But What About Abortion?

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This is the third post in a series called How a Utah Mormon Farm Kid Became an Evil Democrat.

Here’s the list:


Setting Expectations

First, let’s make one thing clear. You don’t like abortions. I don’t like abortions. Nobody likes abortions. Everyone wants fewer abortions. 

The fundamental difference is in how we go about accomplishing that goal.

And no matter how much you might like it to be, abortion is simply not a black and white, easy issue. It’s just not. But if this subject makes you really emotional, which is absolutely ok, I need you to just take a step back, take a breath, and hear me out for a few minutes.

Why a Whole Post About Abortion?

So why do I feel like this is something I should discuss at length in its own separate post? Because there are a lot of single-issue voters out there whose entire vote revolves around a candidate’s stance on abortion. I’ve seen people, including family members, state that, even though they despise Donald Trump, that they simply cannot vote for Joe Biden because the Democratic party supports abortion rights.

(Note: for the people potentially planning a third party protest vote for Libertarian candidate Jo Jorgensen because they can’t vote for Trump because he’s awful and can’t vote for Biden because of abortion – I hate to break it to you, but the Libertarian position is to keep government out of it, i.e., keep abortion legal. Sorry if that complicates things for you.)

While I’m definitely not an expert on this subject, I feel like I’ve gone through enough research that I can at least give a fairly educated opinion on the topic and provide some useful resources that might be helpful for some people to discover new information and understand some different perspectives.

Like previous posts, a lot of this is going to be through an LDS/Mormon lens, so set your expectations accordingly. In this case, a big part of what I’m attempting is to offer *my interpretation* of the church’s stance on this issue.


Roe v. Wade Supports the LDS Church’s Abortion Policies

Say what? Again, stick with me.

First of all, do you actually know what the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ official stance on abortion is? Here you go:

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.

https://newsroom.churchofjesuschrist.org/official-statement/abortion

Ok, so the church opposes elective abortion. No surprise there. But did you know about all of those exceptions? I get the feeling that a lot of church members don’t. It certainly feels like a lot of people within the church think all abortion should be outlawed, no matter what. And that is simply not in line with church policy.

General Conference Protestors

It reminds me of when I was teenager. I remember going to the church’s General Conference in Salt Lake City a time or two. There were a bunch of protestors there. And do you know what they were protesting? Abortion. They had signs saying that abortion was murder and that the church was pro-abortion. I was pretty confused. I thought we were against abortion? What are these people talking about? Well, it’s because of the policy exceptions listed above.

The protestors were people who wanted all abortion outlawed, no matter what. But that’s simply not where the church stands on this.

Maybe you don’t agree with the exceptions the church makes. I do. I think that they are fair and compassionate, and should be supported and legal.

Agency?

But you know what I find to be the most surprising line in the policy? The last one:

  • “The Church has not favored or opposed legislative proposals or public demonstrations concerning abortion.”

So while the church opposes elective abortion, it has chosen to remain politically neutral on the subject. Interesting. Politically, they’re not pushing for a total legal ban. They’re not even pushing for a partial legal ban. They’re not pushing for anything at all.

For a church that gives an awful lot of guidance about a lot of things and has been known to get involved with some sticky political subjects, it’s almost like they have decided, while warning against elective abortions, that non-LDS people in particular should have the freedom to make their own choices on this subject…

So the Roe v. Wade decision by the Supreme Court of the United States, which gives women the right to have an abortion without excessive government restriction, helps enable the LDS Church’s abortion policies for those scenarios. Take that right away and the church’s policy of allowing those merciful exceptions will then support something illegal.

Surprise! The LDS Church can be seen as more ‘pro-choice’ than ‘pro-life’ on abortion

I stole that heading straight from the headline of this Salt Lake Tribune article. Read it when you’re done here. It’s very thorough and does a fantastic job covering this issue from an LDS perspective. And yes, you can certainly make the argument the headline suggests, especially when comparing some extreme anti-abortion stances.

That article also references a blog post on By Common Consent, a popular Mormon blog. That post also does a great job running through some of the complex questions related to abortion.


Is Abortion Murder?

One of the most common oversimplifications regarding abortion is that it is murder. Period. Anyone who is pro-choice is a baby killer. That term gets thrown out all over the place in anti-abortion attacks on social media.

So, is it?

Well, here’s where it gets complicated.

When Does Mortal Life Begin?

The simple answer up front is…”Who knows?”

