Great posts (and thanks to Brayden for a genuine LOL comment). Some responses.
1. Danithew is right that 90 days/$5,000 does not begin to approximate the costs of adultery. . .
I think the adultery hypo is a good in the abortion context because one can plausibly argue that the costs of adultery, in terms of harm to others, may well be more than the costs of an abortion, (at least given my premise that an unborn child has a diminished, albeit still weighty, ontological status). The social cost of punishing adultery at a level that approximates the harm it causes would be very high–would it serve the children and the wronged spouse better to be hiring private investigators to collect photographs and videos that will be introduced into the public record to prove adulterous behavior? Should we reinstitute fault-divorce, complete with divorce court? If the better parent is the adulterous spouse, should we leave him or her financially destitute? Deny him or her custody of the children? No-fault divorce has had its own unintended consequences, but I’m not sure the old system was better. But whatever the outcome of that calculus, it seems extremely unlikely to me that church teachings and policies *require* a conscientious Mormon to support serious criminal punishment of adultery–hence the question about abortion.
2. I’m not an ethicist, but my limited knowledge of ethics suggests that if one starts from the premise that a fetus (incidentally I try to alternate between “fetus” and “unborn child,” because there’s really no good word that suggests neutrality/balance on this issue) has the same ontological status as an already born person, it is extremely difficult to defend the Church’s policy on utilitarian grounds, and impossible to defend it on Kantian grounds (violating the categorical imperative (life) to preserve a noncategorical imperative (health, however serious the threat) seems the ultimate in anti-Kantian ethics). I will look forward to reading Nate’s paper after I finish my deck.
3. Yes, killing is justified in some circumstances, but these are usually cases in which the victim bears some degree of culpability (self-defense, law enforcement), or the killing is excused because of background assumptions about the relationship between individuals and the state (war, cf. AF 11). Unborn children are quintessentially innocent, and the background assumption approach actually leads in a fairly direct line to the right to privacy the currently undergirds the pro-choice position. I agree with Pete that it’s a perilous enterprise to draw too strong a conclusion from silence in any context, and there remains the risk that at the judgment bar those who are liberal on access to abortion may find that they miscalculated the moral seriousness of their positions. Still, it is difficult for me to believe that, if unborn children have the same ontological status as already born persons, thus making abortion murder, God would have remained silent on so important a matter, while allowing the Church to maintain practices and policies in considerable tension with that view.
4. As to Matt Evans’s nonfeasance/malfeasance distinction, it seems unhelpful to me. The law generally holds that people have no duty to help a person in distress when they bear no responsibility for the distress. Thus, for Mormons who take the the Church’s teachings on sexuality seriously, the violin hypo fails on its premises (though it is persuasive to those who believe that sexual activity, marriage, and children are either unrelated or less closely related than Mormons believe them to be).
5. I find extraordinary the suggestion that the Church’s policy requires bishops to counsel members against abortion even when their situation falls within an exception. To me this is a misunderstanding of the role of the bishop, which is to be a judge in Israel, guided by the Spirit. There is no “common law of abortion counseling,” and, indeed, in this as in other areas the brethren affirmatively discourage the development of rules or guidelines beyond those set forth in the Church Handbook. The abortion policy requires that a person contemplating (assisting in) abortion counsel with (his) her bishop because this is a morally serious action, for all the reasons we have been discussing. The bishop’s role would seem to be (1) to make a judgment that the member’s situation does indeed fall within the situations in which the policy permits abortion to be considered (because if it isn’t, the member is subject to discipline), and (2) help the member make the “right” decision. As we all know, the “right” decision carries heavy doses of situational context; once (1) is established, (2) may vary considerably from member to member, depending on the circumstances. (And, if we’re going to be over-reading the policy, note that the bishop does not exercise veto power; the member is only required to counsel with the bishop, but the decision is ultimately (his) hers, so long as the bishop agrees that it falls within the exceptions.)
6. I heartily agree with Ethesis that a middle ground is badly needed in abortion discussions. I confess that my working assumption is that prolifers do not link their position with social legislation that ameliorates the disproportionate burdens on women that such a position entails (can anyone think of a national politician–governor, senator, member of Congress–who takes this position?), and was glad to hear of him and others like Russell who do make that link.