Friday comes early!

Nearly all legislation pertaining to abortion considers the duration of gestation. The human mind has presumed to determine when “meaningful life” begins. In the course of my studies as a medical doctor, I learned that a new life begins when two special cells unite to become one cell, bringing together 23 chromosomes from the father and 23 from the mother. These chromosomes contain thousands of genes. In a marvelous process involving a combination of genetic coding by which all the basic human characteristics of the unborn person are established, a new DNA complex is formed. A continuum of growth results in a new human being. Approximately 22 days after the two cells have united, a little heart begins to beat. At 26 days the circulation of blood begins. To legislate when a developing life is considered “meaningful” is presumptive and quite arbitrary, in my opinion.

Elder Russell M. Nelson, “Abortion: An Assault on the Defenseless,” October 2008 Ensign (not yet available online).



  1. Does this mean the Friday Firestorm is coming back??? (Hope so!)

  2. I thought this was a really interesting article. It specifies too the church policy on when terminating pregnancy is justifiable.

  3. Aaron Brown says:

    Assuming one takes this as a definitive statement of the Church leadership’s “position” on the issues it addresses, and assuming one should therefore internalize its message as part of one’s own political orientation on abortion law and policy (two assumptions that I don’t necessarily embrace, by the way), what exactly are the public policy implications of this excerpt? To me, the answer is far from clear.

    “To legislate when a developing life is considered “meaningful” is presumptive and quite arbitrary, in my opinion.”

    I think Elder Nelson must be using “meaningful” or “meaningful life” as a synonymn for “moment in the gestational period when rights of personhood (and their attendant implications) kick in.” Otherwise, it wouldn’t make much sense to talk about “legislating meaningfulness”. But in a post-Roe legal environment (the only environment where the ability to legislate this meaningfulness is going to be available), isn’t legislation of some sort, delineating where certain rights attach to the “developing life”, going to be inevitable? Unless one wants to assent to whatever the status quo is without any such legislation. Is that really what Elder Nelson would advocate? I rather doubt it. So I’m not clear from this excerpt what Elder Nelson wants abortion law to look like. Even if it’s “presumptive” to think one can determine when “life begins,” or becomes “meaningful”, it seems to me that addressing the issue legislatively would be pretty important, even if the lines drawn did end up being rather “arbitrary” in the end.

    It’s interesting to read him acknowledge that the act of pinpointing when developing life becomes meaningful is “arbitrary” (putting aside my confusion with his point about legislation). I presume that in a world where the LDS Church leadership thought it “knew” when the spirit enters the body, identifying a moment of “meaningfulness” would be anything but arbitrary. It would be clear, and perhaps even mandatory that they proclaim their knowledge from the rooftops. But the fact that they don’t claim such knowledge isn’t news, at least for those who understand what the Church has and hasn’t said on this subject over the years (and who don’t take their talking points from conservative non-LDS Christians whose theologies differ from ours). Nevertheless, to hear him acknowledge the arbitrariness is still interesting. And I think I agree.

    Aaron B

  4. Aaron Brown says:

    I just realized that I wrongly read Steve’s “not yet available online” to mean “not yet available at all.” So I guess I should have read the excerpt in context in print before I opined. Oh well, I guess it’s time to renew my print subscription.


  5. I think “meaningfulness” is entirely appropriate in the question of abortion. By the standards of 46 chromosomes and biological function all sorts of cells in my body are alive. My white blood cells are each a life. My fingertip is a life. My appendix is a life. The chunk of flesh hanging off my knee after a mountain biking accident possessed life. Yet nobody I know of would say that those are the types of life that deserve protection and ought to saved. A victim of a car accident may be without brain function, but with the aid of life support is breathing and maintaining a heartbeat. But we still usually wouldn’t say that that person is a life that needs to be protected (though I guess some would argue that it is).

    The response to these criticisms is usually something like this: Yes, in one sense you can call those things ‘lives’, but that is not what we MEAN when we say that something is a ‘life.’ That’s fine, but that is the very reason why we have to talk about “meaningful life.” This is because the word ‘life’ can have very different meanings and if an appeal to life is made then a determination of what is meant by ‘life’ must be made.

    Elder Nelson may have learned in med school that ‘life’ begins at conception, but is that the same sort of life that we mean when we talk about a person being alive? At a funeral if we say that someone lived a good ‘life’ are we also referring to there time as a zygote or embryo? At the seen of an accident, do we appeal to cellular function when pronouncing someone alive or dead?

