When I was in college, I seriously pondered the question of abortion for the first time. A friend of mine, also a student, got married during a vacation between school terms, and before long she realized she had become pregnant on her honeymoon. She wanted to finish college, and the pregnancy threw her into a personal crisis. To her credit, she did not consider aborting her baby, but I found myself thinking about what I would do if I were her.
I vividly remember looking at her during band rehearsal and thinking, “Why would she not abort? I would!” As a loyal and well-taught Adventist, I “knew” that a fetus was an unviable mass of tissue, at least until the third trimester or, at the earliest, the late second trimester. A human embryo, I believed, was similar to an unborn kitten; it was technically “alive”, but as long as it could not survive independently, it was not truly living. Only when a body could breathe and stay alive on its own was it a real being that should not be aborted.
Years later, I began to realize that humans were far different from kittens. We are made in the image of God—a fact that meant He made us with physical bodies and immaterial spirits that can know God who is spirit (Jn. 4:24). Even more amazing, God the Son, who is spirit, took a human body in a singular act of identity with His creations. Forever our Lord Jesus is our Substitute, our Head, and the Firstborn of many brothers.
One day in 2003 I was revisiting the subject of abortion from the perspective of having a biblical understanding of the nature of man, and with tears I repented before my true Father and asked Him to forgive me for having held such a low view of human life. Aborted babies are not like kittens; they are body plus spirit from the time they are conceived, because body plus spirit is the nature of humanity. For years I had believed abortion merely eliminated an insentient mass of tissue that contained potential but no viable identity. I finally understood that a human fetus is no less a person than I am, and I was grief-stricken.
Adventists and abortion
In August, 2013, George B. Gainer published his paper, The Wisdom of Solomon? or The Politics of Pragmatism: the General Conference Abortion Decision 1970-71, on the Internet. Gainer, currently the senior pastor of the Pleasant Valley Seventh-day Adventist Church in Happy Valley, Oregon, had written and presented this comprehensive history of the Adventist’s abortion policies in 1988 at the Loma Linda University Conference on Abortion. This conference was “the prelude to the Christian View of Human Life Committee”1 which began meeting in 1989 and which eventually produced the now-official guidelines for abortion which were adopted in October, 1992.
Gainer explains his decision to publish his paper with these words: “The competing guidelines and failure to address the issue directly has resulted in the widespread ignorance and confusion among SDA clergy and laity and the public that persists to this very day. It is time for Adventists to learn our history on the subject of abortion.”2
I am indebted to Gainer’s research and refer to his findings as I trace the history of abortion within Adventism.
Gainer documents that the early Adventists, including James and Ellen White, J. N. Andrews, and Dr. John H. Kellogg, opposed abortion. This pro-life position reflected the prevailing attitude in the medical community in general after the discovery, in 1827, of the human ovum. Although scientists had understood that mammals’ procreation involved some sort of female egg and male sperm, the mechanism and structures of human conception were not known.3 This discovery resulted in scientists realizing that “a distinct human life was created through the fertilization of the ovum with a sperm.”4 As a result of this realization, the first right-to-life movement in the United States, led by Dr. Horatio Robinson Storer, formed under the name “The Physician’s Crusade Against Abortion” during the years 1850 to 1890. The founding Adventists supported this popular position which, significantly, opposed the common practice of abortion prior to the stunning discovery of the ovum in the 1820s.
The Physician’s Crusade was successful in effecting anti-abortion legislation in the United States, and once those laws were in place, the public debate over abortion cooled. Gainer quotes Kristin Luker in her 1984 book, Abortion & the Politics of Motherhood, saying that the next 70 years became known as the “century of silence”,5 and Christians as well as society in general held a strong anti-abortion stance into the 20th century.
The 1960s, however, saw a strong push for abortion growing in the United States. Many Christians as well as the general public began arguing that quality-of-life for the mother and the family trumped the life of the fetus, and this movement to overturn the anti-abortion legislation of the 19th century culminated in the infamous Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 which legalized abortion in the United States.
Meanwhile, Adventist health care began grappling with this problem in 1970. In January of that year, the state of Hawaii repealed its anti-abortion law, and the Adventist hospital Castle Memorial suddenly faced a crisis. There were two public hospitals on Oahu that took maternity and OB cases; one was exclusively an OB-GYN hospital, and Castle Valley was the only general facility that took maternity cases. Prior to the state law being changed, Castle Memorial had performed “therapeutic abortions”, or terminations of pregnancy in cases of the mother’s life being endangered, rape or incest, or extreme mental anxiety in the mother. With the liberalized abortion laws, however, Castle Valley risked losing its OB-GYN clientele if it did not offer elective abortions as did the Kapiolani Hospital nearby.
