Abortion, a recurring issue at Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assemblies, was one of the matters before the Assembly’s Social Justice Issues Committee.
An overture from the Presbytery of South Alabama related to abortion drew more speakers during the open hearings session than any other matter of business before the committee. Yet after a short discussion, the committee voted 50 to 17 to disapprove the measure. A motion later in the day to reconsider also was defeated.
The overture called for appointment of a special committee to review PC(USA) policies on abortion and propose new policies if needed. It also urged a two-year churchwide “season of reflection” on the plight of unwanted children, “both born and not-yet-born.”
Opponents of the overture argued that a new study of abortion is not needed and would take money away from higher priority activities. Several committee members who voted against disapproval are seeking to bring a minority report to the Assembly when the matter comes up in plenary later this week.
The committee approved unanimously an amended overture from the Synod of the Covenant, calling for a study of end-of-life issues. The overture was amended to add pastors and theologians to the “team of Presbyterian ethicists and physicians” who would conduct the study. After debating which PC(USA) entity should convene the study team, the committee amended the overture to specify that the Presbyterian Mission Agency would convene the team, which would conduct the study in consultation with the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy.
A paper from the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy offering recommendations seeking a fairer tax system in the United States was approved by a vote of 47 to 12. The paper is titled “Tax Justice: A Christian Response to a New Gilded Age.”
Debra Davies, a commissioner from the Presbytery of Maumee Valley who has worked as a certified public accountant, praised the document, saying it presents “a huge opportunity for this Assembly to witness to economic justice.”
The committee voted to recommend referral of a commissioners’ resolution from two commissioners from the presbyteries of San Juan and Suroeste in Puerto Rico seeking the release of Oscar Lopez Rivera, a political prisoner from Puerto Rico who has been in prison for 33 years. The referral asks the Presbyterian Mission Agency and the Stated Clerk to gather more information about the case and take appropriate action.
The committee also recommended for Assembly approval
- an overture from the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta calling for a national moratorium on the death penalty,
- an amended overture from the Presbytery of Santa Fe urging the church to support financial and political reforms of the U.S. political and financial sector, including campaign finance reform,
- an overture from the Presbytery of San Francisco calling for a church wide study to discern how to advocate for more effective drug policies in the United States,
- a commissioners’ resolution encouraging presbyteries and denominational agencies to adopt parental leave policies with minimum terms of six weeks at 100 percent of prorated annual salary and full housing allowance,
- a commissioners’ resolution seeking support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons in 81 countries where homosexuality is illegal, and
- a resolution from the Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns proposing actions to counter a “new wave of voter suppression” it says is disproportionately affecting racial ethnic communities following the June 2013 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court nullifying a core provision of the Voting Rights Act.
Most of the committee’s approvals were by 75 percent or more, and will be placed on a consent agenda that will open Wednesday's plenary session and be dealt with in a block of other proposals from Assembly committees. However, committee leaders have requested that the actions on gun violence taken Monday not be placed on the consent agenda in order to allow debate on potentially controversial issues.