An Analysis of Bishop Eaton’s “A Pastoral Message on Abortion”

On May 17, a couple weeks after the news broke of a leak of a draft opinion written by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton released “A Pastoral Message on Abortion.”  A link to her letter can be found here.

Please find below my analysis of what she has written. 

Typically misleading 

It is very typical of Bishop Eaton to say a few words to make it sound like there is room for traditional views within the ELCA, but then she always comes down solidly on the revisionist side.

In the third paragraph of her communication she refers to the ELCA’s 1991 social statement on abortion and says, “This church holds both women and ‘developing life in the womb’ (page 2) as neighbors.”  She acknowledges “life in the womb” as life and seems to give the impression that that life will be valued, considered, and cherished.  She goes even further in the third paragraph when she adds, “This church longs for a future with fewer abortions every year.”

So far it sounds good.  But in the seventh paragraph, after advocating for a “more just society that cherishes and guarantees the dignity of all,” she expresses no concern for cherishing and guaranteeing the dignity (or even life) of the “developing life in the womb.”  She acknowledges the “developing life in the womb” as life, but then totally ignores any concern for the rights, preservation, and cherishing of that life. 

Lack of clarification 

In the third paragraph she states that the ELCA opposes “the total lack of regulation of abortion” (page 9 of the 1991 social statement) but does not state or affirm what kind of “regulation of abortion” the ELCA would and does support.  As is typical, Bishop Eaton is very careful to make sure that she does not say anything that would lead to her being “blasted” by liberals and progressives.  I understand that that is what happened when she said after the death of George Floyd that rioting was not peaceful protesting.  

In the fourth paragraph she says, “Abortion must be legal, regulated, and accessible,” but she says nothing about how abortion should be “regulated.”  Again, if she were to do so, she probably would be “blasted” by liberals and progressives. 

She says nothing specific and definitive about whether there are situations where abortion would not be a morally defensible decision.  She says nothing about the kinds, timing, and/or circumstances of abortions that the ELCA would not or might not support.  She says nothing about the difference between situations where abortion may be deemed “medically necessary” for the life, health, and well-being of the mother, and situations where abortion is an easy way to get rid of an inconvenience. 

One-sided concern

Her concern for protection is totally one-sided. 

In the fourth paragraph she says, “People who choose to have legal abortions should not be harassed,” but she shows no concern regarding –

  • The vandalizing of church buildings or the disruption of worship services for congregations with traditional views.
  • The picketing and protesting outside the homes of SCOTUS Justices with the intent to harass and intimidate.
  • The long-term effects of allowing people who need to make difficult decisions to be harassed and intimidated – whether at the federal or local level, or even in the church. 

Here is one more example of Bishop Eaton’s being very careful to make sure that she does not say anything that would result in her being “blasted” by liberals and progressives. 

She also does not address the whole issue of the leak of a SCOTUS document and how that kind of betrayal of trust undermines the integrity of our institutions. 


She engages in the same kind of fearmongering that has been running rampant in this situation.

In the sixth paragraph she says, “Any Supreme Court decision similar to the leaked draft. . . . has the potential to foster communities of conflict and moral policing rather than complex moral discernment.  It will likely endanger or cause the deaths of people who need an abortion.  And the legal bases (sic) established by any such decision threaten people’s access to birth control, same-sex marriage, voting rights and their right to privacy.”

Bishop Eaton makes these statements even though the draft opinion clearly states that the right to have an abortion is “fundamentally different” from “rights recognized in past decisions involving matters such as intimate sexual relations, contraception, and marriage.” (page 5)

She makes strong statements but then gives no evidence for how a change in one area (abortion) would threaten all these other areas.

Those who hold traditional views were belittled and ridiculed for their concerns leading up to 2009 regarding the slippery slope – that changing the ELCA’s position regarding same sex marriage would lead to other changes.  Here we see “the other side” having a major concern for the slippery slope.  

In the seventh paragraph she adds, “Any ruling similar to the leaked draft will . . . damage the health and well-being of many.  The prospect is daunting.”  Again, she is fearmongering. 

In the fifth paragraph Bishop Eaton says, “This church teaches that abortion and reproductive health care, including contraception, must be legal and accessible.”  By combining contraception with abortion within this sentence Bishop Eaton is again engaged in fearmongering – implying that if the Supreme Court takes away your right to an abortion, it may next take away your access to contraception. 

What the draft opinion actually says

A link to the draft opinion can be found here.

Please note these three significant sentences –    

  • “The constitution makes no mention of abortion.” (page 1)    
  • “No such right is implicitly protected by any constitution provision.” (page 5)
  • Therefore, the draft would “return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives.” (page 6)  

Progressives/liberals say that the Supreme Court would make abortions illegal.  In actuality, the draft opinion would overturn Roe v. Wade’s holding of a federal constitutional right to an abortion.

The draft opinion would not make abortions illegal.  Instead it affirms that the constitution does not provide a basis for the right to an abortion.  The right to have an abortion – or the limitations to the right – should be based upon the action of individual states. 

In the sixth paragraph Bishop Eaton makes the statement, “I urge you to work locally to moderate any Supreme Court decision similar to the leaked draft.”  In making that statement she seems to be acknowledging what the draft opinion is actually doing – returning the decision to the states.

Bottom line

Bishop Eaton’s “Pastoral Message on Abortion” makes one wonder whether she actually read the draft opinion before writing a letter about it. 

She needs to be far more careful if she wishes to help contribute to “complex moral discernment” rather than “conflict and moral policing” (sixth paragraph).  Instead of helping to avoid conflict, she has created conflict by releasing a statement that is highly critical of a position held by many within the ELCA.  She is not serving well as presiding bishop of the whole church when she makes such strong statements that do not respect the diversity of viewpoint within the ELCA.  Once again the ELCA communicates that in spite of all of its talk about diversity and inclusivity, traditional views and those who hold them are not welcome.