It’s reassuring to know that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not entirely opposed to abortion. It all depends on the circumstances. Abortion is OK if pregnancy is the result of rape, if it endangers the mother’s life or if it meets certain other criteria.
Those criteria can – and probably will – change over time, just as policy regarding birth control has changed. Presumably, church policy also means women who have experienced abortions may receive temple recommends and other full benefits of church membership.
In other words, the LDS Church, like most churches, counsels against abortion but does not prohibit it. Too many church members don’t understand the difference. They make life miserable for friends and neighbors who have experienced abortion.
And Utah public figures are more likely to express harsh judgment than Christian tolerance. Those who condemn their neighbors for having abortions should be the ones denied religious benefits.
For example, one Utah lawmaker called abortion (including church sanctioned abortion) “butchery.” Obviously, that misguided lawmaker believes women who choose abortion and the medical personnel who care for them are “butchers.” The brutish lawmaker is the one who should be denied religious benefits because of his cruel, insensitive and un-Christian comments.
No doubt, many faithful women chose abortion during the past half century when the Supreme Court – and most thoughtful Americans – considered it a constitutional right. And no doubt, many of those faithful women were welcomed into LDS temples. You probably know one or two of them.
The LDS Church accepts abortion in some circumstances because Church leaders are aware that loss of a developing fetus can occur in at least four ways: 1) The mother-to-be may elect to end her pregnancy through safe medical procedures. 2) A woman may elect to end her pregnancy using one of several dangerous practices. 3) An expectant mother may experience the trauma of miscarriage. 4) A near full-term pregnancy may end with the most difficult of all outcomes – stillbirth.
Miscarriage occurs at least 10 times as often as all other losses of a developing fetus. Estimates say one in three women will experience miscarriage. Clearly, no church or law-making body would think of forbidding or punishing miscarriage or stillbirth. Neither would any rational organization deny membership benefits to women who suffer the emotional and physical trauma of miscarriage or stillbirth.
Both miscarriage and stillbirth are considered “natural” phenomena. But the pain and emotional trauma they produce are hardly natural. Indeed, they are often more un-natural than medically supervised abortion. (My small family has experienced all three.)
Social and religious policies about abortion have changed over time. It seems likely that they will continue to change. Today, the physical wellbeing of the expectant mother is an ameliorative circumstance. Physical health and mental health are closely related. As time passes, concerns for the mental health of the mother will almost certainly be included as a legitimate reason to choose abortion.
Also, the recent irrational decision of the Supreme Court will almost certainly be overridden by congressional action, future courts and reasonable state legislatures.
Given the realities of conception, gestation and birth, it’s impossible to develop rational anti-abortion laws. The LDS Church has the right idea: Discourage abortion, but do not punish those who choose it.
The abortion issue is far from settled. In the meantime, caring human beings should forego the hurtful, angry and un-Christian rhetoric too often heard in the discussion. Good people will focus instead on reasoned compassion.
Don Gale, a longtime Utah journalist, watches the abortion debate closely. After his mother had two sons, doctors told her it would be life threatening for her to experience childbirth again.