This situation reached a crisis one day when a man approached Marvin C. Midkiff, the administrator of Castle Memorial Hospital. He wanted his 16-year-old, two-months-pregnant daughter to have an abortion. This man reminded Midkiff that, when the hospital was fund-raising for its original building, the brochure (which the man brought with him) declared that “this hospital will be a FULL SERVICE HOSPITAL and will provide every service that is needed by the residents of the community.”6 Then, to add emphasis to his demand, he showed Midkiff the cancelled check he had given him years before towards the construction of Castle Memorial Hospital.
That encounter was only the beginning of increasing pressure for Castle Valley to provide on-demand abortions as part of its self-identification as a full-service hospital. W. J. Blacker, the president of the Pacific Union Conference, asked the General Conference for guidance, but no church administrators knew of any position the church had taken on abortion.7 Consequently, Castle Memorial drafted a temporary decision that, because there was no official church position, the hospital would do on-demand abortions during the first trimester if the patient had first received counsel from clergy and two physicians.
In March, 1970, the general conference officers met to discuss this question. Neal Wilson, then president of the North American Division, made a statement on March 17 that was picked up by the Religious News Service. He was quoted as saying,
We would not feel it our responsibility to promote laws to legalize abortion…nor oppose them….though we walk the fence, SDA’s lean towards abortion rather than against it. Because we realize we are confronted by big problems of hunger and over population we do not oppose family planning and appropriate endeavors to control population.8
Finally, after ongoing discussion and editing, on May 13, 1970, the General Conference (GC) officers voted to accept “suggestive guidelines for therapeutic abortions.”9 This vote, however, reveals the sleight-of-hand way the Adventist organization avoided officially approving abortion. An official statement or guideline would have to come from a vote by the General Conference Committee. This “suggestive guideline”, however, came only from the GC officers. It was “official” enough to suggest that Adventist doctors and hospitals could perform these procedures, but it was “unofficial” enough that Marvin Midkiff returned to Hawaii without an official position of the church.
The officers had planned to take their suggestive guidelines to the GC Session the next June for an official vote. They dropped this plan, however, because many of the medical community said these statements were not really any different from the common practice that had been in place before Hawaii repealed its anti-abortion laws. The guidelines under discussion were:
It is believed that therapeutic abortions may be performed for the following established indications:
- When continuation of pregnancy may threaten the life of the woman or seriously impair her health.
- When continuation of the pregnancy is likely to result in the birth of a child with grave physical deformities or mental retardation.
- When conception has occurred as a result of rape or incest.
When indicated therapeutic abortions are done, they should be performed during the first trimester of pregnancy.10
The unofficial adoption of these guidelines did not make the problem go away, nor did the fact that the officers quietly took them off the GC agenda. From July, 1970, to the end of the year, discussions about this subject burgeoned. Castle Memorial (CM) was becoming increasingly demanding because their non-Adventist physicians were threatening to take their patients to a different facility if CM didn’t support the procedure officially. An expanded group called the Abortion Problems Committee convened on July 20, but by its second meeting on September 25, this committee managed only to recommend that a still larger group convene to develop uniform guidelines for North American hospitals.11
In December, 1970, the chief of staff at CM, Dr. Raymond DeHay, wrote two letters, one to the CM chairman of the board of trustees, and one to the GC president Robert Pierson, fairly begging them for an official decision. Pierson responded by affirming the unofficial guidelines already in place and announced that a “competent committee” would meet the next month in Loma Linda, California, to further discuss this issue.12
On January 25, 1971, 11 of the 18 members newly appointed by the GC officers to sit on this committee convened. Four new members were added to the eleven attending, producing an ad hoc committee of 15. Those present were: W.R. Beach; David Hinshaw, MD; P.C. Heubach; C.B. Hirsch; Gordon Hyde; Joann Krause; Elizabeth Larsen, MD; R.E. Osborn; Jack W. Provonsha, MD; A.G. Streifling; W.D. Walton; N.C. Wilson; Mrs. C. Woodward; Harold Ziprick, MD; and C.E. Bradford. General Conference president Robert Pierson was absent, but he had stated just 20 days earlier his support for the existing guidelines.
W.R. Beach, Harold Ziprick, chief of Loma Linda University’s OB-GYN department, and Jack Provonsha presented papers. Beach reviewed the past year’s work done by the Abortion Committee and concluded that changing circumstances, especially in Hawaii and New York, mandated an updated statement. Ziprick discussed the complexity of the abortion situation, and Provonsha advocated always attempting to save both the lives of the mother and the child, but in situations where this goal could not be achieved, “the lower [fetus] must be sacrificed in favor of the higher human value.”13 The meeting concluded with a recommendation that the GC officers appoint yet another committee to further study this issue.
New Guidelines Emerge
During February, 1971, the Abortion Committee went to work in Washington, D.C. As they revised the existing guidelines, an entirely new document emerged. Entitled “Interruption of Pregnancy Guidelines”, its recommendations reflected the ethical and medical concerns presented in the papers of Drs. Ziprick and Provonsha at the earlier Loma Linda meeting.
