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Why the LDS Church needs to take a tougher stance on the issue of abortion

By Eric Johnson 

I believe the LDS Church should take a tougher stance on the issue of abortion. According to the the church’s website, most types of abortions are wrong but there are three exceptions:

Church leaders have said that some exceptional circumstances may justify an abortion, such 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 severe defects that will not allow the baby to survive beyond birth. But even these circumstances do not automatically justify an abortion. Those who face such circumstances should consider abortion only after consulting with their local Church leaders and receiving a confirmation through earnest prayer.[1]

While it is commendable that the LDS Church leaders disagree with the efficacy of most abortions, there is more that can and should be done.

What is abortion?

While many might think that abortion is a political choice or a personal issue of the mother (using the argument “it’s my body”), abortion is nothing less than a moral issue. If what rests inside mother’s body is a living human being, then it is generally wrong to kill it. According to Christian ethicist Scott Klussendorf, there is a syllogism (logical sequence) we can use to help us understand the immorality of abortion:

Premise 1: It is wrong to intentionally kill innocent human beings.

Premise 2: Abortion intentionally kills innocent human beings.

Therefore, Abortion is morally wrong.[2]

Suppose your child asks you, “Mom, can I kill it?” What is your response? You might ask, “What do you want to kill?” If he answers, “A spider,” you might respond, “Sure, but clean up the mess when you’re done.” But if he answers, “The dog” or “my baby sister,” all responsible parents would drop everything and find out what in the world is going on. There is a huge difference between killing a spider versus eliminating pets and children! I think everyone can agree.

In the same way, when it comes to eliminating an unborn fetus residing in the woman’s body, we are obligated to ask, “What is it?” If what we’re talking about is nothing more than a mass of unnecessary body cells, like an appendix, then there could be moral justification to eliminate a woman’s nonessential body part. Or if a pancreas contains cancer, the doctors may take the woman into surgery and try to eliminate that diseased part of the diseased organ. Other methods to kill the bad cells, such as radiation and chemotherapy, can also be an option. These are all moral eradication of cells living inside the woman’s body.

However, an unborn fetus is not a mass of dead cells or a “blob of tissue.” This is a living person, albeit connected to her mother for a short time before she is born. A favorite tactic of pro-abortion advocates is to claim that a woman should be allowed to do whatever she wants with her own body. It depends on what is meant by “do whatever she wants with her own body.” If a woman wants to color her hair purple or get a tattoo, these are personal decisions and will not harm her—although it may cause a problem with the spouse and friends!

However, if she threatens to kill herself, she can be arrested and jailed or possibly be admitted into a mental institution. The argument that “it’s my body and my choice” is not valid in that circumstance. A person who takes a knife and begins stabbing himself should be stopped, if it’s possible. (If you tackle that person and prohibit him from harming himself, you cannot be sued because you had just cause to stop the mutilation.) We also should do whatever we can to prevent a parent from harming a child. A parent who beats up his child in the local grocery store should be stopped! Parents who spank with belts or boards can be arrested, especially if  the child is harmed. As a society, we have laws to protect the safety of people, both children and adults.

With that said, we must ask if the unborn fetus should be equated to the mother’s body. The answer is no. It is not difficult to show this to be true. Consider a few areas that can help us distinguish between the unborn fetus and the mother:

Genetic Identity: A healthy fetus has 46 unique chromosomes, 23 from each of the parents. This is the baby’s own unique genetic code and thus this is not the mother’s body. It should be pointed out that it is possible for a person to have 45 or 47 chromosomes, yet despite this irregularity, this person is still human.

Sex: The unborn fetus could be male or female. If female, she happens to be the same sex as the mother. If male, then he has parts his mother doesn’t have.

Blood type: These are two separate persons–mother and child–who may or may not share the same blood type.

Hair color/eyes: The mother and baby may have the same or different colors of hair and eyes.