    In Mormonism this is even more complicated because a ‘life’ is usually understood as a union of both flesh and spirit, and death is a separation of that flesh and spirit. In Mormonism then, a “meaningful life” is a union of spirit and flesh. Is Elder Nelson arguing that at the moment of conception the spirit has joined with the fertilized egg. If so, what does that even mean? And what is that poor spirit experiencing as a single cell? If he is not arguing that case, then how is it a life that needs to be protected? If it doesn’t have a spirit, then there is death (separation of spirit and flesh) that is possible.

    This still leaves the problem of the fact that various church leaders have taught differently about when the spirit and body unite – which have varied from conception to the moment of birth.

  6. He addressed this more than two decades ago as well.

  7. I learned that a new life begins when two special cells unite to become one cell, bringing together 23 chromosomes from the father and 23 from the mother.

    This phrasing makes me fear for the status of hormonal contraception and IUDs within LDS culture due to the unverifiable risk that these forms of birth control might prevent implantation of fertilized eggs.

  8. There are a couple of biological things that add some complexity here:

    (1) About half of all fertilized eggs spontaneously abort due to chromosome abnormalities and other things. So not all fertilized eggs have the potential to be humans.

    (2) If I look at my potential, the fertilization was just one step in long process that arguably began on the creation of the sperm and egg that eventually contributed to my ultimate existence. Even fertilization is arbitrary when looked at retrospectively.

    (3) Could this be construed as an argument that Mormons do not believe in current medical fertility methods, which require the creation of many fertilized eggs to get the few that become viable?

    Just some things to think about in this complex issue.

  9. It’s more like 80% of all fertilized eggs are spontaneously aborted.
    link, above, from the Bush administration.

  10. Aaron Brown says:

    Again, I haven’t yet read the excerpt in its larger context, but as I revisit it just now, I realize that I may have misread it, and the last quoted statement may mean something like:

    “Given that the joining of all these chromosomes together is clearly a new life (as I learned in my medical studies), it is totally presumptuous to try to pass legislation that is premised on any other conclusion, and any such legislation will end up drawing lines that are arbitrary (unlike the distinction I would draw).”

    This is a more hard-line reading, but it wouldn’t surprise me — once I read the whole piece — if I concluded that this is what Elder Nelson is saying.

    While I tend to be somewhat pro-life (in my hypothetical legislative preferences), and am rather strongly anti-Roe, I’ve never found persuasive the assertion that because drawing the rights-of-personhood line anywhere other than at conception or birth must be in some sense arbitrary, it follows that such lines must be illegitimate. As long as the Church allows for abortion in the cases of rape or incest (even granting that it still discourages/takes them very seriously in these instances), it is thereby deeming the lives of fetuses who are products of rape or incest “less meaningful” in a very real and relevant sense.

    Aaron B

  11. So, what’s the heart doing between 22 days and 26 days? Beating without circulating blood? *ponder*

  12. Political implications of the timing? The last chance to get it into the Ensign before the elections? Was the timing intentional or accidental?

  13. Because 80% of eggs that are fertilized are spontaneously aborted, does that justify using birth control that does the same thing?

    A good portion of pregnancies are also miscarried, does that infer that then if we force a miscarriage that is also justified because it happens naturally?

    These are heavy questions for me, because I love the IUD.

  14. “Because 80% of eggs that are fertilized are spontaneously aborted, does that justify using birth control that does the same thing?”

    Not necessarily, but if you believe in the “life at conception” theory, it does make God the world’s most prominent abortionist. That said, we are generally okay with God doing things that we would consider horrible coming from people.

  15. John C’s explicit statements, and the implications of the 80% statistic he and others cited, are as valid a basis for permitting unlimited abortions as the argument that 100% of all lives end in death means we should not outlaw murder.

    You know: Mountain Meadows Massacre (or the Turkish massacre of the Armenians, or the Holocaust) isn’t all that bad, because all (or most of) those people would be dead by now anyway.

  16. #15 I haven’t seen anyone argue that the 50-80% (80% is the high end of all estimates, 50% the more conservative value) spontaneous abortion rate is a “valid basis for permitting unlimited abortions”. It’s a biological fact that needs to be added to the complexity of the discussion. It’s not an argument for anything. Where did you get that straw man?

  17. Regarding the question in #11, there are whole textbooks and educational courses and countless medical and research papers addressing the embryonic development of the different body systems including the heart. It is such a complex and miraculous process that it’s a wonder that any of us are alive.

    I just spent about an hour looking through my heart materials and then through the internet to see if there were any links that I could provide to help answer this question.

    Here’s what I found.

    1. Elder Nelson’s figures look accurate.

    2. A fair number of public sites addressing this question may have a political agenda.

    3. It would take a cardiologist or perhaps a recently trained doctor to be able to answer FHL’s question accurately and simply. I can’t. As I understand it, the developing heart does not rely on itself to provide circulation to the embryo or fetus, so no, it would not be necessary to have blood present for the heart to beat. If someone knows better, please let me know.

