Religion and Abortion

As I type this post, the Supreme Court is listening to arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. In that case, JWHO is challenging a Mississippi law that bans [updated] most abortions in the state after fifteen weeks of gestation (with no exception for rape or incest). Mississippi, on the other hand, is asking the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade (and,, in fact, appears to have passed its law precisely because it thought the Supreme Court would do so).

There’s a popular narrative in the U.S. that there is a single religious view on abortion: that it’s wrong and should be banned. But that view is both overly-simplistic and wrong. There is an enormous range of religious views on abortion. On the one hand, Catholicism opposes abortion, along with capital punishment and the death penalty, as part of its dedication to the sanctity of human life.

On the other hand, in Jewish teaching, personhood occurs at birth. Prior to that, there may be a religious obligation to have an abortion if the mother’s life is at risk.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints falls somewhere in between. It opposes abortion but makes exceptions in cases of rape, incest, risk to the life or health of the mother, or nonviability of the fetus.

I’m not suggesting that this is the full range of religious beliefs on abortion. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), for instance, believes that at least pre-viability, “[h]umans are empowered by the spirit prayerfully to make significant moral choices, including the choice to continue or end a pregnancy. Human choices should not be made in a moral vacuum, but must be based on Scripture, faith and Christian ethics. For any choice, we are accountable to God; however, even when we err, God offers to forgive us.”

But I think it’s important to push back on the idea that there is a single conclusion on abortion to which religion points: rather, it points in all different directions. And even Christian religions that staunchly oppose abortion recognize that forgiveness is possible.

I’ll note, too, that the various positions aren’t just rhetorical. Religious groups filed amicus briefs both supporting and opposing the Mississippi law.

CWhat is the Supreme Court going to decide in today’s case? I truly don’t know; I’m not really a Court-watcher or a -prognosticator. But the question is complicated, even religiously, and ignoring the fact that there are people of faith who disagree with you on such an important matter does a deep disservice to faith.

I’m going to leave the comments open because I think it’s critical that we be able to discuss important topics that we’re passionate about. But I will also moderate the comments ruthlessly, if not in real time. I expect good-faith and respectful discussion. If a comment denigrates somebody or some religion or some religious belief or if I think it can be read that way, I’ll delete it with no explanation and no apology. If you want to engage in ad hominems and misrepresentation and condemnation of others, I can’t stop you from doing it somewhere else but I can stop you from doing it here.


  1. Raymond Winn says:

    Thank you Mr Brunson for this thoughtful invitation to ponder the question that will undoubtedly play a significant role in the Republicans’ winning the next several elections.
    Long ago I realized that most ethical questions (or moral, or civics-related, or political discussions) were so fraught with complications on either side, that simple solutions, or simple decisions, were not possible. In this case, the over-riding truth is that no matter how the legality of abortion is decided, abortions WILL continue. And until each of us is personally placed in that difficult position – of having whether to continue an unwanted pregnancy – we have no right to render an opinion on any decision of others.

  2. The LDS position on abortion has a gaping hole in it. On the one hand, the Church opposes abortions for “convenience.” On the other, it allows abortions for rape, incest, the health of the mother, or the viability of the fetus. Between these two poles are numerous other situations. Many women are faced with the choice between abortion and any number of undesirable or even impossible life situations, including the high cost of childbirth, lack of health insurance, poverty, inability to care for another child, etc. These cannot be considered “convenience.” Adoption is an option, but if you have looked at the research on adoption, it is not a solution for many women. If you look at LDS scripture, it appears the evidence leans toward the spirit entering the body (the beginning of personhood) at birth, not at conception. So, given that there are already several acceptable exceptions, it makes sense to expand that a little for other impossible situations and thereby close this gaping hole in the Church’s position. This really is a decision that cannot be made by a panel of judges that applies in all cases. It should be made by the couple, their doctor, and their clergy.

  3. Good luck on the comments section!
    For so long as it’s available, I would add that religious attitudes about abortion are both about the moral choice but also about controlling or deciding or using state power to control other people’s moral choices. Religions that I know about have a long history of both—both controlling others by state power, and separating moral choice from control.

  4. Another important point, and one that I think a certain member of the Court completely missed, is that the issue does not require a religious perspective at all. Religious people come down on different sides, but so do secular philosophers and policy makers. For a member of the Court to openly claim, without evidence, that the legal arguments are based on religion is, quite frankly, embarrassing.

  5. Olde Skool says:

    Thank you, Tom, for your nuanced consideration of “impossible life situations,” which for some reason tend to be seen as proper comeuppance for women who have sex and never for their impregnators.

  6. So here is something interesting: the LDS Church did not file an amicus brief. Nor, apparently, did it join a brief filed by another interested non-party (I only checked the USCCB brief). So the Church, which constantly pushes its right to make public pronouncements and sermonize in General Conference on political questions that have a moral component — here is silent on one of the very biggest moral issues.

    Over at the Newsroom — crickets. No news release. The top story is about a new “giving machine” in New York.

  7. I agree with the above comments.

    If the LDS church wanted further enlightenment on the topic, they would benefit from the perspective and Priesthood of women. Just saying.

    The LDS position in the handbook is sometimes over-ridden by GAs who repeat evangelical/right-wing pro-choice stances. The last GA conference talk using the word “abortion” fell into this category, and I was deeply disturbed by it.

    The LDS position does NOT align with the Republican pro-choice stance, but many members vote R in large part (if not solely) on a perception that this one issue IS doctrinally aligned and that the lives of millions (in utero) and their very salvation is in peril. (
    When GAs implicitly or explicitly undermine official church policy, their subtle winks and nods are perceived by the members as being correct – the real deal- while the official stance/policy is merely a survival/political necessity. (Our history is replete with examples of this- especially regarding polygamy and early government relations.)

    So yeah. I don’t know what to say about the church’s position when thy send mixed messages.

