Alt SS — Abortion

By: Stephen Marsh
April 13, 2012

If we are going to have discussions about doctrine and about things that matter or that truly affect us, it would not hurt to have one on abortion.


“The Church opposes elective abortion for personal or social convenience. Members must not submit to, perform, encourage, pay for, or arrange for an abortion. The only possible exceptions are when:

1. Pregnancy resulted from rape or incest.

2. A competent physician determines that the life or health of the mother is in serious jeopardy.

3. 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.”

What are the implications of this position?  It does not take the bright line approach of some faiths (e.g. some Catholics who believe that the mental or physical health of the mother should be sacrificed for the unborn).  So, bumper stickers aside, abortion is not murder.


However, abortion is also not something that the bishop or others have a veto over.  It is something that someone can receive divine approval of.  It is a choice, and ultimately the choice of the person involved.

Why is that?  Might it be because the issue is by far personal, intense and far reaching?  Take a child who is born with defects that will result in death.  The timing of the death, the implications and the way that they embroil others can be devastating and incredibly far reaching.  For some, having the child and having it die in their arms might be the blessing they need.  For others it might well be the last overwhelming matter of cost, both financially and emotionally, that destroys them.

Regardless, it is a decision not lightly made, and one that needs the support of the Spirit — but it is also one that is intensely personal and inappropriate for intrusion.

How would you teach a lesson so as to remind all of the sanctity of life, the need for the care of those around us (as in the case of a pregnant person who has been raped and who faces mental anguish beyond their ability to cope), and the duty to respect the spiritual decisions of others in regards to intensely personal issues?

What points have I missed, and what points should be excluded?

Caveat. I’ve been through the death of a child.  I’ve been through heroic medical attempts to save a child born with a significant heart problem.  I’ve watched others struggle.  I’ve seen the devastation caused by the struggle.  I’ve also known others who have been blessed by it.  I’m afraid that I really do not see that “one size fits all” applies here, beyond it being an intensely personal choice that should have less intrusion and more faith and love.

But, as those who have read my other posts know, I can be wrong, sometimes completely wrong.

21 Responses to Alt SS — Abortion

  1. Heber13 on April 13, 2012 at 3:45 PM

    I might try to structure teaching the lesson on not only abortion, but on those difficult situations where a loved one is only being kept alive in a hospital by machines. When would it be appropriate to pull the plug if we teach sanctity of life?

    Abortion is difficult for me because I’m a man, so I have opinions but the woman and her body make it difficult to relate to that choice and makes me feel sheepish to share my views on it.

    The lesson should apply to everyone, so maybe it shouldn’t only focus on abortion, but other situations where dilemmas face all people.

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  2. Howard on April 13, 2012 at 4:28 PM

    I think the best we can do is bracket the problem. Is using the morning after pill taking a human life assuming fertilization has taken place? I don’t see how this can be reasonably argued unless it is some kind of spiritual argument. Is killing a child at birth taking a human life? Clearly it is, so clearly it must be some time before birth as well. Premature viability begins at 22-23 weeks, from this time forward assuming things have progressed normally I would argue it is taking a human life. The Bible says blood is life, is it talking about this? If so circulation begins at about 3 weeks, if you abort then are you taking a human life? I don’t know but if you were to abort before this I would argue not. But this limit isn’t very helpful for making an abortion decision because it is so early in the pregnancy. So what do we do about the range from 3 weeks to 22 weeks? Mom and dad have an opinion and their views can be and likely will be considered. Who speaks for the unborn child? The church! I’m at peace with that because we can seek the Spirit’s guidance and follow that even when it’s contrary to the Handbook and if it isn’t contrary perhaps a learning experience awaits us.

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  3. MH on April 13, 2012 at 4:32 PM

    You often hear that abortion is ok in the case of rape. Of all the rapes that happen, does anyone know what percent of rapes result in the woman getting pregnant? My guess is that it is a small percentage.

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  4. Stephen Marsh on April 13, 2012 at 5:24 PM

    Heber13 — that is an excellent expansion on the topic.

    Howard — a good point, because the Church does not teach that birth control = abortion (unlike some).

    MH — the most significant rapes are those of incest, which are more likely to result in children. However, there are a number of women who have written on the topic of rape and pregnancy and I would defer to them on the topic.

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  5. NewlyHousewife on April 13, 2012 at 5:27 PM

    MH,according to medical reports roughly 5% get pregnant from one-time unprotected sexual intercourse. This same number is assumed for those who are raped, according to RAINN.

    You also have to ask what is considered a “competent physician”. How many second-opinions are needed before an abortion is considered necessary?

    Personally, I hate these sanctity of life lessons. We have no idea when the spirit and body join, so why pretend like we do?

