Ethical Incoherence and Abortion II

July 6, 2004 | 32 comments
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Hmm. The direction the responses took to my two points about ethical consistency and abortion remind of my (still unfinished) deck project, which started off simple enough, but soon spun out of control.

First, I would suggest that it is extremely difficult to reconcile Mormon policies and practices with the premise that a fetus/unborn child has the same ontological status as a born child–i.e., that abortion is murder. For example, one can be forgiven for abortion but not murder (baptism of those who’ve committed homicide require permission of 1st Pres, but not for those who’ve undergone/aided abortion), abortion is permissible in cases of rape, incest, threat to mother’s life, serious threat to mother’s *health*, stillborn children may listed on family group sheets but sealing ordinances are not to be performed on their behalf, etc. There are powerful arguments that an unborn child is a fully human being, but I don’t believe that LDS policies or teachings provide much support.

However, to say that an unborn child has a lesser status than a born child is not to say that it has no status, or only the status of an animal. It is perfectly coherent to maintain that abortion is not murder, but that it is a grievous moral wrong, because while the fetus is not a fully human being, it nevertheless is a being with an extremely weighty ontological status. Even if one is pro-choice, one is not necessarily committed to the position that an abortion is like euthanizing a pet.

Nevertheless, if an unborn child has a lesser ontological status than a born human being, then it is logically possible for there to be situations in which the interests of the latter properly outweigh the former. (Indeed, the Church’s policy lists four or five such situations.)

These are the premises which I assumed in posing the adultery and social welfare points. Those who reject these premises are, of course, free to reject them, but it hardly makes sense for us to talk about these points unless we proceed from these premises. Obviously, if a fetus is a fully human being with the same status as all of us, then adultery can be distinguished because it does not involve murder, and the social welfare point is ridiculous because it would allow murder in case the state does not provide certain social welfare benefits to the murderer.

Second, my questions were designed to explore whether, as a Latter-day Saint, one must choose between gender equity and the prolife position, given that women disproportionately bear most of the costs associated with unwanted/out-of-wedlock pregnancies. It is not a sufficient response, in my view, to say, “Too bad, we live in a fallen world,” any more than one can excuse violations of the law of chastity because, “gee, it’s really hard when sexual images are everywhere.” I also did not accuse anyone of not caring about the poor, though whether particular social welfare programs really work seems to be a very curious response anyway. Subsidized/on-site child care clearly makes life easier for single mothers. Many states do not require health insurance companies to cover birth control prescriptions. The rate of child support collection for custodial parents (overwhelmingly female) hovers around 50%; that figure could be improved dramatically with the investment of law enforcement resources. And so on.

But finally, at the conceptual level, what seems important to me is whether one may justify imposing the unequal burdens of immorality on women by a prolife position without also being committed to alleviating these burdens to the maximum extent possible. Liberal Catholics notwithstanding, we’re Mormons: How many Mormons are committed to both (besides Russell, whose terrific post went to the heart of the matter). (And, again notwithstanding liberal Catholics, I’m on firm ground with the observation that most prolifers do not link their anti-abortion views with support of social welfare programs or other means of alleviating the burdens of unwanted pregnancy.) The question remains, how can one coherently justify not alleviating those burdens while remaining committed to gender equity?

As to adultery, kudos to the posts who take it seriously. In the many discussions I’ve had with people over this point, until now no one has really argued for enforcing it. There would, of course be serious problems with it, starting with the right to privacy, but maybe 90 days in jail and a $5,000 fine would make people take their marriage vows more seriously.

Or not. :)

Fred

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32 Responses to Ethical Incoherence and Abortion II

  1. Blaine E. on July 6, 2004 at 4:10 pm

    Speaking to your second point, my question is: what are our goals with gender equity?

    My vision of gender equity and equity in general is a world absent all irrational prejudice and discrimination. In the context of racial discrimination, there is no reason for discrimination since one’s race has no bearing on their intelligence, ability to perform in a job (almost always), etc. In situations where one’s race does have an effect on their ability to perform (e.g. a student in a university bring diverse viewpoints due to race), I don’t abhor discrimination since it may be rational.

