Church and Society’s Winkler Defends Being “Prayerfully Pro-Choice”

on February 11, 2008

United Methodist General Board of Church and Society’s Jim Winkler defended his agency’s affirmation of abortion rights during a late January interview.   Although not addressing the substance of pro-life arguments, he did express frustration at the “gross mischaracterization” of pro-choice individuals as “baby-killers.” Winkler contended that it was “just not the case” that an individual who “support[s] the legal option of abortion under any circumstances… [is] just simply a baby-killer.”

General Board of Church and Society General Secretary Jim Winkler described the United Methodist position on abortion as “prayerfully pro-choice.” (Photo courtesy UMNS)

The General Board of Church and Society is United Methodism’s official lobby office on Capitol Hill inWashington,DC.

Speaking of the church’s Social Principles, Winkler remarked, “I think our denomination’s position can be referred to as prayerfully pro-choice, and not abortion-on-demand.” His comments came during an interview with blogger and “consistent life ethic” proponent, Jonathan Marlowe, at a recent Lake Junaluska peace conference.

“We believe that the efforts that we’ve been involved in have been about abortion prevention,” Winkler insisted about his agency, “which often have to do with, as you know, healthcare, with education, with sex education, and a provision of contraceptives to children—to teens and young adults, so on and so forth.” Winkler claimed that his agency’s policies have contributed to the declining rate of abortion inAmerica. 

Winkler described his agency’s perspective on abortion. “We’ve never ever felt that it was support for abortion on demand,” he said. “And if you look at the Social Principles, we say there that abortion should not be used for gender selection, for means of birth control, and there’s a number of other phrases in there that I think are very, very serious.” Winkler worried that “sometimes the debate gets so heated that people don’t want to make those distinctions.”

Describing “gross mischaracterizations on the other side,” Winkler cited stereotypes about people who are “not pro-choice” that portrayed them as hostile to women or “wanting to reinforce a patriarchal society.” He said that “even at the Board of Church and Society I learn about stereotypes that people have of me every day that I am stunned by.”

Winkler said: “There’s plenty of room in the middle for people who may have some differences to work together to eliminate some of the root causes that lead to abortion, like poverty, healthcare, childcare.”

The defense of abortion rights by Winkler’s agency has long been controversial.   In January, United Methodism’s unofficial pro-life caucus hosted a speech by North Alabama Bishop William Willimon, in which he called abortion a “sin.” Winkler’s colleague, Linda Bales, objected to Willimon characterization of abortion, complaining that the term might add to the guilt of some women considering abortion.

Winkler’s agency actively lobbies to remove the “Mexico Citypolicy,” first instituted by President Reagan, which money from funding groups that promote and perform abortions in other countries. In his interview, Winkler called theMexico Citypolicy a “gag rule” and explained that his agency opposes it because “a lot of these programs are not providing abortion.” Unfortunately, the interview ended abruptly before he could continue his clarification of GBCS’ reason for objecting to the policy.

GBCS’ website offers insight where Winkler’s comments ended. According to the agency’s 2007 statement entitled,House Victory on Family Planning Expansion”:

GBCS has consistently opposed the Mexico City policy believing that it represents a double standard since U.S.-based organizations are not held to the same scrutiny and in some parts of the world, clinics that provide abortion information and services might be the only health institution in the area.

Many in the pro-life camp credit theMexico Citypolicy for the prevention of exporting they call the “culture of death” that permits the performance of abortion domestically for as little reason as a child’s inconvenience to the mother.

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