Bishops on Abortion

Chris Kimball is a friend of BCC and former bishop.

INTRODUCTION

Abortion is controversial. Controversy presents an opportunity and challenge for hard thinking. This is one small corner of the hard thinking, focused on the role and practice of a bishop in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is not a global statement or manifesto, and not intended as an invitation to debate all the issues with abortion. 

As an introduction, here is the LDS Church’s position from the General Handbook of Instructions as of September 2, 2022, followed by my personal views and position.

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On “Laws Related to Abortion”

Several weeks ago, in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, the church made a change to its official statement on abortion. Reaffirming its political neutrality, the church gave explicit permission for members to “choose to participate in efforts to protect life and to preserve religious liberty.”

What does that mean? Well, the church explicitly permits abortions in cases of rape, incest, in cases where the pregnancy imposes a serious risk to the mother’s health or life, and in cases where the fetus has serious defects and will not survive.

That is, the church recognizes that there must be some kind of balance between the rights of a pregnant person and the rights of a fetus. In at least some circumstances, that balance favors the pregnant person. Which makes sense—in Mormonism, we don’t have any theological commitment to when life begins. We have, of course, scriptures that suggest it may be sometime before birth (John leapt in Elisabeth’s womb when Elisabeth heard Mary) and scriptures that suggest maybe not (Jesus spoke to Nephi the day before He was born). And from a policy perspective, stillborn children are not recorded as births or deaths on church records and no temple work can be performed for them.

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Supporting Life — Every Life

The U.S. Supreme Court this morning overturned Roe v. Wade. The effect of the ruling will be to eliminate access to abortion in about half of the states. This “victory” reflects decades of work by the “pro-life” movement. Pundits, legal scholars, and activists will no doubt dominate the airwaves today, dissecting the consequences of the opinion and plotting political action. I leave that exegesis to them. Instead, I’d like to turn the discussion to what a fullsome “pro-life” society would actually look like.

This post assumes that proponents of the “pro-life” movement with respect to abortion are sincere in wanting to protect infant life.[*] It also assumes that being “pro-life” generally is one of the most important goals of human society. Whether grounded in faith, ethics, or post-enlightenment philosophy, we all should recognize the dignity of every person and support a social contract that promotes life.

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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.

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The Texas Abortion Ban and the Death of Constitutional Rights

Got your attention? Great!

As I’m sure you’ve heard, the Supreme Court didn’t stop a Texas law that bans abortions performed by Texas physicians after six weeks from going into effect.

The Texas law is clearly unconstitutional. Whether or not you think the right to abortion should be a constitutional right, there is no question under Supreme Court jurisprudence that it is. And the Supreme Court has never allowed a six-week abortion ban to go into effect before, even temporarily.

So what’s different about this Texas ban? Enforcement. Usually statutes that prohibit abortion are enforced by the state government. That means that procedurally, pre-enforcement challenges are straightforward: you sue the government, which would enforce the law, and your case works its way through the court system. If the courts think you have a reasonable chance of winning, they can issue an injunction, preventing the law from going into effect until there has been a full hearing.

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Reflections on Heartbreak and Choice

Dear Brother Givens,

I came across your post on abortion today.  I confess that I did not read it carefully because I am trying to be kinder to myself.  From what I did read, you quote several writers and statistics, and ultimately ground your opinions in your own visceral reactions to abortion and especially the procedures used in the second and third trimester.  I wonder, though, did you try to speak directly to any women who have had abortions?  Did you read any firsthand accounts of abortions by women who do not regret them?  Did you send out a call to your general female acquaintance to share their experiences with you?  I guarantee that you personally know some women who have had abortions, though, given what you wrote, I am not sure they would have trusted you with their experiences.

Here is what I would have told you.  I have been a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from childhood.  I served a mission.  I have held many callings.  I remained chaste until marriage and remain faithful in my marriage.  And I had an abortion a few years ago on the first day of my fifteenth week of pregnancy.  

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On Terryl Givens and Abortion

Yesterday Terryl Givens published what he characterized as “A Latter-day Saint Defense of the Unborn” at Public Square Magazine. He ultimately concludes that Latter-day Saints are obligated to oppose abortion and that there is basically no room for personally opposing abortion but supporting its legality and availability.

Givens seems completely sincere in his revulsion for abortion. But that sincerity has led him to pen (type?) a deeply misleading and unchristian jeremiad against his fellow citizens and fellow-Saints who take the opposite tack.

I’m not going to detail all of the factual and legal problems with his piece, though I will highlight a couple of what I consider to be the big problems. I’m also want to point out that the way he’s framed his argument undercuts any assertion that he makes it in good faith and that it demonstrates a huge lack of moral imagination.

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Born Alive

I often disagree with the pro-life hardliners around the bloggernacle. But the relatively recent Florida infanticide in the news lately — according to the news stories I’ve seen, there is not a lot of dispute as to the facts — is something everybody should agree on.

Some readers are opposed to abortion in most or all cases, but for those who are not, the only reasonable arguments for abortion rights center around the freedom and autonomy of the mother. Once a child is delivered, there is no question. Infanticide is never acceptable.

Pro-choice progressives should be more vocal in denouncing this infanticide. It’s a shame that the pro-life crowd have been the only folks complaining about this incident. Yes, some conservative commenters are using the incident to make broader critiques of abortion. But that’s no reason why progressive pro-choicers should not be vocally denouncing the infanticide and calling for punishment of the doctor, as well as safeguards against this kind of thing happening again.