    Thus, in the pro-life/pro-choice situation, there are rational reasons for not treating the sexes equitably. Men should be more closely scrutinized in rape cases, and women should be treated differently on questions of child-bearing/abortion/etc. since biologically men are more able to commit rape and women are more likely to bear the actual consequences of sex.

    You say you don’t buy the “Too bad, we live in a fallen world” argument, but I don’t know a way around it. Surely we can’t disregard biology and blindly force absolute gender equality in the face of drastic consequences. If the social costs of abortion are high enough, there is a rational reason for discriminating based on gender and forcing women to carry babies to term.

    That said, I don’t know that the social costs of legalized abortion are high enough. I think we need to consider, pragmatically speaking, how many abortions we are preventing and how many more back-alley abortions would take place if they were illegal and the basic privacy of a woman’s right to control her body. Maybe those costs outweigh the state’s protection of the life of the fetus. I just don’t think that the case is open and shut because we as members know that abortions are almost always immoral.

  2. brayden on July 6, 2004 at 4:38 pm

    “Hmm. The direction the responses took to my two points about ethical consistency and abortion remind of my (still unfinished) deck project, which started off simple enough, but soon spun out of control.”

    Welcome to the world of blogging.

  3. danithew on July 6, 2004 at 5:32 pm

    maybe 90 days in jail and a $5,000 fine would make people take their marriage vows more seriously

    It would be interesting to see a study and estimate of what adultery ends up costing the average family (where a case of adultery occurs), financially. If adultery results in marital counseling or divorce, I would guess that those costs alone would be much greater than $5000.00. My feeling is that this suggestion comes down on the low side of what the penalty ought to be.

    We see a lot of court cases where the fines levied or the payments required calculate “pain and suffering” into the ultimate fee required. It would be fun to see adulterers have to pay a very high price for their crime/sin to the partner who has been so injured.

    One solution that occurs to me, if a proven case of adultery results in divorce — perhaps the guilty party should have to forfeit any rights to shared mutual property in the marriage. After all, the aggrieved party has lost the time and money they invested in the marriage — which often adds up to a lot of years and perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars. That wouldn’t be nearly as serious as the biblical death sentence that is decreed for adulterers.

    Whether financially or otherwise, I think the adulterer should be at the mercy of their spouse. But I tend to have very strong feelings about this issue.

  4. Nate Oman on July 6, 2004 at 5:59 pm

    Fred: A while back I posted a post with a rather complicated argument that tried to look at the issues of gender equality and Millian objections to moralistic legislation in the context of what I take to be the Church’s modified pro-choice position. My conclusion was that one does not erally need the concept of punishing sinful behavior to justify restrictions on abortion (although the concept may do a little bit of work at the edges). One can think about it purely in terms of const shifting and distributive justice. My second conclusion is that the gender equity argument can be used to justify aggressive cost shifting, from men to women, but that in the abortion context it doesn’t do much work in terms of justifying social insurance. This does not, of course, mean that social insurance isn’t justified on other grounds, e.g. some duty to help children. Rather, my point is that this is really a seperate issue from both the gender equity arguments and the Millian moralism arguments.

    The full post is at “Justice for Fornicators”

  5. Derek on July 6, 2004 at 6:44 pm

    In the U.S., isn’t the father of any child born out of wedlock financially responsible for that child? If so, this would appear to answer the gender equity question without any need to impose additional punishment (such as jail time or fines).

  6. Ethesis (Stephen M) on July 6, 2004 at 6:58 pm

    DereK: The answer to your question is “Yes, but …” in many states the enforcement rate is poor. It is a matter of enforcing that right. In Texas, even though the Attorney General’s office turns a profit on child support collection, the enforcement end is still underfunded and no where near effective enough.

    And child support is often a lesser burden than the child. Of course giving children up for adoption is the “clean” solution, but never forget that the Roe in Roe v. Wade wanted an abortion because she could not stand the thought of the pain of giving another child up for an adoption. It does answer some theoretical gender equity questions though.

    As for “I’m on firm ground with the observation that most prolifers do not link their anti-abortion views with support of social welfare programs or other means of alleviating the burdens of unwanted pregnancy.” I’d have to say that in my ward and in my life I have definitely linked the Church’s views with social welfare efforts. I’m on the board of a children’s medical clinic right now and have served in other social matters in the past.

