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Full abortion rights promoted in CBF-funded agency’s journal

WASHINGTON (BP)–A journal from an ethics agency funded by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship espouses in a recent article practically unlimited abortion rights throughout a woman’s pregnancy.

The article, written by a retired United Methodist Church seminary professor, appears in the December 1997 issue of Christian Ethics Today, which is published by the Center for Christian Ethics. The CBF provides partial funding for the center.

The seven-page article, titled “Abortion and Public Policy” and written by John M. Swomley, asserts:

— The Bible teaches human life does not begin until birth.

— The rights of the individual take precedence over the rights of the unborn.

— Legislation banning abortion results in “compulsory pregnancy … a form of slavery.”

— Laws prohibiting tax-funded abortions for the poor and requiring parental notification for pregnant minors constitute violence against women.

— The federal government “should encourage and if necessary subsidize” the development of “effective contraceptives,” including RU 486, the abortion pill.

— Health care, including free contraceptives, should be guaranteed by the government.

— Sex education should be mandatory in public schools.

The issue includes no response from a pro-life perspective.

Swomley’s “biology (is) flawed,” as well as “his biblical exegesis,” said a Southern Baptist bioethics specialist.

The article “represents clearly the great moral divide on the abortion debate,” said C. Ben Mitchell, a consultant for the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and assistant professor of Christian ethics at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. “On the one hand, pro-life Christians and others affirm the sanctity of every human life. On the other hand, pro-abortionists affirm the sanctity of individual autonomy.

“The view Mr. Swomley holds permits the slaughter of human beings on the altar of individual choice. This is hardly a novel idea. It was tried by slave owners in the mid-19th century, by the Nazis in the mid-20th century and now by the Supreme Court at the end of the millennium. God help us.”

In his article, Swomley says there “should be no legislation criminalizing or restricting abortion before the third trimester or the viability of the fetus. Thereafter states should be able to regulate abortions except when the life or health of the woman is threatened or the fetus is diagnosed as having a serious disease or lack of an organ or brain that threatens its future.”

The U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 companion decisions legalizing abortion permitted states to restrict abortion during the last three months of pregnancy except when the life or health of the mother is endangered. The high court, however, defined health as “all factors — physical, emotional, psychological, familial and the woman’s age — relevant to the well-being of the patient.” This open-ended definition of health enabled women to obtain abortions for any reason, even in the last stages of pregnancy.

Swomley also seems to support a government’s right to limit the number of children born.

While he says a government “has no moral right to tell a married couple that they must bear children or must never bear children,” Swomley earlier says about a community’s right to guarantee its survival:

“A community following a devastating war or a plague that had virtually destroyed all human life might expect a pregnant woman to bear the child. By the same logic, any community, whether a family or a state, which already had more people than it could furnish with food and water, could restrict the number of childbirths. There are already children dying by the thousands in some parts of the world because of too little water and food and no foreseeable prospect of change. What is the inherent right of thousands of fetuses to be born if they will jeopardize the existence of those already born?”

The issue in which Swomley’s article appears says the Center for Christian Ethics receives financial support “from churches, through the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, from Foundations and from interested individuals.”

The CBF is an organization established by Southern Baptist moderates opposed to SBC leadership.

CBF Coordinator Daniel Vestal, who confirmed the Center for Christian Ethics receives support from his organization, told Baptist Press Jan. 29 he had not seen the issue that includes Swomley’s article.

While he said he is “not afraid to comment” on the article, Vestal said he would “rather not comment on the article until I’ve read the article.”

In the December issue of Christian Ethics Today, Vestal is listed as one of eight CCE trustees. He is no longer on the board, Vestal said.

He said he resigned several months ago as a trustee as a result of his CBF coordinator role. Vestal has been CBF coordinator since December 1996.

Foy Valentine, the editor of Christian Ethics Today and the driving force behind the CCE, refused to answer questions from BP, saying he would not help a reporter put a “spin” on an article. Valentine led in establishing the CCE in 1988.

Valentine served as executive director of the SBC’s ethics agency, then known as the Christian Life Commission, from 1960-87. The CLC was renamed the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission last year.

Roger Moran, a Southern Baptist in Missouri, informed BP of the Swomley article’s existence. Moran, who is research director for the conservative Missouri Baptist Laymen’s Association, said in a written release to Baptist news media, “The same theological liberalism that divided Southern Baptists and gave rise to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship has also led the SBC and CBF down distinctly different paths in regard to the issue of abortion.”

Since 1980, messengers to the annual SBC meeting have passed numerous pro-life resolutions. In that time, the only exception approved by messengers to a ban on abortions has been to save the life of the mother.

The December issue of Christian Ethics Today also calls the agency “The Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University.” It says the CCE has entered into a relationship with Baylor and has its primary offices in the Waco, Texas, school’s administration building.

While there is office space for the CCE at Baylor, the center is not yet working out of the school and is not yet under the Baptist school’s auspices, said Donald Schmeltekopf, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Baylor.

Baylor was not involved in the oversight of Swomley’s article, he said.

“He (Valentine) did not confer with me or, as far as I know, with anyone else at Baylor,” Schmeltekopf said. “While I understand that Baylor’s name is on it, this edition of the journal was in the hands totally of Foy Valentine.”

When the center does come under the supervision of the school, Baylor will have oversight of the editorial content of the journal, he said.

Schmeltekopf said he had read Swomley’s article.

“Traditionally, that has not been Baylor’s position,” he said of Swomley’s abortion rights advocacy, “although as a university we don’t make it a practice to take positions on these kinds of issues publicly. We’re an educational institution, not” an issues advocacy organization, he said.

The university will take over direction of the CCE after a center director is hired, he said. Schmeltekopf, who is one of the CCE’s trustees, said the center’s board will select a director, but Baylor must approve the choice.

“We have been looking for a director for several months, and we have not wrapped that up yet,” he said.

When the CCE’s transition to Baylor is achieved, the center’s trustees will act in an advisory capacity and will help in fund-raising, Schmeltekopf said.

CBF support of the center will be reviewed after the CCE moves to the university, he said. “There probably will be some funds that will be contributed (to the center) by Baylor,” he said.

Swomley, professor emeritus of Christian ethics at St. Paul School of Theology, Kansas City, Mo., has been an active advocate of abortion rights from a religious perspective for more than two decades.

In 1996, he signed on to a letter by the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, formerly the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights, supporting President Clinton’s first veto of the Partial-birth Abortion Ban Act.

In 1977, Swomley joined with other religious leaders in endorsing an abortion rights statement, “A Call to Concern.” Valentine also signed it. The statement was printed and distributed by the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights. Swomley served as consultant for RCAR on a 1991 booklet, “Words of Choice, which critiques terms used by pro-lifers. In 1993, RCAR was renamed the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.

Swomley serves on the board of directors of the ACLU and The Interfaith Alliance, both which support abortion rights. He also is on the advisory board of Planned Parenthood of Mid-Missouri and Eastern Kansas.

Valentine also is on The Interfaith Alliance board.

In two previous 1997 CCE journals, Swomley wrote articles on the Roman Catholic Church’s influence in the Republican Party and on ecumenical ethics.

The Partial-birth Abortion Ban Act would outlaw a procedure performed normally in the fifth or sixth month of pregnancy in which a doctor delivers a baby feet first until only the head remains in the birth canal. He pierces the base of the baby’s skull with surgical scissors and suctions out the brain. Congress twice has passed a ban on the procedure except to save the life of the mother, but Clinton twice has vetoed it. Congress plans to vote this year in a second attempt to override the veto.