Quakers & the End of Abortion Rights: A Very Mixed Bag

Some liberal pundits are predicting a tidal wave of backlash against the leaked SCOTUS decision to reverse Roe & Casey, the decisions that have made abortion a right since 1973, forty-nine years ago. (The full text of the draft decision is here.)

I’ve written that, while a Roe supporter, I’m not at all sure any such tidal wave is certain, or even likely.

Let me add here that this uncertainty seems to apply just as much to U. S. Quakers.

Why?  In sum, because

A. Americans (Quakers too) are exhausted by years of crises, from an attempted (& ongoing) coup begun at the capitol, a continuing pandemic (case numbers are rising again, fast), a new, not-exactly Cold War/World War 3, inflation, and more.

B. Americans, even American women, are and long have been divided on the issue. Furthermore the pro-Roe supporters have long been out-campaigned by the anti-abortion side. Again, Quakers too.

This last is not just my opinion. The leftist journal Dissent put it bluntly and well in 2019:

The American right is winning the battle over abortion rights. In fact, they have been winning for a long time. Since the late 1970s, conservatives have worked to build a well-funded, militant anti-abortion movement that that includes white nationalists, religious extremists, and pro-life feminists. Now, the end of the legal right to abortion appears terrifyingly imminent.

(More on my own ambivalence about a great backlash here.)

I’d be happy for Dissent and I to be wrong and the prophets of political tsunami proven right; but the evidence for it isn’t there now, and I’m not in the “wish-casting” business.

Besides, an informal survey of public Quaker sources only reinforced this impression.

Because the issue has been in hot contention for so long, I turned to online Quaker books of Faith & Practice to quickly gather some data. That’s where Friends supposedly tell each other & the world what they/we believe & stand for. These books did not disappoint.

One end of the spectrum was quite clear: the Evangelical Friends Church-Eastern Region, based in deep-red Canton, Ohio, put it plainly in their2021  Faith & Practice (or F&P):

252 Abortion

a. Evangelical Friends believe that all life is a gift of God. We seek to recognize and preserve the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death, and thus, are opposed to the use of induced abortion. We must do all we can to preserve both the mother and the child’s life.

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

Next door in Indiana, the Indiana Yearly Meeting 2018 F&P was close in sentiment as well as geography and theology:

Sanctity of Life
Indiana Yearly Meeting believes that human life is a sacred gift from God, lasting from the point of conception to the moment of death, and beyond into the afterlife. As such, we hold that abortion and euthanasia are incompatible with our beliefs. We encourage Friends to seek God’s will in measures that protect and advance life.

There are others like that. Looking for the other side, I checked Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, once the largest and most influential U. S. Quaker body, and supposedly a liberal bastion.

But its F&P told a very different, quite concise story:

Personal Relationships
“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 and to support one another in avoiding situations that contribute to the need for abortion.” (Emphasis added.)

So. Make what you can out of that. I looked next to Baltimore Yearly Meeting, a growing and lively liberal body (and one even older than Philadelphia). But its F&P yielded no mention of “abortion” at all, and only one very oblique allusion:

BYM, from “Home Life”, F&P, 2020 revision:

Friends should take responsibility for family planning, which may sometimes include adoption or provision of foster care. When the number of children exceeds the financial, physical and even spiritual capacity of the parents, a hardship is worked on all involved. Thoughtful decisions either to have or not to have children should be accepted and supported by the Meeting.

But maybe, I thought, the groups in the west were more progressive. Yet on this matter, no West Coast liberal F&P (I checked four) yielded a single  mention of the word, pro, con or middle.

Overall, that is, in none of the “liberal” Quaker handbooks I was able to locate, was there any affirmative “pro-Roe” statement whatever.

Now, this “survey” was admittedly of the “quick & dirty” variety rather than a careful comprehensive study. For one thing, yearly meetings often write “minutes” that take positions in the moment, and many such are in the annual meeting records, but don’t make it into the F&P.

I did find one such on the Baltimore Yearly Meeting site, in a list of “Important Minutes” since the 1970s, opposing a proposed anti-abortion constitutional amendment in Congress. The minute was adopted in 1979.

