A Practical Matter

July 9, 2004 | 37 comments
By

I’ve been trying to put my finger on what is so troubling to me about some of the recent discussions of abortion. Aside from the distressingly obvious lack of female participants in the discussion, I think the thing that makes me twitchiest is the discussion of whether or not rape victims should be *allowed* to hear from a compassionate bishop that abortion is an acceptable course. I’ve been thinking a lot about how a bishop could provide appropriate and helpful counsel in that situation, and I have to say that I think the odds are stacked against him, even before he opens his mouth.

I have close friends who have been raped. Fortunately, none of them became pregnant as a result, so I haven’t seen anyone go through that agony. However, I *know* that for someone who has been recently raped, just being in a room alone with a man is often terrifying. To be in a room alone with a man who is telling you what a (male-imagined) God and the patriarchal Church expect you to do with your body–it’s overdramatic to say that would be like being raped again, but only a little.

Don’t forget that it hasn’t been so very long (25 years? at most) since the Church Handbook of Instructions was revised to relieve the bishop of the duty of deciding whether or not the woman was at fault for being raped. But we would be naive to think that no one who might be serving as a bishop does not still hold some of the attitudes that made that policy possible. I would hope that thinking and attitudes about rape have changed dramatically in the last few decades, but I would be scared to have to count on it. Even younger men, who didn’t grow up thinking that a woman who was raped had somehow invited it, may well have very strongly-held beliefs about abortion–several of the commenters on the abortion threads said things that would make me very afraid to go to them, if one of them were my bishop and I had been raped. I would be skeptical of their ability to receive revelation that runs counter to their strongly held political and religious beliefs. And I don’t think these views are terribly unusual in the Church. While I have great faith (knowledge, actually, because I’ve seen it happen) that the Spirit can transcend all kinds of foibles in Church leaders, it doesn’t always happen.

I can think of at least one other situation in which the mere fact of a bishop meeting alone with a woman creates a problem before he says anything, and that is in interviews, and especially confessional ones, with young women. It just isn’t OK for a grown man to be discussing a girl’s sexual behavior (or even the lack thereof) with her, alone, behind closed doors. I’ve had at least one bishop who prided himself on conducting “searching” (i.e. prurient) interviews with the youth; because I was in the YW presidency, I got to be there when he discussed the questions he would ask the youth. There is NO WAY I would have let my daughter be interviewed alone by this man (who was, btw, in all other respects that I know about, a good man and effective bishop). I’m frankly surprised that the fear of lawsuits has not changed this practice yet. While 99.5% of bishops are probably utterly trustworthy in this regard, there’s no reason to take chances–it would be perfectly possible to interview the young women with a parent or a YW leader present (for instance).

I believe that such practical problems argue strongly for an expanded leadership role for women in the church, even aside from the many doctrinal, theological, and historical reasons that can be adduced for widening the sphere of women’s participation in church leadership.

Tags:

37 Responses to A Practical Matter

  1. Steve Evans on July 9, 2004 at 12:40 pm

    Excellent ideas, Kristine. I think it would be fantastic to have some sort of spiritual counseling for women by women in the Church. Where would the ideal place for this be — under the auspices of the RS? Or would you have in mind some sort of new auxiliary?

  2. Kristine on July 9, 2004 at 12:48 pm

    The Relief Society President could have an office next to the bishop’s? Alternatively, I’ve often thought that it might be good to make “Bishop’s Wife” an official calling :)

  3. Matt Evans on July 9, 2004 at 12:53 pm

    Since I was one of the prominent writers in the thread that made you uncomfortable, I wanted to emphasize a distinction that seems to have been lost. Abortion is acceptable in cases of rape, but it is not the morally superior decision. For that reason I objected to a bishop ‘counseling a rape victim to have an abortion.’ I agree wholeheartedly that the bishop is entitled to receive confirmation that God accepts the woman’s decision.

    As for interviews, I completely agree that the bishop’s office is not the place for probing questions. The bishop should lay out the specifics of chastity in a group setting, and then in private simply ask the person if they are living the law of chastity.

  4. Steve Evans on July 9, 2004 at 12:56 pm

    Well, I guess it sounds silly, but the reason I’m asking is because the bishop straddles two different kinds of jobs: counselor and “judge in Israel.” Ideally, he probably is 99% the former and 1% the latter, but part of what makes a bishop a bishop is this authoritative aspect. Would you want a similar mix in women’s counseling, or would you view it as a purely advisory role?

