LDS Church Neutrality on Abortion Legislation

While a student at BYU, I encountered an incredible amount of misconceptions on the political issue of abortion. It seemed that anyone who spoke to me of the issue assumed that Democrats and liberals “believed in” abortion, meaning that those who were pro-choice thought abortions were good things, and not something to be avoided. Over the next few posts, I aim to explore various aspects concerning the political issues of abortion, stem cell research, and as President George W. Bush termed it, “the culture of life.” To be clear, this is not an effort on my part to support the pro-choice position as I do not define myself as pro-choice, nor do I define myself as pro-life. I hope to establish a framework for thoughtful people to have rational discussions about these issues.

Since this is an LDS-related blog, I want to start this series of posts with the Church’s positions on abortion. Yes, that’s right, positions. On moral and ethical grounds, the Church has clearly articulated its expectations of its members. The Church “believes in the sanctity of human life… and opposes elective abortion for personal or social convenience, and counsels its members not to submit to, perform, encourage, pay for, or arrange for such abortions.” It only allows for possible exceptions in cases of (1) rape/incest, (2) where the life or health of the mother is in serious jeopardy, and (3) where the fetus has severe defects that will not allow the baby to survive beyond birth. Additionally, these rare exceptions do not justify abortion automatically. It is clear that the Church considers elective abortion to be sinful. I would never personally support or encourage someone to have an elective abortion because of my personal view on the sanctity of life.

However, the Church’s position on what the government’s role should be in regulating abortion is entirely different. On the Church’s official newsroom webpage, it states that “the Church has not favored or opposed legislative proposals or public demonstrations concerning abortion.” Clearly, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has been politically neutral on what laws related to abortion should be adopted by our legislatures.

So to kick off my series of posts about the political issues of life, it needs to be clear, at least within LDS circles, that there is room within official LDS orthodoxy on what should be the law of the land. The pro-choice position basically articulates the belief that our government has little or no role in regulating abortions in our country. The pro-life position conversely believes that the government should have a heavy hand in regulating abortion, criminalizing it in most cases. I believe there are earnest, moral, and thoughtful people who are in both camps and in between.

16 Replies to “LDS Church Neutrality on Abortion Legislation”

  1. Aaron,

    I'm not Pro-Choice or Pro-Life, I am Pro-Responsibility. All concious actions have reprecussions and we are responsible for them.

    Abortion for sake of convenience, one-night stand, bad relationship, birth control, lack of money etc. etc. is a pernicious evil which shows a lack of responsibility. There are some areas in life where there is no gray area, this is one of them. They are tens of thousands of parents who can't have children who are willing to take someone elses "problem".

    My wife has a co-worker, a wonderful woman in a committed marriage. Six months into the pregnancy, it was discovered that the baby's intestines were growing outside of the body, and that he would not survive childbirth. Even worse, the mother was experiencing excessive bleeding which would put her life in peril. Their insurance wouldn't cover anything. They chose to have an abortion in Baltimore. The agony that both father and mother went through was, and still is excruciating. They did the responsible thing.

    Abortion should be kept safe and legal for situations such as that. I also favor increased sexual education….and the consequences of pre-marital sex should frankly be discussed, even in the most conservative LDS home.

  2. I agree with this: "Abortion for sake of convenience, one-night stand, bad relationship, birth control, lack of money etc. etc. is a pernicious evil which shows a lack of responsibility."

    However, if you are saying that the government should prohibit/criminalize abortion in cases of "convenience," then you hold the pro-life position. I don't think there is anything wrong with that, but that is precisely what many if not most pro-lifers believe. In one of my next posts, I will discuss the ramifications compelling a woman to carry her unwanted pregnancy to term and how that impacts other related policy discussions.

    Like I said in my post, the Church is politically neutral on what the government's role should be in regulating abortion and thus there is room within LDS orthodoxy on what position faithful LDS members can take on the regulation/policy question of abortion.

  3. I am also in favor of "increased sexual education". I personally hold the belief that abortion should remain legal and that more education should take place so that people can make informed decisions. I think that making abortion illegal would cause 1) more people to have illegal/unsafe abortions 2) cause more mental anguish to those who fall into the unusual circumstances that the church allows abortion to occur. Having had a child I absolutely appreciate the miracle of life. But I also have to sympathize with those who might find themselves pregnant by accident. It is a very difficult thing to go through, especially if you're not prepared. I understand the idea of being responsible for your actions but why does all the responsibility lie with the woman? I personally would never encourage anyone to have an abortion but I cannot judge those whose shoes I haven't walked in.

  4. By the way, by far the best discourse I've ever read on abortion comes from Elder Dallin H. Oaks (referred to as the "worst person in the world" by MSNBC's answer to Sean Hannity….Keith Olbermann). The talk "Weightier Matters" was given in 1999 at BYU and later republished in either 2001 or 2002 in the the Ensign. It is an impressive and thoughtful examination of choice and accountability….also re-affirming the church's position against "abortion on demand"

  5. James, to be clear, we all agree that the Church counsels members not to have abortions on demand, elective abortions, what ever you want to call them. Everyone who has commented agrees that any abortion is a tragedy and elective abortions are immoral.