    (When a baby is born, the heart goes through dramatic changes including the closing of a couple of fetal heart connections. Babies with certain severe heart defects do just fine as long as they are in the womb, but once they are born and the heart starts to close, problems, including circulatory distress or death, can arise.)

    4. Here is one link that seems ok and not too technical. It is from the University of New South Wales in Australia. A good summary of embryonic heart development runs down the right yellow column. There is a glossary at the bottom of the page.

  18. It’s not in an ideal format, but the article can be read here (.txt file).

  19. It’s easier to read if copied and pasted into another document.

  20. cahkaylahlee says:

    Kids with 47 chromosomes instead of the usual 46 are pretty miraculous too. I really enjoyed this story that was on NPR the other day.

    One of my friends growing up had a younger sister with Down Syndrome (she was the same age as my little sister). She was so amazingly sweet, funny, and loving, and I think everyone who has been close to her has been blessed by that relationship. The mother of this girl talked about how the doctor asked if she wanted to have an abortion and how glad she is that she did not.

    Not all genetic abnormalities are as survivable as Down Syndrome and this causes the majority of miscarriages. It is my opinion that those miscarried babies are every bit as human as a person with Down Syndrome.

  21. I think Elder Nelson’s comments are actually pretty uncontroversial if you read the entire article. He is stating the obvious, that abortion is a horrible thing but necessarily legal in a few isolated cases.

  22. Re comment 6, it’s an interesting exercise to compare the 1985 and 2008 addresses using a word processing program (noting the deletions and insertions).

  23. Even believing that abortion is wrong at any time is different than saying we should outlaw it. Once you admit that it is “OK” sometimes (i.e. rape, incest, mother’s life is in danger, etc) then how do you get legislation involved in the decision? I think it should be legal sometimes and illegal sometimes. I think most people would agree. The problem is that where you draw the line is, as Elder Nelson said, “presumptive” and “arbitrary”. I look at this and see an argument against legislation. And I consider myself pro-life. The point is, once we draw a line it cannot be undrawn.

  24. BruceC (#23) brings up good food for thought. In those rare cases when Church policy allows an abortion, are we really comfortable deferring to the judgement of a court or government agency to decide whether there is a bona fide risk to the mother’s health, or whether a rape really occurred? How long does it take a court to determine that a “rape” took place?

  25. On another note:

    After reading the whole article, it seems to me that Elder Nelson’s thought could possibly be used to take a postion against stem cell research, and maybe even a retrenched position against some kinds of birth control. I wonder to what extent his article reflects the thinking of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve? Or maybe this is just his own ideas?

  26. StillConfused says:

    I just went to the Body Worlds exhibit in Salt Lake City and they have a room on fetal development that is absolutely astounding. I attended with some artists who are not religious/Christian. One gal asked the other, “When do you think the spirit enters the body” and the other pondered and responded “When the heart starts beating”. It was very interesting to hear them talk about it.

    The fetal development display was also very interesting as the baby was the size of a fingernail but already had little fingers and toes. People considering an abortion should see that exhibit first, I think.

  27. SteveP #16

    Frankly, the spontaneous abortion rate is completely irrelevant to the questions of whether and in what circumstances induced abortion is moral or should be legal. You say that it’s a biological fact that should be added to the complexity of the discussion.


  28. Bruce C. says

    Even believing that abortion is wrong at any time is different than saying we should outlaw it. Once you admit that it is “OK” sometimes (i.e. rape, incest, mother’s life is in danger, etc) then how do you get legislation involved in the decision? I think it should be legal sometimes and illegal sometimes. I think most people would agree. The problem is that where you draw the line is, as Elder Nelson said, “presumptive” and “arbitrary”. I look at this and see an argument against legislation. And I consider myself pro-life. The point is, once we draw a line it cannot be undrawn.

    Actually, Bruce, one of the best arguments against Roe v. Wade, and in favor of returning the responsibility of line drawing to the state legislatures, is that the line can be moved through the enactment of new legislation. That’s a lot easier than changing a constitutional mistake. (See, e.g., Dred Scott.) One of the problems with Roe is that it drew a line that’s immovable unless a super-majority of our representatives and of the states changes it. Or unless five of that bevy of Platonic guardians decide to do away with it.

    And CE raises a valid concern. Who wants the state involved in that awful decision if it’s your daughter who has been raped? If someone close to me had followed the CHI–counseled with priesthood leaders, prayed, sought and received divine confirmation–then I don’t want the Superior Court Judge down at the County Courthouse presuming to question with that decision. But I do want him to stop those other people who are just getting abortions because they’re sleeping around like rabbits and want to escape the consequences of their sins.

