Is the Quaker Lack of Unity About Abortion in Conflict with Equality?

On June 28, 2022, Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) published this statement on abortion:

It states that “Quakers have not found unity on the issue of abortion.”

It goes on to explain the differing positions of Friends. The sentence below describes Quakers who take issue with abortion:

“Other Friends feel their commitment to nonviolence and honoring the Light of God in all human beings requires them to limit abortion options or oppose it outright.”

To that statement I respond: Friends who feel required “to limit abortion options or oppose it outright” are free to make the choice to not have one. Since similar statements have been made about gay marriage in a sarcastic manner, let me clarify that I am not being flippant.

My response is sincere and I also ask: Or does that mean that those Friends get to dictate to other human beings what we can and can’t do with our bodies?

I see significant problems with the FCNL statement published by General Secretary, Bridget Moix. I will respectfully explain what I see.

The FCNL statement displays a lack of knowledge, which is presumably why it simplifies an extremely complex issue and therefore misses several significant aspects.

I will elaborate on this analysis but first, let me say that I think FCNL’s statement is fairly representative of the Quaker community as a whole. Therefore, what I express in this essay is directed not only to FCNL but to all Friends in the United States and worldwide.

No Unity? No Position?

Friends Committee on National Legislation identifies abortion as a “challenge issue,” because they don’t all agree (what Quakers refer to as “having unity” on an issue). They, therefore, “don’t take a position on abortion.”

That means FCNL says nothing and does nothing related to reproductive rights. In my book, that is taking a position — it’s passivity that defaults to opposition.

I can’t help but think of the famous quote (revised):

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of oppression is for good Quakers to do nothing.”

As soon as Roe was overturned by the Supreme Court many state laws reverted to the original laws. Others are quickly being changed by legislators, women are being criminalized, hunted, and arrested. Not taking a position is equivalent to ignoring the horrendous struggles of over half of the population.

This extremely significant aspect of the lives of women is essentially being ignored by Quakers. I explain below why this is so significant.

What About Equality?

Quakers have valued and worked for the issue of equality for centuries, yet don’t seem to have unity on equality for women. If they did they would understand that true equality means full autonomy over one’s body and their position would be one of belief in choice for an individual (and not the business of anyone else).

I can’t imagine Quakers accepting any law that controlled the bodies of men.

If Friends are not willing to state that women have the right to bodily autonomy, I don’t see how they can claim commitment to equality.

My meeting wrote a Letter to the Editor that held all those impacted by the overturning of Roe in prayer and supporting women’s control of our bodies. It’s likely that other Quaker meetings did so as well, but the fact that Quaker Yearly Meetings have not written a minute expressing a commitment to choice is deeply disappointing and quite telling.

I can only interpret their silence as non-support and anti-abortion by default.

The author of the FCNL statement continues, revealing the second flaw,
“We mourn the inability of our country to find a collective way forward that respects differing religious and moral values, reduces suffering and division, and upholds the promise of a pluralistic, democratic society.”

This statement implies that abortion is a moral or a religious issue. Similar to what I stated above if it’s a moral or religious issue for an individual and they find themselves with an unexpected pregnancy they can choose to carry the pregnancy to term and if there are no complications, give birth to a baby.

The statement also reveals Friends’ limited understanding of the issue. The only thing we know for sure is that abortion is a medical and healthcare issue.

If Friends made it a priority to learn more about issues that impact women and others with a uterus, I believe their eyes would be opened to the complexity of abortion care. I believe they would be stunned by the wide range of medical aspects, the complexity of decisions that require medical training, and the precision procedures performed by healthcare providers who specialize in reproductive care.

I believe that new knowledge would change the minds of many Friends who would realize that the issue is far more complicated than they knew.

My own recent increased awareness and deeper understanding of abortion gave me this clarity. If I wasn’t fully informed, I doubt that most other people are (including Friends). Hence the misguided notion that any of us have the right to judge the issue one way or another.

A few years ago when I first saw the “Abortion is Healthcare” sign, I cringed a bit and didn’t think that I agreed — but that was because of my ignorance. I was unaware of the healthcare aspects and made an assumption about the meaning of that statement — but I was wrong.

Once I listened to healthcare providers and learned about the numerous physical and medical aspects that fall under the umbrella medical term of “abortion,” I understood and supported the statement.

Abortion IS Healthcare

What I didn’t know until recently is that “abortion” includes a range of medical procedures such as surgically removing a life-threatening ectopic pregnancy, and performing a medical intervention with an incomplete miscarriage needed to prevent sepsis that can kill the mother.

The medical procedure referred to as a “D&C” is considered an “abortion” and is therefore now illegal in many states. In some states, the doctor can be imprisoned for performing any procedure that removes a dead fetus even when it threatens the life of the person carrying it. If the doctor denies that care it can result in the death of the pregnant person.

Pregnancy is far more complicated and dangerous than most people know, and no lay person, clergy or lawmaker could possibly have the required expertise to make pregnancy-related decisions.

With my deeper understanding, I realized that any decision about abortion is a medical decision and can only be made by the pregnant person and their doctor.

There is no place for moral or religious beliefs related to abortion except for the individual who finds themself with an unexpected pregnancy. They are the only person with the right to consider those aspects. They are the only person who can make a decision about continuing or terminating a pregnancy. Even when they decide one way or another based on their religious or moral beliefs, their doctor may tell them that their decision, either way, will put their own life at risk. Then again, only they can decide if they wish to proceed despite the risk.

Friend Chuck Fager publishes an intriguing blog about Quakerism. I found his May 3, 2022 piece on Quakers and abortion to also miss the mark but in a different way.

Fager claims

“…even American women, are and long have been divided on the issue.”

