There are several subjects that I have learned to avoid discussing with other people, because usually there is so much emotion involved that it becomes impossible to have a rational conversation on the topic. Such things include health care, the designated hitter rule, and abortion.
Joking aside, I get that abortion is a deeply personal topic. My own views on the matter come in large part from my feelings about my wife’s first pregnancy, which ended in a miscarriage. Abortion has become such a common practice in our society that few people have not been touched by it in one way or another, even though it seems that few women who have undergone abortions talk openly about it. It is a polarizing and divisive issue.
So, what do Mormons think about abortion?
The issue is addressed with no small degree of candor in the Church’s Handbook of Instructions 2, which we will look at in a moment. More significantly, it is addressed in LDS scripture, namely the Doctrine and Covenants. The Doctrine and Covenants is a collection of revelations given to presidents of the Church, particularly revelations given in the Church’s formative years to Joseph Smith. Mormons believe that the Lord continues to speak to mankind through prophets because we need direction for the unique issues of our day. Perhaps foreshadowing the issue of abortion, in the 59th Section of the Doctrine and Covenants (received in 1831) the Lord re-states a portion of the Ten Commandments, but with an important addition:
“Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Thou shalt not steal neither commit adultery, nor kill, nor do anything like unto it.” (Doctrine & Covenants 59:6) (emphasis added). The addition of “nor do anything like unto it” is helpful on issue of abortion, because it avoids having to address the difficult questions of when life begins and whether abortion is the same as murder. It is like killing, so it is forbidden. Just as Christ taught that lust is like adultery, and therefore is forbidden, abortion is close enough to killing that the Church does not condone it.
The Church has not addressed the question of when life begins, and I am not sufficiently presumptuous to assert that I know the answer. However, Mormons consider life to be sacred, including the procreative power that brings life into the world. If procreation is a sacred process, and the life that develops from it is sacred, then it would make no sense to accept the destructive act of abortion in between the two.
The Church’s official policy, as expressed in the Handbook, is quite clear:
The Church opposes elective abortion for personal or social convenience. Members must not submit to, perform, arrange for, pay for, consent to, or encourage an abortion. The only possible exceptions are when:
Pregnancy resulted from forcible rape or incest.
A competent physician determines that the life or health of the mother is in serious jeopardy.
A competent physician determines that the fetus has severe defects that will not allow the baby to survive beyond birth.
Even these exceptions do not justify abortion automatically. Abortion is a most serious matter and should be considered only after the persons responsible have consulted with their bishops and received divine confirmation through prayer.
Church members who submit to, perform, arrange for, pay for, consent to, or encourage an abortion may be subject to Church discipline.
As far as has been revealed, a person may repent and be forgiven for the sin of abortion.
To me, this policy carefully balances the seriousness of abortion with common-sense considerations. You might say that it balances justice with mercy. Abortion is condemned as an elective practice. However, where the individual made no election to get pregnant (because of rape or incest), or faces medical issues not of her choosing (threats to her own life or the inviability of the fetus), then abortion may be an appropriate alternative.
The policy also makes clear that abortion is not the same as murder, which is what the last line of that policy is about.
As a practical matter, the Church puts its money where its mouth is when it comes to abortion. I’ve often wondered at organizations that oppose abortion but do little or nothing for unplanned or unwanted children and their mothers. The Church has an extensive adoption program in place to help mothers place their babies into loving homes. I’ve personally seen the Church’s adoption program in action, and from my perspective it has been a gentle, caring and supportive process. (I have heard tales that this was not always the case, which would disappoint but not surprise me. As time has passed, the Church has learned on several fronts how to do the right thing in better ways.) Girls and women are not forbidden from abortion and then left to their own devices to deal with the baby.
From a personal standpoint, the question of whether abortion is right or wrong is far more important than the political decision as to whether abortion is legal, or the extent to which abortion rights can be limited. I happen to think that abortion is a horrendous practice, and I suspect that someday society will look back in horror at the number of abortions performed in our day. I cannot accept the notion that the Creator of all life looks upon the elective destruction of fetuses with anything other than profound grief.
I think that discouraging the practice of abortion is consistent with our Christianity, as is reaching out a helping hand to women who, whether by their own choice or not, are faced with unplanned or unwanted pregnancies. Our Christianity must extend to them as well as to the unborn children they carry.