Yet despite this sample’s limitations, I believe it is reasonably representative. And the unequivocal statements are on the anti- side, while the liberals 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?)

What is definitely not there is any sign of a backlash earthquake, tidal wave, or the steady and widening stream that, say, abolitionism (or later, temperance) long carried Quaker commitment and action.

Perhaps my old eyes are missing something here. Yet  think I know U. S. Friends reasonably well. And the only movement currently on the radar would seem to be among those ready to join justice Alito’s victory dance, as the pages of Roe & Casey flicker and rise as orange-black ashes from a bonfire, swaying to the rhythmic slamming of doors and clicking of locks as clinics are closed in twenty-five, or is it twenty-six? states, with more soon to follow.

Meantime, maybe I’ll just sit back, pull down the shades, and start another reading of The Handmaid’s Tale.

After all, it’s just a novel. And there are Quakers in it too.

8 thoughts on “Quakers & the End of Abortion Rights: A Very Mixed Bag”

  1. As usual, liberal Friends are namby-pamby, and the right wing Friends are fundamentalist Christian Republicans in gray drag. Oddly enough, the bible is bluntly pro abortion in several places, including specifying that life begins not at conception, but when the first breath is taken.
    The DNA of antiabortion arguments flows from these foetid swamps of male hetero supremacy. https://jezebel.com/supreme-court-roe-v-wade-draft-cites-sir-matthew-hale-1848872890

  2. If life begins at conception then God is the most prolific abortionist. Do we wish to cast God in that role? For me, I understand that the focus on the zygote/embryo/fetus is inimical to valuing the woman involved. Contrarily(? is it contrary?), during childbirth we value the life of the woman over life of the baby. (Except for the Roman Catholic hospital of my childhood.) Because it is a sticky issue the simplistic answer allows one to neatly avoid issues. (Inckluding the issue of valuing the woman.)

  3. Let those who are against abortion not have one! Trust women! Who is supposed to raise all the unwanted children? Bodily autonomy should be an inviolable right! Access to safe and legal abortion is a basic human right!

  4. I agree with you that Quakers have mixed feelings about abortion. That’s why the Friends Committee on National Legislation is explicitly neutral on the issue. But I’m hopeful that this will galvanize those on the political Left. Ever since Roe, the Right has been able to organize against “murdering babies” while the Left has been protecting a freedom they’ve taken for granted. Now that it is really, truly under threat reproductive rights may rise to the top of many people’s list of issues by which they evaluate political candidates.

  5. 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 proposed or 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 truth is that the radical right is passing laws for the genocide of women (except of course the few earthen vessels they will keep around to rape and force births.) The fact that Quakers are blind to this or simply haven’t paid attention enough to know this is quite disturbing. Though from what I’ve observed Quakers like to brag about Alice Paul but have had little interest in women’s rights since 1923. Quakers also have a dubious record when it comes to domestic violence and child sexual assault committed by Friends.

    The other important aspect of this that you’ve likely heard by now is that many see criminalizing abortion as Step One in the authoritarian takeover being attempted in the United States 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 the silence.

    I believe the radical right has underestimated women the same way Putin underestimated Ukrainians. (and so has Meagan McArdle). We will prevail, especially now that many men are finally ready to get on board to protect abortion access.

    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 to get involved. Thanks in advance.

  6. To decide to have an abortion performed is a very private matter and it is for the woman to decide in conjunction with the medical profession. It does not need the church to make statements in support of abortion. But if those who are against women having the right to have an abortion and to have access to abortion prevent woman form accessing the procedure, then woman will need to have all the support they can get to keep this right. This includes the churches. Quakers who support woman’s right to abortion should clearly state their support. There are many reasons that a woman may seek an abortion. And the timing of an abortion determines what procedure is needed. It is not simple or black and white. Women need autonomy over their own reproductive rights.

  7. You ay want to have a look at YM of the RSOfFriends (Quakers) in Britain’s Quaker Faith and Practice : “Difficult decisions in pregnancy”

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