The committee added two more guidelines to the existing three. Initially these two additions, numbers four and five, allowed:
4. “In case of an unwed child under 15 years of age” abortion was permitted.
5. “When, in harmony with the statement of principles above, the requirements of functional human life demand the sacrifice of the lesser potential human value.”14
Over the next few months, significant changes occurred to several of the guidelines as a result of correspondence between W.R. Beach, committee chairman, and N.C. Wilson, then the president of the North American Division who would later succeed Robert Pierson as General Conference president. It is interesting to note that Wilson’s suggestions persistently moved the guidelines to become more liberal.
In a letter dated March 8, 1971, Beach agreed with Wilson’s recommendation written in a letter dated March 2, 1971, that the word “grave” be dropped from guideline #2. Thus, abortion would be allowed not just in cases likely to result “in the birth of a child with grave physical deformities or mental retardation,” but would be allowed in any cases of possible deformities or retardation.15
After this exchange of letters between Beach and Wilson, the committee made two more significant changes to the emerging guidelines. The word “seriously” was deleted from guideline #1, allowing abortion not only of pregnancies that threatened to “seriously impair” but merely to “impair” the life of the mother. The second and most far-reaching change occurred in the rewritten #5: “When for some reason the requirements of functional human life demand the sacrifice of the lesser potential human value” abortion is permitted.16 The addition of the words “for some reason” opened the door for abortion to be performed for any reason at all. Thus, a woman who felt her pregnancy interfered with her ability to finish school, keep her job, or in any way live the life she wanted would be able to abort.
The committee finally filed this new statement with the GC officers in March, 1971, but still they took no action. In spite of the mounting pressure from the Pacific Union Conference to have something definitive to give the hospitals, committee chairman Beach dragged his heels. He was worried about endorsing a too liberal policy. Nevertheless, on August 10, 1971, C. E. Bradford, the secretary of the now-renamed Committee on Interruption of Pregnancy, released a statement that identified the guidelines
“as the opinion of a representative committee of theologians, physicians, teachers, nurses, psychiatrists, laymen, etc., who met at Loma Linda, California January 25, 1971, with the understanding that the report is to be used as counsel to denominational medical institutions.”17
This statement apparently revealed a new focus: the document the committee had created was not a general church policy on abortion; it was considered a policy for Adventist hospitals. In fact, this new statement was titled, “Recommendations to SDA Medical Institutions”.
Not only was the focus of the document specifically for institutions and not for the general membership, but Bradford also revealed that the Adventist organization was not actually “owning” the statement as an official position paper. He said in his cover letter, “I suppose you would say this [document] is quasi official without the full imprimatur of the brethren.”18
And what were those 1971 Interruption of Pregnancy Guidelines? They are as follows:
- When continuation of the pregnancy may threaten the life of the woman or impair her health.
- When continuation of the pregnancy is likely to result in the birth of a child with physical deformities or mental retardation.
- When conception has occurred as a result of rape or incest.
- When the case involves an unwed child under 15 years of age.
- When for some reason the requirements of functional human life demand the sacrifice of the lesser potential human value.
When indicated interruptions of pregnancy are done, they should be performed as early as possible, preferably during the first trimester of pregnancy.19
After more than a year of meetings, letters, committees, and discussions, the Adventist organization still had no official abortion policy. They had a new set of guidelines that were far more liberal than before—guidelines that the highest level of church administrators and professionals had helped to create. In fact, this new set of guidelines would now be used by Adventist hospitals to determine their own abortion policies—yet the Seventh-day Adventist Church would not call it “official”. They could deny it was their policy.
Castle Memorial Hospital, however, finally had what it needed. Even though it was only quasi official, this set of guidelines was provided by the General Conference and, in the words of administrator Marvin Midkiff, was “broad enough to interpret any way you chose to.”20 This statement allowed CM—and any other Adventist hospital—“to offer abortions on demand through the twentieth week (and even later for ‘compelling social or medical reasons’21) and still be in harmony with General conference guidelines.”22
It must also be noted that this permissive policy predated by two years the Supreme Court Roe v. Wade ruling that made abortion legal in the United States in 1973.
Where do Adventists really stand on abortion? Since the 1971 guidelines were never “official” and were addressed to medical institutions, do they represent Adventist guidelines? Do Adventist members know what this hospital policy allows?
Historically, it appears the “right hand” was not informed what the “left hand” was doing. In March, 1971, the same month that N.C. Wilson and W.R. Beach were hammering out new, liberalized abortion guidelines for Adventist hospitals to follow, The Ministry magazine published an issue on abortion. In addition to articles that cautioned against going beyond first-trimester therapeutic abortions, the magazine published the original three guidelines approved by the GC Committee on May 13, 1970. Ironically, the liberalized Interruption of Pregnancy Guidelines were written by March 2, 1971, and were undergoing final revisions at exactly the same time this issue of Ministry was published.