    It is an easy criticism to make, and may well be true, but if you get to people who actually care (rather than just talk), the only other person in the ward with strong feelings serves on the board with me.

    I’m glad, however, to see someone else who recognizes the clear evidence that abortion has some sort of middle status. If it were the shedding of innocent blood, not only would it require exclusion from the Church, but the stench of the crime would rise up to Heaven and condemn us much like the child sacrifice and child sexual abuse of Canaan resulted in the Children of Israel being commanded to slay them.

    We are not yet that offensive to God.

    Just in memory … thinking.

    Steve
    http://adrr.com/living/

  7. Pete on July 6, 2004 at 7:15 pm

    While I would probably agree with the gender equity premise, I think the first premise is seriously flawed, and is worth discussing before proceeding. I don’t see the difficulty reconciling Mormon “policies and practices” with the contrary premise: that a fetus has the same “ontological status” as a born child. “Children are an heritage of the Lord” says the scripture, but regardless of what I think about the status of the fetus, the idea that Church policy somehow indicates a lesser ontological status of the fetus is highly questionable.

    While abortion and homicide are treated differently in the Church from an administrative standpoint, this tells us very little about the status of the fetus or the seriousness of abortion as sin from a theological standpoint. The killing of born human beings is not generally condemned by the Church in situations of self defense, military combat, and law enforcement activity. But while it is certainly possible for cops and military combatants to commit the sin of murder in some of these situations, as a general rule they would be allowed to participate in the church and receive full fellowship.

    As a practical matter, it is easier for a church authority to make the judgment call to deny full fellowship to an individual convicted of murder in a court of law. But making such judgment calls in abortion cases is much more difficult, therefore, the general rule is that church leaders provide full fellowship to those who have had abortions and seek forgiveness.

    This highlights a very real disjunction between the Church’s administrative policies and divine judgment. Part of the uniqueness of the Mormon position on abortion is that the “official policy” does not attempt to draw a bright line forbidding abortion in all circumstances; however, God surely draws bright lines in specific circumstances since he is infinitely more capable of doing so. It is entirely possible that an abortion may be sinful EVEN in the case of rape (one of the standard “exception” categories). As I understand the Church’s teachings, God, not the Church, ultimately judges matters of sin and forgiveness.

    At best, the Church is silent on the ontological status of the fetus and the seriousness of abortion in individual cases. Such silence should not be taken as an affirmation of the position that the fetus has a lesser ontological status than the born human or that abortion falling outside the standard Church exception categories should not be criminalized.

  8. Jim F. on July 6, 2004 at 8:08 pm

    Pete: What is your evidence for the conclusion you draw here: “As a practical matter, it is easier for a church authority to make the judgment call to deny full fellowship to an individual convicted of murder in a court of law. But making such judgment calls in abortion cases is much more difficult, therefore, the general rule is that church leaders provide full fellowship to those who have had abortions and seek forgiveness”? You seem either to be offering a _possible_, but only possible, explanation for the church’s rule or saying something that is stronger than the evidence will allow. Do you have additional information that would strengthen this claim, or is it only a possible explanation of the church’s position?

  9. Matt Evans on July 6, 2004 at 8:31 pm

    Even if the unborn child has the ontological status and worth of a full human being, as I believe they do, it does not necessarily follow that abortion is murder. As Jarvis’s famous hypothetical with the violinist argued, a woman who unplugs a dependent violinst doesn’t affirmatively kill him — the violinist dies because his kidneys don’t work.

    In theory, an abortion doesn’t kill the baby, either; the baby dies because its lungs are incapable of sustaining him. (In practice the baby dies before his lungs are tested because he is dismembered and destroyed by the abortion — the justification for the dimemberment being that because the baby will die anyway, he may as well be dismembered because that is easier on the mother’s cervix).

    If abortion is thus viewed as a negative rather than affirmative act, abortion is more comparable to child abandonment resulting in death than it is to murder. Viewing abortion this way helps to understand the church’s exceptions for rape or serious risk to the mother’s health: in these dire circumstances we override the normal affirmative duties a mother has to care for her child, and tolerate those who decide they must to abandon their child, even though the child has full moral worth.

