Mainline Protestant denominations, long identified with a prochoice stand on abortion, have begun to reassess that position.

The Presbyterian Church (USA) in October sent study materials on abortion to its 12,000 congregations. The mailing launched a four-month review of the denomination’s 1983 abortion statement. At the church’s annual meeting in July, many objected to the statement’s view that abortion is not only a right but sometimes an “act of faithfulness before God.”

James Andrews, the denomination’s stated clerk, said he sees a “very broad concern and rethinking” on abortion in his denomination and possibly throughout mainline Protestantism.

“There is a great deal of discomfort with the fact that there are 1.5 million abortions a year,” he said. “People who favored our statements [supporting abortion in the early 1970s] are now saying, ‘I never thought there would be so much pressure for abortion.’

“I think we’ve also been influenced heavily by the Catholic bishops’ pastoral letter [on nuclear arms],” Andrews said. He cited the bishops’ view that opposition to both abortion and nuclear arms forms part of a “consistent ethic of life.”

“When you discuss such things as nuclear arms, capital punishment, and abortion, you have to realize that they are related in some way,” he said.

Another Protestant spokesman, however, denies that the Catholic bishops’ approach has influenced him.

“I think the nuclear arms race and abortion are two completely different issues, and to try to link them up is intellectual nonsense,” said Thomas White, director of the Office of Social Witness of the Reformed Church in America (RCA). White and some other RCA leaders favor abortion rights. But the denomination’s policy-making body has shifted away ...

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