  29. He is stating the obvious, that abortion is a horrible thing but necessarily legal in a few isolated cases.

    I suppose it’s equally obvious that some are keen on figuring out where the rubber meets the road, so to speak.

  30. Can Mormons ever believe that a prenatal child — of whatever age — is fully human, and endowed with full human rights?

    I think not.

    By allowing the health/incest exception, the church is in effect saying that that child is not yet fully human. Full humans would never be threatened by those exceptions: we would never morally kill a postnatal child of rape, for example.

    Elder Nelson can argue that a foetus is a full human being as a matter of biology, and I agree with him, but would have to invent a new category of full-human-without-full-human-rights.

  31. Thus, I’m not sure what the point of this argument is. According to the church, there is the possibility of morally killing a baby at 1 month or 9 months. What’s the difference?

  32. 8 months, knucklehead.

  33. #27 Think the spontaneous abortion rate become relevant in light of the question where life begins. Most of that rate occurs before even the awareness of pregnancy. Are these fertilized eggs really potential people with attendant rights of personhood? It seems to me if they haven’t reached some critical stage of development where chromosomal abnormalities have been allowed to play out that is a very consequential ethical stance. This is not an argument for abortion, but it bears strongly on stem cell research. If you define a person as being a fertilized egg, that bears strongly on how you define what is appropriate medically and what is not. The church has not taken a stand on stem cell research and fertility clinics are still open in Utah staffed by members of the church. So I’m saying that definitions need to be carefully considered here. There is more than abortion at stake in these questions. The lives of many happy people who have been able to have children through modern fertility methods are at risk if we are putting definite weight on these definitions of when life begins. The Catholics have done so. Are we? is this a move that direction?

  34. Adam Greenwood says:

    I don’t see any difference between killing a 1 month old baby who is the product of rape and a 8 month, 3 week foetus who is the product of rape. I don’t see that the Church requires us to think that there’s a possibility either. The Church just tells us that in some cases we can’t rely on the Church to tell us the answer, we have to figure it out for ourselves. I see no compelling reason to think that if the Church gives us guidance with respect to case A but does not with respect to case B that it therefore follows that case A and case B must be morally different.

  35. #27 The spontaneous abortion rate is rellivant to the conversation,if we consider a fertilized egg the begining of life- not at implantation but at fertilization then many forms birth controls we use today would be considered abortions as well.

  36. “I don’t see any difference between killing a 1 month old baby who is the product of rape and a 8 month, 3 week foetus who is the product of rape.”

    I agree that there’s no conceptual/ethical difference that comes to mind, but I am sure that if confronted with the developmental realities of the foetus in the real world that we would find a practical difference.

  37. As a pregnant woman, who used an IUD for 2 years (way more information than you wanted) I’ve been thinking about this a lot.

    The human body is sacred, and to kill it at any point is a sin. But I don’t think that in the life here after all of the fertilized eggs that were naturally cast of from my body will be waiting for me to raise them.

  38. Adam Greenwood says:

    Meaning what? That its illegal to kill the one and not the other?

  39. @30:

    At least regarding the church’s stance as to abortions where the mother’s life/health is concerned, I don’t think the church is saying a fetus is necessarily non-human. It’s merely affirming one’s right to take drastic action in response to a grave threat to one’s life or physical/emotional health.

    It’s the same principle that allows a man to go to war in self-defense, or a woman to shoot a guy who’s trying to rape her.

  40. Mark B.,
    So we are clear, my statement was not intended as a justification of abortion. It does call into question the notion that full personhood coincides with conception. Or it doesn’t and God happily gave us bodies that spontaneously abort 50-80% of people.

  41. Jim,
    I can just about entertain the equivalence between Just War/self defense and abortion when a woman’s life is threatened. But killing someone because they threaten your mental health? I cannot think of any situation outside of abortion that the church might tentatively condone. Ergo, in the church’s eyes, a fetus represents a different class of human.

  42. The fetal development display was also very interesting as the baby was the size of a fingernail but already had little fingers and toes. People considering an abortion should see that exhibit first, I think.

    I’ve seen it, and I’m still pro-choice. The only thing the exhibit changed my mind on was needing to exercise more.

  43. Here in Colorado we’ll be voting on an amendment in November that reads as follows:

    Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado constitution defining the term “person” to include any human being from the moment of fertilization as “person” is used in those provisions of the Colorado constitution relating to inalienable rights, equality of justice, and due process of law?

    The implications of this are huge. As this could effectively equate abortion to first degree murder. It would take a while to play out in courts, but I could see this law being used to outlaw most forms of birth control.

  44. jj (42) — perhaps that is true, but you’re not really helping your cause with such cavalier attitudes, man.

  45. Adam Greenwood says:

    If it passes, Spence-dog. Probably it won’t.