  10. Ivan Wolfe on July 7, 2004 at 3:22 am

    Well, adultery is still illegal in the military.

  11. pete on July 7, 2004 at 3:58 am

    Jim F.,
    Its an honor to have you respond to me. I probably don’t have the evidence you are asking about, and I am simply setting forth one possible explanation. But I think it shows that it is not so difficult to reconcile church policy and practice with full human status of the fetus AND abortion as murder as Fred suggested.

    Without improperly discounting the abilities of Church leaders to discern the worthiness of those over whom they have stewardship, I would simply suggest that such discernment is, at times, limited by inexperience, human failing, and plain old sin, thus creating a practical need for bright line tests to be used by church leadership (most of the worthiness questions we hear). I believe abortion is an area where, given 1) the number of circumstances where it might be acceptable, 2) the motivations and biological complications that might factor into the act (as with suicide), and perhaps 3) the male clergy’s inability to understand pregnancy and womanhood, Church leaders are simply directed not to ever treat abortion as “unpardonable murder.” In the end I think Church policies toward those who commit abortion are not necessarily indicative of God’s judgment of those persons’ acts. They may well be shedding innocent blood in contravention of scripture.

  12. pete on July 7, 2004 at 4:08 am

    Matt,
    Nice comment. Don’t get me started on the grand fallacy of false analogy that is “the famous violinist” . . . .

    I am interested though, in your concept of the negative act/affirmative act distinction. I think I understand your impulse about the duty of the mother to simply carry through the pregnancy, but is the negative act/affirmative act distinction the same as sin of omission vs. sin of commission? If so, that could be troubling since sins of omission are generally seen as lesser sins (with the notable exceptions of not attending church and paying tithing!).

  13. Matt Evans on July 7, 2004 at 10:12 am

    Hi Pete,

    As I’ve participated in and witnessed scores of debates on abortion, I’ve come to realize that an important yet unaddressed premise distinguishing the sides is whether abortion is an affirmative or negative act. Most pro-lifers believe that abortion kills the baby, whereas pro-choicers believe the baby dies because she is unable to live outside the womb of her mother, who is unwilling to carry her. These pro-choicers argue that no one is killing the baby, the woman just wants her body ‘unplugged’.

    The distinction between affirmative and negative acts is not absolute. I think it is true that people are less critical of those responsible for negative acts, though the negative act of ‘child abandonment resulting in death’ is still considered evil and to be evidence of severe moral turpitude. But it is also why people are more sympathetic to the woman who aborts her baby than they are to women who ‘affirmatively’ kill her baby. (I use scare quotes because it is not obvious that abortion is actually a negative rather than an affirmative act. In many cases, and perhaps in most cases, the purpose of the abortion is actually to kill the baby, and not merely ‘unplug’ the baby. In other words, if the abortionist were to tell the mother, ‘I ended your pregnancy, here’s your new baby girl!’ the mother would likely think the abortionist had not done his job.)

  14. Gary Cooper on July 7, 2004 at 10:38 am

    Pete,

    You make some excellent points.

    Ethesis,

    I completely disagree with you when you say, “I’m glad, however, to see someone else who recognizes the clear evidence that abortion has some sort of middle status. If it were the shedding of innocent blood, not only would it require exclusion from the Church, but the stench of the crime would rise up to Heaven and condemn us much like the child sacrifice and child sexual abuse of Canaan resulted in the Children of Israel being commanded to slay them.
    We are not yet that offensive to God.”

    I believe I am not alone among members of the church who would argue that abortion on demand is as much a national sin as slavery was, and that in the Lord’s eyes there is not much difference from our tearing a child to pieces in her mother’s womb in the second trimester, at a time when that child is already capable of feeling and recoiling from pin pricks (thus can feel some pain), or burning the child with prostaglandin in the third trimester, versus the Canaanites of old cutting their children to pieces to honor Baal or the Midianites burning infants alive on Molech’s altar.

