In a statement intended to "get beyond" the current polarization of the abortion debate, the 5.2 million-member Evangelical Lutheran Church said yesterday that abortion could be a morally responsible choice in some situations.
Approved 905-70 by the denomination's Churchwide Assembly, the church acknowledged in its first statement on abortion that it was deeply divided over the issue.
The statement opposes laws prohibiting abortion or barring public financing of abortions for low-income women in cases involving a clear threat to a woman's life, extreme abnormalities of the fetus, rape and incest.
But the statement took no position on other possible legal restrictions on access to abortion.
"Human life in all phases of its development is God-given and, therefore, has intrinsic value," the statement said. "The strong Christian presumption is to preserve and protect life. Abortion ought to be an option only of last resort."
Like the Roman Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the nation's second-largest Lutheran group, opposes virtually all abortions.
Mainline Protestant churches, including the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the United Methodist Church, consider abortion a morally serious issue and urge women to seek church guidance, but they have supported broad legal access to abortion.
Monday, the Lutheran Churchwide Assembly, meeting in Orlando, Fla., rejected a statement condemning all abortions except those to save a mother's life and also voted down an amendment declaring that "human life begins at conception."
The statement includes a strong plea for church members to continue serious deliberation over their moral differences and to "move beyond the usual 'pro-life' versus 'pro-choice' language."