Women Clergy Lead Reproductive Rights and Religion Discussion
“I so feel strongly that in the Christian tradition the extremists have the floor and have the voice. So I thank you for the opportunity to speak from a more mainstream position,” said the Rev. Rony Veska from the First United Methodist Church of Ferndale
Reproductive rights, including abortion, were the center of a interfaith discussion “Dispelling Myths: Women, Reproductive Rights and Religion” on Wednesday in Southfield.
The forum was presented by the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, the Detroit section of the National Council of Jewish Women, Oakland County chapter of the National Organization for women, and Planned Parenthood Affiliates of Michigan.
Leading the discussion was the Rev. Rony Veska of the First United Methodist Church of Ferndale with Rabbi Marla Hornsten of Temple Israel in West Bloomfield.
Rev. Veska welcomed the opportunity to present her church’s position on reproductive rights.
“I so feel strongly that in the Christian tradition the extremists have the floor and have the voice. So I thank you for the opportunity to speak from a more mainstream position,” Rev. Veska said. She emphasized that as a public representative of the church she must present its official social disciplines, but acknowledged that on a personal level, there is room for differences of opinion among individuals.
The discussion revealed that both Judaism and Christianity have an inner reproductive rights continuum that ranges from conservative to moderate to liberal.
As a reformed rabbi, Hornsten views Jewish laws as a directive. She advocates making an “informed choice,” where individuals are free to make their own decisions based on knowledge of the law.
She says Judaism’s approach to abortion is “fairly moderate.”
According to the Talmud, during the first 40 days after conception the fetus is viewed as “mere water.” That opens a window for early-term abortion, Hornsten said. Further, there is no prejudice against a woman who terminates a pregnancy.
“Jewish law requires abortion in some circumstances and permits it in others,” she said.
Abortion is sanctioned in cases of rape or incest, but it is not sanctioned as a form of birth control.
In other circumstances, such as a difficult birth, the life of the mother takes precedence over the fetus'.
“Specifically, Jewish law requires abortion when the woman’s life or health, both physical or mental, is threatened by the pregnancy and permits abortion when the risk to the woman’s health, both physical or mental, is greater than that of a normal pregnancy,” Rabbi Hornsten said.
“A fetus does not attain personhood until the head emerges from the body or, in the case of a breach birth, until the majority of the body,“ she said. "Personhood has nothing to do with conception, fetal movement or other gestational stages."
Rev. Veska says that the United Methodist Church’s views have a lot in common with reformed Judaism. The church’s social principles, which are not legally binding, are intended to be instructive and individuals are free to make their own choices.
The social principles, contained in the church’s book of discipline, are an important part of the denomination.
“We don’t just go to the Bible. We look at the tradition of the church. We look at reason, especially science. And we also look at experience, (both) of the church and our personal experience,” Rev. Veska said.
In relation to abortion, she describes the church as “a huge umbrella organization” where views range from extremely liberal, to moderate, to extremely conservative.
She “feels good” about the church’s official statement which says:
“We believe in the sanctity of human life, which 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. We recognize tragic conflict of life with life that may justify abortion. And in such cases, we support the legal option of abortion under proper medical procedures.
“We cannot affirm abortion as an acceptable form of birth control and we unconditionally reject it as a means of gender selection. We opposed the use late term abortion, known as dilation and extraction, partial birth abortion, and call for the end of this practice except when the life of the mother is in danger and no other medical procedure is available or in the case of severe fetal anomalies incompatible with life.”
Birth control is a non-issue within the church. The number of children to have in a family is a family decision, Rev.Veska said.
There is also no decision about when life begins and when it ends.
“Life is given by God, life is taken by God,” she said.
Rev. Veska and Rabbi Hornsten both agree on the seriousness and difficulty involved in an abortion decision.
It deserves “thoughtful and prayerful consideration,” said Rev. Veska. “There is no way to make a law that addresses all circumstances and people should be allowed to make their own choices.”