For a Viewpoint on Mormonism broadcast that played on January 21, 2015, go to Abortion and Mormonism
There is no denying that the issue of abortion is controversial even among those who profess to be Christians. Some insist that abortion must not be permitted under any circumstances, while others allow for its limited use. Some see no problem with it at all. I am neither unaware of the emotional crises this subject has placed on many God-fearing people, nor am I unaware that what I am about to say will cause many to respond with emotional appeals; however, as a person who has spent a great many years defending the Pro-Life position, I have learned that rebuttals based on emotion carry no weight in the courtroom of heaven. If a position cannot be defended both biblically and ethically, it should not be defended at all. Although the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints takes an official stand against this practice, its position is not as firm as might first be imagined.
In a general conference address given in October of 1998, Mormon President Gordon Hinckley took the opportunity to speak on the LDS church’s position on abortion. Hinckley noted that, in 1995, abortions in the United States numbered 1.2 million (thankfully, that number has decreased to under one million since he gave this talk). He then asked, “What has happened to our regard for human life?” (Ensign, 11/98, p.71). His language is noteworthy since he acknowledged that those killed by abortion were indeed “human.” “There is no greater miracle than the creation of human life,” he said.
While recognizing that abortion is an “ugly thing” that causes “remorse, sorrow and regret,” Hinckley went on to say, “While we denounce it, we make allowance in such circumstances as when pregnancy is the result of incest or rape, when the life or health of the mother is judged by competent medical authority to be in serious jeopardy, or when the fetus is known by competent medical authority to have serious defects that will not allow the baby to survive beyond birth.”
President Hinckley said those who face such a question should “pray in great earnestness, receiving a confirmation through prayer before proceeding.” Unless the purpose of praying is meant to lead the individual to the prophet’s position, I ask, “why would prayer be necessary?” In the context of Mormonism, how trustworthy could this “personal revelation” be if it contradicts the guidelines set forth by the prophet?
While claiming to be led by prophets who are allegedly guided by God Himself, the LDS church has throughout its history given its members mixed signals on this emotionally wrenching subject. For example, Spencer Kimball taught: “Abortion must be considered one of the most revolting and sinful practices in this day…” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p.189). He continued by saying,
“Members of the Church guilty of being parties to the sin of abortion must be subjected to the disciplinary action of the councils of the Church, as circumstances warrant. We remember the reiteration of the Ten Commandments given by the Lord in our own time, when he said, ‘Thou shalt not steal; neither commit adultery, nor kill, nor do anything like unto it.'”
Kimball’s quote comes from Doctrine and Covenants 59:6. Note also Kimball’s reference to the Ten Commandments. This is important because the literal definition of the word kill in Exodus 20:13 is the Hebrew word for murder (see Psalm 59:6; Jeremiah 7:9; Hosea 6:9). Does the LDS church liken abortion to murder? Apparently not.
Under the heading of MURDER in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism 2:971, it reads, “With respect to related offenses, the Church distinguishes abortion from murder but holds it an extremely grave action, not to be done except in extremely limited circumstances that might include incest or rape, perils to the life or health of the mother, or severe birth defects. As far as has currently been revealed, a person may repent and be forgiven for the sin of abortion.” In the Stake Presidents and Bishops Handbook 1 (2010), it says on page 57 that “abortion is not defined as murder.”
This position, while hardly unique, fails to adequately solve the moral dilemma that faces all God-fearing people. If abortion is not the unjust taking of human life, why would the LDS church consider it a sin? If abortion is not murder, what is it? Webster describes murder as the “unlawful and malicious or premeditated killing of one human being by another.”
No doubt many that defend the practice of abortion would like us to focus on the word unlawful. They would argue that because abortion was legalized in the United States in 1973 it is not correct to say it is murder. This argument is seriously flawed because the conclusion is based on American law and is something that is always in a state of flux. Can we logically and consistently say that prior to January 22, 1973, abortion was murder, but from January 22 onward it was not? The end result was still a lifeless baby. Let us not forget that it was quite legal to execute Jews in Germany during the Hitler era. Did that make killing Jews ethically permissable? Our Supreme Court is not infallible, and as in the case of slavery, decisions buy this Court have been shown to be on the wrong side of history. Consider also that abortion is still illegal in some countries. That being the case, it would be erroneous to assume it is morally right just because a United States court says it is. It is clear in such cases that a higher law must be sought.
I have often heard Mormons boast that what separates them from others who claim to be Christian is that they are following God’s laws and not the laws of men. However, this stance rings hollow when it appears that the official LDS position on abortion sounds more like it is derived from a political party platform rather than on biblical and ethical standards. Spencer Kimball called upon a higher law in properly labeling abortion a sin, yet his church has historically appealed to man’s definitions in order to circumvent the responsibility that comes with such a conclusion.