  5. Steve Evans on July 9, 2004 at 1:01 pm

    “Abortion is acceptable in cases of rape, but it is not the morally superior decision.”

    what?? I think it’s precisely that type of dogmatic thinking that Kristine is decrying.

  6. danithew on July 9, 2004 at 1:08 pm

    In addition to having the mantle of a church calling, and perhaps (for female rape victims) being a female, a rape counselor should probably actually be a person with a degree and training in handling rape victims.

    I had a co-worker who once divulged in detail her personal story of being brutally raped and it took me about a month to re-configure the way I looked at the world. I appreciated her sharing the story with me because I learned a lot from the experience and the processes I went through digesting that information. But it seriously challenged me mentally and emotionally to deal with the information I had been given. I had to seriously confront the issue of evil and violence in a way that I never had previously. I guess it’s one thing to read it in the papers and another to learn about it from someone you know.

    Part of the reason this woman spoke with me was that I was willing to listen. She told me her family and others didn’t want to hear the details of the story — they were simply too horrified by the possibility that she had been raped to fully confront the reality that she had been raped.

    No doubt a trained counselor would have better knowledge of how to help the rape victim to deal with what has happened.

  7. Nathan Tolman on July 9, 2004 at 1:29 pm

    Just a question:

    Does LDS social Services provide rape counseling? That might be an answer to Kristine’s problem.

  8. Hellmut Lotz on July 9, 2004 at 1:31 pm

    Nobody needs the mediation of anyone to determine the will of god. People who want to help need to subordinate themselves to the victim, not the other way around.

  9. Matt Evans on July 9, 2004 at 1:34 pm

    I think the church’s position on abortion says that abortion is morally troubling, even in the difficult circumstances.

    In what circumstance would would it be morally superior for a rape victim to abort the baby rather than carry it to term?

  10. Julie in Austin on July 9, 2004 at 1:36 pm

    Hey, what ever happened to that talk by Pres. Hinckley where he suggested that women might want to seek counsel from the RS Pres.? It seemed like such a huge idea at the time, but I haven’t heard it again.

    Perhaps the realization that, officially or non, women *do* go to the RS Pres all the time instead of the bishop? I don’t know?

  11. Kaimi on July 9, 2004 at 1:49 pm

    I agree. I’ve heard some horror stories — including, alas, one very recent one — about male leadership in the church taking some very inappropriate actions with regards to women who have been harrassed, abused, and so forth. There are still bishops who say “you shouldn’t say anything, because you don’t want to hurt his reputation” — which of course is placing the concern, as well as the responsibility, in exactly the wrong places.

  12. Kristine on July 9, 2004 at 2:15 pm

    Matt, I don’t know how one can make a determination that one course is “morally superior” to the other–either the innocent rape victim endures extended psychological and potentially physical suffering in carrying a baby to term, or the baby suffers whatever it is that babies suffer during an abortion. I don’t know how you weigh those sufferings against each other.

    It is moral to reduce suffering where possible and affirm life in every circumstance. But there are two lives in question here, and I know of no way to make a moral determination that one is more important than the other.

  13. Janelle on July 9, 2004 at 2:44 pm

    “In what circumstance would it be morally superior for a rape victim to abort the baby rather than carry it to term?”

    I also have close friends who have been raped. You cannot overestimate the pain that accompanies this experience—the struggle to be comfortable around men again, the fight to convince yourself that it wasn’t your fault, that you’re not less pure because of it. Imagine the additional emotional hardship pregnancy could cause a victim. Imagine the gossip and the whisperings of condemnation that would occur when she shows up pregnant and unmarried at church, because she chooses not to relive her painful experience by sharing it with everyone around her. Imagine the daily reminders she would have of that awful experience as her pregnancy progressed. Imagine looking down at a child you’ve just given birth to and finding the eyes or the nose or the mouth of the man that raped you. These kinds of experiences could have any number of detrimental outcomes—they could drive someone out of the church, they could lead to depression and the horrible possibilities that accompany that, they could discourage a person from marrying (if not married) or bringing any more children into the world (spirits who also have the right to be here, correct?).

    For these reasons, I am appalled to think that any bishop, friend or counselor would put the kind of pressure that would result from telling someone that “carrying the baby to term is the morally superior choice” on a rape victim. Maybe you have to be a woman to understand.