Transitive possession of body parts: How many feet does the mother have? If we say two, what about the two feet of the unborn fetus? Yet we wouldn’t say that the mother has four feet. Based on the sex, we wouldn’t suggest the woman has a penis if the fetus is a male; this is because the penis belongs to the unborn fetus, not the mother. The mother has no penis but the baby does.[3]

These examples show that the mother and the unborn child are two separate people. The unborn fetus is not the mother and the mother is not the fetus. This takes away the argument that abortion involves only the mother’s body.

The SLED Model

To further show that the unborn fetus is a human being, let’s introduce the SLED model, an acronym that stands for:

S – Size. The unborn fetus is smaller than an infant and most people are shorter than 7-foot basketball star Rudy Gobert. However, rational people would not claim that the infant is more valuable than the fetus nor is Rudy worth more than a teenage girl. In addition, a sumo wrestler does not have more value than a trapeze artist. Therefore, size does not indicate one’s worth.

L – Level of Development. The unborn fetus is at an earlier stage of his or her development than a newborn baby, but an eight-year-old child is less developed (both physically and mentally) than an adolescent. Older, stronger, more intelligent humans do not have more dignity and fundamental rights than those who are younger, weaker, less intelligent, and more vulnerable. To use the acorn analogy, an acorn is not a “potential” oak tree but rather a tiny living oak tree inside a shell. It is at the same level of development that every oak tree once existed during that particular stage of life.

E – Environment. A journey through a birth canal cannot account for a change in a child’s rights. Location does not affect personhood. A child in the womb or outside the womb is still a human being.

D – Degree of Dependency. The unborn fetus is totally dependent on the mother for life through the umbilical cord, but newborn babies are also fully dependent. A baby left to herself will die within hours unless she is attended to and her needs met. In fact, everyone relies on other people and things to some degree. We don’t question the personhood of those who are dependent on kidney machines, insulin, or pacemakers. Elderly people in a nursing home who have to be fed are no less valuable than the person who is feeding them.[4]

The syllogism

Let’s return to the syllogism given above:

Premise 1: It is wrong to intentionally kill innocent human beings.

Premise 2: Abortion intentionally kills innocent human beings.

Therefore, Abortion is morally wrong.

Let’s consider each point:

Premise 1: The key words in the first premise is “intentionally kill.” The Bible is clear that “thou shalt not kill (murder).” A detractor might try to bring up “wartime” situations. But the enemy of your country would not be considered an “innocent human being.” The soldier behind the enemy line is trying to kill you first, which is how warfare works. Or if someone breaks into your house and brandishes a kitchen knife on his approach to stab you, most people would support your right to defend yourself by shooting him with your gun.

Premise 2: By definition, abortion is taking the life of an innocent unborn fetus that, if there was no abortion, would have lived.

Conclusion: If the unborn fetus is innocent, as shown in the two premises, then killing an innocent human being (the fetus) is wrong, for all people, in all times, and in all places. This is not a morally relativistic choice.

In his book Politically Correct Death: Answering Arguments for Abortion Rights—a resource I recommend and use throughout the rest of this article—philosopher Francis J. Beckwith provides reasons why full humanness begins at conception:

    1. “At the moment of conception, a separate unique human individual, with its own genetic code, comes into existence, needing only food, water, shelter, and oxygen in order to grow and develop.”
    2. “Like the infant, the child, and the adolescent, the conceptus is a being who is in the process of becoming. He is not a becoming who is striving toward being. He is not a potential human life but a human life with great potential.”
    3. “The conceptus is the sexual product of human parents, and a developing conceptus that is the sexual produce of members of a particular mammalian species is itself an individual member of that species.”
    4. “The same being that begins as a zygote continues to birth and adulthood. There is no decisive break in the continuous development of the human entity from conception until death that would make this entity a different individual before birth. This is why it makes perfect sense for anyone of us to say, ‘When I was conceived. . .’”[5]

Much more can be said about the Pro-Life argument, which is sound and stands on solid moral ground. What I have provided here provides a background to the rest of the article.

The three exceptions: Are they valid?

While LDS leaders say they are Pro-Life, they do allow for three exceptions.

  • When the pregnancy is the result of incest or rape
  • When the life or health of the mother is judged to be in serious jeopardy
  • When the fetus has severe defects that will not allow the baby to survive beyond birth

Let’s consider each of the three exceptions and see what stands on moral ground.