I disagree that women or our country are divided on the right to choose, and so do the polls. Yes, there are those who oppose reproductive choice but most of them are louder than they are committed to “life.”

For decades, so-called “pro-life” people have committed violence, harassment, destruction of property, and even murder in the name of their cause. What’s most telling is that when asked what they’ll do now that they no longer need to protest at clinics, many stated they will work to ban birth control and end gay marriage.

The myth that we are divided was recently disproven in Kansas with a shockingly large and bipartisan vote to keep abortion legal in the red state.

Fager quotes Evangelical Friends,

“We recommend that our members become informed about the abortion issue and become actively involved in the protection of life…we encourage ministries like the promotion of adoption, involvement in care for expectant mothers, outreach to women who have had abortions…and the support of appropriate legislation to guarantee protection of life under law to unborn children.”

If Evangelical Friends had truly “become informed” about abortion they would comprehend the complexity and I have to assume they would understand that as religious people they do not have the medical expertise to make decisions about abortion.

Photo by Gayatri Malhotra on Unsplash

Fager quotes the “supposedly liberal bastion” — Philadelphia Yearly Meeting,

“Friends approve the concept of family planning, including adoption. We are in unity about the value of human life, but not about abortion. We are urged to seek the guidance of the Spirit when dealing with an unintended pregnancy…” (Emphasis added)

Fager goes on to report,

“Yet on this matter, no West Coast liberal F&P (I checked four) yielded a single mention of the word, pro, con or middle…in none of the “liberal” Quaker handbooks…was there any affirmative “pro-Roe” statement whatever.”

However, he also shared that on Baltimore Yearly Meeting’s website, he found a minute adopted in 1979 that opposed a proposed anti-abortion constitutional amendment. That’s one Yearly Meeting that we know of that supports reproductive choice.

Chuck Fager seems convinced that the majority of Friends are anti-abortion and at least some may be “ready to join Justice Alito’s victory dance.”

FYI — “Justice Alito’s leaked opinion cites Sir Matthew Hale, a 17th-century jurist who conceived the notion that husbands can’t be prosecuted for raping their wives, who sentenced women to death as “witches,” and whose misogyny stood out even in his time.”ProPublica May 6, 2022 — What Quakers want to be associated with that kind of guy?

Fager continues, that the more liberal Friends,

“are either not in unity, or are observing a studied silence. (What does this very widespread silence indicate — indifference? An impasse among conflicting views? A decadent complacency that regards Roe as safely untouchable under the benevolent eye of Good Old Uncle SCOTUS? Or all of the above?)”

I left this comment on Fager's blog,

“I’m surprised Chuck, that you don’t see that SCOTUS striking down Roe is not about abortion. It’s about contempt for women and an attempt to control us. The misogyny is loud and clear in the state abortion laws passed that have no exceptions. This means a 12-year-old girl raped by her father must carry the pregnancy to term, probably while still living with her perpetrator who has no motivation to stop raping her. This also means that with an ectopic pregnancy the woman has a choice of prison or death.

The fact that Quakers are blind to this or simply haven’t paid attention enough to know this is quite disturbing. The other important aspect that you’ve likely heard by now is that many see criminalizing abortion as Step One in the authoritarian takeover being attempted in the U.S. at this time. I’ve been waiting for years for Quakers to recognize this and address it. I’m still waiting and have no idea why the blindness and silence.

I believe the radical right has underestimated women the same way Putin underestimated Ukrainians…I hope you will reconsider your privileged passivity of “I’ll just sit back, pull down the shades, and start another reading of The Handmaid’s Tale.” because women need you and U.S. democracy needs you. Thanks in advance.”

The Recent State Laws Are Cruel and Misogynist

Are Quakers aware of the cruel state laws being passed that criminalize women seeking reproductive healthcare and the doctors who treat them? In those states, every miscarriage is suspect. Those who have experienced the trauma of a miscarriage now have the fear of being arrested and imprisoned if they cannot prove that they did not terminate their pregnancy on purpose.

Surely Friends are aware of the well-publicized $10,000 bounty in Texas. The abortion ban law promotes vigilante enforcement allowing anyone to sue a doctor who provides abortion care and anyone who assists the process (funding, driving, etc). The person suing can receive a $10,000 reward.

Why are Quakers not protesting these cruel laws that are intended to subjugate women and transgender people? How can Friends stay silent as half the population is being systematically disempowered and abused?

I am baffled and heartbroken.

The End of All Equality?

It’s not a stretch to acknowledge that the overturning of Roe and the cruel anti-abortion laws are part of a larger right-wing extremist movement. Fascism is on the rise and democracy in the United States is under threat. Extremist justices on the Supreme Court have made their agenda clear. At least one justice has publicly proclaimed the intention to take away other rights.

Will Quakers Educate Themselves About Abortion Like With Racism?

As Friends, we have eagerly studied racism and white privilege in an effort to address that form of inequality. Will we do the same in regard to abortion care and choice for women and everyone who can get pregnant?

Will Quakers Stand Up for Women Like We Stand Up for the Earth?

Can we find the compassion and commitment to stand up against the oppression and control of women (and of all who can get pregnant) the way we have for the earth?

When FCNL posted their abortion statement on Facebook on June 28, 2022, they received two comments from women who weren’t having it with the “FCNL does not take a position on abortion.”

Indeed it is time for Friends to take a fresh look at the complex issue of reproductive healthcare:

Will Quakers Stand Up for Equality, Peace, and Freedom?

This is not political. It’s about equality. It’s about peace. It’s about freedom.

Will Friends take action? Or will we wait and later offer relief efforts?

Or might we become fully informed, then ask “How am I being led?”

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Christine Green

Christine Green

Relational & Procedural Skills Coach. Web Design. Unbridled perspectives on almost everything. https://christinegreen.com/coaching/