Forum, October 2022

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Reflecting on the Student Voices Project

After nine years of highlighting the writing of Quaker and Quaker-affiliated middle and high school students, the 2021-2022 Student Voices Project will be the last in its current form as an annual writing competition. Since 2014, we’ve asked young people to write about themes such as community, competition, and climate change, and we’ve published the work of 170 honorees, who were selected from nearly 1,400 participating students. You can find the remarkable honorees from past years at Friendsjournal.org/studentvoices. We are grateful for all of our young authors’ contributions to the Quaker conversation and to our communities. We’d also like to thank Friends Council on Education for their collaboration on the project. We continue to welcome submissions from contributors of all ages at Friendsjournal.org/submissions.

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Building bridges or making choices on abortion 

Erick Williams correctly states that Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) does not take a position regarding abortion (“Quakers Must Take a Position on Abortion,” FJ Aug. online). This policy was born out of the discernment of more than 100 Quaker churches and meetings over many years.

The impact of Dobbs v. Jackson is indeed very infuriating for some Quakers and welcomed by others. There may also be both unity and lack of unity among Friends about narrow interpretations now being legislated in some states.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision also raises serious concerns for other fundamental positions FCNL does take on, such as civil rights, racial and economic justice, and healthcare.

We welcome Williams’s call for deeper discernment. FCNL’s Policy Committee is engaged in further discernment on the matter and welcomes input from Friends. Quaker churches, meetings, and concerned Friends have communicated with us on this issue, even before the Supreme Court decision, and continue to do so.

We remain open to Spirit’s continuing revelation and welcome your prayers—and your engagement—as we discern the way forward.

Bridget Moix
General Secretary, Friends Committee on National Legislation

In 1993 I had the privilege of shepherding a Common Ground listening experiment among pro-choice and pro-life proponents precisely because Friends had not taken a position on the issue. With the support of my Friends meeting and the local ecumenical social action coalition, I invited both sides to engage in finding common ground around the issue of abortion. If Friends, my meeting, or I had already taken a public position on the issue of abortion, this fruitful process would not have taken place. This does not preclude Friends, as individuals, from becoming activists on one side or the other. But let’s be careful about positions we take organizationally, lest we no longer be considered honest brokers for such roles as the one to which I was led.

Lesley Laing
Monteverde, Costa Rica

I agree with Erick Williams that it would be ideal if the Society of Friends in the United States were able to come to unity on abortion rights. But the challenges of doing so are of a wholly different order than his viewpoint suggests he would imagine. American Quakerism is deeply divided by theology and worship practice, ranging from unprogrammed meetings to pastoral churches and from very liberal beliefs to deeply evangelical ones. Given the diversity of the beliefs, practices, and demography of American Friends it is almost a miracle that FCNL has been able to find unity on successive “The World We Seek” policy statements. I think this has been possible because most of the “radical” testimonies of American Quakerism are rooted in our history. Abortion is more difficult as Friends have no theology about when life begins and the testimonies about the sanctification of human life and women’s rights lead in opposite directions.

Friends can only reach unity on difficult issues when they know one another, worship together, and are willing to devote time and effort to the task. Such efforts are of a wholly different order of magnitude in a large yearly meeting than in a monthly meeting and are even more difficult when multiple, dissimilar yearly meetings are involved.

I do believe it may be worth the effort, however we must start by resisting treating Friends who disagree with us as caricatures. Very few Evangelical Friends are among those harassing women seeking abortions, and many Liberal Friends have reservations about certain abortions. What American Quaker organization is willing to commit to the prolonged periods of worship and discussions across yearly meeting lines that would be necessary to make progress? Perhaps this exchange will reveal one.

David Leonard
Kennett Square, Pa.

I am glad that this conversation is beginning as it is an important one but disappointed that this is the starting point. As a Friend who holds complex and sometimes competing views on abortion, I don’t easily fall into any of the camps that are so viciously tearing at each other. Williams’s opinion, while calling for discernment and unity, seems to be calling us to particular criticism of the pro-life position while using buzz words like “reproductive justice.” If we are to discern together what way God is leading us and what a faithful response to this challenge looks like, we are going to have to be more careful to create a space in which we can listen. This may mean that we each need to hold our convictions more loosely, knowing that the Spirit may move us to a different place than we were before as a part of the process. This is not decision making by consensus but rather a sense of the meeting, an articulation of where we believe God is moving us instead of the lowest common denominator.