  1. Incest or rape

It has been estimated that approximately 1% of all abortions in the United States takes place because of pregnancies that resulted from incest or rape. While this sounds like a small number, consider that there were 862,000 abortions in 2017. This means there may have been close to 9,000 abortions performed due to this reason. This is a very sensitive issue. As Beckwith puts it,

A woman who becomes pregnant due to rape or incest is a victim of a horribly violent and morally reprehensible crime. Although pregnancy as a result of either rape or incest is extremely rare, pregnancy does occur in some instances.[6]

Many argue that society shouldn’t put a woman through nine months of carrying an “illegitimate” baby and justify abortions in these types of cases, including the LDS leadership. However, Beckwith gives specific reasons why abortion in these cases should not be considered moral. Among other points, he gives these:

  • The unborn is an innocent victim too. “The unborn entity is not an aggressor when its presence does not endanger its mother’s life (as in the case of a tubal pregnancy). The rapist is the aggressor. The unborn entity is just as much an innocent victim as its mother. An abortion will not change the fact that the woman was raped. Hence, abortion cannot be justified on the basis that the unborn is an aggressor.”[7]
  • The unborn is fully human. “The argument begs the question by assuming that the unborn is not fully human. If the unborn is fully human, then we must weigh the relieving of the woman’s mental suffering against the right to life of an innocent human person. But homicide of another is never justified to relieve one of emotional stress.”[8]
  • Two wrongs don’t make a right. “If the unborn is fully human (which is the real question), to request that its life be forfeited for the alleged benefit of another (its mother) is to violate a basic principle of ethics: ‘we many never kill innocent person B to save person A.’”[9]
  • Does the fact that one’s father sinned mean the child should be killed. “Theologian and ethicist Michael Bauman has observed, ‘A child does not lose its right to life simply because its father or its mother was a sexual criminal or a deviate.’ Bauman also points out that in using the rape/incest argument the abortion-rights advocate is making the highly questionable assumption that the rape victim is the one best suited to administer justice and should be permitted to kill the criminal’s offspring. But if the unborn entity is fully human (which is the real question in the abortion debate), this type of justice is nothing resembling what reasonable people have thought of as justice . . . “[10]
  • Abortion is not the answer. “Aside from its moral shortcomings, the argument from rape and incest makes the questionable factual assumption that abortion is the only or best way a pregnant woman can be relieved of the trauma and violation of rape. For one thing, the anguish and psychic suffering caused by rape and incest has been treated quite effectively for those women who choose to carry their children to term.”[11]

As difficult as it would be—and I fully acknowledge that the decision would not be easy—the best choice a woman in this situation could make is not retaliate for the wrong done to her by killing an innocent unborn child. We don’t allow victims to harm those who have perpetuated crimes on them. For instance, we don’t allow a person to kill an innocent bystander because someone else violated their rights.

Analyn Megison was raped and decided to keep her child. Referring to a journalist who had contacted her about “raising a child born of rape,” she wrote,

The use of the phrase “born of rape” is a cruel way to twist and distort the essence of my child and her life. No one deserves to be raped. My daughter was born of me, not of the rape I endured. She is a human being. She is my child. She is funny, smart, great at karate, loves being a big sister to her brothers, is loved and cherished by them, and, like most teenagers, complains about cleaning her room.[12]

Valerie Gatto, a former Miss Pennsylvania, believes every human life is worthy of protection. She found out in the third grade that her 19-year-old mother had been raped at knife point, with the rapist intending to kill her. However, “a mysterious bright light from an unknown source appeared,” allowing her to escape. Gatto explained,

Being a child of a rape, not knowing who my father is, not knowing if he’s ever been found, most people would think it’s such a negative situation. I grew up with my mom and my grandparents. They never looked at it as something negative. I have a loving, supportive family who told me I could be the president of the United States.[13]

Imagine if Analyn’s baby and Valerie had been aborted due to no fault of their own. Their lives matter. Killing them in the womb is not moral. An encouraging note is that, apparently, 75% of all women who get pregnant due to rape end up having their babies, which is an encouraging number. The number of abortions due to incest is less than rape, but in the same way, a child conceived of incest remains the innocent victim. She does not deserve to die. Of course, there is no mandate that the mother has to raise the child. There are thousands of potential parents waiting to adopt a child of their own. Regardless, it is immoral to kill an unborn child for no other reason than it was conceived through the sinful actions of the father.