    Perhaps it would be well to remind everyone hear that “the fetus” is a term with an increasingly loose meaning as the child develops in the womb. There would appear to be a difference, perhaps vast, between the fetus in the first two weeks after conception, versus a child in the third trimester (with fully beating heart, separate blood type, separate brain waves, capable of feeling pain and reacting to sound and movement, etc.) The spectacle of seeing premature babies survive at increasingly younger stages of prematurity, while those same babies can be legally aborted, speaks volumes.

    Maybe we can get away with saying that abortion isn’t homicide (the neutral legal term I prefer to use—there are instances of justifiable homicide) very early during gestation, but it’s hard for me to see how we can say abortion is not homicide when the child being killed could, if delivered prematurely, survive outside the womb. This is one of the horrors of Roe v. Wade, in that it stripped the states of their right to determine limitations on abortion based on the level of development in the womb. Later decisions gave some leeway, but the practical application of these decisions has resulted in there being no real restriction on a woman getting an abortion as late in the pregnancy as she desires.

    I can easily imagine a bishop counseling a young woman who has been raped to have a D&C abortion in the first trimester. It is hard for me to imagine that same bishop giving the same advice when the baby is only two months from delivery (unless that same delivery could result in the mother’s death). Again, as I said on an earlier post, the Lord is being merciful in allowing those of have engaged in abortions to repent and enter the Church, in the same way that He was merciful in allowing the murderous Lamanites to be baptized upon their repentence. But, with even some abortionists now, in the name of medical ethics, advocating that anesthesia be administered to the fetus prior to abortions in the third and even second trimester, this little game may come to an end at some point.

  15. danithew on July 7, 2004 at 12:45 pm

    Has anyone seen these recent pictures of the new kind of ultrasound scans that provide vivid moving pictures of the baby? Recently the news was showing a very detailed video of a baby that was “walking in the womb” at the age of 12 weeks of development. When one sees moving images like this it becomes more difficult to argue about the “fetus” not yet being a human being. It’s really quite remarkable to see this. Here’s an article quote about it:

    “IT may be just 12 weeks old, but a baby has been captured “walking” in the womb in a startling series of photographs.
    Another is seen with its eye open at only 18 weeks, while others are smiling, yawning and rubbing their eyes.
    The vivid pictures, which reveal that foetuses have a far more complex life than previously thought, have been produced as a result of a new type of ultrasound pioneered by Stuart Campbell, a Scots obstetrician and professor at a private London clinic.”

    And here’s a link to this particular article:

    http://www.theherald.co.uk/news/19026.html

  16. danithew on July 7, 2004 at 12:52 pm

    Someone already mentioned Molech, so I don’t think this could be too horrible a possibility to mention.

    If we can watch a baby yawn, smile and walk in the womb, at the tender stage of 12-18 weeks, then it might be possible to get moving images of how a baby grimaces during an abortion procedure that is performed at that early stage. It’s horrible to contemplate, but perhaps this sort of moving image would further damage the so-called pro-choice movement.

    I’m sure Michael Moore would find this possibility fascinating. I’ll try and get him on the phone right away …

  17. Matt Evans on July 7, 2004 at 2:03 pm

    Hi Gary,

    Thank you for your comments. I would hope, however, that no bishop ever counsels anyone to abort their baby, for any reason, including rape. Bishops should be extremely sensitive to members in difficult situations, and especially sensitive towards women who have been raped, but even in that circumstance they should never counsel the woman to abandon (or kill, depending on how you view abortion) her new baby.

    The church allows women who have been made mothers against their will to refuse the affirmative duties of parenthood, and to abandon the baby through abortion, but it never encourages someone to take that path. Adoption, as difficult as it may be, is always preferable to death.

  18. Kaimi on July 7, 2004 at 2:31 pm

    Matt,

    I don’t know if I agree with you. It’s true that a bishop shouldn’t pressure anyone to have an abortion who does not want one, whatever the circumstances. I don’t think that the first thing out of his mouth should be, “well, you were a rape victim, so let’s get you an abortion.”