When Does Life Begin?
The question as to when human life actually begins, like the issue of abortion itself, has not been consistently taught in the LDS church. In an article titled “When Does the Spirit Enter the Body?” printed in the LDS publication Sunstone (March 1985), LDS writer Jeffrey Keller made the following observation:
There are basically three periods when a fetus could acquire its spirit: 1) at conception, 2) at ‘quickening’ (the first movements of life felt by the mother, usually in the fourth month of pregnancy), or 3) at birth. Interestingly, each of these three periods has had its supporters among the leaders of the Church.
Mr. Keller then proceeds to give several quotes from various LDS leaders to support his statement. For instance, John Taylor, the third prophet of the LDS church, strongly condemned those who provided abortions by calling them “murderers and murderesses.” In this sermon given in 1881, Taylor said such people will “go to perdition” (Journal of Discourses 22:230). Three years later George Q. Cannon said that abortionists “will be damned with the deepest damnation; because it is the damnation of shedding innocent blood, for which there is no forgiveness” (Journal of Discourses 26:14-15).
Two observations must be made at this point. 1) If, as Taylor said, those who provide abortions were murderers, then it would make sense that the one who was murdered must have been human (the act of murder does not apply to the killing of plants and animals). 2) Cannon bases his position on D&C 132:27. It states, “The blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, which shall not be forgiven in the world nor out of the world, is in that ye commit murder wherein ye shed innocent blood…” Traditionally, the Mormon church has understood this to mean “human” blood. It would make sense, then, that Cannon was granting human status to the unborn; otherwise the inability to be forgiven for such an act (according to LDS teaching) would not apply.
Keller also notes in his article that, “As late as 1916 Joseph F. Smith wrote, ‘It is just as much murder to destroy life before as it is after birth, although man-made laws may not so consider it; but there is One who does take notice and his justice and judgment is sure’ (Relief Society Magazine 3:367-68). Keller goes on to say, “Seven months later, the First Presidency gave their ‘unqualified endorsement’ of Elder Smith’s writing.’ (RS Magazine, 4:68).”
In an article titled “Abortion: An Assault on the Defenseless,” 17th President Russell M. Nelson, himself a medical doctor, wrote, “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” (Ensign, October 2008, pp.35-36).
As stated previously, not all LDS leaders have agreed on this position. For instance, Brigham Young believed that “When the spirit leaves them [mortal bodies] they are lifeless; and when the mother feels life come into her infant, it is the spirit entering the body preparatory to the premortal existence” (as quoted by Joseph Fielding Smith in Doctrines of Salvation 2:280). Young’s conclusion is certainly questionable based on the fact that the unborn baby moves quite a bit in the womb long before the mother is able to feel it. On page 280, Joseph Fielding Smith stated that he was of the opinion that stillborn children will be resurrected, but that a record of their birth and death need only be a private matter and not one for the church. “Funeral services may be held for such children, if the parents so desire. Stillborn children should not be reported nor recorded as births and deaths on the records of the Church, but it is suggested that parents record in their own family records a name for each such stillborn child.”
Some Mormons might argue that because such situations do not necessitate burial, the child’s humanity had not been reached. Still, this does not explain the language used by Smith. Why call it a “child” if it is not human?
Keller noted that, in 1975, James Faust (1920-2007), a member of the First Presidency under President Gordon Hinckley, remarked, “Some say, as did the Supreme Court of the United States, that it is only theory that human life begins at conception. This is contrary to insurmountable medical evidence…Because she feels it, every mother knows there is sacred life in the body of her unborn babe. There is also life in the spirit, and some time before birth the body and spirit are united. When they do come together, we have a human soul. (Ensign 5:27-29, May 1975).”
Three years later, the Ensign printed a related article by church Patriarch Eldred G. Smith. Smith quoted D&C 132:19 and said, “Is it possible that He was referring to abortion? Think about it! Is there more innocent life than that of the unborn child? (May 1978, pp. 29-30.)
Exception for Rape and Incest
The LDS church position regarding rape and incest seems especially odd since it allows for the taking of a life for the reason that the pregnancy is a result of someone else’s sin. Does the tragedy of such an act automatically mean a person has permission to take the life of a third party? It may be argued that carrying such a baby to term may invite extreme emotional trauma for the mother. Some could say that the child might forever be a constant reminder of the violent act perpetrated against her. This position argues for still another violent act to be perpetrated, this time on the innocent child. Should such trauma be expected, the humane solution would for the mother to place the child up for adoption where he/she could be nurtured by those who would not be effected negatively by the facts surrounding the baby’s conception.
Exception for Life and Health of the Mother
President Hinckley said abortion is allowed should a “competent medical authority” deem that the mother is in serious jeopardy. This proposal falls short for the simple reason that competent does not necessarily mean infallible. I personally know of cases where mothers were told that giving birth would result in their death, only to discover several months later that this was not the case at all.