As Beckwith puts it,

…if the unborn child is fully human, killing her is never a morally viable option, just as killing born children, who we know are fully human, is never a morally viable option for parents who seek relief from the burdens of parenthood.[14]

Consider watching Jennifer Christie’s story.

2. When the life or health of the mother is judged to be in serious jeopardy

This is a tricky one. Let me give you my family’s story. My grandmother Maybelle became pregnant with my father in late 1929. It was her second pregnancy, as she had a healthy daughter (Mildred) several years before. The doctors told my grandparents that they wanted to do an abortion because, they said, she would likely die if she went full term. Needless to say, Maybelle decided to take the chance. Her son “Jimmy” was born on September 8, 1930.

I tell the story because I would not be here today had my grandmother didn’t make a gutsy decision during a time when the medical technology was not advanced. For this courageous choice, I am humbled and grateful, as my late father was his entire life. Even today with the technology doctors have at their disposal, the medical authorities are not always correct. For instance, Rachel Schoger of Caldwell, Idaho, was told by her doctors that her pregnancy was “ectopic,” meaning it occurred in one of the Fallopian tubes. As ABC News reported,

Because the fetus cannot survive and the mom could suffer life-threatening internal bleeding, ectopic pregnancies, which may account for as many as one in 40 pregnancies, are terminated at the earliest sign. Schoger’s doctor recommended using methotrexate—a chemotherapy drug that would save her and her fallopian tube, and kill the doomed fetus.

She was given two high-dose shots of the drug to abort the pregnancy. When she returned to the doctor a week later to take the rest of the shots, she asked for a second ultrasound to verify the situation. As ABC News explained,

As the ultrasound technician rolled the probe over Schoger’s pelvis, her jaw suddenly dropped. Schoger was still pregnant, and the fetus was in her uterus where it belonged. Despite advances in medical imaging, roughly 40 percent of pregnancies diagnosed as ectopic are later revealed to be normal, intrauterine pregnancies, according to a 2002 study published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology.[15]

Did you see that number? “Roughly 40 percent . . . are later revealed to be normal”? That’s an incredible number! Why would doctors immediately kill the fetus when the prognosis is not reliable? Rachel ended up having her baby and, at first, she looked normal. However, she was born with

no rectum. She also lacked a vagina and a uterus, and has a malformed spinal cord. These are all birth defects Schoger is convinced stemmed from methotrexate exposure in the womb.[16]

It is a shame the doctors decided to proceed with the abortion so quickly. It caused severe, permanent health issues for the child. While a lawsuit has been filed, nothing can ever replace the deformities that took place in this little girl’s body. And she certainly wouldn’t have been born had the mother not requested an ultrasound at the second appointment. Dr. Paul Doubilet (unrelated to the previous example) said waiting to have an abortion in the case of “life of the mother” is a better option than acting too quickly. He said,

Unless the doctor is sure that the woman has a miscarriage or an ectopic pregnancy, the doctor should err on the side of waiting, as long as the woman is stable and shows no signs of serious internal bleeding. If the patient meets definite criteria for a miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy, there’s no reason to wait, but if there’s any degree of uncertainty, the prudent thing is to wait.[17]

He also said,

Unless the doctor is sure that the woman has a miscarriage or an ectopic pregnancy, the doctor should err on the side of waiting, as long as the woman is stable and shows no signs of serious internal bleeding. If the patient meets definite criteria for a miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy, there’s no reason to wait, but if there’s any degree of uncertainty, the prudent thing is to wait. . . . One is that with modern medical care, the risk of serious harm from waiting a couple of days in a woman who has an ectopic pregnancy but is stable is very low. And it’s especially low — we’re talking about women who have had a blood test and ultrasound — if the ultrasound doesn’t demonstrate any internal bleeding today. The risk of waiting a couple of days, even if she has an ectopic pregnancy, is very low.[18]

