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Beliefs of the LDS Church concerning abortion

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bullet"Abortion is an ugly thing, a debasing thing, a thing which inevitably brings remorse and sorrow and regret." LDS President Gordon B Hinckley 1

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Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the LDS Church stated in 1999:

"The Church opposes elective abortion for personal or social convenience. Our members are taught that, subject only to some very rare exceptions, they must not submit to, perform, encourage, pay for, or arrange for an abortion. That direction tells us what we need to do on the weightier matters of the law, the choices that will move us toward eternal life." 2

Within the pro-life movement, there exists a range of beliefs about when abortion should be permitted:

bulletSome say that all abortions should be criminalized, even including those needed to save the life of the woman.
bulletSome would allow abortions if caused by rape or incest.
bulletSome would allow abortions to very young women.
bulletSome would allow abortions in cases where the fetus was so genetically defective that it would not survive long after birth.
bulletOthers would allow abortions if a continued pregnancy would expose the woman to very severe and perhaps permanent disability.
bulletSome promote a combination of these and other criteria.

The official stance of the LDS Church reflects a relatively liberal position within the pro-life movement. It allows abortion if the woman's life or health is threatened, if the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest or if the fetus is severely malformed and would not live long after birth.

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Statement on Abortion:

In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court issued their well known ruling in the Roe v. Wade case. The court legalized early abortions for any reason, and allowed later abortions if necessary to preserve the health or life of the woman.

In response to this liberalization of abortion access, Harold B. Lee, N. Eldon Tanner, & Marion G. Romney of the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter-day Saints' First Presidency issued a statement on abortion in 1973. 3 It restated the historical LDS Church's position on abortion.

"The Church opposes abortion and counsels its members not to submit to or perform an abortion except in the rare cases where, in the opinion of competent medical counsel, the life or good health of the mother is seriously endangered or where the pregnancy was caused by rape and produces serious emotional trauma in the mother. Even then it should be done only after counseling with the local presiding priesthood authority and after receiving divine confirmation through prayer."

"Abortion must be considered one of the most revolting and sinful practices in this day, when we are witnessing the frightening evidence of permissiveness leading to sexual immorality."

"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. In dealing with this serious matter, it would be well to keep in mind the word of the Lord stated in the 59th section of the Doctrine and Covenants, verse 6, 'Thou shalt not steal; neither commit adultery, nor kill, nor do anything like unto it'." [Bold emphasis ours] 3,4

The Doctrine and Covenants is one of the four Mormon "Standard Works." These are source texts which most Mormon denominations believe are divinely inspired and authoritative scripture. The other three are the Bible itself, the Book of Mormon and the Pearl of Great Price.

The statement does not clarify whether the term "good health" is restricted to physical health or may also include mental and emotional health. It also does not define what form "divine confirmation through prayer" is to take. The LDS Church teaches that God may communicate with believers during prayer. Other Christians and skeptics question this activity. We have conducted a small, pilot study which tentatively concluded that individuals cannot assess the will of God through prayer, even though most are quite confident that they have done exactly that.

In their statement, the First Presidency cited an earlier interpretation by President David O. McKay and his counselors, Stephen L Richards and J. Reuben Clark, Jr., concerning the seriousness of the crime of abortion. They said that abortion is apparently not on a par with the unpardonable sin or the murder of an innocent person. Thus, they conclude that the "laws of repentance and forgiveness" would apply to persons who either performed or submitted to an abortion.

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Expansion of the grounds for abortion to include incest:

In 1983, the LDS Church's General Handbook of Instructions changed church policy towards abortion:

  1. It added pregnancy caused by incest as one more ground for abortion.
  2. It dropped the necessity that a pregnancy caused by rape or incest produce "serious emotional trauma in the mother" before an abortion was acceptable.
  3. It clarified who should seek counseling, and from whom.

The handbook states:

"The Church opposes abortion as one of the most revolting and sinful practices of this day. Members must not submit to, be a party to, or perform an abortion. The only exceptions are the rare cases where, in the opinion of competent medical counsel, the life or health of the woman is in jeopardy or the pregnancy resulted from incest or rape. Even then, the woman should consider an abortion only after counseling with her husband and bishop or branch president, and receiving divine confirmation through prayer." 5

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Further expansion of the grounds for abortion:

In his address at Brigham Young University on 1999-FEB-09 Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles reaffirmed that an abortion is permissible, after "counseling with the local presiding priesthood authority and after receiving divine confirmation" if any of four grounds existed:

bulletThe life of the mother is seriously endangered.
bulletThe good health of the mother is seriously endangered.
bulletThe pregnancy was caused by rape.
bulletThe pregnancy was caused by incest.

He cited an additional ground that would allow abortion as a permissible choice:

bullet"The fetus has severe defects that will not allow the baby to survive beyond birth." 2

In addition, Oaks dropped the requirement that a pregnancy caused by rape or incest can only be terminated if it produces serious emotional trauma in the mother. These three changes have apparently been made by the church leadership prior to Oaks' speech in 1999.

Elder Oaks justifies a woman's access to abortion in cases involving rape or incest by quoting a letter that he had received from a fellow LDS Church member. It said:

"The woman’s right to choose what will or will not happen to her body is obviously violated by rape or incest. When conception results in such a case, the woman has the moral as well as the legal right to an abortion because the condition of pregnancy is the result of someone else’s irresponsibility, not hers. She does not have to take responsibility for it. To force her by law to carry the fetus to term would be a further violation of her right. She also has the right to refuse an abortion. This would give her the right to the fetus and also the responsibility for it. She could later relinquish this right and this responsibility through the process of placing the baby for adoption after it is born. Whichever way is a responsible choice." 2

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Church discipline:

For minor transgressions, where the person is sincerely repentant, their bishop may invoke informal church discipline. This involves counseling with the member, and placing them on informal probation. Their privileges "...such as the right to partake of the sacrament, hold a Church position, or enter the temple" may be restricted.