  14. Steve Evans on July 9, 2004 at 2:55 pm

    Janelle, your comment that “maybe you have to be a woman to understand” is of course key to this analysis, but at the same time it’s very troublesome to me. I’m worried that we are providing justifying excuses to men that give inadequate advice or counseling. Maybe we should say, “you have to look through a woman’s eyes to understand”?

    I’m also worried that saying “you have to be a woman to understand” might not be entirely true. Men are capable of empathy, perhaps in larger degrees than we typically admit. Not only that, but no man or woman can truly understand a rape victim without having experienced a similar trauma.

    It may be easier for women to counsel women that are rape victims or that have experienced sexual trauma. But I’m hesitant to make it their exclusive domain, which is why I’m also curious as to what kinds of practical solutions Kristine is proposing.

  15. Julie in Austin on July 9, 2004 at 3:44 pm

    Steve—

    Oooh, you opened a can of worms. I am not sure how I feel about ‘you have to be a woman to understand’, but I do know that there is NO WAY that I could describe pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding to you in a way that you could *really* understand the emotional impact of those processes.

  16. Steve Evans on July 9, 2004 at 4:07 pm

    Julie, you’re right, of course. I can’t fully understand the emotional impact of those processes. But should that preclude me altogether from counseling or providing assistance?

    In the particular example of rape, part of what I was trying to get at is that if we really believe in *really* understanding others the way you describe, than being a woman would be a necessary, but insufficient, condition to counseling a rape victim. You’d also have to be a rape victim yourself. It seems strange somehow that we would limit the world of possible assistance in this way.

    Although this is a completely different case, would we use a similar justification to exclude turning to the Savior? (I know, he knows all we’ve gone through, etc.)

  17. Matt Evans on July 9, 2004 at 4:12 pm

    The traumas Kristine and Janelle offer are no doubt the primary reason the church lists rape as a possible exception to the general proscription against abortion.

    Also, I agree with Janelle that a bishop should be exceptionally deferential to the needs of the woman. In pointing out that I couldn’t imagine a scenario where abortion would the morally superior choice, I was explaining my objection to a bishop counseling a rape victim to have an abortion. The bishop should answer any of the woman’s questions about abortion, but I can’t imagine any circumstance where he should suggest she abort the baby. He can of course confirm her prayerful decision to abort, but that is not the same as saying she should, or that he would, abort the baby.

    Kristine, I don’t share your premise that aborting the baby will relieve the rape victim’s suffering. Carrying the baby may understandably be too much for her — to do so she would have to run faster than she has strength — and that is why abortion is acceptable in such circumstances. Abortion is acceptable not because it’s the morally superior thing to do, but because God doesn’t expect us to do something beyond our ability, no matter how moral that thing might be.

    As for issues of gender in the abortion debate, it’s important to remember that women are more pro-life than men in every way. Women are less likely to tolerate elective abortion, less likely to support a rape exception, and even less likely to support an exception for the life or serious health of the mother.

  18. danithew on July 9, 2004 at 4:21 pm

    I cannot figure out why a Bishop would not be permitted to counsel a woman to get an abortion under any circumstance. But I’m trying to think up a reason.

    Maybe the fear is that the woman will later feel guilty and angry at the bishop/Church and will express rage that she was instructed by a Church representative to get an abortion. Perhaps that’s just not a possibility the Church wants to allow.

    It just seems to me that if it’s acceptable in certain circumstances to have an abortion, a bishoip ought to be able to receive inspiration in that regard and give that sort of counsel.

    But maybe it’s too much power for a bishop to wield in such a situation. Bishops are fallible. They can give bad or wrong advice. Members hold them in such high regard and this is such a momentous decision that perhaps only the individual should be able to make that decision for themselves.

  19. Kaimi on July 9, 2004 at 4:26 pm

    Kristine, Janelle,

    I understand your concerns, and they make a lot of sense to me. That said, I am not sure I completely accept what seems to be a belief that rape is an exclusively male-female problem (and the corollary that men can’t understand the issue). Let me point out one fact that problematizes that characterization: Men can be victims of rape and abuse as well.