One person passionately opposed this publication: Robert E. Osborn, a GC officer and a member of the Abortion Committee. Knowing that those original guidelines were generally considered too restrictive and were being overridden by the Interruption of Pregnancy Guidelines even then in production, Osborn wrote to committee chair W. R. Beach and said, “It seems to me that the articles [in The Ministry] are completely premature, or else the appointment of a committee to look into the matter in depth is a farce.”23
Beach defended Ministry’s publication of the early guidelines in a confusing response that said they provided context for the introduction of the new liberalized guidelines in an “upcoming report”.24 The new liberalized guidelines, however, were never published. Since that 1971 publication in Ministry, the original 1970 guidelines for therapeutic abortion were the only guidelines available to the membership at large until the current Adventist guidelines on abortion were established on October 12, 1992.
There is no evidence that the Adventist organization ever attempted to inform the clergy or the laity that there was a newer set of guidelines actively allowing Adventist hospitals to practice abortions on demand. It seems, in fact, that leadership has used that original premature release of the outdated statement as something behind which to hide in order to present a conservative face both to its members and to the Christian community at large.
For example, at the time of Gainer’s writing, the Columbia Union Executive Committee had given copies of the discarded 1970 guidelines to the Ohio Conference when they requested guidance on the subject of abortion in 1987. Moreover, in 1984 the Christian Action Council published their A Community Planning Guide for Sanctity of Human Life Sunday. This publication included a “Summary of Attitudes Toward Abortion by Religious Organizations.” Because of Adventism’s public use of the outdated guidelines, the Action Council placed Seventh-day Adventists in its Group 2 as “generally opposed to abortion but would make exceptions in hard cases.”25
Since 1971, Adventist publications have continued the confusion. Through the years Adventist columnists and editors have published statements using the superseded 1970 guidelines as the official Adventist policy. In fact, a particularly alarming situation occurred in the official publication of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the Adventist Review, in 1986. In its February 13 edition, the magazine ran an article entitled, “In-depth look at the Adventist Health System” including a seven-page interview with Donald Welch, the founder of what became known as Adventist Health Systems, conducted by editor William Johnsson and associate editor Myron Widmer.
In the interview, Welch stated,
The Church developed guidelines for hospitals and health-care institutions in regard to abortions back in 1969 (sic). Those guidelines strongly discourage abortions. They do allow for abortions in certain cases where there is medical consultation—several doctors agree that it needs to be done for the health of the mother, and in certain other cases such as rape.26
In this statement Welch was referencing the 1970 statement, not the 1971 Interruption of Pregnancy Guidelines. He proceeded to make several more astonishing statements including this: “I will be frank and tell you there was a time when a number of our institutions did quite a few abortions, and that situation led to these guidelines.”27
It is difficult to believe that Welch was ignorant of the fact that Adventist hospitals had been permitted to practice abortions on demand since 1971 since he had been the administrator of Adventist hospitals since 1961 and had founded Adventist Health System Sunbelt which eventually became Adventist Health Systems.
Even worse than Welch’s prevarication was editor Johnsson’s reaction when he received six specific confrontations in three meetings over a period of two months addressing discrepancies in Welch’s interview. He decided to run two letters in the “Letters To the Editor” section of the magazine that would correct the misinformation—but he never published them.28 Instead, the official Adventist publication has allowed “Welch’s statements to stand without challenge, and the Church-at-large was once again spared the truth.”29
Today the Adventist organization publishes a guideline on abortion on its official website. It is difficult to find and is tucked away on a webpage called “Official Statements/Guidelines” under the menu button “Information”. The guideline is long and complex including seven statements of principles, but in spite of the pious tone, they contain the following declarations. The numbers of the statements where these sentences are found are at the beginning of the following paragraphs:30
1. Thus prenatal life must not be thoughtlessly destroyed. Abortion should be performed only for the most serious reasons.
4. Women, at times however, may face exceptional circumstances that present serious moral or medical dilemmas, such as significant threats to the pregnant woman’s life, serious jeopardy to her health, severe congenital defects carefully diagnosed in the fetus, and pregnancy resulting from rape or incest. The final decision whether to terminate the pregnancy or not should be made by the pregnant woman after appropriate consultation. She should be aided in her decision by accurate information, biblical principles, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, these decisions are best made within the context of healthy family relationships.
5. Therefore, any attempts to coerce women either to remain pregnant or to terminate pregnancy should be rejected as infringements of personal freedom.
6. Church institutions should be provided with guidelines for developing their own institutional policies in harmony with this statement.