Abortion based on a perceived danger to the mother is also questionable from an ethical standpoint for, in essence, one human life is being forced to die in order to save another. Few, if any, in a civilized society would justify taking by force the life of one person to save another, yet if we can forcefully take the life an unborn child in order to preserve the life of the mother, are we doing nothing different? To say otherwise is to argue that the child, though human, has less of a right to live than the mother does. I am not ignorant of the fact that this is one of the worst scenarios anyone could ever face. However, I also personally know of Christians who have chosen to face this awful dilemma with the knowledge that God is sovereign and in complete control and that His will will be done.
Some might argue, “Yes, but the mother is an important factor in the family unit. Her absence would be sorely missed.” Again, this might seem to be a viable solution to the problem, but is it really? Let us hypothetically say that the current LDS President needed an organ transplant and that the only person who could supply that organ happened to be a single Mormon janitor. Would it be ethical because the President just so happens to be the most important and needed person in the LDS church, to take that organ from that individual in order to spare the President’s life? Of course not. Even if the potential donor agreed, the law would never allow for such an operation to take place. Bear in mind that in the case of abortion, the baby is never asked whether or not it would forfeit its life. It is taken without permission.
Exception for Birth Defects
President Hinckley allowed for abortion “when the fetus is known by a competent medical authority to have serious defects that will not allow the baby to survive beyond birth.” However many a “competent” doctor has misdiagnosed such cases. While the prospect of giving birth to a child who will have severe birth defects is a difficult challenge, do we as humans have the right to end the life of another simply because some feel their quality of life or personal worth is inferior to others? If indeed the chance of survival were slim, would it not alleviate any undue doubt by allowing nature to take its course?
Experience has shown us that many babies who were marked for death have in fact survived. Some are perfectly normal. Tragically, some have been born with missing limbs, organs, or mental disadvantages. However, many have found a great quality of life with loving parents who have courageously met such a challenge head on. Just because a child is born with defects does not make the child any less human. From a Christian perspective one would think that the proper response would be love and compassion for the individual rather than annihilation.
Why the Inconsistency?
It is easy to understand why those who hold a pro-abortion position must continue to deny that the unborn fetus is actually human. Should they concede that the unborn child is in fact human, they must then explain why these humans are not granted the right to life that all other humans in the Unites States enjoy. The cry of those who say that nobody has the right to tell a mother what to do with her body falls short for the simple reason that, while the baby may be in her body, it is not her body. Unfortunately those in favor of abortion refuse to acknowledge this biological fact. But let’s be serious. If the unborn fetus isn’t a real human, why is an abortion needed in the first place? Are we as a society going to stoop so low as to declare that the unborn is nothing better than a cancer or tumor that must be removed? Sadly, many do.
The LDS church also has a reason to be inconsistent on this issue. Should it take a firm stand and resolve that abortion is in fact, an act of murder, it would have no recourse but to excommunicate those who have willingly allowed this practice to be performed on them. Not only would this result in the expulsion of many of its female members, but it would also mean that they would be eternally damned with no hope of forgiveness or exaltation. As it states in Doctrine and Covenants 42:18: “And now, behold, I speak unto the church. Thou shalt not kill; and he that kills shall not have forgiveness in this world, nor in the world to come.”
Much of the problem for the Mormon church lies in its unbiblical belief that not all sins can be forgiven by God. By taking Jesus’ words in Mark 3:28, 29, it has erroneously linked blasphemy of the Holy Spirit with murder. However, it is clear from the context that no such connection can be made. Instead, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is linked with attributing to Satan the work that originates with God.
Christians have historically held to the position that the God of the Bible has the ability and desire to forgive any and all sins of the penitent. First John 1:9 states that God is faithful and just to forgive all sins, and to cleanse from all unrighteousness. Even the sin of abortion can be forgiven, and no woman who has ever participated in such a sin should feel that she could never be reconciled to God after having committed such an offense.
Some Latter-day Saints may argue that my criticisms violate Matthew 7:1-5. Is it right to criticize the LDS church for its hypocrisy when the entire Christian community is not in agreement on this issue? Absolutely! First of all, even if all of Christendom felt abortion could be justified (which it certainly does not), it does not nullify what God has already declared in His Word on this subject. Of all people, the Mormon should understand that his church’s inconsistency on this matter is without excuse. As stated earlier, the LDS church claims it alone is led by a prophet who gets information directly from the Almighty Himself. If that is true, why do his teachings not concur with what God has already revealed?
Biblically, the taking of a human life is granted only under special circumstances. These would include a just war and as a means for society to protect itself from criminals. Abortion fits neither category. It is therefore immoral and should always be seen as such. As long as the leaders of the LDS church place pragmatism above scripture, their leadership credentials should always be questioned.