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May 20

A Statement and a Protest

On May 19, 1972 (eight months before the landmark Roe v. Wade decision by the United States Supreme Court), the 39th General Assembly, meeting in Oostberg, Wisconsin, took up overture 8 from the Presbytery of New Jersey. That overture requested the Assembly to adopt a statement on abortion, which affirmed that “voluntary abortion, except to save the physical life of the mother, is a violation of the Sixth Commandment.” After the Assembly debated late into the night, the motion to adopt the statement carried, after which fourteen commissioners recorded their negative votes.

On the following morning, May 20, a protest, signed by Donald Duff, Robley Johnston, and Cornelius Tolsma, was entered into the minutes. The protest regretted the adopting of the Statement on the grounds that “it is impossible to solve ethical arguments with statements of pious advice. Ethical problems can only rightly be dealt with by a judicatory as that judicatory deals with concrete situations referred to it for resolution.”

Later the Assembly adopted a response to the protest that was prepared by a committee appointed by Moderator Jack Peterson. Citing WCF 31.2 (“it belongeth to synods and councils, ministerially to determine controversies of faith and cases of conscience”) the response read in part: “Granting that resolutions on such cases should be made with discretion and only in matters of great concern, the Assembly affirms its right and duty to declare the truth ministerially to the people of God and the world in which we live.”

Picture: Moderator Jack Peterson

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