In other words, Adventism’s public statement on abortion today appears to echo the guidelines of the original 1970 statement—with a significant change of emphasis in point #4: “significant threats to the pregnant woman’s life” has become a separate statement from “serious jeopardy to her health”. Instead of the original “When continuation of pregnancy may threaten the life of the woman or seriously impair her health,” today’s statement distinguishes between threats to the woman’s life and jeopardy to her health. This distinction allows for those “threats” to be other than health risks and could conceivably include not being able to afford the baby, hurting the family reputation, threatening one’s educational and professional career, and so on. At the same time, point 6 states that institutions (hospitals) “should be provided with guidelines for developing their own institutional policies.” This statement clearly suggests that hospitals have a set of guidelines separate from this official, public statement.
In fact, the wording of the public statement on abortion attempts to conceal the fact that for over 40 years there have been two sets of guidelines within Adventism: the 1970 generally-used statement which, in spite of careful wording, is pro-choice, and the internal Interruption of Pregnancy Guidelines for hospitals and medical providers which have been in place since 1971. Nevertheless, in this current document, the permissive guidelines of the 1971 institutional statement are carefully woven into the wording of the organization’s official public policy on abortion. A careful reading reveals that a woman may choose whether or not to terminate a pregnancy for any reason important to her, and Adventist hospitals are free to perform them at their own discretion.
What is the truth?
When George Gainer was researching his paper, the American Hospital Association Guide to the Health Care Field, 1986, stated:
Twelve of the 56 Adventist hospitals in the United States [are] offering ‘abortion services’ including ‘a program and facilities.’31 The hospitals listed are as follows: Castle Medical Center, Hadley Memorial Hospital, Hanford Community Hospital, Loma Linda University Medical Center, Porter Memorial Hospital, Portland Adventist Medical Center, Shady Grove Adventist Hospital, Shawnee Mission Medical Center, Sierra Vista Hospital, Walla Walla General Hospital, Washington Adventist Hospital, and White Memorial Medical Center. One could be forgiven for wondering if our other hospitals [which] supplied reports on which the Guide is based are accurate as to the difference between therapeutic abortion and elective abortion.32
Nic Samojluk of Loma Linda has been researching Adventists and abortion over a period of several years for his doctoral dissertation. He has some follow-up information that sheds some light on the current data available about abortions and Adventist hospitals. On his website www.Adventlife.Wordpress.com he refers to George Gainer’s paper and lists the hospitals above. He states, “A survey conducted three years later by the Loma Linda University Ethics Department revealed that five of these Adventist hospitals were engaged—like our [Adventist] CMH—in elective abortions.”33
He confirms what many have discovered: it is extremely hard to obtain accurate information about abortions done at Adventist hospitals. He has been able to obtain some information about Washington Adventist Hospital (WAH) in Maryland, however. First he quotes Gainer’s research published both in his paper and in the Washington Post: “As to numbers, participants in the ‘Pastors’ Protest Against Abortion’ [held on October 5, 1985] supplied the figure of 1,494 abortions performed at Washington Adventist Hospital from 1975 through July 1982. They said that the medical records office of the hospital supplied these statistics.”34 This number translates into an average of 213 abortions per year. Interestingly, there is a sudden drop in WAH’s abortion numbers after 2005.
Samojluk further refers to independent Catholic investigator Patrick Murebil’s findings: “a decade later the same Adventist hospital reported 547 abortions per year;35 but by 2006 the number of abortions in the same institution dropped to 47, with 48 reported for the 2007 year.”36
In subsequent years, WAH reported 38 abortions in 2008, 27 in 2009, and 29 in 2010. The substantial reduction in numbers is apparently explained by the fact that WAH stopped reporting data for outpatient procedures, while the numbers prior to 2005 included both inpatient and outpatient. When Samojluk requested outpatient statistics for the years 2008-2010, he was told they were not available. He says, “A correspondent of mine who has close connections with the General Conference office told me that he was informed that the church has made it almost impossible for anyone to secure accurate data about abortion statistics in Adventist hospitals.”37
In February, 2011, Samoljuk attended a public meeting in Redlands, California, at which GC president Ted Wilson (the son of N.C. Wilson who helped frame the 1971 Interruption of Pregnancy Guidelines) was the featured speaker. Samoljuk asked him about elective abortions in Adventist hospitals. Wilson responded that the church did not condone them, and they were down to almost zero. He suggested Samoljuk contact Dr. Alan Handysides at the General Conference for more information, and although Samoljuk did write to Dr. Handysides, he received no response.38
What we know
The history of Adventism’s abortion policies, both public and internal, is an interesting study in deception and “impression management”. This dynamic would be significant on its own; however, this issue is significant for a more profound reason than simply that Adventism has obfuscated the truth. The underlying reason Adventism, which is generally considered to be a Christian denomination, has nevertheless held to a pro-choice policy and has even provided abortions is its view of the nature of man. Adventists believe and teach that humans are body plus breath—the literal breath in their lungs; when the breath ceases, the body dies, just as a light is extinguished when the electricity is turned off. Thus, they teach that humans do not have an immaterial spirit that is separate from the body.