    Men cannot become pregnant, of course, and so do not need to worry about that aspect. But it seems to me that many of the empathy factors — “the fight to convince yourself that it wasn’t your fault, that you’re not less pure because of it” — would apply equally to a male rape victim. Yet, a male rape victim might still be intimidating for a female rape victim. That confluence might present an unusual circumstance, where a bishop _is_ truly capable of understanding a rape victim’s pain, but who might also, as a man, be an intimidating presence to her.

    I don’t know whether that would change the calculus any. I can understand the need to deal with non-male authority figures, but I don’t think that it is correct to assert that men as a group can’t understand the pain of rape and/or abuse.

  20. Eric James Stone on July 9, 2004 at 5:08 pm

    I wrote something a few months ago for my creative writing class that is relevant to this discussion. You can find it here: http://ericjamesstone.com/blog/archives/000425.html

  21. Ben Huff on July 9, 2004 at 5:21 pm

    Thanks, Janelle, for making the issue very concrete.

    Matt, I agree that we are not asked to run faster than we have strength (apparently for Abinadi, preaching to King Noah et. al., knowing he was about to be burned alive, wasn’t running faster than he had strength).

    But it still seems less than clear that carrying the child to term is categorically the morally superior thing to do. Either course is deeply morally troubling. I don’t see that the policy implies that one course is better, in general, and I don’t think it’s our place to say that one or the other is the better choice, in general.

  22. Matt Jacobsen on July 9, 2004 at 5:35 pm

    Matt Evans said:

    ‘Abortion [in the case of rape] is acceptable not because it’s the morally superior thing to do, but because God doesn’t expect us to do something beyond our ability, no matter how moral that thing might be.’

    I never thought of this as the reason for the abortion exceptions. How far are you willing to let this kind of thinking go? Sounds like a new defense for just about anyone having a difficult time keeping certain commandments.

    It certainly seems like you could take this too far, but perhaps it would help us realize that only God sees the heart and that we should refrain from judging others.

  23. Kaimi on July 9, 2004 at 5:40 pm

    Matt,

    Agreeing with others, I think that church’s position — that abortion is acceptable in instances of rape — suggests that a Bishop should not think he cannot counsel a rape victim to have an abortion. Of course, he should not pressure her to have one, but neither should he refrain from giving advice.

    If it’s an acceptable course — and it is, the church leaders have made clear — then why would he refuse to give that advice?

  24. Matt Evans on July 9, 2004 at 6:31 pm

    Ben,

    I don’t see what you find morally troubling about a baby not being aborted.

    Matt Jacobsen,

    I was only referring to King Benjamin’s counsel that we are not required to run faster than we have strength. As for your concern that this justification will be overused to cover sins, I think the gospel has always taught that our moral responsibility is always relative to our knowledge and ability.

    Kaimi,

    My objection to the role you’re advocating for a bishop stems more from my view of the bishop’s duties than it does my view of abortion. In my mind, a bishop betrays his duty if he counsels someone to do other than follow the morally superior path. In the case of a rape victim, I liked Pete’s advice from the other thread: bishops should not guide their choice, but if he does offer counsel, it should not be in favor of abortion.

  25. Matt Evans on July 9, 2004 at 6:35 pm

    Those who have disagreed with my views on a bishop’s role when counseling pregnant rape victims would help me understand their position if they can either:

    1 – Provide an example where it would be less moral for the rape victim to let the baby live than to have her aborted. In other words, a situation where the woman is leaning against abortion, but because he is her spiritual counselor, the bishop has a duty to guide her toward the more moral course of aborting the baby; or

    2 – Explain why a bishop should counsel someone, “This isn’t the morally superior course, but here’s why you should do it anyway.”

  26. danithew on July 9, 2004 at 6:38 pm

    In a situation where a baby has been conceived by incest or rape, bringing the baby to birth might not be the morally superior path. That’s a situation where an abortion might be preferable. I admit I can’t bring myself to say an abortion would be a morally superior choice. But it might be the right decision to make due to the circumstances — particularly if we’re talking about an underage pregnant girl.

  27. Kaimi on July 9, 2004 at 6:47 pm

    Matt,

    I think there’s some diagreement over your baseline assumption about the morally superior path.

    You assume that non-abortion is always, in every circumstance and for every person, a morally superior path to abortion.

    I don’t think that that reading is the only plausible reading of the church’s position. Yes, it is one possible reading of the church position, but it seems that an equally possible reading is that, in some cases and for some people (as set out by church guidelines), there is no morally superior choice between abortion and non-abortion.