  8. Alan Clark says:

    An interesting parallel is the way that teachings have changed concerning contraception in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The June 1917 issue of the Relief Society Magazine contains the proceedings for the April Relief Society General Conference, which presented a “Resolution Concerning Birth Control or Race Suicide” to the general membership of the Relief Society. Church leaders, male and female, agreed that “it is a crying evil, that there should be members of the Church [who choose] to curtail the birth of their children.” Since the early 1900s, there have been various statements from church leaders for and against contraception. A perusal of the selected quotes on birth control in the Eternal Marriage Student Manual for Institute classes, available on the church website, is sure to leave individuals confused on the permissiveness of contraception.

    Views on abortion have been more static among church leaders, but if the language on contraception can vary from “race suicide” to a decision that “should be left between the couple and the Lord,” then Sam is right. The conversation is complicated and deserves a more nuanced and respectful approach to it than we often observe.

  9. it's a series of tubes says:

    If you look at LDS scripture, it appears the evidence leans toward the spirit entering the body (the beginning of personhood) at birth, not at conception

    Tom, I’m not so certain this is accurate or the “evidence” is this clear-cut. By your reasoning, you are saying that in the event of something like an emergency C-section, the spirit enters the body approx. when the surgeon makes his incision. (If you’ve ever been present for one, as I have, you know that the baby can be out literally in a few minutes after the decision to cut is made). The fetus was not a person with a spirit, and then minutes later, because a surgeon intervened, it became a person with a spirit perhaps months earlier than otherwise? That’s a pretty hard sell; I’m not buying.

  10. Alma+Frances+Pellett says:

    I think the corollary to the idea that there is a single religious view on abortion is that there is a single, non-religious view on abortion. We can show trends, but peoples is peoples; most have a vague opinion one way or another for various reasons, but it’s the minority shouting the loudest that gets held as the avatar for the side.
    It’s frustrating that the machinations behind this case (and the machinations to appoint judges who would hear it) have been going on for decades, with almost no end in sight.

  11. Even under ideal circumstances, pregnancy and labor is difficult.
    Its demands are unrivaled and unlike anything else human-beings do.
    Only recently did it stop killing something like between 1 in 4 and 1 in 6 women. Where there is poor or unequal access to healthcare, it is still far too often fatal.
    For a society to demand that a whole class of people assume that risk, with pitiful societal support (at least in this country), is shameful.
    I might feel differently if we as societies and religious communities were actually committed to supporting parents and children in the ways that they deserve, but until we are, this is an easy moral question for me.

  12. Just as there is not a single religious view on abortion, neither is there a single Mormon, er, LDS vote on abortion. If we repeat only the view from the handbook, we neglect both the right wing (which seems predominant in leadership) and left leaning sides which also exist within the church.

    Ziff of zelophehads daughters discussed this in a post a while back that should have received an award.

  13. There is a misstatement in the opening paragraph of the blog post: the Mississippi law does not ban all abortions after 15 weeks — it allows exceptions for medical emergencies and severe fetal abnormality.

    These may not be sufficient exceptions for many here, but it’s important to accurately state the facts, particularly when discussing such a heated topic.

  14. Thanks Danyal. I had misread the law, then fixed my parenthetical, but I forgot to fix the non-parenthetical text. I’ll fix it in the OP.

  15. Tom and It’s a Series of Tubes,
    Looking at LDS personal family history stories (pioneer to present) in the inter mountain west, there are *innumerable* beyond the veil/visions by mothers and birth attendants of the spirit entering the body during birth and coming together at first breath. President Benson’s birth story is perhaps the most famous. There are other stories of the spirit being felt upon quickening and in communication with the mother before conception and during pregnancy. (Elizabeth and Mary’s story being notable from scripture.) But, there seems to be a fluidity of spirit between the worlds in utero (a coming and going), which even Brigham noted in his discourses. He felt that spirits who lose bodies through a miscarriage could return to the same parents and be born later.

    Anthropological studies of Mormon women’s birth stories are like NDEs- completely fascinating. Again, I believe that for more revelation on this subject- we should be listening to women.

  16. In light of today’s blog post, Justice Sotomayor asked an interesting question during oral arguments; specifically, she asked Mississippi’s Solicitor General “how is your interest anything but a religious view?” So she made a similar error to the one described in this blog post, but from the other side (i.e., how can anyone possibly believe that life begins before birth, except for religious reasons?)

    A few minutes later Justice Alito asked a follow-up question to the SG to clarify the obvious fact many secular philosophers and scientists believe that life begins prior to birth, and that there may be non-religious reasons for such a belief.

  17. Two thoughts: Regarding church policy on abortion, I had a conversation my dad, whose leadership experience includes both mission president and member of a temple presidency, meaning he’s spent some time with the handbooks. He told me that in order for a person who had committed murder to receive approval to be baptized, authorization must come from the first presidency. In contrast, in order for a person who has had an abortion to receive permission to be baptized, permission must come from the mission president (or presidency, I can’t remember which). I know a lot of pro-life rhetoric equates abortion with murder, but the difference in permission needed in these two cases says something about church interpretation where the rubber meets the road.
    Second thing: in a recent book group conversation, a woman put forth a belief I had never heard before. She was certain that the reason abortion is so wrong is that the spirit of an aborted fetus gets no further chance–they do not get a mortal probation. I’ll want to look for the Brigham Young quote mentioned earlier regarding miscarriage. Though I can picture the woman so certain of her convictions saying such a point wouldn’t change her mind.

  18. “It’s our country not your church” comes to mind. Religion’s need to stay out of it even though they won’t. And politicians (R) use this issue to divide people and win votes. I would argue that republicans don’t really want it repealed, so they can keep using the issue as a wedge. My opinion on this is that it’s not up to me. I am a man. And while I am part of the pregnancy, I still do not have to carry the baby to term. Therefore it’s a woman’s issue and should be a decision left to the woman. Men need to shut up and sit down. But unfortunately, most men want to control women’s bodies, choices and decisions. I am absolutely pro choice because that choice belongs to women…..not men.