While it is true that many individual Adventists oppose abortion, its persistent presence within Adventism and among Adventists makes sense when one understands what they believe about a fetus.
In the landmark March, 1970, issue of Ministry magazine mentioned earlier, Dr. Ralph F. Waddell, secretary of the General Conference Department of Health, wrote an article that was titled, “Abortion Is Not the Answer”. He supported therapeutic abortions, but he stated that they should be performed “during the first three months, before the embryo can be considered to possess life in itself.”39
Lest anyone argue that Dr. Waddell’s quote above is merely his opinion, that Adventism does not officially teach that the unborn are technically not alive, please note in the following quotation that Adventism’s official teaching is far less conservative than Dr. Waddell’s. The passage below is from the current edition of Seventh-Day Adventists Believe, the book listing and explaining the organization’s 28 Fundamental Beliefs, and overtly states that a soul “comes into existence” when a child is born. Importantly, the quotation inside this quote is from the SDA Bible Commentary, revised edition:
As we have already mentioned, in the Old Testament “soul” is a translation of the Hebrew nephesh. In Genesis 2:7 it denotes man as a living being after the breath of life entered into a physical body formed from the elements of the earth. “Similarly, a new soul comes into existence whenever a child is born (emphasis ours), each ‘soul’ being a new unit of life uniquely different and separate from other similar units. This quality of individuality in each living being, which constitutes it a unique entity, seems to be the idea emphasized by the Hebrew term nephesh. When used in this sense, nephesh is not a part of the person; it is the person (emphasis ours) and, in many instances, is translated ‘person’…”40
This foundational belief, that a living person begins to exist only when a baby begins to breathe, helps explain why Adventists have been key figures in the abortion world. For example:
• In 2003, Proclamation! magazine ran a three-part article by Richard Fredericks, PhD, entitled, “A Biblical Response to Abortion”. The three installments appeared in the January/February, the March/April, and the May/June issues of the magazine. In the first installment Fredericks tells this account:
A young female Adventist pediatrician told me of a late saline abortion in an Adventist hospital in which the abortion failed. The baby was born alive and crying, but placed in a sealed bucket to suffocate. She was horrified by such an act of murder. Beyond the initial horror she was stunned on two accounts: first, during her own training she had stated she would withdraw from medical school (University of Virginia) rather than perform or participate in an abortion due to her religious convictions as an Adventist. After first saying she must assist in an abortion to graduate, the University backed down. She assumed as a church we took a strong stand against abortion. Then she found that abortions for convenience (non-medical emergencies) were regular occurrences in Adventist hospitals. I will never forget her tears as she looked at me and said: “How can we do this?”41
• In 2011 a two-year competition between Adventist HealthCare and Holy Cross Hospital came to an end when Maryland officials approved Holy Cross to build a new hospital in the state’s northern Montgomery County. The battle to win the contract had attracted much attention from women’s groups and reproductive health advocates. A story appearing in the Washington Post on January 6, 2011, written by staff writer Lena H. Sun states:
In a 105-page document of exceptions filed Thursday, Rockville-based Adventist asks Maryland Health Care Commission to hold off on a final decision at its Jan. 20 meeting and to reopen the review because of what Adventist contends are flawed and unsupported conclusions about cost and other key factors…
One of the flaws that Adventist cited in [commission chair] Moon’s recommendation involves reproductive services that would be offered by Holy Cross, a Catholic hospital.
Reproductive health advocates across the country have raised concerns about religious directives that prevent Catholic hospitals from providing a variety of services, including fertility treatments, abortions, tubal ligations and hormonal contraception. Several women’s groups say that because of those restrictions, the Holy Cross proposal would undermine public health priorities.42
Sally Quinn, also a writer at the Washington Post, wrote a piece entitled “Seventh-day Adventists and Abortion” and posted it in January, 2011. Although the original article has been removed, it is quoted in a December 9, 2013, post on ReligiousLiberty.tv. In her article Sally wrote,
Christians of all denominations are gathering on the national Mall today to protest the 38th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide. But one denomination that may be sparsely represented is Seventh-day Adventists whose large worldwide network of 170 hospitals allows elective abortions.
This stance was revealed last week when Maryland state regulators gave Holy Cross hospital, a Catholic institution, permission to build a hospital in growing northern Montgomery County shutting out the Seventh-day Adventists who also wanted to build a hospital in the area. Some abortion-rights advocates opposed the Holy Cross proposal because it does not allow abortions.43
• On June 30, 2014, the Supreme Court decided in favor of craft store chain Hobby Lobby in what has become known as “the Hobby Lobby case”. According to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), contraception is now considered a “preventative service”, and as such, it is to be covered by insurances without requiring a co-payment. Christian-owned Hobby Lobby sued for exemption on grounds of religious freedom, stating that while they do cover 16 different types of contraception, they objected to providing insurance coverage to employees for “morning after pills” or for hormonal or copper intrauterine devices (IUDs) which prevent a fertilized egg from implanting. Under the ACA, however, these products are called “birth control”.