Is it:

  • Conception?
  • When there is a heartbeat?
  • When the baby first starts moving?
  • After 20 weeks?
  • Once in the third trimester?
  • When the baby takes its first breath?

The LDS Church’s General Handbook states in section 38.7.12: “It is a fact that a child has life before birth. However, there is no direct revelation on when the spirit enters the body.”

So the church is again largely silent when it comes to these complicated questions. We don’t know.

We believe that a human soul consists of a spirit and a body. But we have no idea when that spirit might enter the body. Which ends up aligning pretty well with the following church policies.

Miscarriage

Miscarriage is generally defined as the loss of a baby before the 20th week of pregnancy. As far as I can find, the guidance is that miscarried babies are generally not entered on the records of the church, i.e., not recorded as a ‘real person’ (sorry – I think that term sounds very insensitive, but I’m not sure how else to put it).

Stillbirth

Stillbirth is generally defined as the loss of a baby after the 20th week of pregnancy. Again, referencing the handbook in Section 38.7.12:

“Temple ordinances are not performed for stillborn children. However, this does not deny the possibility that a stillborn child may be part of the family in the eternities. Parents are encouraged to trust the Lord to resolve such cases in the way He knows is best. The family may record the name of a stillborn child on the family group record, followed by the word stillborn in parentheses. Memorial or graveside services may be held as determined by the parents.”

So it sounds like it’s left up to the family to decide what to do in this situation. Again, a grey area.

Repentance for Abortion

So can a person who’s had an elective abortion repent and be in good standing with the church? Yes, but it’s taken very seriously. See Section 38.6.1, which says, “As far as has been revealed, a person may repent and be forgiven for the sin of abortion.”

What about join as a new member? Yes, with an extra step. Section 38.2.3.3 states that it requires a double-check in the form of an extra baptismal interview by the mission president or one of the president’s counselors. I saw this happen with a wonderful lady I helped teach in my first city while serving a church mission in Argentina who’d had an abortion much earlier in life.

Does the Church Consider Elective Abortion to Be Murder?

The answer seems to be ‘no’, again according to the handbook’s Section 38.2.3.3 when discussing repentance for murder for someone desiring to join the church: “Abortion is not defined as murder for this purpose.”

Given the statement above, the fact that there is no official stance on when the spirit enters the body, and the fact that the church makes exceptions for certain situations, it feels like it’s pretty difficult to make the argument that the church considers abortion to be on the same level as murder.


Legal Complications

I am not a lawyer. I don’t claim to know the ins and outs of the legal aspects of this. I am just working through this part with my own logic, considering what different scenarios might look like legally.

So What Happens If Conservatives Get Roe v. Wade Overturned?

There’s a lot of talk about conservatives wanting to get more conservative judges on the Supreme Court, often with the intention of overturning Roe v. Wade. That’s why some people are even more dead set on electing a Republican president.

So let’s say that, tomorrow, all abortion was illegal.

First, all of the exceptions in the church’s policy would now be illegal. No compassionate understanding of difficult situations at all.

Second, what happens with miscarriages? 10-20% of pregnancies result in a miscarriage. How does a woman prove whether the loss of the baby was intentional, or a miscarriage? Are we really going to consider subjecting women to criminal interrogations right after they’ve lost a pregnancy? During that already incredibly painful and traumatic time? That would be beyond cruel.

So We Should Just Adopt the Church’s Policy as the Law Then, Right?

We make it so the law allows for compassionate exceptions – rape, incest, mortal danger to the mother, or birth defects that won’t allow the baby to survive post-birth.

First of all, as stated in the beginning, the church itself is not even pushing for this.

Next, it starts to get complicated again. I assume that incest could be scientifically proven. Maybe that’s fairly straightforward.

What about the cases of danger to the mother or viability of the baby? Those are subject to the judgment of medical professionals. Who’s going to determine whether their judgment is correct? There’s probably not going to be any way to legally prove it one way or the other after the fact. Is the doctor potentially going to be subject to criminal investigation if someone disagrees? What about the mother?

What About Rape?

If you have to prove that rape occurred in order to legally justify an abortion, how do you do it?

What if there’s no police record of a reported rape? According to RAINN, about 3 out of 4 sexual assaults go unreported. Whether or not to report this type of crime is a much more complicated question than many realize. So if a woman is too scared, traumatized, intimidated, etc. to report the rape, are they out of luck proving their need for an abortion?