For more serious transgressions,

"...such as abortion, transsexual operation, attempted murder, rape, forcible sexual abuse, intentionally inflicting serious physical injuries on others, adultery, fornication, homosexual relations, child abuse (sexual or physical), spouse abuse, deliberate abandonment of family responsibilities, robbery, burglary, embezzlement, theft, sale of illegal drugs, fraud, perjury, or false swearing,"

a disciplinary council may be convened. The council can decide to place the transgressor on formal probation, or invoke disfellowshipment or excommunication. 6

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Conflict in the Constitution Party over the LDS Church's policies on abortion:

The Constitution Party (CP) is an extreme-right wing national political party with affiliates in individual states. The Nevada affiliate, the Independent American Party of Nevada (IAP) is reported to have deviated from the national party's stance on Abortion:

bulletThe political platform of CP contains a Sanctity of Life plank which seeks to eliminate abortion. It states, in part:

"The pre-born child, whose life begins at fertilization, is a human being created in God's image. The first duty of the law is to prevent the shedding of innocent blood. It is, therefore, the duty of all civil governments to secure and to safeguard the lives of the pre-born...."

"We affirm the God-given legal personhood of all unborn human beings, without exception. As to matters of rape and incest, it is unconscionable to take the life of an innocent child for the crimes of his father. No government may legalize the taking of the unalienable right to life without justification, including the life of the pre-born; abortion may not be declared lawful by any institution of state or local government - legislative, judicial, or executive. The right to life should not be made dependent upon a vote of a majority of any legislative body." 7

The "without justification" phrase may allow the CP sufficient wiggle room to allow abortions in the very unusual case where it is needed to prevent the probable death of a pregnant woman. On 2006-MAY-06, we asked the CP for a clarification of this specific point. We have received no response; we do not expect one in the future.

bulletThe Mormon leadership of the IAP wants to follow the LDS Church's policies of allowing abortions for pregnancies induced by rape or incest, or involving health or life considerations for the woman, or involving a severely defective fetus.

The Mormon position has been described as allowing a "....child conceived out of rape or incest to be punished for the sins of the father." 8 That is, a child conceived in a loving relationship is considered innocent life and must not be aborted except under very unusual circumstances. But a child conceived as a result of rape or incest is not innocent life, shares the sin of the father, and can be aborted if the mother -- after counseling and assessing the will of God through prayer -- chooses this option.

Paul deParrie, "...a pro-life author and long-time anti-abortion activist in the Portland," OR area, wrote:

"...when it became known that the leaders of the Nevada party held the view that there was no wrong in aborting babies conceived through rape or incest, shock waves went through all the [state] parties and it was reflected at the national meetings. As it turned out, the Hansens [leaders of the IAP] were to toe the line of their Mormon faith which holds that such children are not innocent and, therefore, legitimate targets of execution. Despite the fact that the Nevada party had officially signed on to the 'no exceptions' platform of the national, the leaders and some candidates of that party were openly pro-abort. It was the same hypocrisy from which many members of the CPs across the nation fled in the first place." 9

Some news reports have indicated that Howard Phillips, the founder of the party, "has in some sense acquiesced in this ideological deviation to avoid losing the Nevada State Constitution Party, one of the most vibrant state affiliates the national organization has." 10 However, many CP members who hold more strict pro-life views object to any compromise over abortion.

The chairperson of the Oregon affiliate wrote: "We continue to function as the Constitution Party of Oregon. And yes, we still do visualize abortionists on trial." 11 There have been indications that state affiliates in Maryland, Michigan, Montana, Ohio, New York may also consider disaffiliating from the CP. 8

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. G.B. Hinckley, "What are people asking about us?," Ensign magazine, 1998-NOV, Page 70.
  2. Dallin H. Oaks, "Weightier Matters," Speech at Brigham Young University, 1999-FEB-09, at: http://library.lds.org/
  3. Harold B. Lee, N. Eldon Tanner, & Marion G. Romney, "Policies and Procedures: Statement on Abortion," New Era, 1973-APR, Page 29 at: http://library.lds.org/
  4. "Doctrine and Covenants, 59:06," at: http://library.lds.org/
  5. "General Handbook of Instructions," (1983), Page 77 & 78. Quoted in William S. Evans, "I have a Question," Ensign magazine, 1984-DEC, Page 45. Online at: http://library.lds.org
  6. M. Russell Ballard, "A Chance to Start Over: Church Disciplinary Councils and the Restoration of Blessings," Ensign magazine, 1990-SEP, Page 112, at: http://library.lds.org/
  7. "Sanctity of Life," Constitution Party, at: http://www.constitutionparty.com/
  8. Daniel Hoyt, "The 99% rule," 2006-APR-21, at: http://www.hoytopinions.com/
  9. Paul deParrie, "My Party, My Choice: The Constitution Party Goes Pro-abort," The Covenant News, 2006-MAY-02, at: http://www.covenantnews.com/
  10. "Blackie," "The Constitution Party's Prolonged Journey in the Political Wilderness by Mark Dankof," The Columnist Guild, 2006-MAY-03, at: http://batr.net/columnistguild/
  11. Bob Ekstron, "Will Not Downsize Pro-Life Position," Constitution Party of Oregon, 2006-MAY-03, at: http://www.covenantnews.com/

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Copyright © 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2006-MAY-05
Latest update: 2006-NOV-12
Author: B.A. Robinson

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