    However, for official LDS Church positions on POLITICAL issues, including the political issue of abortion (meaning- what is the government's role in regulating abortion) the Church's newsroom website is the primary source as this is the medium the Church uses to articulate its stance on political issues to the public.

    I linked that newsroom webpage on this post. It says "the Church has not favored or opposed legislative proposals or public demonstrations concerning abortion," clearly indicating its current POLITICAL (not moral) neutrality on abortion. I haven't seen Elder Oak's 2002 talk, but general authorities are free to share their own opinions on political issues and they occasionally do. They have even disagreed with each other in their views of various non-doctrinal issues.

    The purpose of this discussion is to provide a framework for debating the government's role in regulating abortion. Just because one believes a certain behavior or act is immoral, it does not always lead that person to conclude that government regulation or prohibition of that behavior is the answer.

    Clearly, you believe that the government should prohibit/criminalize abortion. I can completely respect that position, but there are certain repercussions of that position I aim to explore in my upcoming posts. Nonetheless, there are others who may feel just as strongly as you and I do about the tragedy and immoral nature of elective abortion, but may not agree that the government should play a significant part in criminalizing elective abortion.

  6. Also I wanted to mention (not having read that talk by Elder Oaks) I suspect he was addressing the morality of abortion, not the legal question of abortion regarding the government's role in regulating/criminalizing it.

  7. "Clearly, you believe that the government should prohibit/criminalize abortion."

    Please refer to the third paragraph of my first post. I would like to see government funding for public school sex education, support for adoption agencies and counselors who discuss prior to the abortion the ramifications of that choice, and other alternatives.

  8. I apologize for misunderstanding. I thought you were using the Elder Oaks talk to claim that the Church's political position on abortion was the same as its moral position. I agree completely with what you said:
    "I would like to see government funding for public school sex education, support for adoption agencies and counselors who discuss prior to the abortion the ramifications of that choice, and other alternatives."

  9. Aaron,
    I would like to challenge your interpretation of the church’s position on the legislative policy relative to abortion.

    You referenced a quote from the church’s website: “the Church has not favored or opposed legislative proposals or public demonstrations concerning abortion.”

    Your conclusion: “Clearly, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has been politically neutral on what laws related to abortion should be adopted by our legislatures.”

    I don’t think that your conclusion is necessarily the right one. Just because the church has been “politically neutral” does not mean that it doesn’t have a position; it simply hasn’t taken one publicly. I can assure you that the leaders of the church have absolute views on whether and when abortions should occur–just as they do for what is commonly referred to in society as “murder”–yet the church hasn’t taken a position on whether legislatures should regulate murder either. Or perhaps you could prove me wrong on that?

    As a society we have lulled ourselves into this very distorted view on what governments should legislate on and what they should not. On the one hand, I suspect that you would agree that governments should legislate to prevent murder. On the other hand, you somehow don’t think that governments should legislate to prevent abortion. Yet in God’s eyes, they are the same. The US constitution clearly charges the federal government with the responsibility to protect life. It does not distinguish between life outside the womb vs inside. And therein lies the problem. Because it doesn’t specify ‘inside the womb,’ the 1973 Supreme Court in Roe interpreted the Consitution to not protect unborn life. If you’re a faithful member of the church, you can conclude nothing other than that the abortion of untold millions of babies since Roe has been one of the greatest tragedies since Adam was placed here (to say nothing of all others since Adam).

    I believe that the Founders had very strong convictions on life. I therefore don’t think they omitted the above language because they were either ambivalent in their position or wanted to leave it to some Supreme Court judge in 1973 to interpret their intent. I believe that they didn’t even concieve that this nation would go the route that we have.

    And so back to the point at hand: Should governments legislate abortion? Well, the idea that they should legislate some aspects of life and property rights and not others seems completely contradictory.

    And the fact is, we have completely contradictory laws on the books. In 36 states, it’s illegal for someone to harm a fetus within the womb of its mother. The fact that those laws exist in 36 states and not all is a contradiction in and of itself. But more contradictory than that is that those same laws allow the harm to the fetus by the mother or the mother’s medical provider. So, no one can kill a fetus–except the mother and her doctor. And that’s because only the mother can decide if the fetus is just part of her body–no different from a finger nail–or is a viable, separate unborn human. The laws make zero sense.

    So if you believe that governments should outlaw murder but should not outlaw abortion you contradict yourself. And just because the church hasn’t said so publicly doesn’t mean that it isn’t true.

    Ultimately, the only guidepost that we have on what should be regulated and what should not is the US Constitution. Clearly, the intent of the Founders was that the Federal Government has a responsibility to protect against life and property right infringments.

    I’ll leave you to decide for yourself whether an unborn fetus is a separate human living inside its mother–or just an extension of her body.