  46. Adam Greenwood says:

    Think like a Roundhead, JJ.

  47. Clever, AG…

  48. John C.

    I understand. And I agree that the concept of “full personhood” (which, by the way, I’m not close to defining) is affected by the fertilization-implantation-birth ratios.

    But I don’t believe that the abortion issue turns, or should turn, on the question of “full personhood.” I knew several persons, partners at Wall Street law firms, who would have failed miserably any test of “full personhood.”

  49. Adam, I think you’re right. It oversteps. Even most people who would like to see abortion limits (myself included) won’t be able to vote for it.

  50. But I am trying to see where the language of the amendment fits within the text from Elder Nelson. Is he saying the same thing? I don’t have my current Ensign with me so I don’t have the full context. But it looks like he is saying any other definition (than at fertilization) as the beginning of life is arbitrary. Or maybe he is saying that any definition at all is arbitrary.

  51. @41:

    Let us take a hypothetical woman who is confronted by a man who is about to rape her. The woman is reasonably certain that he will not kill or seriously/permanently physically injure her. Escape, for whatever reason, is not an option; nor can she stop her attacker with non-deadly force. She uses deadly force, and the assailant dies.

    Do you think the church would treat this hypothetical woman as a murderess? I personally doubt it–and note that, in the hypothetical, the primary threat to the woman is of emotional/psychological harm (or, if you will, to some notion of a non-consensual invasion/use of the woman’s body and the appurtenant mental distress).

  52. Such a woman is in imminent danger. I don’t see the equivalence.

  53. Adam Greenwood says:

    and even if you were a hardline pro-lifer, would you really want some vague amendment that just kicked the issue back to the courts? I wouldn’t.

  54. Yes–danger of “emotional/psychological harm (or, if you will, to some . . . non-consensual invasion/use of the woman’s body)”.

    To my mind, that is more or less similar to the danger faced by a victim of a rape/incest who is currently pregnant and faces the prospect of carrying the resultant child to term.

  55. Anonymous (this time) says:

    JimD (#54) You may say that but the perception is what maters. My wife was raped as a teenager and decided to carry the child to term. There was no emotional scarring in the pregnancy for her. She could not see aborting a child for its father’s crime. But others may not see it the same way. And we should be free to have either view without having to get a court order to do what we feel we need to do.

  56. I agree with you, Anonymous. For the record, at no time have I suggested implementing a regime that would require a court order before a rape victim could get an abortion.

  57. Not necessarily, but if you believe in the “life at conception” theory, it does make God the world’s most prominent abortionist.

    John, I don’t get it. So, because God doesn’t let all embyros or fetuses grow to maturity, it’s ok if we don’t?

  58. m&m,
    As I expressed in my comment and as I have expressed several times over the past few years, the rules appear to be different for God. If “personhood” begins at conception, then God obviously doesn’t care about killing people in the womb, so long as God does it.

  59. I don’t see why going to court to establish legitimate grounds for an abortion would be viewed as such an oppression. People go to court, the zoning board, etc. for much more trivial things every day.

  60. jj (42) — perhaps that is true, but you’re not really helping your cause with such cavalier attitudes, man.

    My only cause in this fight is to point out what a ridiculous idea it is to send pregnant women to an overpriced museum exhibit to change their minds. Do you really think women don’t know what they’re aborting?

  61. At 26 days the circulation of blood begins.
    For it is the life of all flesh; the blood of it is for the life thereof: (Leviticus 17:14)

  62. Steve Evans says:

    Howard, you turning JW on us?

  63. #59 – “I don’t see why going to court to establish legitimate grounds for an abortion would be viewed as such an oppression.”

    This is one of the reasons why I oppose legal restrictions on abortion where some exceptions hinge on a claim of rape – the impossibility of obtaining a ruling on the validity of a rape claim in a timely manner within the current judicial system. The Church’s stance simply isn’t able to be legislated properly, imo. If anyone cares, I wrote specifically about that on Mormon Matters:

    When Moral Issues Become Social Issues

  64. I thought the circulation of blood around 26 days was a topic of discussion for FMH.

  65. Steve, I’m open to a better scriptural reference. Got one?

  66. Steve Evans says:

    Howard, I believe the scriptures are of little use here, other than general ethical principles. Wresting them to equate blood with life or other spurious physiological claims doesn’t really get us anywhere. Our knowledge of feotal development and our science of contraception have surpassed the Old Testament’s ability to speak to abortion as a practice (again, except for general ethical principles, which are vitally important).

  67. Steve,
    No wresting required, they did nicely on their own.

  68. Adam Greenwood says:


  69. Steve Evans says:

    Howard, feel free to share this insight at your local Kingdom Hall. But Mormons do not equate blood with life.