  28. danithew on July 9, 2004 at 6:47 pm

    A 14 year old girl is raped and becomes pregnant. Would you want her to go through 9 months of pregnancy and bear the rapist’s child? Would you want her to be involved in making a decision about giving that baby up for adoption or keeping the baby?

    This situation is even worse to think about if it’s a case of incest.

    I could imagine a bishop determining in such a situation that abortion is the best course of action to take and providing that counsel (if he’s allowed to do that — maybe he’s not).

  29. Kaimi on July 9, 2004 at 6:51 pm

    Matt,

    You believe that Abraham can receive instruction to kill his son; that Nephi can receive instruction to slay Laban; that Saul can be told by a prophet to slay every man, woman, and child of another tribe.

    But you don’t think a bishop can ever tell a woman to have an abortion?

  30. Eric James Stone on July 9, 2004 at 7:22 pm

    Matt,

    Assume a victim who is pregnant as a result of being raped by her father, and the fetus is deformed to the point that it is unlikely to live past birth, and that carrying the baby to term will likely be fatal to the mother.

    Assume also that she has spend a lot of time in study and prayer to determine whether or not she should have an abortion.

    Assume that she has decided that she is willing to do God’s will and carry the baby to term or die in the attempt if necessary, but that it would be better for her for various reasons if she did not have to do that.

    Assume that having made that decision, she prays to receive confirmation of her decision to abort.

    Assume that God confirms that decision. (The Church position on abortion clearly contemplates that such confirmation is possible.)

    Please explain how God can confirm the decision to follow what you say is the less moral course.

  31. Michelle on July 9, 2004 at 8:44 pm

    I agree with most everyone here that there is no “more moral.” Either it’s right, or it’s wrong. The Church’s position allows for abortion in certain instances, therefore in certain instances it could be right. Which makes it moral. Not immoral. Or “less moral”. There’s no such thing as “less moral.”

    If the individual has had a spiritual confirmation that abortion is the right choice, and the Bishop knows this to be true, then the Bishop has the duty to encourage her to follow the Spirit.

  32. john fowles on July 10, 2004 at 12:31 am

    Michelle: If the individual has had a spiritual confirmation that abortion is the right choice, and the Bishop knows this to be true, then the Bishop has the duty to encourage her to follow the Spirit.

    Yes, aside from the “morally superior” language (that probably wasn’t the best way to approach this in a post-modern society where no one agrees on what is moral or not), Matt is actually saying the same thing that you are in the quoted text above. That is, it is all about ratification.

    Imagine a 14-year old rape victim approaches the bishop for counsel. The bishop does what he can to empathize with her suffering (I agree with Kristine, Julie, and others that he probably can’t console her as well as a female advisor or another rape victim could), lays out the Church’s policy with her and encourages her to fast and pray about the decision–even offers his own assistance in fasting and praying. He answers any questions she has. He advises her where she can get perhaps more adequate emotional counselling (i.e. not from a male). He works with her and eventually asks her what kind of result she has gotten through fasting and prayer. If she tells the bishop that she has decided to abort, the bishop should reassure her that if she does so, that the decision will in no way jeopardize her eternal standing; that it is a justified situation for this type of action. In short, he should indeed encourage her to follow the Spirit, as you wrote Michelle. That does not mean, though, that he is affirmatively adivising an abortion, in keeping with Matt’s logic. Rather, he is ratifying, through his authority, the decision of the girl.

  33. john fowles on July 10, 2004 at 12:36 am

    By the way, I think that the whole issue of rape is sick and I long for the Millenium when the rapists will have been burned and our society won’t be concerned with this abomination anymore. I also admire the liberality of everyone on this forum: not a single person thought that the idea of castrating rapists to prevent this kind of thing was a good idea when I mentioned it on another thread. That despite the extreme externalities that are plaguing us here you would all still go to bat for the rapists and protect their testicles is really an example to me of your charity and long-suffering.

  34. Ben Huff on July 10, 2004 at 7:34 pm

    Matt, what I find morally troubling about a baby not being aborted is the experience Janelle described which a rape victim will go through if she carries the baby to term (plus it’s not exactly a dream situation for the kid to be born into!). I find it morally troubling to think that anyone would be expected to go through that, when it was entirely feasible to prevent that ordeal. Of course, the manner of prevention, once she is pregnant, would be abortion, which is also morally troubling. My point was that either course, abortion or not, is morally troubling.