The North American Division (NAD) of Seventh-day Adventists issued a statement the same day stating they were “encouraged” by the ruling which “safeguards the broad religious liberty protections available to all people of faith.” As the statement continued, however, it made the point that the Adventist Church has an established commitment to health care and to “improving the health of all, including women.”
In the next-to-the-last paragraph, the NAD’s statement says, “The Seventh-day Adventist Church, in its Fundamental Beliefs and teachings as based on the Bible, does not object to providing the methods of contraception at issue (see Official Seventh-day Adventist Church Statement on Birth Control), and has fully complied with this provision of the AHA for its U.S. based employees.”44
This current statement reveals that the Adventist organization does not consider conception to mark the beginning of life nor does it see a need to protect a fertilized egg. Furthermore, this statement shows the foundation underneath the organization’s pro-choice position and practice.
• Louise Tyrer, MD, known as “a true pioneer of the pro-choice, pro-family planning movement,”45 was the daughter of Seventh-day Adventist missionaries to China and was a graduate of Loma Linda University School of Medicine in 1944. She was a founding member of the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals (ARHP) in 1963 and “one of the first voices for the pro-choice movement.”46 In 1975 she became the vice president of medical affairs for Planned Parenthood Federation of America and held the position for 15 years. After the age of 70, she continued consulting for groups such as Abortion Rights Mobilization in New York and the U.S. State Department, did medical direction for Planned Parenthood in Northern Nevada, and campaigned for RU-486 medication abortion.47
• Edward C. Allred, MD, an Adventist graduate of La Sierra University and Loma Linda University School of Medicine, founded the Avalon-Slauson Medical Group in 1969. Later renamed Family Planning Associates (FPA), Allred’s clinic was performing abortions in situations legalized in California before Roe v. Wade legalized it nationally (1973). He invented the “assembly-line abortion” technique used in the FPA chain,48 and, he claimed, in 1980, “to have personally aborted a quarter of a million fetuses in the preceding 12 years.”49
In an interview with Anthony Perry, “Doctor’s Abortion Business Is Lucrative” in the San Diego Union-Tribune, October 12, 1980, pages A-3 and A-14, Allred is quoted as saying, “Population control is too important to be stopped by some right-wing pro-life types…take the new influx of Hispanic immigrants. Their lack of respect for democracy and social order is frightening. I hope I can do something to stem that tide. I’d set up a clinic in Mexico for free if I could. Maybe one in Calexico would help. The survival of our society could be at stake.”50
In 2005 Allred sold Family Planning Associates to Adventist dentist Irving (Bud) Feldkamp III. In 2010 La Sierra University founded the Edward C. Allred Center for Financial Literacy and Entrepreneurship in his honor. Significantly, this new center was funded by a donation from Dr. Allred, and La Sierra University had no problem establishing its new center for entrepreneurship using money purchased, at least in part, with the lives of unborn infants.
• Irving (Bud) Feldkamp III, DDS, an Adventist, purchased Family Planning Associates, the nation’s largest privately-owned abortion chain, from Edward Allred, MD, in 2005. Although not an abortionist himself, his 17 California clinics provide more abortions in California than any other provider including Planned Parenthood,51 and they perform them through “14+ weeks”.52 Feldkamp’s son, Irving IV, is an MD and works at Family Planning Associates.
Tragically, two of Feldkamp’s daughters, their husbands, and their five children were killed in a plane crash on March 24, 2009. They with another family were flying to a ski vacation when their private plane, flown by an experienced pilot, crashed into a Montana Catholic cemetery—ironically just feet away from the “The Tomb of the Unborn”, a memorial dedicated to babies who have died in abortions.53
The hidden history and practice of abortion within the Adventist organization is the fruit of a religion that believes and teaches a false view of humanity on one hand while offering medical care on the other to some of the most vulnerable members of society: women with unwanted pregnancies. Because they believe human fetuses are unviable forms of life until they can survive outside the womb, many Adventist doctors offer their patients the option of abortions as a “compassionate” way to resolve their dilemmas. Other Adventist doctors, soothed by the idea that fetuses are not truly people, capitalize on the perpetual problem of unwanted pregnancies as a way to make the money that desperate women are willing to pay.
At the same time, Adventist hospitals allow their physicians to perform abortions in their surgical suites—and often those abortions are on demand, although they may be named something other than “abortions”, or they may be hidden in unobtainable out-patient surgery records. The 1971 Interruption of Pregnancy Guidelines have opened the way for Adventist hospitals to determine their own abortion policies, and most Adventist laypeople do not know of those guidelines’ existence.