    If you really want to fix this issue give every boy a vasectomy at puberty and don’t let them reverse it until they get married or can prove they will be financially responsible for paying for a child from conception to adulthood. Problem solved. And even better, let female doctors do the proceedings and don’t give men a choice. If they don’t do it then punish them to the fullest extent of the law.

  19. What happened to the idea that abortion should be safe, legal, and rare? I think that is what is mostly taught by church leaders. States should be allowed to regulate abortion as they see fit.

  20. Alma Frances Pellett says:

    The thing about “safe, legal, and rare” is that it has more than one interpretation. One side is for the first two, while the other side is for the third. Do we make it rare by improving education, services, and funds, or do we make it rare by restricting “legal” as far as possible?

    And “states rights” only seems to be invoked when some states want to remove the liberty of part of the population.

  21. The right answer is, “We don’t know”. The scriptures do not tell us, the prophet and apostles have not said, and the medical community does not know. Anything other than “We don’t know” is made up and we are better to when we don’t try to think we know when we don’t.

  22. Ardis E. Parshall says:

    I have perhaps a hundred letters from throughout the 20th century to Church leaders like George Q. Cannon, John A. Widtsoe, Joseph Fielding Smith, and others who typically received questions from members, asking when the spirit enters the body. Sometimes the replies run through the catalog of possibilities (at conception, at quickening, at birth) but they always — ALWAYS — end by saying “We don’t know. God hasn’t told us.” No matter what some might claim for folk belief, including women’s dreams, inspirations, hopes, and experiences, there is no Church position on the question. And none of us are bound to accept the individual beliefs, dreams, inspirations, hopes and experiences of others as anything more than individual understanding.

  23. Thanks Ardis. I don’t have the depth of correspondence that you do, but that corresponds to what I understand as the church’s position. The question of when life begins is a philosophical and religious question that depends deeply on how we define both “life” and “begin.” And our scriptures don’t really answer the question; Elizabeth’s baby leaping in her womb was meant to tell us who Jesus was, not when life begins. Likewise, Jesus speaking to the Nephites just before His birth wasn’t meant to illustrate the start of life. From a Latter-day Saint perspective, we just don’t know.

  24. So basically … it’s complicated and we should let women / couples and not (mostly older white male) state legislatures decide. Yep!

    Most people (religious or not) would like to see fewer actual abortions performed, and as everybody already knows, the data shows that this is the case when women have access to healthcare and contraception and education. Not when abortions are harder to obtain. Restricting abortions is, as Marty (thank you!) puts it, about controlling women’s bodies. Not about protecting children. If we cared about protecting children, we wouldn’t have (for example) gotten rid of the Affordable Care Act, etc etc etc etc.

    I do appreciate the liberality of the Church’s position compared to some of our evangelical peers, although I also agree with some commenters that sometimes it does seem like a wink and a nod like “but really we do oppose abortion obviously.” The Andersen talk was atrocious.

  25. The Andersen talk was right in line with the belief of the church, the prophets and apostles. Like it or not, it is the word of the Lord; not just old white men. These men have been called by God, and are under obligation to speak in His name…like it or not is our choice.

  26. To Ardis’s point, the now obsolete Handbook 2 section 21.3.10 (regarding stillborn children) was explicit:

    “It is a fact that a child has life before birth. However, there is no direct revelation on when the spirit enters the body.”

    The comparable section in the current Handbook does not address this particular issue at all.

  27. Although I believe we do not know when life begins, it seems apparent the spirit has entered the body before it is born or else the body could not kick, or “leap”, or suck a thumb. As far as I understand, the body cannot move without a spirit inside it. Therefore, it is obvious the spirit enters the body before birth. Am I wrong on this?

  28. Barb, I don’t see any theological, scientific, or other reason to think that a fetus needs a spirit to move. It’s possible, of course, but it’s also possible that there’s no relationship. We really and truly don’t have any revelatory or scriptural knowledge about when spirit enters body or, for that matter, whether that marks “life” or “personhood.”

  29. With regards to the question of whether a spirit is necessary in order for a physical body to be alive and kicking, i.e. vitalism, here is part of the 2nd missionary discussion as I taught it back in the day:

    “Suppose my hand represents your spirit. It is alive. It can move by itself. Suppose this glove represents your physical body. A glove cannot move by itself. But when the spirit enters it, the
    physical body can move and act and live.”

    I assume that church leadership reviews missionary discussions more carefully than most published materials, so apparently someone in leadership considered this to be true doctrine.

    Also, sprinkled throughout church materials is the notion that death is the separation of the body from the spirit, e.g. the entry on “Death” in the Bible Dictionary.

    That isn’t to say that vitalism is official doctrine, whatever that means, but it seems to be an orthodox belief within the church.

  30. Geoff - Aus says:

    This is a purely Republican thing. In Australia abortion is not a political or religious issue it is accepted. Our national leader, and at least one state premier profess to be very religious neither says anything about abortion.

    Republicans have been selling the lie that if you vote for them they will fix abortion.
    I only found out recently that there are Republican supporters who call themselves social conservatives, which I understand means dealing with abortion means making it illegal. Whether voting Republican results in more abortions (which it does) doesn’t matter. Nor does increases in maternal deaths, or increasing one parent families.

    Also look up global gag rule.

    Looking forward to seeing what the court says.

  31. Kristine N says:

    Geoff – Aus — I (living in Adelaide) disagree with your characterization of abortion as a non-political, accepted issue in Australia. There are *plenty* of people in my ward who are anti-abortion. I’ve also heard plenty of shock jocks making comments about abortion. Australia’s just a few decades behind. The way things are here now reminds me quite a lot of the way things were in the 80s and 90s in the US. There may not be a political party that’s seized on abortion as a wedge issue yet, but it wouldn’t surprise me if that happens in the future.

    I get the impression abortion in Australia is protected in part by where abortions take place. At least here in SA abortions happen in hospitals, not in easily identifiable clinics. The fact that women can be going to the hospital for any number of reasons prevents anti-abortion activists from targeting women who are seeking an abortion. This ensures that abortion, for the moment at least, remains part of reproductive health care.