    The experience of carrying the child to term in that case could do very serious psychological, emotional, spiritual, and social damage to the mother, in addition to what she’s already undergone.

    How do we weigh that against the damage done to mother and child by abortion? I don’t know, but it is far from clear to me that the damage done by carrying the child to term is less than the damage done by abortion. We don’t know just what abortion does. So we don’t know that one choice is categorically morally superior. It would not surprise me for God to tell a woman in this situation that the best thing to do is to abort. Since the policy leaves both options open, I’m not going to second-guess anybody in advance.

  35. Matt Evans on July 11, 2004 at 2:42 am

    Thanks everyone for engaging me. I’ll start at the most general points and work towards the specific.

    John noted that in postmodern thought, ideas like “morally superior” are meaningless. I used that term because I’m appealing to Mormons who believe in moral standards. I admit my argument is meaningless to those who reject moral language.

    Michelle questioned my premise that there is a heirarchy of moral acts. One example: it is moral for a person to attend sacrament meeting, more moral for the person to attend sacrament with an attitude of reverence, and more moral still for them to love God with all their heart.

    Kaimi asked about the story of Nephi killing Laban — if God can desire that, why not an abortion? I agree that God could instruct the bishop to violate a general commandment. But this criticism isn’t relevant because it’s without temporal boundary — the Spirit could tell the bishop to do anything, including perform the abortion right there on his desk against the woman’s wishes. My intention, however, is to discuss general obligations, like not slaying drunks we find fallen to the earth, even though there are counter-examples from scripture.

    Eric created a hypothetical combining all three of the church’s possible exceptions for abortions: rape, serious risk to health, and a terminal baby. I have deliberately addressed rape alone for two reasons. First, this was the context of my original objection. Second, and most importantly, the other exceptions raise distinct moral issues. I am only arguing against a bishop counseling a women to have an abortion in cases of rape, so my anaylisis only applies to rape victims whose health is not in jeopardy and whose baby is healthy. I address Eric’s concern about the spirit’s confirming ‘the less moral choice’ below.

    Danithew wonders if the rape victim’s age should be a consideration. Because the church makes no distinction in condemning elective abortions for 14 and 18 year olds, I don’t know that the distinction matters when they are impregnated by rape, either. Remember, too, that for purposes of my objection, the rape victim’s health is not an issue, so that part of our concern for young girls that stems from their physical limitations would be covered by the health exception.

    Now to the specific question of why it is inappropriate for a bishop to counsel a rape victim to have an abortion.

    Abortion is a great evil — just encouraging or paying for one is grounds for church disciplinary action. The possible exception for rape does not change the nature of abortion. The abortion act is identical (a healthy baby dies) whether the pregnancy resulted from consensual or forced sex. For this reason every abortion is regrettable. The rape exception concerns the woman’s responsibility and culpability, not the nature of the act. A rape victim may justifiably choose abortion not because the nature of the abortion act is different in cases of rape, but because her responsibility and culpability are not implicated when she was made pregnant by violence.

    It would be better, however, if there were no abortion and no healthy-now-dead baby. There are enough dead babies already.

    Every woman who carries a baby performs an act of love. A woman who carries a baby conceived by a grotesque violation of her humanity manifests a heart overflowing with charity and compassion. Such a woman performs a noble act comparable to that of giving your life for a friend.

    It is wrong for a bishop to discourage a woman from doing this incredible act of service. Yes and absolutely, a bishop must assure a woman faced with such a choice that she is not expected to carry the baby and that he will support her prayerful decision.

    Consider a similar and more mundane example. Imagine a loving and worthy prospective missionary whose painful but not debilitating arthritis is sufficiently bad that he’s told he should not feel obligated to serve a mission, but he’s welcome to do so if he wants; the decision is his. I believe this young man’s bishop should stay out of the decision, and if he offers any counsel, it should be in favor of service. The bishop should never counsel the young man against the noble decision to build God’s kingdom despite the pain.

    God does not command us to go beyond our duty. He is satisfied when we keep his commandments. When we must decide whether to act nobly — whether to serve a mission despite arthritis or to carry a baby despite her origins in violence — God does not require the exceptional act and allows us to choose. In such cases, God will confirm the decision to not go on a mission because of the pain, or to have an abortion that resulted from rape. He holds us harmless for these decisions and will send his spirit to comfort us and to assure us he’s pleased with us.

