Roger Terry: There is a hole in the LDS position on abortion

The problem is the definition of the word ‘convenience’

FILE - In this Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2015 file photo, Whitney Duhaime, center, shares her opinions with an anti-abortion protester as the Planned Parenthood Action Council holds a community rally at the state Capitol in Salt Lake City. Planned Parenthood Association of Utah CEO Karrie Galloway says the demonstration is a protest against Gov. Gary Herbert's decision to stop disbursing federal money to Planned Parenthood. (Leah Hogsten/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP)

Since the leak of Justice Samual Alito’s draft opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade, emotions on both sides have run high and extremism has carried the day. In this climate, it would be wise to turn down the heat, recognize the complexity of the abortion issue and realize that the best solution is not on either extreme, but rather somewhere in the middle.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has long espoused a position on abortion that, while not in the middle, is certainly not extreme.

“The Church opposes elective abortion for personal or social convenience,” the policy reads, but “the Church allows for possible exceptions when ... pregnancy results from rape or incest, or a competent physician determines that the life or health of the mother is in serious jeopardy, or ... determines that the fetus has severe defects that will not allow the baby to survive beyond birth.”

The fact that the church allows for exceptions means it does not consider abortion the equivalent of murder. The church recognizes complicating factors that can make abortion not just acceptable, but perhaps even preferable in certain circumstances.

Abortion, however, is even more complex than the LDS position allows. Indeed, there is a significant hole in the official LDS abortion statement. The unspoken assumption is that any abortion that does not fall under the three exceptions is by default an abortion of “convenience.”

But thousands upon thousands of abortions are not sought for mere convenience but for reasons that include, among others, severe economic hardship, the fear of bringing a child into a family with an abusive husband and father, or the protection of the future life of a mentally or emotionally fragile woman who would be devastated by bringing an unwanted child into the world.

Perhaps the problem is the word “convenience.” Unless you redefine the word, it simply doesn’t cover the many complex situations that fall outside the bounds of the three exceptions. I’ve tried, but I can’t come up with a word that covers both convenience and all these difficult situations.

Consider the fact that 75 percent of women who terminate their pregnancies are low-income, and nearly half live below the poverty line. Fifty-five percent are either unmarried or do not live with the father. The average cost of having a baby in the United States is $13,024, which rises to $22,646 for a C-section. Such an expense would devastate many women who seek abortions, especially since a large percentage of them live without private health insurance or do not qualify for Medicaid. For many of these women, an abortion is not for “convenience”; it is for survival.

Some activists argue that the alternative to abortion is adoption. But adoption is often not a viable option. The cost for an adopting couple using an independent agency generally runs between $15,000 and $40,000. And adoption is not an easy, one-size-fits-all solution to unwanted pregnancy. Often finding an acceptable adoptive couple is not easy. There are already more than 400,000 children in foster care in the United States. Banning abortion would certainly increase this number.

Much of the rhetoric surrounding abortion is religious in nature. The theory that “life” begins at conception is largely an evangelical Christian argument that is of fairly recent origin. The LDS position on this question is undefined and is complicated by the unique doctrine of the pre-existence of human spirits. The church has never officially declared when the spirit enters the body, but LDS scripture and policy suggest it is not at conception and may even be at birth.

As historian Ardis Parshall put it in a recent blog post, “The practice of the Church bolsters the thought that body and spirit are not joined until birth, because a child who dies in the womb, at any stage and from whatever cause, cannot be sealed to his or her parents and is not carried on Church records as a child of a family even if the parents were previously sealed in the temple.”

Abortion is a difficult decision for any woman, and there are uncounted complicating circumstances that make forced childbirth by blanket law an unwise and oppressive measure. Considering all this, the policy that makes the most sense for Latter-day Saints is to restrict abortions for mere “convenience,” but to support the right of a woman to terminate a pregnancy when she, her doctor, her clergy and (in many cases) her partner deem this to be the best overall solution in truly difficult circumstances.

Roger Terry BYU Studies Portraits Roger Terry November 5, 2018

Roger Terry, Orem, is a writer and editor who considers himself both pro-life and pro-choice.