    1. Kelly- thank you for reading and taking the time to comment. The church has a position on criminalizing murder. When the church government ruled the Utah territory, murder was punishable by death and there has never been any church statement indicating that they don’t support any legislative proposals that regulate/criminalize murder. Just because they didn’t issue a statement in support of criminalizing murder does not mean they are politically neutral on the issue. It’s a common-sense law that no one disputes and thus doesn’t really require a statement of support from the church. It’s really a poor comparison to begin with. Furthermore, the church has never equated abortion with murder. In the commandment, “thou shalt not kill… nor do anything like unto it,” church leaders have shown that abortion falls into the “anything like unto it” category. If the church believed abortion was murder, they wouldn’t allow exceptions for rape or incest. Murder is never okay. Yet, according to the church, abortion is acceptable in some cases. I have yet to see any statement from a church leader equating the two as you have. One important issue to consider is that the church has never revealed when the spirit enters the body. If the church had received revelation that the spirit entered the body at conception (at the 1-cell stage), then you’d almost certainly find them in favor of outlawing all abortions with no exception for rape or incest. And you’d find them speaking out against many types of birth control, which prevent implantation of fertilized embryos.

      Now, I acknowledge that while the church may have “not favored or opposed legislative proposals or public demonstrations concerning abortion,” it could always elect to do so in the future, thus choosing a political position. But given that hasn’t happened, I think it’s important to have a framework for discussing the legality of abortion and the impact of criminalizing it that doesn’t call into question the righteousness of those who don’t want the government involved in regulating abortion. You have mis-stated my position on the issue. As I mentioned in my post, I am not certain myself of what level of government regulation or criminalization I believe should exist for abortion. I don’t call myself pro-life or pro-choice. I probably fall somewhere in between on the issue. But I highly recommend you read my next post on the subject, which explores some of the potential consequences of criminalizing abortion, consequences that most people who are pro-choice clearly ignore: http://www.mormondems.com/archives/171

      You are ascribing to the Founders views that they never espoused. Abortion was not a big political issue back then, likely due to the unavailability of medically safe abortion procedures, and they likely didn’t put much thought into it. I can appreciate and respect those who believe that abortion should be criminalized if they have a more comprehensive approach to respecting life, as outlined in this post: http://www.mormondems.com/archives/4

      I believe elective abortions are tragic and we should do everything we can to prevent them, including and especially preventing unwanted pregnancies.

  10. Thank you, Aaron for this thoughtful and sober discussion of a very sensitive topic.

    I was discussing the question of abortion, and the Church’s position, with a good friend – a serving bishop, though not of my ward. He contrasted the moral teaching with the Church’s careful political position, in much the same way that you have done.

    But mostly, we discussed our own feelings. I have a sickened horror contemplating the deliberate abortion of a viable, healthy foetus (30+ weeks). Legal or not legal, I have a deep revulsion of such an act. So did my friend. But I must say that I simply don’t have the same visceral feeling about the termination of an early-stage zygote or proto-embryo which has not yet developed distinct organs or functioning systems. And that’s where discussions about law or morality frequently become hamstrung by absolutism – the legal view that a primitive blastocyst is no different than a kicking 30+ week foetuses, and the contrasting theological view that these two stages are exactly equal in terms of the moral gravity where abortion is concerned.

    What that leaves, of course, is a grey area. And that’s a tricky thing all round. Law and morality both struggle with grey areas, and do everything possible to define them out of existence. The only answer, really, is to think, pray, ponder, and talk these issues out.

    1. Gwyn- excellent comment. I completely agree with your sentiments. Absolutist statements in theological and legal debates on when life begins don’t properly deal with the complexities and differences of the fetal stages you’ve contrasted.

  11. I wish the abortion debate had not gotten so out of hand. What we think about its morality vs.its necessity is an importaint debate to have on an issue that so divides us. What role government should play in invading a woman’s privacy to decide the issue is another matter that was already settled by Row v. Wade. These are related, but not the same issues in my mind. Government should not dictate an answer to this question and people should not be trying to take over our denocratic government to impose their moral judgement.

  12. A lot of people here seem to fear the government. Well there are a great many of us who fear the “morality” of your church, and of other churches far more than the government. Most of the people commenting are obviously on the side of the church, and are totally fine with the church deciding what your morals are or should be, but not the government. Well how about we let EACH INDIVIDUALS MORALITY take a play at this. Your religion (actually, anyone’s religion) has NOTHING to do with me or how I choose to live my life. I don’t particularly care for the government trying to regulate things, but it is a fairer method than letting someone’s CHURCH decide. At least to some extent, we ALL have a say in government. We have NO SAY WHATSOEVER in your church. So keep your church business on church business, and leave decisions on what a person can and should be able to do WITH THEIR OWN BODY to their own decisions. Because as long as you try to shove your religious “morality” down other people’s throats, the more they are going to rebel against you.

    This is NOT a diatribe against the LDS church – this is a diatribe against ALL churches. I am not Mormon, and I was raised Christian. I questioned my beliefs as an adult and found that there is NO RELIGION whose essence is to heal the earth. For that reason, I put all religion behind me, I still live a moral life as taught by my Christian famly – I just do not believe the same things they (or most of you) do.

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