    Noble acts are those that require commitment beyond our duty and motivation beyond commandment. Christ is our exemplar, and he voluntarily chose to go infinitely beyond his commandment and saved all mankind. While our leaders must help us understand that we do not need to do more than we are commanded, they have no right to say, “It is too hard for you. You are not capable of such spiritual acts.”

    ===================
    I welcome further thoughts and ideas. If anyone thinks abortion might sometimes be the more noble course, please describe the circumstances that would make it so. Remember that the rape victim and her baby are healthy.

  36. Janey on July 12, 2004 at 3:33 pm

    Elder Dallin H. Oaks said this in the January, 2001 Ensign:

    “A prominent basis for the secular or philosophical arguments for abortion on demand is the argument that a woman should have control over her own body. Not long ago I received a letter from a thoughtful Latter-day Saint outside the United States who analyzed that argument in secular terms. Since his analysis reaches the same conclusion I have urged on religious grounds, I quote it here for the benefit of those most subject to persuasion on this basis:

    “Every woman has, within the limits of nature, the right to choose what will or will not happen to her body. Every woman has, at the same time, the responsibility for the way she uses her body. If by her choice she behaves in such a way that a human fetus is conceived, she has not only the right to but also the responsibility for that fetus. If it is an unwanted pregnancy, she is not justified in ending it with the claim that it interferes with her right to choose. She herself chose what would happen to her body by risking pregnancy. She had her choice. If she has no better reason, her conscience should tell her that abortion would be a highly irresponsible choice.

    “What constitutes a good reason? Since a human fetus has intrinsic and infinite human value, the only good reason for an abortion would be the violation or deprivation of or the threat to the woman’s right to choose what will or will not happen to her body. Social, educational, financial, and personal considerations alone do not outweigh the value of the life that is in the fetus. These considerations by themselves may properly lead to the decision to place the baby for adoption after its birth, but not to end its existence in utero.

    “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.”

    I read President Oaks to say that a pregnancy that results from a rape is a matter of responsibility. Because the woman was not responsible for the pregnancy, she may decide to have an abortion.

    In this context, the question is when is it more noble to take responsibility for the consequences of someone else’s criminal behavior than to try to lessen the impact of that behavior on yourself. (Of course, an abortion has a significant impact as well.) But I can certainly imagine a situation in which a woman’s best road to recovery is to get rid of (even through an abortion) any reminders, consequences or other effects of the crime committed against her.

    If, in the judgment of the woman, carrying the child to term would cause psychological scarring, perhaps to the point where she would be unable to have a normal relationship with a husband and bring other children into the world to be raised, then the it would preferable to abort. An abortion in this case, would preserve her ability and willingness to raise a family.

  37. Mike on July 13, 2004 at 9:29 pm

    OK, if someone has a moral right to do something- then it definitionally is not an immoral choice. Thus neither choice, aborting or carrying the child to term, is immoral. If the Bishop is to counsel on that choice then he should be able to recomend either choice if neither one of them is immoral. If the Bishop is not able to counsel a woman in this circumstance to have an abortion, then he should also not be able to counsel or encourage her not to- he should only be able to explain that the choice is hers- either one could be acceptable, and she must follow the spirit.

    I like Kristine’s ideas about expanding the leadership role of women in the church- I think this is different than just counseling. Counseling should occur- I don’t know that LDS social services in most areas are really equiped to have rape counseling or to always have female counselors available. this of course should be done if possible- but this is a completely different issue from the worthiness interviews, from eclesiastical counsel, etc.
    Unfortunately, how to actually carry this out may indeed be problematic.
    I also thought the calling of Bishop’s wife could be a good one. There is however one potentially large problem- if the Bishop’s wife had similar eclesiastical responsibilty as the Bishop, even if her havng that responsibility somewhat lessened the Bishop’s, what in the world becomes of the Bishop’s children? There are always meetings before the regular church meetings, and typically a few nights a week of interviews and time for counseling. Of course, a Bishop and his wife could alternate the nights they were available for itnerviews and counseling- but it would seem to make sense in some circumstances for both the Bishop and his Wife to be involved.
    If Bishp’s wife not only became a calling, but included a mantle to counsel- then I think that Bishop’s babby-sitter would also have to become an official church calling.