Does there have to be a rape conviction first? How long does it take for the rapist to potentially be convicted? With the woman waiting in limbo? What if there is no physical evidence? Just a woman’s word against her rapist? It feels like this starts to look very difficult.

My Daughter

In previous posts I’ve talked about how my daughter was mentally and sexually abused by her boyfriend, over a long period of time.

See, the thing is that rape isn’t always what people imagine it to be. Everyone imagines rape as a violent attack, committed by a stranger in a dark alley.

In reality, all too commonly, sexual abuse and rape are perpetrated by someone the person knows. A family member. A friend. A colleague. A husband. A boyfriend. In a familiar place. Not in a dark alley.

And rape is not always violent. It can involve coercion, intimidation, or threats. Just because sex occurs without a physical fight, it does not mean that the woman actually consented to having sex.

Abusive Relationships

Abusive relationships are very difficult to understand. On the surface, it all seems so simple. If he’s treating you badly, why don’t you just leave? What gets missed is everything that led up to that point. The lying and gaslighting, making you question your own reality. The manipulation. The damage to self esteem. The convincing that you can’t be loved by anyone else. Making you believe that *you* are the problem, not him.

My daughter was psychologically beaten down like this. And coerced into doing things that she did not want to do. Repeatedly. As her anxiety and depression skyrocketed. And for reasons that will remain private, she chose not to report it after she escaped her abusive relationship.

Would you force my daughter to carry her abuser’s baby for 9 months? Because she can’t prove to you that she was raped? Can you imagine the kind of hell that would be? To carry the child of someone who violated you in that way? Or the fact that she would then be forced to maintain a relationship with her abuser for the rest of her life, due to the parental rights of the abuser?

I would absolutely support my daughter if she chose to have an abortion in that case. Without question.


Late-Term Abortion

Late-term abortion, defined by some as an abortion in the third trimester, by others as after 20 weeks, is a very hot button topic. I’ve seen multiple social media posts the past few months claiming that Democrats want to kill babies late into pregnancies. The president has sensationalized the issue, telling wild fabricated tales of late-term abortions. Again, gross oversimplifications of reality.

Listen to this short clip from former presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg last year. He does a phenomenal job of summarizing the issue:

Here’s the transcript of the core quote:

“Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of a woman in that situation. If it’s that late in your pregnancy, that means almost by definition, you’ve been expecting to carry it to term. We’re talking about women who have perhaps chosen a name, who have purchased a crib. Families that then get the most devastating medical news of their lifetime. Something about the health or life of the mother that forces them to make an impossible, unthinkable choice… As horrible as that choice is, that woman, that family, may seek spiritual guidance, they may seek medical guidance, but that decision is not going to be made any better, medically or morally, because the government is dictating how that decision should be made.”

Real Stories

So who are the women who are getting late-term abortions? Read these stories. They are heartbreaking.

And here’s another story from Neena Earl, a 34-year-old married mother of 2 boys from Pleasant Grove, UT, who had an abortion (not late-term, but a very thorough description of the entire situation that led to her decision):

Part 1:

(link to Part 2 if you want to watch the rest)

These are the real women we’re talking about. These are the women and situations impacted by decisions on this topic. Putting actual names and faces to those stories and understanding the excruciating processes they had to go through and the painful decisions they had to make helps give me a real context and a much more useful perspective than severely generalized social media attacks.


So What Should We Do?

Given the complications mentioned above, having the government create laws to govern how abortions should be handled in all scenarios is fraught with complexity. The grey area is extensive. And the rights of women to get to make decisions regarding health care decisions about their own bodies are impacted.

So let’s say abortion remains legal, which seems highly likely. How do we reduce abortions?

A Great Article from an LDS Doctor

Kaitlyn Brower Dressman, a BYU graduate and member of the church, provided some ideas in an article she wrote in the Salt Lake Tribune called This pro-life doctor is voting for Biden.

Long quotes from her (just go read the whole article after):

I am a medical doctor and an active sixth-generation member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As such, I am deeply committed to protecting the lives, rights and health of as many people as possible, both born and unborn.

I have also never voted for a Democrat for federal office. But, in keeping with my belief that every human being is a child of God of infinite worth and divine purpose, and that every life, both born and unborn matters, I will be voting this November for Joe Biden.

Fellow responsible pro-life voters must also put aside partisan rhetoric, thoroughly examine credible data, and vote for the presidential candidate who will utilize evidence-based policy to most effectively prevent abortions.