  70. How do Mormons interrupt the passage?

  71. Howard, Mormons believe that the Levitical law is done away with in Christ; accordingly go drink all the blood you want.

  72. So, with Christ the life was drained out of blood?

  73. Steve Evans says:

    sigh. Howard, drop it.

  74. Ray, I think there’s room for an (unhappy) medium. Personally, I could get behind a scheme that required only that a rape victim seeking an abortion first visit a licensed women’s shelter that would

    a) provide first-aid and preliminary psychological counseling, as well as helping the victim to develop a long-term plan for emotional recovery;
    b) provide the necessary resources for a woman to escape an abusive domestic situation (where necessary); and
    c) encourage (but not compel) the victim to make an official police report.

  75. 58
    John, I guess I don’t think this even warrants saying. God is God, we are human. He knows all, we don’t.

    Besides, this gets to the whole “Does God cause it?” question, which we really have never been able to answer sufficiently.

  76. p.s. I should add that I don’t think dealing with abortion legally is a clear-cut, easy issue, so don’t misunderstand. I just think bringing “what God does” (as we understand it) just doesn’t help much, because we don’t understand how He works and why things like miscarriage, etc. happen (if He actually causes it or if it’s just part of our mortality, etc.)

  77. StillConfused says:

    If you report the crime of a rape, you are examined and given medication which prevents conception. (the sperm needs time to reach his destination.) Hence, abortion in the case of rape doesn’t mean much to me. In the case of rape, conception is medically prevented…. unless you choose not to report your rape… which is a whole different matter.

  78. Because heaven knows that women always report their rape and are able, after rape, to rationally understand what has to be done legally, ethically, and so forth. It’s not like they are dealing with shock or anything.

  79. StillConfused–the medication does not prevent conception; it prevents implantation if conception has occurred. Does that make it an abortifacient, or an acceptable method of birth control?

  80. SteveP (33), if this does, in fact, represent a move towards a stance that views the immediate products of conception as persons, and therefore a move towards discouraging some artificial methods of conception, it would be a reversal of the direction the church has moved over the last few decades. In vitro fertilization was initially discouraged by the GHI, and that language has now been dropped. There was also an episode in the mid-80s where one of the 70 gave a talk in which he spoke of life being sacred “from the moment of conception,” and that language was edited out of the Ensign version of the talk. In any case, I suspect that the CHI will be the place to look for what represents the policy position of the church, not necessarily Ensign articles written by one of the 12.

  81. Kristine (79), there are two types of ‘contraception’ that might be offered to a rape victim and people need to be aware of the differences between the two.

    There is the medical abortion pill (RU-486) which will both prevent pregnancy *and* induce an abortion. This drug is effective at any time in the first trimester.

    Then there is plan B, which prevents ovulation, interferes with sperm migration, and if I may quote the AMA

    the ability of Plan B to interfere with implantation remains speculative, since virtually no evidence supports that mechanism and some evidence contradicts it.

    Plan B contains drugs like levonorgestrel that are used in fertility treatments to aid implnatation. Its effectiveness drops dramatically as time goes on and is ineffective by the time three days have passed.

    These are different drugs that function very differently. Plan B is no more of an abortificent than daily birth control pills.

  82. Starfoxy, thanks. I was thinking of Plan B, but was mistaken about how it works.

  83. Okay, here is what bothers me about the life beginning at fertilization. About 3 or so years back, a friend of mine had a still birth at 8 months old. She was told to give the child a name, it had a funeral, and she was promised that this child would be hers in the eternities. About a month later, I lost my pregnancy at just under 3 months. I had seen the heart beat. While dealing with my depression and speaking with church leaders, I was given no promise of having this child in the eternities, because it is unkown when the spirit enters the fetus. Basically everyone I spoke to had the attitude that this pregnancy was just that, a pregnancy, and not a spirit child. So, if that is the case, (all of the women I have spoken to with miscarriages have had the same experience) then why this article now? Has something changed?

  84. Maren, first, there is no consistent teaching on the status of stillborn children in the Church of which I am aware. Second, not having read the article yet, I don’t know if it addresses that question at all – or when the spirit enters the body. It doesn’t appear to do so.

  85. I don’t know if it addresses that question at all – or when the spirit enters the body. It doesn’t appear to do so.

    It doesn’t. So if death is the separation of spirit and body, how can we talk about killing if there is no spirit there?

  86. right #95. My point exactly. When I miscarried, it was made to seem to me that the position of the church was that there was no spirit there. But then when it comes to abortion, it seems that they are arguing that the spirit is there. Hence my confusion.

  87. Steve Evans says:

    Maren, I’m sorry for what people must have said to you when you miscarried. It sounds like people were opting to tell you what they thought you would want to hear, rather than being honest and saying “we don’t know.”