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  6. Jo In Utah on April 13, 2012 at 5:37 PM

    In this case, I find the gray areas to be filled with comfort. I think we don’t have an exact time when the spirit quickens the body, because it is variable. I have had the honor to be a midwife for many years and have had many opportunities to share life and sadly, death with families. Sometimes the family is sure the life that came and left too soon, was a life fulfilled. They feel the child received the body they needed and that spirit would join their family in the next life. Others have felt this particular body was not intended for this spirit, and then the spirit inhabited the next body instead. My midwife said she felt that building a body in the womb was much like building a house, and the spirit came and went, much as we visit the homes we are building. What I KNOW, is I don’t know. There are no hard and fast timelines, and each of us need to reach out for Heavenly guidance in these things and to not judge another person for walking a different path.

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  7. Stephen Marsh on April 13, 2012 at 5:40 PM

    Jo — “In this case, I find the gray areas to be filled with comfort.” — and I think we should teach that the gray areas are gray (or grey).

    NewlyHousewife — I think we should teach that we do not know.

    each of us need to reach out for Heavenly guidance in these things and to not judge another person for walking a different path. — and I think we need to acknowledge that there are different paths.

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  8. NewlyHousewife on April 13, 2012 at 6:21 PM

    Jo In Utah: Wish you were my midwife, though I also wish I had a home birth…

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  9. hawkgrrrl on April 13, 2012 at 6:35 PM

    We had a Gospel Doctrine teacher who used to like to lob these kinds of questions out at the beginning of class as attention getting (seeking?) activities. He would ask the question, expecting to get a very black and white answer that could have been crafted by Rick Santorum, but our ward was pretty above average in terms of thoughtfulness on these topics and actually having leadership experience and knowledge of the real guidelines, not just Lou Dobbs’ talking points.

    On this question, he asked what the church’s stance was on abortion. One sister who was a former RS president raised her hand and said that it’s the woman’s choice and should be made prayerfully, and that a couple should consult with their bishop, but abortion is not opposed in cases where the health of the mother is at stake, cases of rape or incest, or potentially if there are serious birth defects. We should make this decision like all decisions, carefully and prayerfully.

    That wasn’t the answer he wanted, but he couldn’t get the ward to say otherwise.

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  10. Howard on April 13, 2012 at 7:20 PM

    This is a sensitive and important topic so I’ve decided to share a very personal experience. I’m not attempting to reveal or define doctrine or tell you how it works, your mileage may vary. After being born and raised in the church I left it and lived a very worldly life until a profound encounter with the Spirit in 2003. Since then I follow the Spirit, it is how I live life. Soon after this encounter I began what was to become 18 months of repentance including having broken my temple vows and years later having paid for my girlfriend’s abortion. The abortion issue was many times larger than my vows and months were spent on it. I was surprised by the impact the abortion had on my psyche and the psychological block I had created to push it out and keep it out of my conscious mind. These things take a toll on us both physically and spiritually. But this was not the end of it I could not be forgiven before I empathetically considered and understood the view point of the aborted. After months of anguish over this I was given to understand than I was forgiven that I had not delayed or impeded anyone with this first trimester abortion but that it is a very serious issue because they cannot defend themselves.

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  11. Stephen Marsh on April 13, 2012 at 8:01 PM

    Howard, thank you for sharing.

    hawkgrrrl — they would have eaten him alive in my ward ;)

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  12. mh on April 13, 2012 at 8:44 PM

    if we want to provoke thought, we could discuss the recent teen birth rates. many note that unmarried teens are usuing more birth control now, so the abortion rate is also dropping. is this a good thing or a mixed bag?

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  13. Bonnie on April 14, 2012 at 12:43 AM

    Your original question was how we would approach this, and I have a stewardship to teach a specific group, so I’m unable to think, for the moment, outside of that. The people in my class would not enjoy or be edified by an emotional discussion with any strong experiences hashed out in a debate atmosphere. For them, I would approach this as a sanctity of life discussion and look at both life’s mortal beginnings and endings, bring in a number of situations, ask people how they would approach the situation as a participant and as a friend/supporter/leader and end with (hopefully) a consensus that we really can trust what other people receive from the spirit.

    On a personal level, I’ve given this a lot of thought. 18 months ago my father had a massive hemorrhagic stroke that left him in a vegetative state. As a family we knew his mind and will about these things and removing his feeding tubes and IV was not questioned. He received palliative care and passed from this world 3 days later. 6 months later my sister gave birth to her 10th and 11th children, one with HLHS (a life-threatening, sometimes salvageable heart condition.) He underwent multiple surgeries and died a month later.

    Though not necessarily applicable to a discussion about abortion, these experiences are relevant to discussions of life and its sanctity. Heroic efforts are desperately distressing to some, desperately important to others. I am impressed that God leaves those decisions in our hands and that church leaders stand behind that. To me it feels that he is willing to take our hands and walk with us through some of our most difficult decisions, to share with us for a moment the weight of being a God, holding life in our hands, and to help us through no matter what decision we make, as we lean on him.

    That is how I would treat this discussion. Howard, if you were in that classroom, I would hope you would feel comfortable to share your experience and that others could learn the depth and reach of the atonement, that we are privileged to be healed if we err in our understanding.