(Note: the two links above share that the number of abortions is at its lowest level since 1973, rates have steadily declined since 1990, and that the sharpest drops in abortion rates have come under Democratic presidents)

Studies show that legally restricting access to abortion neither effectively nor efficiently reduces the abortion rate. Bans do, however, increase maternal mortalities. On the other hand, expanding access to comprehensive sex education and birth control, while addressing the reasons why women seek abortions, does reduce abortions and improves the quality of life of the mother. Given bans are ineffective and come with a significant risk of harm, it is our moral imperative that we stop wasting time pursuing bans in favor of solutions that actually work.

The most common reasons why women seek abortions are lack of financial resources, timing, partner-related issues, caring for other children, finishing an education, career constraints or not enough employer support, lack of mental or emotional preparation, wanting better for the baby, needing child care or support, lacking maturity or independence, housing insecurity, peer pressure and not wanting a baby or to put a baby up for adoption.

Proposals

She proposes, citing numerous articles and studies, that those complaints can be addressed by the following (with some extras of my own added in):

  • Comprehensive sex education
    • This is a topic that conservatives and a lot of religious people don’t like, but abstinence-only just doesn’t work very well
  • Cheap, easy access to birth control
    • Under the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), which the current administration is trying to dismantle, most insurance plans must cover all methods of birth control at no cost to you
  • Access to affordable comprehensive health care
    • Again, the Affordable Care Act provides coverage to millions who would be otherwise uninsured
  • Adequate food and housing
  • Care for domestic violence victims
  • Access to affordable child care and necessary accommodations to allow women to raise their children while pursuing an education or a career.

Conclusion

Like I said in the beginning, nobody likes abortions. Everyone wants fewer abortions. 

So how do we reduce the number of abortions, especially elective abortions?

  1. We help prevent unwanted pregnancies
  2. We provide support for women who do get pregnant

We try to provide the services, environment, and support women need to give them the ability to either avoid an unwanted pregnancy, or to better handle a pregnancy when it occurs. Given those criteria, I am convinced that Democratic policies, which have a large focus on health care, social services and support, etc. can provide a better outcome than continued efforts to ban abortion.

And ultimately, after considering a lot of the uncertainties and complexities around the issue, I believe that the people best-equipped to make decisions about a woman’s health care, her body, and her pregnancy are:

  • that woman
  • and her doctors

And those are the reasons why I can say that I feel comfortable voting for Democrats and their support for women’s reproductive rights. And comfortable voting for Joe Biden.


More Resources

Once again, I had a bunch of stuff that I couldn’t fit in. This post is already too long as-is. But if you want some more resources, here you go:

  • Rosemary Card, owner of a temple dress store in Utah and author of Model Mormon, is one of the absolute best Instagram follows
    • She asks hard questions and often goes in-depth on those difficult issues, whether church-related or, more recently, politics, but she does it in a very easy to digest and relatable way
    • Watch her Instagram story highlight called Abortion. It has a lot of great resources as well as her own commentary.
    • She’s also got a couple of election story highlights that are well worth your time
  • Video from Evan McMullin’s group Stand Up Republic regarding abortion and the presidential election
    • McMullin is the guy who got 22% of Utah’s presidential votes in 2016. He has endorsed Joe Biden and is actively campaigning for Biden.
  • Professor Frank W. Fox, creator of the BYU American Heritage program and lifelong conservative Republican, explains why he feels he has moral permission to vote for Joe Biden, even given his differing views on abortion.
    • Bonus link: here’s Professor Fox’s open letter (video, technically) about why Donald Trump is an unprecedented threat to our democracy who must be voted out.
  • An epic Twitter thread about abortion and how to prevent unwanted pregnancies by Gabrielle Blair, a design blogger and a Mormon mother of 6 (hint: men are responsible for 100% of unwanted pregnancies)
    • She converted it to a blog post if you prefer that format
  • Trump’s COVID-19 treatment was developed using stem cells from an aborted fetus
  • Covering Abortion as a Personal Health Care issue, and Not Just a Political One
  • And a quick comment about being pro-life. Pro-life should mean more than caring about the unborn. It should also mean caring for the living. Ways that Democratic policies can be seen as being more pro-life are:
    • Health care access
    • Immigration policy (Trump administration separating families at the border, putting kids in cages, and not allowing refugees)
    • Addressing poverty
    • Reducing the cost of higher education
    • Systemic racism – acknowledging it and working to eradicate it, instead of denying its existence
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