  32. John Mansfield says:

    Just as there is not a single religious stance on abortion, or one non-religiously motivated stance, there is also not a simple divide based on sex, supposedly with women and men who care about women on one side, and men who want to control women on the other side. Those I have personally encountered expressing the strongest feelings against the availability of abortion are almost all women. Such women seem to feel a personal offense at what they view as an abuse of the most uniquely female capacity, an offense that a man could not feel in the same way.

    Similarly, my earliest youthful concept of abortion was that it is something that Hemingway protagonists pressure their girlfriends into. My late wife held the opinion that abortion will always be legal because so many politicians from both parties have philandering to cover up. A man who favors abortion rights is not necessarily a feminist.

    The politics of abortion in America feel almost accidental. It is easy to imagine Democrats championing unborn fetuses as vulnerable future people who should be protected by society, even from their own parents’ actions if necessary. It is also easy to imagine Republicans resisting restriction of abortion as an infringement of liberty and commerce.

  33. Thank you Robert. The body/glove visual was on my mind. By itself, without machines of course, a body cannot move by itself without a spirit. I thought this was common knowledge, but maybe I am wrong.

  34. There are two distinct issues at play here. First, the Church position on abortion. Second, the political/philosophical position on government’s role in regulating abortion. I’ll leave the first issue to brighter minds and weigh in on the second. I believe with the founders that there are certain self-evident rights that precede government. I can’t view a woman’s decision about how to proceed with a pregnancy as anything other than a self-evident personal right that should be outside the purview of government control, regardless of my or my church’s beliefs. I recognize the argument that government has the obligation to protect unborn lives, but until we have scientific unanimity on the definition of “life,” I believe the woman’s right to choose must prevail. Abandoning Roe and leaving the regulation of abortion to the various states is a trampling of individual rights. Can you imagine living under a law passed by a zealous legislature that does not allow for any exceptions to abortion? Imagine, being raped, and after prayerful consideration and in consultation with ecclesiastical leaders, you chose to terminate the resulting pregnancy, and then after going through those traumatic experiences, you are arrested for making that decision? That is the stuff of backward, undemocratic totalitarian regimes. For a democratic government to take away that fundamental right to choose is obscene. Legislatures are meant to sort out rights distributed by government, not to sort out individual rights that live outside government. Our courts have an obligation to protect those rights.

  35. Alma Frances Pellett says:

    “When life begins” is the wrong issue to be chasing. The issue is “does a person have a right to their own organs”?. The first can be debated, the second cannot. It shouldn’t matter if the line is 6 weeks, 20 weeks, or 30 weeks. If the State has an interest in protecting those who can be viable outside the womb, then it can pay for all costs therein and after.

    We can’t get bogged down into a debate on when life begins. Heart beating and muscles twitching can happen in a completely non-viable fetus. We can’t use them to try and measure something we have no way of measuring.

  36. John Mansfield says:

    “The issue is ‘does a person have a right to their own organs’?. The first can be debated, the second cannot.”
    Sure it can. I just remembered one non-abortion scenario that has been raised in court, and thought of a couple others. You could too.

  37. Alma, that argument goes for the woman as well. I mean, does she have a right to her own body and organs or does the state have the right to demand she give them for a potential life or even existing life? Your argument doesn’t ‘solve’ the debate.

  38. Or wait, perhaps you’re actually arguing for the woman to be able to choose. Yes, it seems like it. Hence, the obvious difficulty.

  39. I agree with everything Elisa wrote, and she said it much better than I could.

    I also want to say that reading comments on blogs has always been something not for the faint of heart, and even more so in the last 12 months. This comment section has been very positive and respectful, so thank you. It’s restored a bit of my faith in humanity today.

  40. Alma Frances Pellett says:

    John Mansfield, I’ll exchange the “cannot” to a “should not”. There’s probably a rule of some sort, like “there are no new lawsuits, only new participants”

    And yes, it should always be the woman’s right to choose. Before (and well into) viability, it’s her organs being used. Even if you argue that the act of impregnation is consent, consent can be withdrawn. If people truly cared about the child after it is born, our orphanages would be well funded and often empty.

  41. Following up on Chadwick: yes, thank you. I was worried that I would have to moderate with a heavy hand and, as of now, I haven’t deleted a single comment. I appreciate the respect and thought that has come in here so far.

  42. The problem with the organ argument for carte Blanche access is that, for the most part, the woman willingly exposed her internal organs to the semen of another individual, thus putting her body at risk of pregnancy. We all put our bodies at risk with a wide variety of activities (sports, driving, ingesting) and must bear the risk of undesirable outcomes when we do. Where the issue gets complicated is when the sexual contact was nonconsensual, where there is no responsibility. Given the difficulty of proving whether the sexual contact resulting in pregnancy was consensual or not, we need to err on the side of assuming most women get abortions as a result of non-consensual acts and need relatively easy access.

  43. The one statement I can’t get out of my head is the notion that if men could get pregnant, abortion would not be an issue. Hard to argue with that logic.

  44. John Mansfield says:

    Men can get women pregnant and potentially be financially and otherwise responsible for children they had not intended to father, but abortion is still an issue.

  45. @JLM, I agree women need relatively easy access in the case of non-consent. But I think it is important for lots of other reasons too, all of which are intensely personal, and I hope you and others will consider that also. I have two wonderful kids, but I contemplated an abortion a few months after my second was born (I turned out not to be pregnant) because I had just had a traumatic pregnancy and birth and had complications with both of my children. I was terrified about a third pregnancy so soon after my premature baby was born. Even though I wanted another child, someday.

    Thanks everyone for the respectful discussion.

  46. I don’t think we should use folksy metaphors (hand/glove) to answer questions that the First Presidency has declined to answer. Besides if you take the proposition that movement = spirit, then it’s not long before you have to basically affirm that every molecule has a spirit, and the concept of spirit becomes essentially meaningless.

  47. nobody, really says:

    Jared*, you’ve hit on the exact doctrine of W. Cleon Skousen there.