Faith Kelley
Oakland, Calif.

From my perspective, the pro-choice movement has long undermined its credibility by refusing to acknowledge explicitly that abortion ends a human life, and by bending over backward to deny that this is so. It’s this fact—in conjunction with the equally true fact that a woman is a human being with a right to make decisions about her own body—that makes abortion a difficult moral question. We have to acknowledge that both are true.

It seems to me that abortion can be thought of like self-defense: I’m not aware that Quakers have ever decried injuring or killing another in self-defense as wicked, but they have advocated self-sacrifice and forbearance as a “more excellent way” of responding to threats of violence. Why can’t we accept that abortion is often the least bad of the available alternatives, while at the same time acknowledging that the loss of a fetal life is real and can be mourned without condemnation or judgment on those who choose that alternative?

To be clear: the law should provide maximum protection to the autonomy of the pregnant person with regulation only when there is a compelling state interest in the regulation (which was the standard under Roe), just as the law (rightly) protects the right of a person to use force to protect themself from death or serious bodily injury. But this shouldn’t preclude Friends from making the moral argument that legal life matters, too, and should be taken into consideration (even if the ultimate decision is that of the pregnant person).

Paul Landskroener
Boulder, Colo.

The author is right that we should seek common ground, and I think the environment is better for that than it has been in years. It is both pro-choice and pro-life to make sure pregnant women who want to give birth are provided the social supports that make this feasible and don’t require a lot of suffering on the part of the woman. The kind of supports available to women and families in virtually all of Western Europe should be made available here. Some prominent pro-lifers have made statements in recent months that ideological opposition to government-provided social supports must be re-examined if we are to be really pro-life. These include the president of the March for Life, the largest pro-life witness event in the United  States, and the founder of 40 Days for Life, the largest pro-life grassroots campaign. A few pro-life members of Congress are offering some legislation along these lines, more limited than we need but a step forward.

Bill Samuel
Rockville, Md.

No position is a position. I am not fully comfortable with abortion myself, but we as Quakers fundamentally believe in each human’s personhood and rights. If the government says that I cannot control my own body fully, am I and those like me being valued and seen as of the Light? No, obviously not.

To me the right path is to uphold the rights of women/people assigned female at birth while reducing the need for abortion through contraceptive access, fair and neutral sex education, in addition to reducing intersecting issues such as poverty and domestic violence, etc. There will always be people who cannot carry a child and live, or instances where the child will not be viable at birth. Abortion is sometimes necessary and to say it isn’t is to deny people the right to their life. It is our spiritual job to honor all humans and reduce harm and violence. If you don’t think that, then I recommend looking at pre-Roe news.

Mils Merritt
Hallowell, Maine

I am a retired OB-GYN and performed abortions for 43 years—40 years in practice (mainly at the local Planned Parenthood clinic) and three years in training. My license to practice medicine is still current, and since I live in one of the states (Colorado) that has pledged to keep abortion legal, I may go back to being an abortion provider again.

There is strong evidence that children who are born from unintended pregnancies don’t thrive as well as those that were intended. These children are more likely to have run-ins with the law as they get older. Some studies show that the decrease in crime in the 1990s was due to the legalization of abortion by Roe v. Wade 20 years earlier. Thus, the recent U.S. Supreme Court’s overthrow of that legalization may have terrible effects on society.

Richard Grossman
Bayfield, Colo.

It is true that, without a sense of unity on abortion, FCNL does not currently lobby on it. Other Friends do. It is not true that we cannot labor over the issue. Friend Erick writes, “one thing is clear: However long it lasts, conversations in the abortion space will not be polite. Indeed the conversation is already down-and-dirty.” That’s terrible. Friends, especially including FCNL, espouse diplomacy over war. We seek to bridge seemingly unbridgeable divides. It doesn’t work to preach diplomacy to others in their passionate disagreements while giving up to “down-and-dirty” fighting in our own society.

Conflict can be good and clarifying, leading to deeper understanding of ourselves and our society. This is a teachable moment.

Deb Fink
Ames, Iowa

Correction: Steve Smith’s letter in the September print and online “Forum” originally listed the wrong date for the Fox declaration in Darby jail. This occurred in 1652, not 1661.


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