Sunday, March 30, 2008

Abortion

Can a Mormon belong to an organization that supports abortion rights? Are Mormons required to be Pro-Life? Is it possible for a Mormon to hold to the teachings of the Church and be Pro-Choice? All of these are different ways of asking the same question. I think the abortion issue is one of the biggest problems members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have with the Democratic Party. Isaiah teaches us to beware of those that call evil good and good evil. One of the ways that this happens is for us to take simple problems and make them complex, another is to take complex problems and over simplify them. Abortion is a very complex problem, and there is no simple solution. If you ever hear anyone say (regardless of which side of the issue they are on) that they have an easy answer— run away, fast. For this entry I will not give my personal opinion on abortion, partly because it is not fully formed yet, and partly because that’s not really the point. Today I mostly want to answer the question “Are Mormons required by their beliefs and/or church to be “Pro-Life?”

First I think it is important to clearly define what it means to be Pro-Life. In order to be Pro-Life you must hold all of the following opinions:

1) The decision about whether or not to have an abortion is a moral question.
2) Society has a large enough interest in the outcome of that decision to warrant a role in the decision making process.
3) It is proper for society to act though its senates or legislators to influence the outcome of that decision in favor of not having an abortion.
4) The final decision about whether a woman should have an abortion should be made by the government, rather than the woman herself.
5) The best way for the government to enforce that decision is to deny women legal access to abortion, and punish those who find a way to circumvent that denial of access.

Next we need to look at what the Church has said about abortion. Abortion is one of the very few political questions that the Church and its leaders have directly addressed. Because the leadership of the Church is made up of various individuals who may or may not have spoken about this topic over a number of years, and because even the views of a single individual may be refined over time, rather than look at the words of any one individual for the Church’s position, we should look to the most recently published official position. This, I believe, represents the consensus view of the Church leadership, and communicates to the members of the Church their direction on this issue. The following is a direct and complete quote from the Church’s web site quoted on 3/30/08, and can be found here:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes in the sanctity of human life. Therefore, the Church 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.
The Church allows for possible exceptions for its members 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
• A competent physician determines that the fetus has severe defects that will not allow the baby to survive beyond birth.
The Church teaches its members that even these rare exceptions do not justify abortion automatically. Abortion is a most serious matter and should be considered only after the persons involved have consulted with their local church leaders and feel through personal prayer that their decision is correct.
The Church has not favored or opposed legislative proposals or public demonstrations concerning abortion.


Let’s compare this statement to the five opinions needed to be considered Pro-Life:

1) The decision about whether or not to have an abortion is a moral question.

Yes, the church clearly and forcefully proclaims that the decision whether or not to have an abortion is a moral decision.

2) Society has a large enough interest in the outcome of that decision to warrant a role in the decision making process.

The existence of a published opinion on abortion is a statement that the Church believes in the very least that it has a role to play in that decision making process. And by counseling its members “not…to, perform, encourage, pay for, or arrange” abortions I believe that it can be convincingly argued that the Church leadership holds that larger society also has a role, although the closing statement clearly places limits as to the types of involvement the Church is willing to support.

3) It is proper for society to act though its senates or legislators to influence the outcome of that decision in favor of not having an abortion.

Here is where the argument that the church requires its members to be Pro-Life breaks down. The closing sentence reads: “The Church has not favored or opposed legislative proposals or public demonstrations concerning abortion.” In other words the Church had the opportunity to call for legislative action on this issue and specifically rejected that opportunity.

4) The final decision about whether a woman should have an abortion should be made by the government, rather than the woman herself.

5) The best way for the government to enforce that decision is to deny women legal access to abortion, and punish those who find a way to circumvent that denial of access.

Again the Church leadership clearly made the conscious choice not to call for government action. In another entry I think it will be worth looking at the place that moral agency holds in Mormon theology and how that relates to the abortion question.

While it is clear that the Church strongly disapproves of abortion – in most cases – it is also clear that Church leaders had the opportunity to address the fundamental argument of the Pro-Life movement (namely that abortion should be prevented by force of law) and clearly decided to remain neutral on that issue. Again, let me be clear, the Church is not neutral on the morality of abortion, only on the legality.
So does the Church require that its members be Pro-Life? No. Can members of the Church be Pro-Choice? Yes, at least if their position is a position about who should be making the decision, and not about the morality of the abortion itself. Can a Church member be part of an organization that supports a women’s right to determine for herself whether or not she will follow the Church’s teachings? Absolutely.

3 comments:

Nichole Jolene said...

I am pro Life yet I do not agree with all the statements you have made "...in order to be pro life" Please use less generalities. Enjoyed your blog!

Chris said...

So, which comments do you disagree with exactly?

Dan said...

I enjoyed your blog. Of all the gray, fuzzy, debatable issues this one takes the cake, for me.

With regard to what it takes to be pro life, I think you've left out some key points which are illustrated by the question: is abortion murder? To answer that you have to decide if the fetus is a person or not. If not, then no, abortion is not murder and the case is closed (more or less). If you say yes, then it has to be murder and my next question is, "Why does this person not have rights?" If the person does not have rights because they are completely dependent on the mother for survival then when does a person gain rights? It certainly can't be when they are born, or even when they turn 2 years of age. I remember hearing in school that some ancient societies (don't quote me) allowed infanticide and pediatricide (if that's even a word) up until the child turned 7 years of age because the child's survival depended on the parents. I think most pro choice people would be appalled by such a notion.
Now if I could move on with regard to rights... If the unborn person is morally entitled to rights why shouldn't the government protect them? I mean, the government protects our rights, why not theirs?

I know the focus of your blog was whether or not you could be an active member of the church and be pro choice and I think you're right in saying that you can be pro choice and be in good standing with the church, but only because the church's stance is somewhere in between the two choices: "abortions for anyone who wants them, no matter what" and "no abortions for anyone, no matter what."

I feel like many members of the church feel that being pro life is the safer choice. Also, any political junkie will tell you that your vote is your voice, and while voting to support abortions isn't the same as submitting to, performing, encouraging, paying for, or arranging an abortion, it could definitely feel like it.