    On the other hand, if a person sincerely seeks the bishops advice, they prayerfully discuss the issues, and it appears that abortion may be the best choice for that person, if she then asks the bishop for his advice, I would hope he would be willing to give it. Qualified advice, of course, recognizing its limitations. Something like “This is utlimately a personal decision, between you and the Lord, and the church has no position on abortion under these circumstances. You should do what you feel is best. You’ve asked for my opinion, and from what I know of your situation, I think that having an abortion would be a reasonable choice for you.”

    That’s some advice that I hope to never have to give, myself. But it’s one I would hope that our hypothetical Bishop would give.

  19. Matt Evans on July 7, 2004 at 3:06 pm

    Hi Kaimi,

    I don’t read the church’s position to be as neutral as you do. The handbook says:

    “Members must not submit to, pay for, or arrange for an abortion. The only possible exceptions are when:

    1. Pregnancy resulted from rape or incest.
    2. A competent physician determines that the life or health of the mother is in serious jeopardy.
    3. A competent physician determines that the fetus has severe defects that will not allow the baby to survive beyond birth.

    Even these exceptions do not justify abortion automatically. Abortion is a most serious matter and should be considered only after the persons responsible have consulted with their bishops and received divine confirmation through prayer. *** Church members who submit to, perform, encourage, pay for, or arrange for an abortion may be subject to church discipline.”

    I read this to say that the church isn’t neutral — all abortions are undesirable — even in the circumstances covered by the ‘possible’ exceptions. Abortion may sometimes be the lesser of two evils, like when the mother’s life is in jeopardy, and the only question is whether the baby dies alone or with her mother. The exceptions have carved out circumstances that are not subject to church discipline, but even that is not the same as saying the church is indifferent.

    I don’t think this means that a bishop should counsel a rape victim against abortion, but to mean he should never counsel someone to have an abortion. For that reason I would object to your hypothetical bishop offering his opinion in favor of abortion.

  20. pete on July 7, 2004 at 3:17 pm

    Kaimi,
    It was nice to meet you briefly in your office last week. (I was visiting from SLC and using your office mate’s computer briefly).

    It seems like the qualified advice you suggest the bishop give can’t be qualified enough if it gives encouragement to choose abortion. Once the Bishop says “this is utlimately a personal decision, between you and the Lord, and the church has no position on abortion under these circumstances. You should do what you feel is best” it seems contradictory for the Bishop to then go on with a “but if I were you . . .” statement. At the very least, the bishop should err on the side of advising the preservation of life because to do otherwise would be to risk encouraging commission of a grevious sin–which should not be countenanced even if one assumes the bishop can appropriately remove his clergyman’s hat and give extra-spiritual personal advice.

  21. Kristine on July 7, 2004 at 3:22 pm

    ” For that reason I would object to your hypothetical bishop offering his opinion in favor of abortion.”

    But Matt, doesn’t that mean the bishop is constrained in his compassion for the rape victim? If his primary loyalty has to be to the child, if he can’t say to a suffering woman, “it is right for your suffering not to be prolonged,” how can he be her pastor?

  22. pete on July 7, 2004 at 3:23 pm

    Matt:

    Thanks for your comments on the affirmative act/negative act distinction. I think you are right that the distinction is not absolute. The only truly negative act abortion (no affirmative acts) I can think of would be for a woman to live her life as if she had no baby in the womb and then just let it birth spontaneously when the time comes (the twelve year old in the junior high toilet), but then would we even call that abortion?

  23. Kaimi on July 7, 2004 at 3:32 pm

    Pete,

    Yes, it was nice meeting you (and what an odd way to meet!). I’m a little puzzled by your argument. You write:

    [after saying] “You should do what you feel is best” it seems contradictory for the Bishop to then go on with a “but if I were you . . .” statement. At the very least, the bishop should err on the side of advising the preservation of life.

    You seem to be taking two incompatible positions. They are (1) it is inappropriate to offer any advice, since it’s between the woman and the Lord; (2) the Bishop should counsel non-abortion, rather than abortion.

    I understand the “offer no advice” position. I don’t particularly like it, because I think that church members may want more than studied neutrality from their spiritual leader. You don’t want the member chasing the bishop around saying “but what should I do?” and the bishop runs the other direction, saying “it’s between you and the Lord, and I can’t say anything else!”