With all of this said and if there is adequate time given to determine it there really is an ectopic pregnancy, having an abortion to save the life of the mother would be the only “exception” where I believe abortion could be justified. Out of the two people who are involved, having one certain survivor (the mother) is better than none (losing both the mother and child). As Beckwith writes,

The pro-lifer is fully cognizant of the fact that we live in a world in which moral conflicts can occur. Consider a case in which it is highly likely that a woman’s pregnancy will result in her death (e.g., a tubal pregnancy). Because it is a greater good that one human should live rather than two die, the pro-lifer believes that in this case abortion is justified, since if the pregnancy were to continue both unborn and mother would die. [19]

He gives several reasons for this way of thinking, including:

  • “When pregnancy endangers a mother’s life, medical personnel should try to save the lives of both mother and child.”[20]
  • “If that is not possible, the physician must choose the course of action that best upholds the sanctity of human life. Since the mother’s body serves as the environment in which the unborn is nurtured, it is impossible to save the unborn child before viability (twenty to twenty-four weeks after conception). . . . the physician must save the mother’s life, even if it results in the death of the unborn. His intention is not to kill the child but to save the mother. But since saving both is impossible and it is better that one should live than two die, “abortion” to save the mother’s life in this case is justified.”[21]

As we showed, there are times when doctors do make mistakes. Thus, great caution should be taken in any case involving “life of the mother.” Abortion should only be done with adequate time and only as a last resort.

3. The fetus has severe defects that will not allow the baby to survive beyond birth

This is a rare exception. A total of 1.3 million women in six states were surveyed and researchers found that only 0.59% chose abortion because of birth defects.[22] With the 2017 national number at about 862,000, this could be about 5,000 cases a year. However, I even question this number, as I wonder how many classified their abortions for birth defects that were not life-threatening situations to the mothers. For example, how many abortions in this category took place because the unborn fetus was shown to have only 4 toes on each foot? Or the child would be born blind or deaf? Missing legs or arms? How about the many children who are aborted because they have Downs Syndrome? It is much more than we realize!

A major problem that I have with this third exception clause is that, just like in the case of the life of the mother, the doctors are not always correct in their prognosis. For example, one would think that a child born without a skull would not be able to survive. Yet, Tom and Jessica Masterson were 24 weeks pregnant when they

were told that their baby probably wouldn’t survive the pregnancy. If their child does make it to term, the doctors warned, he would most certainly not survive the trauma of birth. And if somehow the child somehow survives birth, the Mastersons wouldn’t have much time with him. “He won’t be compatible with life,” Tom Masterson recalled a doctor’s words. “He will not survive this.” Tom smiled at baby Owen, now a year old, as he told the story.[23]

Their child has acalvaria, which means he has no skull or facial bones. The doctors were adamant that aborting Owen was the best choice.

“Our pastor had come to the hospital before he was born and was able to pray with us,” Tom continued. “We felt confident that God was going to do something, that Owen had a very specific purpose. We didn’t know what that was. But we felt there was a very specific purpose for him.” Owen’s purpose, according to his parents, is simply this: sharing his story of hope and the power of faith with others. “We are so thankful for him,” Tom said. “I’m so happy that we get to experience this. And we don’t know what this looks like long term. The doctors are like, ‘We are done telling you. We don’t know. We haven’t been right yet, so we are going to stop talking about it.'” [24]

Granted, the LDS Church does say that “even these rare exceptions do not justify abortion automatically.” Yet how many church members could make decisions—based on their church’s simplified commands written on the web site—that might end up taking lives in situations their leaders would not have endorsed? I fully understand the possibility that an unborn fetus without  a brain, a heart, or some other vital organ will not survive after birth. However, “Mother Nature” often has a way to end the pregnancy through miscarriage, which is nothing less than a “natural abortion.” I am not suggesting this is true every time. If the baby is proven to be missing a major life-required organ and there is a 100% chance that she will die even if it comes to a place of being born, perhaps there could be some moral justification for an abortion. For me, however, I would recommend not to abort and let nature (governed by God) be the one who dictates the result. Some of these cases end up with the child surviving. The case of Owen listed above is a prime example. When in doubt, I believe that we should always side with life.

