This social teaching statement was adopted by a more than two-thirds majority vote at the second biennial Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, meeting in Orlando, Florida, August 28 – September 4, 1991.
IV. Guidance in Making Decisions Regarding Unintended Pregnancies
A. Continuing the Pregnancy
Because of the Christian presumption to preserve and protect life, this church, in most circumstances, encourages women with unintended pregnancies to continue the pregnancy. Faith and trust in God’s promises has the power to sustain people in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. In each set of circumstances, there must also be a realistic assessment of what will be necessary to bear, nurture, and provide for children over the long-term, and what resources are available or need to be provided for this purpose. The needs of children are a constant. The parenting arrangements through which these needs are met may vary. If it is not possible for both parents to raise the child, this might be done by one parent, by the extended family, or by foster or adoptive parents.
This church encourages and seeks to support adoption as a positive option to abortion. Because adoption is an increasingly more open process today, it generally is easier for birth parents to have a role in selecting the adoptive parents and in maintaining some contact with the child. These possibilities can be helpful in the grieving process that is likely to occur when birth parent(s) choose to place the child for adoption after having bonded with the child during pregnancy. Care needs to be taken in selecting adoption processes that do not exploit but safeguard the welfare of all parties involved. At the same time, we recognize that there are unintended pregnancies for which adoption is not an acceptable option.
We encourage and seek to make it possible for people of diverse cultural and racial backgrounds and with limited financial means to adopt children. We encourage those who contemplate adopting to consider adopting children with special needs. Mothers and fathers choosing to place their children for adoption should be affirmed and supported in view of society’s prejudices against such decisions.
B. Ending a Pregnancy
This church recognizes that there can be sound reasons for ending a pregnancy through induced abortion. The following provides guidance for those considering such a decision. We recognize that conscientious decisions need to be made in relation to difficult circumstances that vary greatly. What is determined to be a morally responsible decision in one situation may not be in another.
In reflecting ethically on what should be done in the case of an unintended pregnancy, consideration should be given to the status and condition of the life in the womb. We also need to consider the conditions under which the pregnancy occurred and the implications of the pregnancy for the woman’s life.
An abortion is morally responsible in those cases in which continuation of a pregnancy presents a clear threat to the physical life of the woman.
A woman should not be morally obligated to carry the resulting pregnancy to term if the pregnancy occurs when both parties do not participate willingly in sexual intercourse. This is especially true in cases of rape and incest. This can also be the case in some situations in which women are so dominated and oppressed that they have no choice regarding sexual intercourse and little access to contraceptives. Some conceptions occur under dehumanizing conditions that are contrary to God’s purposes.
There are circumstances of extreme fetal abnormality, which will result in severe suffering and very early death of an infant. In such cases, after competent medical consultations, the parent(s) may responsibly choose to terminate the pregnancy. Whether they choose to continue or to end such pregnancies, this church supports the parent(s) with compassion, recognizing the struggle involved in the decision.
Although abortion raises significant moral issues at any stage of fetal development, the closer the life in the womb comes to full term the more serious such issues become. When a child can survive outside a womb, it becomes possible for other people, and not only the mother, to nourish and care for the child. This church opposes ending intrauterine life when a fetus is developed enough to live outside a uterus with the aid of reasonable and necessary technology. If a pregnancy needs to be interrupted after this point, every reasonable and necessary effort should be made to support this life, unless there are lethal fetal abnormalities indicating that the prospective newborn will die very soon.
Our biblical and confessional commitments provide the basis for us to continue deliberating together on the moral issues related to these decisions. We have the responsibility to make the best possible decisions in light of the information available to us and our sense of accountability to God, neighbor, and self. In these decisions, we must ultimately rely on the grace of God.