) acknowledging that this is what it is doing in the name of what most Adventists probably think and b) stating that this is a matter about which SDAs disagree. Because it approaches the matter this way, some have understood the 1992 Guidelines to be “unbiblical.” I see it the other way around because they do not make it appear that Scripture says things which it doesn’t.

Where do we go from here? One thing is clear. This is that the Executive Committee approved the Statement with an overwhelming majority and we should accept it. We are as close to 100% agreement as it is possible for a global denomination which is as diverse as ours can come. It is better to accept a statement about which we might have some reservations than to keep debating this issue.

The Biblical Research Institute did what the General Conference asked it to do and it did it well. This was to present Scripture’s understanding of human life in a way which would be pertinent to the issue of abortion [and presumably to other bioethical issues as well]. The GC did not ask the BRI to formulate the policies and protocols which SDA institutions would now follow. This point was repeatedly made in the Executive Committee’s discussion of the Statement before it was voted. This is a good thing because this would be going beyond the BRI’s mandate. It would also be going beyond what the General Conference can enforce.

Each institution can now determine how it will relate these biblical resources to its circumstances. This won’t be difficult because the wording of the 2019 Statement is less precise than the wording of the 1992 Statement. This leaves more rather than less room for institutional discretion.

David Larson is Professor of Religion at Loma Linda University Health.

Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/10017
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I don’t understand what practical use the 1992 statement had or was intended to have. I also don’t understand the intended use of the new statement. Will it be part of the curriculum for gynecologists, obstetricians, and other physicians trained at Adventist medical schools or for use in hospital chaplaincy programs? Is it primarily a position statement to be accessed when someone wishes to know the official Adventist position on the subject?

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  1. Everyone should join The Center for Reproductive Rights and make a donation. https://reproductiverights.org/.
  2. Read the UN Human Rights Committee’s statement on the right to life. https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/CCPR/CCPR_C_GC_36.pdf. It is 24 pages long and has 241 footnotes. Then take another look at the flimsy 4-page GC statement on abortion. To compare the two documents is to contrast serious people who are saving lives, promoting human rights, and upholding the dignity of human life around the world to lesser, much lesser, individuals at the GC.
  3. Evelyn Hernandez was raped at the age of 18, went into labor, and experienced a stillbirth. After passing out from blood loss, she woke up in the emergency room and was then arrested for murder. She was originally sentenced to a term of 30 years. She has been acquitted after spending three years in prison in Honduras. Other women who have had obstetric emergencies have languished in prison in Honduras. If you are such a woman, who do you want to see? A representative of The Center for Reproductive Rights or a Seventh-day Adventist?
  4. The GC remains a misogynist organization. For it to declare that abortion in the case of rape or incest or for the purpose of saving the life of the mother is sin is unspeakably repugnant. The GC man will appear before the throne of judgment and will assert, “I made sure that my conscience is clean. I made life much harder for women, but I wanted to make sure that no one could ever accuse me of facilitating the violation of the Sixth Commandment.” What will God say in response to that?
  5. The first 19 texts in the GC’s statement on abortion that talk about life do not establish that a fetus is a person. These texts were obviously cobbled together from looking at a Bible concordance and searching under the word “life.” In addition, the various texts that speak of God knitting the fetus in the womb, etc., are not intended by the biblical author to suggest that a fetus is a person. Those texts are intended simply to assert God’s love and foreknowledge. It is laughable to suggest that the Sixth Commandment governs the killing of non-persons. What we see in the GC’s statement is the proof-text method of citing the biblical text rather than interpretation of the biblical text. If we care about Scripture, then we need to denounce the GC’s statement on abortion. It is chilling to me that Seventh-day Adventists could so badly misinterpret Scripture.
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Many thanks David Larson for weighting in on this important subject that women must ultimately deal with. The only point that you seem to be making that I question is the statement: “…the Executive committee approved the Statement…and we should accept it…It is better to accept …than keep debating this issue.” I would strongly disagree as a father of three daughters and two step-daughters. Women should be allowed to decide for themselves about abortion without the male dominated SDA church structure deciding for them. Especially victims of rape and incest. To do otherwise is to ignore Christ’s command “Judge not lest ye be judged” in matters so personal to women victims of rape and incest, including by men in the church. If not addressed now, when?

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do 2 sins make a right ?
who invented abortion within the history of medicine ?
philosophy we know Peter Singer the philosophical advocate for suicide and euthanasia
will SDA churches do suicide next ?

abortion is related to the OMEGA

“Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall the children be put to death for their fathers; a person shall be put to death for his own sin.” –Deuteronomy 24:[16]

Do not “do evil that good may come.” –Romans 3:[8]
“The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son… the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.” –God, Ezekiel 18:[20]

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  1. When I say that we ought to “accept” this Statement I do not mean that SDA individuals and institutions are necessarily obliged to abide by it but that we should recognize that it is the best that global Adventism can do at this time and that we should not try to change it. Also, we should be respectful of and grateful to those who worked so hard on it.

  2. The General Conference cannot enforce this Statement or much else on any individual or institution beyond itself. Although this has always been the case, it has become more evident over the last several years.

  3. The wording of the 2019 Statement is more concise than precise. This leaves much room for a wide range of interpretations and applications.

  4. The General Conference can have much power for good throughout the whole of global Adventism and beyond. This can be the power of persuading by precept and example. All other forms of power are weak by comparison.