  48. I’m curious if Sam has a prediction about how the court will divide in this decision. Does he think the decision will be 5-4, or 6-3?

  49. Mark, I don’t know; I’m not a con law guy or really a Court watcher. We’ll see by June.

  50. JLM: I so tire of laying the responsibility of abortion at the feet of women who knowingly “ expose their internal organs” to the semen of their partners. Let’s just remember that every single abortion in the history of humankind resulted directly from the action of a man. The woman’s lot is to carry the entire weight of his irresponsible action. Yes: she participated too. But one of the problems of all this abortion regulating by men is that the cause of abortions is also those same men. I’d have to say that I felt physically sickened when I read your response.

  51. Michael Austin says:

    “The problem with the organ argument for carte Blanche access is that, for the most part, the woman willingly exposed her internal organs to the semen of another individual, thus putting her body at risk of pregnancy. We all put our bodies at risk with a wide variety of activities (sports, driving, ingesting) and must bear the risk of undesirable outcomes when we do.”

    I am unfamiliar with any other occasion when somebody’s consensual exposure to risk becomes a reason to deny them health care. When I was 13, I did a really stupid thing. I went down a water slide with my eyes closed. And I broke one of my front teeth in half. It was really stupid, but the dentist still treated me, created a cap for the tooth, pulled the exposed nerve, and did all of the other things that needed to be done. At no point did anybody say, “you exposed your teeth to the wall of the waterslide; no dental care for you.”

    In many regions in the country, people who have made the decision not to be vaccinated for COVID-19 are clogging the hospitals and creating bed shortages for people who need hospitalization for a variety of reasons. I have heard some people say “unvaccinated people should not be treated for COVID. But I do not know of any jurisdiction in the US that has done this. Singapore did this, but they are an authoritarian government. In the US, we treat smokers for lung cancer, obese people for hypertension, drunk drivers for wounds caused by accidents. Our entire health apparatus is built on treating people for the consequences of their bad decisions.

    The idea that a woman’s voluntary participation in sexual relations makes her ineligible for health care because she chose the risk voluntarily would, if applied universally, make a great deal of health care unavailable to people who made bad choices. At best, this is a moral argument against abortion for those whose religious beliefs extend full theological personhood to a fetus (this is not the LDS belief but it is certainly a belief of some religions). But it is not a legal argument and cannot be a legal argument without permitting a religious belief that most people do not hold to drive our legal policies.

  52. John Mansfield says:

    Are the men who favor regulating abortion and the men who cause abortions the same men? How much do those two populations coincide?

  53. I think some of you are reading my previous comment too broadly. I was specifically addressing the argument of “my organ, my choice” as the primary rational to oppose abortion restrictions. One counter argument is the choice to engage in human life creating behavior creates a duty to that being if one is created. With regards to the health care argument, it can be argued that the human being growing in the womb also deserves life sustaining health care.

    Fundamentaly you have two conflicting rights and interests at stake, those of the pregnant mother and those of the unborn child. Whose rights out prioritize whose is a difficult question fraught with many moral and ethical issues. Fundamentally, I beleive SCOTUS got it right with Roe and Casey, where the rights of the mother predominant in early pregnancy and the rights of the fetus predominate in late pregnancy. It’s that murky middle term period that is so tricky.

  54. I find that people often summarize the Church’s position on abortion in an overly simplistic way and fail to give full voice to the Church’s opposition to abortion. While the Church’s position is often portrayed as a list of automatic exceptions, the next paragraph from the Handbook is often ignored.

    “Even these exceptions do not automatically justify abortion. 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.”

    Far from being a get out of jail free type card, the Church’s position is better described as all abortion is bad, and here are a couple of reasons that might or might not justify such a horrible act.

  55. Michael Austin says:

    Mike: “Far from being a get out of jail free type card, the Church’s position is better described as all abortion is bad, and here are a couple of reasons that might or might not justify such a horrible act.”

    This is absolutely true. But we still have to negotiate the boundaries between what the Church teaches as a matter of personal morality for members wondering whether or not they should have an abortion and what the church teaches as a required, or recommended political position. The Church handbook declares a number of things to be previously sinful–adultery, homosexual activity, pornography, etc.–without saying that they should be illegal, or directing faithful members to work towards making them illegal. I see abortion–both the description that it is usually sinful and the exceptions that make it acceptable–in that category.

    JLM: “With regards to the health care argument, it can be argued that the human being growing in the womb also deserves life sustaining health care.”

    I agree with nearly all of what you say: abortion is the balancing of different rights, fetuses–whether or not they are fully protected human beings–have claim on our sympathies and moral attention, and that fetuses deserve health care.

    The only thing I disagree with is that a woman’s choice to have sex changes the legal calculus at all, either by diminishing the woman’s right or increasing the fetus’s rights. It might (or might not) change the moral calculus. But the fact that someone 1) knows that sex can lead to pregnancy; and 2) chooses to have sex, does not constitute an invitation that justifies depriving her of bodily integrity–any more than leaving a door unlocked deprives someone of the right to use force to expel an intruder.

  56. Michael: Your analogy compares an act of commission to an act of omission, which has a different analysis. Where there is a knowing and deliberate act that may result in an undesired outcome, the responsible thing to do is own the outcome and minimize the harm. When conceiving a child, I think there is a fair argument that a special relationship is formed with the would be parents owing a duty if care to the unborn child.

    I recognize the legal issues you are raising, but legal doctrines arised out of societal norms, and IMHO we our current culture leans to heavily on the side of rights while failing to recognize the associated duties that go with them.

    If I were in charge, I would enact policies that would make it easy to avoid abortions. Free birth control for all, free pre-natal care, free mental health and financial counseling for pregnant women, free adoption placement services for those who choose to use them, etc. Make it easy to either not get pregnant or carry to term, but allow the woman the choice of early term termination through easy and safe access.