    Too many people are desperately frightened of doing wrong and because they don’t feel that they really have a choice, they don’t. I think the key is that we can speak about these life sanctity issues, put all those “quickening time” opinions on the table, gather opinions about the guaranteed opportunity to have a tabernacle of flesh and perhaps in a certain lineage, and let people see that there is more diversity of ideas (and hope) than they have been thinking.

    Then, when they make choices or help someone else who is, they have a richer understanding of the doctrine and better information from which to make real choices. Nice Alt SS topic.

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  14. Bonnie on April 14, 2012 at 12:53 AM

    By the way, when I’ve taught chastity lessons, I’ve taught them as sanctity of life issues, and discussed the fact that God is particularly aware of beginning and end of life issues. Even then, we’ve talked about the fact that God does not love someone who can’t speak for themselves more than someone who is living, breathing, and trying to do their best. He does not insist that we be tortured to preserve someone else’s life. I’ve watched a few teen girl eyes soften when they’ve understood that they really do have a choice.

    At risk of being horribly overlengthy, I’d like to briefly share what a friend of mine who has done professional counseling for decades once told me. He gives his home phone number to his clients. Not one of his colleagues dares do that because they will lose their private life. He’s not been called after hours one time. The secret is that he looks them deeply in the eyes and says, “If you desperately need me, if it can’t wait until morning and office hours, I want you to call me. I care about you. But I am a family man and I do have a home life. I would ask you to consider if it can wait until 8AM, and if it can, if you have that fortitude, I would be in your debt.”

    They have a choice, and they always choose to respect him. I think if more of our counseling were handled this way, we would have fewer people choosing in ways that hurt themselves and others.

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  15. Howard on April 14, 2012 at 5:20 AM

    Heroic efforts are desperately distressing to some, desperately important to others. Well said. Sometimes this applies to the patient but often it applies to their loved ones or friends who will be left behind. When it’s desperately important to those who will live on it’s because they haven’t done their work, it’s about themselves their lack of acceptance of death clinging instead to the way they want things to be.

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  16. Stephen M (Ethesis) on April 14, 2012 at 3:16 PM

    Thank you to everyone for the respectful tone and comments.

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  17. Paul on April 16, 2012 at 9:22 AM


    Great post and great question.

    Bonnie, I really appreciate your approach: whether or not and how to discuss really depends on those we teach.

    I also apppreciate the notion that there is plenty of gray in this question.

    Doctrines and principles, rather than practices, would be well taught in such a discussion. I agree that teaching chastity in terms of a sanctity of life discussion makes a lot of sense. And so does teaching abortion and end-of-life care.

    Important princples to include:

    1. God’s role as creator and our role as co-creators

    2. Personal revelation

    In the end, these are personal questions we’re asking, not policy questions. The discussion of political policy, in my view, has no place in the Gospel Doctrine class.

    As to the specific question about specific treatments, there’s probably value in a person’s doing plenty of research. For instance, the “morning after” pill has nothing to do with abortion — it prevents fertilization of the egg (like any other birth control pill) and prevents implantation of a fertilized egg (like any IUD).

    The abortion pill is a completely different treatment to be used after a woman misses her first period and before nine weeks gestation.

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  18. Stephen M (Ethesis) on April 16, 2012 at 10:10 PM

    Paul, thank you for adding to the discussion.

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  19. The Other Clark on April 17, 2012 at 4:34 PM

    The crux of the issue is that life begins when the spirit enters the body, and we have no hard guidelines on when this occurs. Obviously, at birth, the spirit and the body have been united in a semi-permanent way, and to forcible separate the two through death is a serious sin.

    But what if the unborn child’s spirit-body connection is more tenuous? Can spirits of aborted children have another chance at birth? If so, perhaps this is why the Church’s policy on abortion is more leneint that it’s stance on infanticide (or any sort murder).

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  20. BrotherQ on April 17, 2012 at 4:42 PM

    Two thoughts:

    1. Because the Church “allows” (but clearly doesn’t encourage) abortions in the circumstances listed in the post, I would take the position that a fetus is quite different from a “born” child. Hence abortion would not be murder. I think many people in the church don’t think of it that way, and have a knee-jerk reaction to the mere mention of the word “abortion” that doesn’t consider this difference.

    2. I have always felt that our male-dominated church leadership gave short shrift to a woman’s right to have control over her own body. It is a difficult dance, a complex balancing of issues, rights, and life itself when someone is considering an abortion for whatever reason. But it seems to me that many Church members are almost totally focused on the unborn child, and are not considerate of the woman’s situation.

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  21. annegb on April 28, 2012 at 9:35 AM

    Were I assigned this lesson, I would focus on Jesus’ counsel to love one another and ask the class to use “I” statements instead of “they” statements. So often a church lesson turns into who can say the most condemning thing about people who don’t toe the line (at least in my ward). And maybe quote from Paul “the greatest of these is charity.” Because you’re right, there is no “one size fits all.” I might make the point that anybody who has an abortion is surely suffering with the decision. While it’s true that life is sacred, it’s up to God to judge between me and thee.

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