Recently, the United Methodist Women (UMW), the official organization for women within the United Methodist Church (UMC), published a statement in response to anti-abortion measures signed into law in Alabama and other states. The May 17 article title states that United Methodist Women are “[decrying] the attack on women’s reproductive health.” This is a bold statement because while the UMW was once a large organization that spoke for women in the church, a dramatic decline in numbers means that they cannot speak for the majority of women within the UMC anymore.
The UMW was once one of the largest women’s organizations and wielded significant influence within the UMC. IRD has tracked the group’s rapid decline and revealed how its progressive agenda has “needlessly alienated so many of the women of the church.”
According to the report on gender in the UMC in 2017, there were just under 4 million U.S. women in the UMC. According to previous IRD articles on the UMW, the organization now has fewer than 800,000 members, which is only a fraction of what they once were and is an even smaller fraction of the total number of women in the UMC.
Not only are the UMW’s declining numbers a problem for their statement against the abortion laws, but they also selectively cherry-pick specific phrases from the United Methodist Book of Discipline that show only one side to the issue. Language in the Discipline shows a nuanced position on abortion and does state that abortion can be prayerfully considered in very specific circumstances, but the position that is mostly emphasized is pro-life. The church declares that it wants to decrease abortions and save the life of the unborn child. “Our belief in the sanctity of unborn human life makes us reluctant to approve abortion. But we are equally bound to respect the sacredness of the life and well-being of the mother and the unborn child” (Book of Discipline, 161).
The UMC General Conference has increasingly made decisions in a pro-life direction. In 2016, the church dropped its endorsement for Roe v Wade and disaffiliated with the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC), major steps towards affirming a stance critical of abortion-on-demand. The UMC also writes that “We cannot affirm abortion as an acceptable means of birth control, and we unconditionally reject it as a means of gender selection or eugenics.” These actions from General Conference written in the Book of Discipline cannot be ignored, as the General Conference (uniquely among denominational bodies) can speak for the entire denomination.
Although the UMW statement claims that their beliefs are in line with the UMC, they only cite short sections from the Book of Discipline that align with their argument against state-level anti-abortion measures that have been passed into law. Their selective quotes do not encompass the true tone of what the UMC General Conference expresses. The Book of Discipline also states, “We mourn and are committed to promoting the diminishment of high abortion rates. The Church shall encourage ministries to reduce unintended pregnancies such as comprehensive, age-appropriate sexuality education, advocacy in regard to contraception, and support of initiatives that enhance the quality of life for all women and girls around the globe.” This desire to see a decrease in abortions and support women who are struggling with pregnancy or parenthood is strongly emphasized in the UMC.