  57. When I was reading “Lost Scriptures: Books that did not make it into the New Testament” I noticed that a handful of the books written by people to be scripture, but were later found out to not be authentic, and did not make the cut for the New Testament, would state that abortion and infanticide were wrong. Being strictly against abortion seems to be a philosophy of men that can pose as scripture.

  58. “Michael: Your analogy compares an act of commission to an act of omission, which has a different analysis”

    We can eliminate the problem by simply changing “leaving a door unlocked” to “unlocking a door.” It still doesn’t change the legal issues involved.

  59. Geoff - Aus says:

    Would making abortion illegal reduce the number of abortion? It will make life more difficult for pregnant women, especially poor ones, who will then live in poverty as single parent families. The wealthy will be able to arrange what they need.

    Are the justices or the conservatives interested in reducing the number of abortions or is this purely ideological? What are they trying to achieve?

    What are the factors that reduce the number of abortions. Reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies. How are they reduced? Empower women by providing sex education, including on consent, and affordable birth control. These have been seen to work in other countries. The present million abortions could be reduced to 300,000, and could be a side effect of introducing universal healthcare.

    I suspect that those who want to make abortion illegal, will not be promoting sex education, birth control.

    If abortion becomes illegal, might you expect more single parent families?

    When democrats are in they increase sex education and availibility of birth control, which has reduced the rate over the years. They are trying to reduce the number of abortions.

    As part of reality of abortion, you need to be aware of the global gag rule. When republicans are in they stop funding to family service aid to the third world if this might mention abortion. Democrats restore this funding. The difference between administrations amounts to aproximately 30 million more abortions under republicans, as well as 15000 maternal deaths a year.

  60. “I am unfamiliar with any other occasion when somebody’s consensual exposure to risk becomes a reason to deny them health care. ”

    Generally the health care involved in such situation does not result in negative consequences to another individual. To use your example if the treatment had required that a tooth be extracted from another individual to replace yours the treatment wouldn’t have been given to you (absent the consent of the other individual of course). And that I think is the crux of the issue regarding the viability of the fetus. If the fetus is not alive then providing an abortion to the person carrying the fetus does not negatively affect another individual. On the other hand if the fetus is alive then the abortion would be negatively affecting another individual which is seen as problematic

  61. “We can eliminate the problem by simply changing “leaving a door unlocked” to “unlocking a door.” It still doesn’t change the legal issues involved”

    We can best fix the analogy by replacing “unlocking a door” with “inviting an armed imvidivual into your home”.

    What I’m finding kind of amusing is that I think we both come to the same or similar legal solution, but we use different rationale to get there. Are you OK with agreeing with others on the solution even if you disagree the reason behind the agreement?

  62. Ojiisan succinctly states the complexity of the issue we’ll. It all boils down to “when does a growing fetus reach the status of personhood and is entitled to legal protection?” If at conception, then abortion is not OK except maybe under extreme circumstances such as the life of the mother is at risk. If not until birth, then abortion is OK at any time. Most people beleive there is a middle ground, which is what Roe and Casey tried to thread.

  63. As as think about my last comment, I’m beginning to see where the conservative justices are coming from. The question of “when dies a fetus become a person” is one the courts are ill equipped to answer and perhaps that question is best left to the elected representatives. Nevertheless, I do beleive there should be consistency accross the states so a national standard should be adopted. Given congresses reluctance to address the issue, the court had to step in.

  64. John Mansfield says:

    A Washington Post columnist started his column with the claim that “The United States is one of just seven out of 198 countries that allow elective abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Two of the others are China and North Korea. By contrast, 39 out of 42 of European nations — including France and Germany — bar elective abortions at 15 weeks or less (though with broader exceptions than typically seen in the United States).” It is a curious circumstance which has (painting with a broad brush) American conservatives desiring Euro-style state involvement in people’s decisions, and American liberals expressing a devotion to liberty free from management by the state.

  65. The stigma attached to abortion is so strong that these discussions rarely feature the experiences of actual women who have had abortions. I think it is worth amplifying those voices when engaging in discussions of law and policy. Here is a link to an anonymous post on this very site from a couple of years ago.

  66. Michael Austin says:

    JLM–I’ll take it. Any level of agreement on a question this vexed and complex is a wondrous thing.

  67. Alma Frances Pellett says:

    John Mansfield – I don’t think it’s as simple as “liberty free from management from the State”. Liberals would very much like to see a stop to the “family planning clinics” that deceive women hoping to have an abortion with a bait and switch of “let’s do an ultrasound so you will change your mind”. Worse are the States that require such a thing.
    Liberty always has to be balanced. The whole difficulty is where that balance should reside.

    If the deal was absolutely unrestricted (with no required notices by doctors or anyone else) abortion before 20 weeks, with solid rules on allowances for fetal/maternal health, liberals would be all for it.

  68. Ojisan “Generally the health care involved in such situation does not result in negative consequences to another individual.”

    This comment may have resonated with some in 2019, but no longer. COVID is the perfect example. I’m CONSTANTLY telling my kids not to get hurt, because we just can’t afford a trip to the hospital right now, thanks to ER’s being filled with unvaccinated COVID patients. Yet here we are, with doctors, committed to doing no harm, burning out in serving this population.

    So what’s your solution? To turn away the unvaccinated? To de-prioritize them if other emergencies require assistance?

    We are all doing the best we can. But literally EVERY situation involves a potential negative consequence to another, because our health care system has resource constraints. Abortion isn’t as different as people want it to be. All the situations are complex. Let’s not dismiss those facing this difficult decision so quickly.

  69. Michael Austin says:

    “Ojiisan succinctly states the complexity of the issue we’ll. It all boils down to “when does a growing fetus reach the status of personhood and is entitled to legal protection?” If at conception, then abortion is not OK except maybe under extreme circumstances such as the life of the mother is at risk. If not until birth, then abortion is OK at any time.”