    So we’re left with actually giving an opinion. And if we’re at that stage, why is it fine to give one opinion (don’t have an abortion) if it’s not okay to give another opinion (have an abortion)? If the church really has no position, then wouldn’t it be equally problamtic (or unproblematic) to give advice not to abort, as to give advice to abort?

  24. Kingsley on July 7, 2004 at 3:33 pm

    “If his primary loyalty has to be to the child, if he can’t say to a suffering woman, ‘it is right for your suffering not to be prolonged,’ how can he be her pastor?”

    Yes, especially when the Church has listed x, y, and z as acceptable grounds for abortion. The (e.g.) rape victim might need to actually hear the Church say it as opposed to just reading it in a manual. Is it not one of the bishop’s most important (and difficult) responsibilities to extend “the balm in Gilead” that way?

  25. danithew on July 7, 2004 at 3:46 pm

    The logic on abortion can be pretty complicated, since it involves consideration of the woman as well as the fetus/baby. When a bishop counsels a pregnant woman on this matter, assuming her situation matches the criteria in which the Church says that an abortion would be justified (incest, rape, etc.), we have to hope that the Spirit will guide the bishop in what he says. In such situations, we might be surprised what the Spirit inspires the bishop to offer as counsel.

    I could imagine that there would be a situation where the Spirit might counsel a bishop to gently suggest that an abortion is the right course of action. This suggestion could even be necessary in a situation where a devout LDS girl/woman is confronted with this difficult choice and wouldn’t normally allow herself to make that kind of difficult decision.

    I’d have to make up a situation where I would think this situation might be feasible… but here’s one possibility. Imagine a 14-year old girl is pregnant by incest — by her father. I suppose the child could be born and then adopted by another family. But I could imagine the Spirit going either way with inspiration on this matter. I could imagine the Spirit counseling that the girl have an abortion in that case.

    What if the girl has heard all her life that abortion is wrong and the Bishop senses that she needs a nudge to allow herself the real possibility of choosing an abortion in that situation?

  26. pete on July 7, 2004 at 4:35 pm

    Kaimi,
    I probably agree with the “no advice” position given your bishop’s eloquent words. The “discourage abortion” is my fall-back position (I don’t pretend it is “compatible” with the first position). So, the general rule would be something like this: the bishop, after eloquently giving the church’s position on abortion (as you apparently have done), should not give advice regarding the abortion decision itself, but if the bishop chooses to enter that realm of giving advice on the decision, that advice should never encourage abortion.

  27. Jack on July 7, 2004 at 6:00 pm

    My father in-law, who is an ex-bishop, once told me that he never judges a bishop. (when acting as bishop) He’s been through the wringer and has learned something of the burden of counciling people through tough situations. I would hope that we would settle ourselves on the general guide lines of the church and let the bishop – with his gifts that are peculiar to that office -help the one in need decide when an exception is an exception.

    Kristine: If there’s a possibilty that the bishop, as moved upon by the spirit, may counsil a rape victim against abortion, should we presume that such council is an act of disloyalty? At some point the victim will surely suffer through learning how to forgive the rapist. Should we assume that the bishop is being compassionate toward the rapist by encouraging a spirit of forgiveness on the part of the victim? (at the proper time of course)

  28. john fowles on July 7, 2004 at 8:23 pm

    I agree with Kaimi that any such bishop find himself in an unenviable position. But Kaimi, I think that perhaps you take an unnecessary step that brings you too far by saying that after the bishop propounds in detail the churches opinion (and I would add the practical pros and cons of abortion as well) that the bishop then follows up by adding his opinion in favor of an abortion.

    First of all, one of the reasons that you assert that it should be okay for a bishop to advise an abortion is that the Church ostensibly takes no position on abortion in the given situation. But I think that Matt’s view is more accurate in saying that the Church’s position on abortion is very specific, as shown in the quoted passage, the language of which gives rise to a rather clear presumption in favor of life in close calls. In other words, adoption as always being preferrable to abortion for the sake of “bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” by providing bodies for spirit children, etc.