  88. Maren, I don’t see that argument in anything I’ve read here – and narrator (#85) says it doesn’t do so in the article.

  89. Amen, Steve.

  90. Regarding Maren’s comments on stillborn children:

    The 1999 CHI says that you do not perform temple work for stillborn children (note that this same policy applies to any child who dies before age 8). But “this does not deny the possibility that a stillborn child may be part of the family in the eternities.” Families may enter stillborn children on family group sheets if they are indicated as stillborn. (I seem to recall that you can’t list a stillborn child on your official church records.) The CHI concludes by saying, “It is a fact that a child has life before birth. However, there is no direct revelation on when the spirit enters the body.”

    I don’t know if the new edition of the CHI is materially different from this.

  91. CE-
    Even though stillborn children may be entered on family group sheets, they are not sealed to parents.

  92. … whereas children born live but who die before the age of 8 *are* sealed to parents (either by being born under the covenant or through later temple ordinance). That’s a significant difference between the policies regarding stillborn vs. live birth.

  93. mmiles (#91)–

    The “no temple work” policy means a stillborn child can’t be sealed to parents. But what if the parents were already sealed to each other at the time of birth/miscarriage? Is the stillborn child sort of “born in the covenant (BIC)?” Who knows!

    For comparison, a child who dies before age 8 can be sealed to parents (if not already BIC). But no posthumous baptism or any other temple ordinaces are performed.

    And to put all the dry policy stuff aside: My condolences to Maren. This seems like a bit of a doctrinal vacuum here.

  94. Ah, I see that my second paragraph merely repeats Ardis in #92.

  95. For you legal experts out there, certainly not me. Aside from the argument’s of when life enters the body, this argument still boils down to the rights of the unborn baby (hence the title) vs. rights of the mother. If we argue strictly for the rights the unborn, then doesn’t somewhat throw a wrench into the few exceptions where the Church will not impose discipline for having an abortion, particularly rape and incest. The instance where the mothers life is in danger is obviosly tough to tackle under this premise.

    For the sake of knowing, I actually support the Churches decision on this one, but still find the issue much more complicated than most people on either side tend to make it.

  96. Thanks for the kind words. I am not trying to say that the article said one thing or another. I am saying that the implications are just strange. The qoute in the OP seems to say that life does indeed begin at conception, but these lives that are lost early are not recognized by being able to be sealed, something that as LDS families we hold dear.

  97. I’m not certain if the arguments surrounding “when a life begins” are very useful for establishing principles for abortion in a secular context. I think these arguments may be interesting to casuists who are considering specific cases, but I’ll get to that later.

    The argument that I see repeated in the abortion advocacy camp has to do with something called “reproductive freedom.” This type of freedom has more to do with feminism and egalitarianism than it does with choices between committed partners, or even with biological nit-picking. [Length comment edited]….

    Machines have a way of serving their own ends, even social machines. No conspiracy is required. Luxury and convenience cannot succeed on any grand or global scale if we value families and children. When we take our families back, then we can reasonably argue against abortion.

  98. Steve Evans says:

    Peter, I would suggest that for comments of such length, posting on your own site would be preferable.

  99. At the birth of my third, I felt the spirit enter the room. It was like a light going on. On the pregnancy of the 4th, we had a visit from her spirit well into the pregnancy. But life is everywhere and in everything. We should all want and love children and every child should have that right to be loved and wanted. It is extremely sad for someone not to treasure that life.

    But since we are talking about jurisprudence here, in law everything has a price. I kill a doctor by accident, I make restitution for his financial value. If we can value a human life this way, the doctor was not of infinite worth after all, then we can value a fetus this way. The value of a fetus is certainly not infinite even though we would like to think this.

    At fertilization the clump of cells is hardly worth anything, maybe even has a negative value. At 9 months it has a value because it is nearly born. Any number of people will pay lots of money for an infant to adopt. Besides the investment in time, energy and emotion for the mother and father.

    The line can be drawn by the law as to how valuable a fetus is, on average, by how much restitution should be made for the accidental loss. It is then easy to draw a line and say that for fetuses over a certain value abortion is not an option.

    In Mormon circles loss of a pregnancy should have a different meaning. We were starting a miscarriage and it was tough. We finally terminated the pregnancy and the next month started again with better results.

    I think, if I had the choice, I would not mind raising a Downs syndrome child but I would rather raise a normal one. Can we not, in that case, just start over?
    #26 in ancient times people observed that if you cut an artery that the animal dies when the blood leaves. Thus life is in the blood. It is also in the brain, and heart and lung and everywhere else, as we are aware.

    #77 Sperm travel relatively extremely rapidly. Fertilization can occur in minutes.