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Although I appreciate you standing for the right (as you see it) though the heavens fall, there are conscientious people who are not so sure.

Some of us, for on reason or another, have had to face the issue of rape or incest head on. Such cases can shake one’s timbers. Fortunately, I have not had to make the final decision and my sympathy goes out to those who do.

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There tragic situations
Tho without getting into your case

It takes a village to raise a child . So family and church support and may be hospital and ADRA
And for litigation to apprehend the suspect and DNA would help conviction .

There a many things church can do

My point with referring to PETER SINGER
Is that these professions medicine and law have all been influenced by philosophy.
Students don’t just study 1+1=2
There are modules and practices influenced by men

And was thinking regards PETER SINGERS debates
Did JESUS accept pain killers on the cross .

I appreciate David Larson’s effort to find positives in the statement, but I share Phil’s concerns. I especially appreciate the contrast Phil has drawn between the UN Human Rights Committee statement and our trifling GC statement. I fail to understand why our church leaders do not grasp the moral and political consequences of religion backing anti-abortion laws. Phil’s examples from central America highlight those disturbing consequences (though Evelyn Hernandez endured prison in El Salvador rather than Honduras). We have the same thing with religion backing anti-homosexual laws, which has spurred governments to imposie harsh penalties–even death–for those who are guilty of being born with a “different” brain and mindset.

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Grant, it would be nice if the “official position” on this issue could be spelled out better. However, I remind the readers that, “whatever happens at the GC stays at the GC.” What I mean is that whatever is voted by those black suited MEN upstairs" has actually no relevance unless we, the members, validate their their decisions by following them.

They “voted” about abortion. So what? If one’s daughter is raped and becomes pregnant, and they decide in family (+doctors) that there should be an abortion, how can the Church interfere in it? It can’t, because the Church is an entity that has no business dictating into our personal lives. Those people feel as having “great power” over the members. Only if the members allow them to, though.

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Do you have daughters, Simon?

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We, the members, are ultimately the ones that will filter whatever comes from the GC. For me, the GC decisions should be called “opinions” or just “input.” Thus, every person will need to make their own decision about every issue. Positive inputs from the GC will be welcome. But any attempt of meddling with our personal lives is a “no/no,” and can be just discarded as needed. They are nothing but mere “PRN” recommendations.

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I think it’s important to consider that this issue can’t be oversimplified to mere consideration of consequences on select individuals living in a social construct. Abortion is a moral paradox, and it must be considered as one, since there are a number of conflicting moral considerations that are very difficult to resolve without determine which one must take primacy.

Likewise, this debate is rather limited in its scope, since it doesn’t take the broader consideration of who we are, why we are driven to have sex, and why we developed (or given, from some perspective) the layered strategy of sublimating sex by means of societal frameworks.

For example, I really don’t want to go to the bathroom right now, because “I” want to finish this post. But “I” can’t ignore that “I” isn’t really singular in that respect…

Ok, I’m back :slight_smile: but it serves as a good example of “social brain” interacting with our “operational brain”. And operational brain doesn’t really care, or even aware of our social needs. It’s there to ensure our survival in the worst cases of human context, hence sexual reproduction is the only way we get to progress in history.

For me, and most of the people in the past, this realization takes a considerable chunk out of any social considerations, since these are merely layered on top of what we are as humans. We can’t ignore it. Whatever we do as a society is merely a sublimated aspect of that biological function, with sex being only secondary to the desire to survive, which I’m not sure can be separated.

Hence, I’m not really sure that we can adequately discuss this issue from mere positioning of the existing “high-level” societal abstractions that we have today, which structure and link to different fears that have very little to do with our biology. Let’s face it… FOR MOST cases of abortions in the US today, it’s generally the case of how it impacts a mother in a social context as it relates to potential for pain and survival. I don’t want to discard the difficulty of overcoming one’s biological imperative that one has to live with and be reminded of as something that’s always there, but that’s the complex reality of abortion.

And it actually exposes a much deeper issue that relates to certain incompatibility of modern culture as it relates to our biological reality. And that’s really where we , as religious people, fit as a layer that exists between biology and certain “runaway” social norms that can ignore it to the point of our collective breakdown. And we have to assume that responsibility with a much broader perspective than the one we looking at now.

I think we have to mature and see the religion as a function of both understanding who we are as it relates to our “bio-teleology”. And we have to contextualize and ground religious morality in those specific terms, because it’s a rather simple bridge to moral consequentialism that the world adopted as operational standard.

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george
why don’t we have articles where a victim and the baby survived and there was a positive outcome ?

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I expect because no one has found such people to interview and then had the motivation to write an article. Maybe you do?

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I fail to see how that question is at all relevant. In each of these terrible scenarios there will be occasions where there is a positive outcome. But to suggest that this should in any way dictate a course of action for all women who have been victim of such violence is a non argument.

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That’s way too logical. Unfortunately you’ll likely get nowhere trying to discuss this with finesse, facts, or logic.

tim your being critical with me for voicing a alternative viewpoint to yours
tho did article by DAVID interview anyone
or just upload a image from GETTYIMAGES.COM

Simon, this was a very strange answer to my question. I asked if you have daughters. How is your question related to my question?

So, again, do you have daughters?>

Regarding rticles on Spectrum, you have to ask Spectrum’s @webEd since I do not work at Spectrum - thus I am unable to answer your question.

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