    This is not the only issue involved. It is also important to understand that the state can only invade a human being’s bodily integrity in very specific circumstances, and, with abortion and almost everything else, the rights of a living person outweigh the rights of a potential person. The point of viability may or may not be theologically significant (I don’t believe that it is). But it is the point at which the organism is capable of existing without using someone else’s body. This does not mean that the fetus gains more rights as it grows slowly towards personhood. Rather, the rights-balancing calculus changes when the right can be exercised without invading somebody else’s right.

    Once again, we arrive at the same place for different reasons. But I do think it is important to point out that no amount of personhood entitles somebody to use somebody else’s body, even if doing so is necessary to preserve one’s own life. The state cannot compel organ donations or blood transfusions. It can’t even require a dead body to donate an organ to a fully empersoned being. The question of abortion is about much more than theoretical personhood. It is about the fact that women and other humans have the right to bodily integrity that cannot be abrogated to preserve another life. And that right does not disappear when they consent to have sex.

  70. What I find very disheartening about arguments like JLM’s, even if you end up in the same-ish place, is that when you say you have to balance the rights of a woman and a fetus you are essentially putting a woman and a fetus on the same level. And in many cases placing the rights of women below a fetus. It is another way of denying full personhood to women.

  71. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    Thank you, Michael, for the thoughtful post. And thank you, everyone, for the (surprisingly) thoughtful, reasoned, and respectful discussion. I was ready for a train wreck.

    I find myself continually frustrated by the focus on the sex act that results in pregnancy as a consideration in the legitimacy of abortion. Consent, or laziness, or sinfulness, or access to protection, or whatever are red herrings when it comes to abortion. People are quick to use pregnancy and child-rearing as a rightful consequence (punishment?) for having sex, with exceptions being based upon some religiously acknowledged scenario. This really should have no bearing on the rights of a woman.

  72. Michael Austin says:

    Mack, you are welcome, but the thoughtful post was from Sam.

  73. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    D’oh! My apologies to both of you.

  74. Aussie Mormon says:

    Roe, Doe, and Casey all rely on rights balancing.
    If the issue is that the woman’s rights aren’t the only thing that matters, then the campaigning should (in my opinion) be to make it explicit in federal law, not protecting the Roe (and others) decisions.

  75. I know, Aussie. I disagree with the premise. I think we all have a fundamental right to bodily autonomy, and I don’t care if it comes through the courts or through federal law.

  76. Mack: “People are quick to use pregnancy and child-rearing as a rightful consequence (punishment?) for having sex, with exceptions being based upon some religiously acknowledged scenario.” This isn’t the argument at all. No one is saying that if you have sex, you should get pregnant. The issue is that if you get pregnant, whether you can become unpregnant by killing another human being. In other words, the question isn’t whether a woman should have the right to choose when to become pregnant, it’s a question of whether the remedy of abortion is justified by the circumstances.

    Michael, the point of viability isn’t nearly as self-evidently relevant as you appear to assume. In a legal regime where abortion is legal before viability but illegal after, the mother still has to carry the pregnancy to term if she did not get an abortion before viability. Whether the fetus can survive outside the womb isn’t relevant because we don’t generally permit doctors to induce pre-term labor without some compelling justification.

  77. Aussie Mormon says:

    The other thing that needs to be taken into account with any decisions about viability/personhood is scope creep.

    A drunk driver hits and kills a pregnant woman and the unborn. One death by negligent driving or two?
    Someone kills their pregnant partner and the unborn. One murder or two?
    A pregnant woman trips over while shopping causing her to miscarry. OH&S negligence related death or not?

  78. Aussie Mormon- Those scenarios are not theoretical. There have been court cases trying women who experienced a miscarriage. Sure, it is the most problematic cases that make it to court now, but what happens if states are allowed to functionally outlaw abortion? Will a woman be taken to court over a miscarriage if she forgot to fill her prenatal vitamin subscription? Decided to go horseback riding? Caught an illness that causes an increase in risk of miscarriage? Confided to someone that she didn’t know how she would handle another child? Where would it end?

    That is why it begins to feel like a vendetta against women who have sex. The places passing laws against abortion are the same ones arguing that birth control should not be covered by insurance, that sex ed should not discuss ways to avoid getting pregnant, that women should be criminally liable if they miscarry, etc.

  79. Geoff - Aus says:
  80. Glenn Thigpen says:

    If one just looks at life from a detached, scientific, biological perspective, completely excluding religion, life begins at conception. The newly conceived embryo has its own unique DNA. Based upon that, the decision about when terminating such life is really an arbitrary decision. In a world where only science is in play and morals are determined by ideology or societal values, the ideas about when it is permissible to end a human life will be and are fluid. We have already seen that taking place in places like New York and Virginia.

    Religious views add more nuance to the question, but no clarity. The LDS position, itself maybe provides mixed messages. There has been no official statement as to when life, as in the spirit quickening the body, begins. If one actually looks at the messages, it is clear that the official position is that abortion should be avoided in most circumstances, but makes several exceptions. People with concerns are encouraged to seek advice from church leaders, up to and including the First Presidency. My first wife and I were faced with such a situation years ago, and we did seek the counsel of our Church leaders. The question in our case was actually put to the first presidency, and we were told that it would not be a sin to abort the child because of my wife’s circumstances. However, because of the faith and prayers of my wife, the Lord took that decision out of her hands. In this case, I felt my position was to support my wife in whatever decision she made.

    I believe that the stated concerns about the poor having unequal access to health care, etc. are overstated. Since 1989 pregnant women, married or not, with incomes below 133% of the poverty level receive mandatory Medicaid eligibility. It supposedly ends sixty days after birth, but I personally know quite a few women who remain on medicaid, along with their children until the last one reaches the age of eighteen years.

    I also believe that a lot of women will forgo abortion if they are comfortable with their finances. I support one organization which provides financial services to such women.

    I believe in the sanctity of human life, before and after birth.


  81. Glenn, your first paragraph doesn’t particularly elucidate the situation. “Life” according to what you are arguing there accounts for all sorts of things that we destroy all the time: plants, animals, microbes, etc. The general discussion about abortion, then, is not about whether or not a group of cells is alive, but whether that group of cells can be considered a person. One cannot simply bypass that distinction.