  100. Adam Greenwood says:

    That’s question begging, BobW. After all, it isn’t as if the doctor has an actual value that we can rationally determine. There’s no slave market for doctors and there shouldn’t be. The doctor’s “value” is imposed by law.

    So with the unborn you’re back to square one. Pro-lifers will put a high value on their lives. Others won’t. You still have the same debates and the same arguments.

  101. Adam Greenwood says:

    And in answer to your other question, I would say, no.

  102. Adam Greenwood says:

    Or rather, yes, you can start over. Just as you can start over if your child gets horribly crippled after birth. But you shouldn’t.

  103. Actually in our economy children are an economic burden for nearly the first quarter-century of their lives. Do they ever return any of the money their parents have spent on them? I haven’t. And my children aren’t showing any signs of starting to send money this way. Besides, they’re busy spending their hard-earned money on their children.

    But, by BobW’s reasoning, we would assign a very low value to children, since they’re just an economic sump, and they could be dispatched with impunity.

    [To be accurate, I suppose I should say that the great government-imposed Ponzi scheme is a sort of “rough justice” way of making the children pay back to their parents.]

    And re: Bob’s comment on #77: But, being male, they never stop to ask for directions, so most of them get lost and never reach their destination.

  104. Are we really debating the details of when life begins? Seriously? “Thou shalt not kill or do anything like unto it.” Period. The End. Nuff said.

  105. God, as spoken to Moses on Mount Sinai.

  106. “Are we really debating the details of when life begins?”

    No, not really.



  107. Melinda, you’ll forgive me if my O.T. doesn’t say that — yours does? I’ll help you out though — D&C 56:9.

  108. Okay, then. What is the debate about?

  109. Are we not allowed to use the D&C here?

  110. Melinda, read the comments. You’ll see that very little of what is being discussed has to do with the issue of when life begins.

  111. Sure, you can use the D&C — but don’t pretend that Moses came down and the Ten Commandments said “Kill or anything like unto it.”

  112. Maybe my comment was a bit too harsh. I just find it astounding when I hear Latter-Day Saints debating the finite details of abortion. As if the matter would finally be settled if God would just reveal the exact moment when life begins. He has! I just quoted Him (although off the top of my head, which apparently was a mistake–I just figured this group would not need a reference for such a basic, fundamental doctrine).

    Just as we (meaning members of The Church, under the guidance of a living prophet) do not condone the practice of euthenasia for the terminally ill because we believe it is wrong to confer the power to end life upon doctors; it is the same principle with abortion. Just because the Supreme Court of the United States decreed it legal does not make it legal in God’s court.

    To me, this means that the question of when life begins is moot. Once a man and a woman have CHOSEN (and that’s the key, here) to commit the act of creating life, whether intentionally or not–it is the only means by which life can be created–they are bound to the consequences of that choice. There is now the possibility for a new life to begin; a life which should be respected and given it’s agency to choose as well. Who are we to take upon ourselves the authority of God to determine who gets a chance to live and who does not?

  113. Steve Evans says:

    okey-dokey! Thanks for your thoughts melinda.

  114. Melinda,
    One problem with your argument is that the church does allow for the possibility of abortions to be acceptable under certain conditions. I assume that this is why you have put the word “chosen” in caps–to emphasize that in cases of rape or (presumably, but not necessarily) incest, the choice isn’t operative. However, the second part of your agrument obtains without regard to the circumstances of conception. Whether intercourse was consensual or coerced, once pregnancy occurs, “there is now the possibility for a new life to begin” etc. So, in fact, even your own comments suggest the moral complexity both of this issue broadly defined and the church’s position on it.

  115. Who are we to take upon ourselves the authority of God to determine who gets a chance to live and who does not?

    That’s possibly the worst argument against abortion I have ever heard. Based on that, why isn’t it taking upon ourselves the authority of God when we practice contraception? What about capital punishment? What about war? Apparently, taking upon ourselves the authority of God is only wrong sometimes.

  116. #115: The key phrase here is “who gets a chance to live”. Capital punishment and war are separate issues because we are dealing with people who have already had the chance to live and have chosen to perpetrate evil upon others.

    Contraception is a bit more complex. Although, in such instances, we are attempting to prevent a life from being created, therefore the only lives being affected are the two individuals involved. However, once a life has been created (whether by failure of contraception or on purpose, it does not matter), there is now another individual with a chance to live and we don’t have the right to stop it. Just my opinion, anyway.

    BTW–I am a mother of 5 beautiful lives–three of whom were the tremendous blessings of failed contraception. :)

  117. Patricia Lahtinen says:

    #77 et al:

    Good luck finding a pharmacist who will fill your Plan B prescription…