    This leads into my second point: since the Church’s position as quoted is quite specific, it obviates the need for the bishop to go outside of it and say what the bishop personally thinks she should or should not do. That would most certainly exert undue influence on the individual seeking the advice. Rather, the bishop, I would think, should counsel the woman as to the Church’s policy and then tell her that the decision really is between her and the Lord. The bishop could reasonably add that the woman should feel safe with her standing if her case falls within one of the Church’s enumerated exceptions to the no-abortion policy and she feels prompted to go ahead with the abortion. But that is not necessarily tantamount to telling her that in his personal opinion, in this case, abortion would be the correct choice.

    Finally, I am tempted by Pete’s position that if the bishop gives personal advice at all, which I argue above that he probably shouldn’t to avoid undue influence in such a sensitive situation, that advice should come in the context of a discussion of the broader purpose of the Plan of Salvation and what the Lord’s mission really is in sending bodies down to earth. Such a discussion would lead directly to a presumption in favor of birth and giving the baby up for adoption in the greater interest of the Lord’s plan, even though it is physically and emotionally more painful for the woman.

    In spite of this, the bishop should not obscure the Church’s position that if the woman so chooses, she may justifiably choose the abortion in the enumerated circumstance. I am just writing in favor of life, the Plan of Salvation , and the greater good.

  29. john fowles on July 7, 2004 at 8:38 pm

    Jack: I was intrigued by your post. First of all, I agree that we should withhold our (unrighteous) judgment of bishops, as theirs is a tiring and difficult job.

    But I also appreciated how you brought the concept of forgiveness into the picture. I would actually enjoy some more detail about what you meant with your statement to Kristine that “At some point the victim will surely suffer through learning how to forgive the rapist. Should we assume that the bishop is being compassionate toward the rapist by encouraging a spirit of forgiveness on the part of the victim? (at the proper time of course).”

    This opens the door to something that I know is true but that I have always considered a harsh doctrine and one that is actually counter-intuitive–that the greater sin accrues to one who does not forgive another of such a trespass against them. Your comment started me thinking about what exactly is the effect of abortion or deciding against abortion in this forgiveness process. Wouldn’t refusing to abort be more in line with the required forgiveness? At least it forgives to the extent of not shifting the externalities of the violation onto an innocent third party, even though that party wouldn’t exist but for the rape. I agree that it entails almost the ultimate sacrifice for a rape victim to decide to carry the baby, deliver it, and either keep it, or give it up for adoption. But in a sort of Kantian sense, this extra dose of suffering somehow makes the forgiveness more pure and unattached to any personal gain (which would lessen the pure morality of the action).

    This should not be taken to mean that I am taking the prescriptive position that rape victims forgoe abortions. I am actually very sympathetic to the claims of rape victims to a justifiable abortion in the Gospel sense, perhaps even to the extent of being inconsistent with my otherwise very pro-life position that is based on the belief that abortion kills an innocent life.

  30. john fowles on July 7, 2004 at 11:14 pm

    conversely, perhaps there is a greater reward in heaven for the woman who chooses to sacrifice and bear the child and give it up for adoption–but that would ruin the Kantian angle.

  31. Eric James Stone on July 8, 2004 at 1:06 am

    I generally consider myself pro-life. I’ve even attended the March for Life in Washington, DC.

    But I believe that when a bishop is counseling someone, he is free to give inspired counsel consistent with Church doctrine and policy.

    In a case which fits one of the exceptions regarding abortion, if the pregnant woman is seeking advice from her bishop, I do not see that church doctrine or policy prevents him from advising her in favor of an abortion, if he feels so inspired.

    After all, the Church position clearly leaves open the possibility that, in particular circumstances, an abortion can be a divinely confirmed choice. Therefore, is it not possible for a bishop to help someone in arriving at that decision?

  32. Matt Evans on July 9, 2004 at 8:19 am

    The church’s position is that abortion is generally a grave sin, but may be morally acceptable in cases of rape. I see no basis for the assumption that abortion may be morally superior to life; there are no circumstances where it is wrong for a rape victim to let the baby live.

    If choosing life is morally superior to choosing abortion, as I read the policy to say, then a bishop should never counsel someone to have an abortion. A bishop’s counsel should always reflect and track a situation’s moral implications.

    I agree that bishops are entitled to inspiration confirming God’s acceptance of a rape victim’s decision to abort the baby.

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