  82. Jared Livesey says:

    The discussion isn’t whether different religious traditions have different opinions on abortion. Of course they do.

    The discussion isn’t whether different religious authorities have different opinions on abortion. Of course they do.

    The discussion isn’t whether different religious adherents have different opinions on abortion. Of course they do.

    The discussion isn’t even about whether God is divided within himself on the issue of abortion. Of course he is not.

    The discussion isn’t even about what God’s position on abortion is. Mormons have an expanded scriptural canon they regard as the word of God and which reduces, if not entirely precludes, uncertainty on the issue, as well as the temple, wherein we learn that it is God who creates the bodies of our children. Not only that, but Mormons know they may appeal to God to discover directly what he thinks of abortion.

    So what are we really talking about?

  83. Glenn Thigpen says:

    Brian, I actually made the point in the paragraph. It is pretty well undisputed, scientifically, that the cells that result from conception are alive, but they are alive just as any one-celled protozoa. Science has no morality, it just deals in facts, as well as they can be established. Based on science alone, any consensus about when a fetus becomes a person will be arbitrary.

    It is religion that adds the nuance of the fetus becoming a human when the spirit enters the boy, but it does not provide the answer. Not even the doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.


  84. Alma Frances Pellett says:

    Jared Livesey – from the title, I’d guess we’re talking about Religion and Abortion. Mormon teaching is not so certain on the issue, with many, many interpretations of scripture, authorities, and the Temple. Everyone, including you, fits their views to their personal understanding of all these things.

    So what are -you- really talking about?

  85. It’s clear that a majority of current justices have a Catholic theological assumption about when the soul enters the body, one that is clearly not consistent across religions (and science obviously, since we are talking about souls) and these beliefs are explicitly contradicted by various religions. What’s less clear in all of their questions is when a woman becomes a person.

  86. Alan Calan Bo Balan says:

    Religion many times is separate from politics. Coming from a pure political / logical standpoint, you’d think that 90%+ of reasonable people could agree that a healthy fetus should not be aborted after a certain point in a pregnancy. For example, if we were to ask everyone in the USA whether they would agree that a healthy fetus should not be aborted after 18 weeks, I would hope that the % of people agreeing with that statement would be extremely high. Politically, perhaps we could simply start somewhere reasonable if things weren’t so hyper-politicized.

    The fact that we have arrived at a place where abortion is such a point of contention speaks volumes about our state before the Lord. Our wickedness as a nation has precluded a reasonable conversation about this. IMO, objectively, abortion should universally be considered bad (with rare exceptions). No sane person would wish an abortion of a healthy fetus on a loved one.

    The goal should be to take steps (or teach others) to minimize situations in which one would be tempted to get an abortion. Sadly, we are way past that point of having that conversation.

  87. Jared Livesey says:

    Angela C gives the answer to my question thus: “What’s less clear in all of their questions is when a woman becomes a person.”

    The issue truly under discussion is the relative social status of women vis-à-vis men, with the implied premise being that if women cannot slay and thus evict their unborn offspring without fear of punishment by the law, they are not equal to men.

  88. Codger-
    I had no idea it was so easy for women to “force” their man to “wrap it up.” I didn’t know it was so easy for women to control men in telling them how they should have sex. Apparently dozens of my friends who have been abused or raped by their partners just needed to “force” their man to not have sex or have sex a certain way with them.

    This entire comment, but that line especially, illustrates perfectly one of the problems here: Making everything the woman’s fault. It’s HER responsibility to make a man do something, not the man’s. There’s no complaints in this comment of how frivolous men are in their sexual interactions, or how women are directly affected by the way men treat them both in the bedroom and out. We create this problem together. Throwing all accountability and prevention on women means this problem will continue indefinitely. Even if all women were some idealized abstract perfection of responsible, men are a part of reproduction too.

  89. Reading all the comments here, the one that really made the most sense to me was “listen to women who have gone through this.”

    One of the things privilege and power does is allow those in such positions (whether due to race, gender, socioeconomic status, etc.) to feel detached from the lived experiences of the policies and structures they often are responsible for creating and/or perpetuating. The severe costs of certain actions/policies/beliefs/traditions get thrown onto those in less-powerful positions to much greater degrees. For example: The rich want more homes? Well it’s the poor that will have to move out of the communities they grew up in because they can no longer pay the property taxes. But the rich home-buyers don’t experience that pain themselves, so they feel attacked when people get mad at them. And they’re so detached from the actual experience of losing a home, it becomes an abstraction that they’ll just mitigate at a board meeting or with money.

    It’s often unconscious harm, as I think very few people are truly evil or malicious, but we are deeply shaped by our circumstances and cultural outlooks (which is why I think the BoM is so accurate in its description of class divisions being one of the first signs of a civ’s downfall. When your local culture is out-of-touch with the suffering of others in the larger culture, there’s a human impulse to blame those suffering for their problems, assume it’s “just this way”, or turn them into abstractions instead of sharing the suffering with them as the baptismal covenant asks us to do.) That’s why I think asking for personal stories, truly listening to them, sitting with them (and only receiving them, not dictating to them) is one of the most valuable things that can be done. The stories will be varied and from different viewpoints, but at least we’ll be starting from the LIVED REALITY of the situation, allowing more wise and compassionate choices to be made.

    I also see a lot of comments appealing to top-down authority of prophets and science. Which is ironic to me as these are both realms that are still headed by men who will never experience birth.
    Birth and abortion used to primarily be the realm of women (and for a period in LDS UT history it still was!) There’s a lot of theories on why this changed, but the thought keeps coming back to me “Maybe the prophets don’t know because this is a knowing that comes from the ground-up. From the lived, divine experience found in the bodies of women. Maybe God has given us all we need to know already, but we’re not listening to those who are the holders of this kind of knowledge.”
    So we go back to trying to understand it in a detached way, looking for authority from those who will never have it.

    Maybe this is something we learn from the BODIES of WOMEN, not the well-intended philosophies of men.

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