Again, my fear is that many church members could interpret “severe defects” in a different way than what the church thinks it is communicating. This is a major concern. How many Downs Syndrome or other physically challenged Mormon children have been aborted because the parents decided these were “severe defects”?

As the cases of Rachel Schoger and the Mastersons show, taking matters into our own hands is a tricky business. If nothing else, the church should expand on its 2011 policy and provide more guidance. A better description of what is meant by “severe defects” would be a great start.

Conclusion

The “exception” cases are tricky. Parents have only so much time to make their decision and there can be so many variables involved. Wisdom is definitely needed during this time. My plea to the church concerning these cases is to expand its abortion statement and provide additional information. Recommending parents to allow as much time as possible in those cases when the mother’s life is in danger or severe life-threatening defects would be good information to those who take the words of their leaders very seriously.

I also challenge the church to fully eliminate its first allowance of abortion for rape and incest. There are no moral grounds to encourage church members to abort innocent children who did nothing wrong to deserve the fate of death. This seems to be a no-brainer. If you are LDS, I encourage you to contact your local authorities and tell them that changes to the abortion statement ought to be made. It really is a matter of life and death. Choose life.


For another perspective on this issue, see “Abortion and LDS Inconsistency

[1] https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics/abortion?lang=eng. This statement was put together by the church in 2011.

[2] https://prolifetraining.com/resources/the-case-for-life/

[3] “10 Reasons the Unborn is Not Part of a Woman’s Body,” January 22, 2015, https://epicpew.com/10-reason-unborn-part-womans-body/ This is a listing of only four of the 10 points given in the article.

[4] “SLED: A Simple Way to Talk with Those Who Are Prochoice About the Personhood of the Unborn,” May 23, 2016, https://www.epm.org/blog/2016/May/23/sled-personhood-unborn

[5] Francis J. Beckwith, Politically Correct Death: Answering Arguments for Abortion Rights (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993), p. 116. I highly recommend this book for the philosophical understanding concerning the ethical issues surrounding abortion.

[6] Beckwith, Politically Correct Death, pp. 68-69.

[7] Ibid., p. 69.

[8] Ibid., p. 69.

[9] Ibid., p. 69.

[10] Ibid., p. 70.

[11] Ibid., p. 70.

[12] “Conceived in Rape, Born of Love,” July 1, 2019, https://all.org/conceived-in-rape-born-of-love/ Bold in original.

[13] “Conceived in rape, former Miss Pennsylvania shares why every human life is worthy of protection,” https://preciouslife.com/news/443/conceived-in-rape-former-miss-pennsylvania-shares-why-every-human-life-is-worthy-of-protection/

[14] Beckwith, Politically Correct Death, p. 63.

[15] “Baby Born Deformed After Misdiagnosed Ectopic Pregnancy,” January 23, 2012, https://abcnews.go.com/Health/w_ParentingResource/baby-born-deformed-misdiagnosed-ectopic-pregnancy/story?id=15421441

[16] Ibid.

[17] “Tragically Wrong: When Good Early Pregnancies are Misdiagnosed as Bad,” October 11, 2013, https://www.wbur.org/commonhealth/2013/10/11/ectopic-pregnancy-misdiagnosed-methotrexate

[18] Ibid. Ellipsis is mine.

[19] Beckwith, Politically Correct Death, p. 115.

[20] Ibid., p. 117.

[21] Ibid., p. 118.

[22] “Shouldn’t Abortion be Allowed for Serious or Fatal Birth Defects? May 22, 2017, https://www.hli.org/resources/abortion-serious-fatal-birth-defects/

[23] “’I love him the way he is’—Springfield family shares joy of having baby born with no skull,” October 23, 2018, https://www.news-leader.com/story/news/local/ozarks/2018/10/23/baby-born-no-skull-continues-amaze-family-doctors/1694783002/

[24] Ibid.

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