The extent and magnitude of Adventist-performed abortions is hard to calculate, but the facts we know emphasize one bottom-line reality: Adventists need to understand the true gospel of Jesus. Without understanding of the true nature of man as taught in the Bible, the reality of the Lord Jesus’ identity, incarnation, death, and resurrection lose their power.
Every life is known by God as it is formed in its mother’s womb. The Lord Jesus came to earth as a fetus in an unmarried mother’s body. He and His mother were precious to the Father even when people whispered behind her back, and he taught Joseph to trust Him to take Mary as his wife while she was pregnant. God provided Joseph to protect the unborn Jesus by keeping Mary safe so their own Savior could be delivered.
No life is hidden from God; no pain of a suffering mother, no loss of an unborn baby, no regret of an unmarried father is outside the Father’s care. The Lord Jesus came to redeem that pain; He knew what it meant to be thought “illegitimate”. He knew poverty and suffering, and he took into Himself all the pain, all the evil and sin that has been done to each of us, and by His scourging we are healed (Is. 53:5). Moreover, no sin we have committed, including receiving, condoning, or performing an abortion, is unforgivable. The Lord Jesus cleanses every stain of guilt and shame when we repent and believe that He shed His blood and broke the curse of death to reconcile us to God and to transfer us out of death into life (Jn. 5:24; Col. 1:13; Eph. 2:1-10).
I have completely turned away from my early belief about the unborn. From my early days of believing a fetus to be unviable potential, I have come to see each tiny life as a person known and planned by God. Abortion is untenable as I realize that each new conception is a life with its own spirit that is its unique identity, and God knew us before we ever took a breath.
My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; Your eyes have seen my unformed substance and in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them” (Ps. 139:15-16). †
- Conversation with George Gainer, July 1, 2014.
- Gainer, George B., http://religiousliberty.tv/the-wisdom-of-solomon-the-seventh-day-adventist-general-conference-abortion-decision-1970-1971.html, introduction.
- Gainer, p. 4.
- Ibid., p. 10.
- Ibid., p. 12.
- Ibid., p. 12, conversation between George Gainer and Marvin C. Midkiff, October 22, 1986.
- Religious News Service, March 17, 1970, pp. 16-17. Quoted in Gainer, p. 12.
- Gainer, p. 13.
- Ibid., p. 14.
- Abortion Problems Committee, minutes, September, 25, 1970, quoted in Gainer, p. 16.
- R. H. Pierson, GC president, to R. DeHay, MD, chief of staff, Jan. 5, 1971, quoted in Gainer, p. 18.
- Provonsha, Jack, MD, “An Adventist Position Regarding the Abortion Problem”, pp. 10-11.
- Gainer, p. 21.
- Ibid., p. 21.
- Ibid., p. 21-22.
- Bradford, C.E., August 10, 1971; quoted in Gainer, p. 24.
- Gainer, p. 40.
- Conversation with Marvin Midkiff, Oct. 22, 1986, quoted in Gainer, p. 24.
- Bietz, R.R., GC vice-president, in a letter to W.J. Blacker, president, Pacific Union Conference, July 8, 1970, quoted in Gainer, p. 24.
- Gainer, p. 24.
- Osborne, R.E., to W. R. Beach, March 2, 1971, quoted in Gainer, p. 26.
- W.R. Beach to R.E. Osborn, March 8, 1971, quoted in Gainer, p. 26.
- Quoted in Gainer, p 27.
- Adventist Review, February 13, 1986, p. 15 , quoted in Gainer, p. 29.
- Ardyce Sweem to Adventist Review, Feb. 21, 1986, and Mar. 13, 1986. George and Leanne Gainer to Adventist Review, May 15, 1986. See Gainer, p. 30.
- Gainer, p. 30.
- American Hospital Association Guide to the Health Care Field, 1986, quoted in Gainer, p. 31.
- Gainer, p. 31.
- http://www.ministrymagazine.org/archive/1991/August/abortion-history-of-adventist-guidelines published on http://adventlife.wordpress.com/2012/03/21/investigation-into-our-adventist-involvement-with-the-abortion-industry-by-nic-samojluk/
- http://clubadventist.com/forum/ubbthreads.php/topics/445740/Is_Ted_Wilson_Misinformed_Abou.html. Confirmed by private message, June 24, 2014.
- Waddell, R.F., Ministry, “Abortion Is Not the Answer”, March, 1971, p. 9 , quoted in Gainer, p. 25.
- Seventh-day Adventists Believe, 2005 edition, pp. 94-95, also quoting from “Soul”, SDA Bible Dictionary, rev. ed., p. 1061.
- Fredericks, Richard, “A Biblical Response to Abortion” Part 1: Less Than Human?, Proclamation!, January/February, 2003, p. 10. http://www.lifeassuranceministries.org/Proclamation2003_JanFeb.pdf
Copyright 2014 Life Assurance Ministries, Inc., Camp Verde, Arizona, USA. All rights reserved. Revised August 13, 2014. Contact email: email@example.com