Is it Right to Abort Unborn Disabled Babies?

July 31, 2007 | 87 comments

Is it right to abort unborn disabled babies?

I believe not. As I’ve said before, I believe the practice is wicked, the modern equivalent of exposing imperfect infants on a hillside or dungheap to die (ancient Christians made a practice, Rodney Stark says, of rescuing abandoned babies, which is one reason they prospered while the pagans did not).

Briefly, here are my reasons:

(1) According to the prophets, abortion is generally like unto murder.

(2) There are narrow circumstances where the church will not impose ecclesiastical sanctions on couples who decide to abort their children. The church does not actually say that abortion is justified in these circumstances.

(3) These circumstances include serious health threats to the mother and threats to her life. They also include circumstances where the child is so disabled that it will die at or before childbirth.

(4) Disability per se isn’t one of those circumstances.

On this last point, some will argue that having a disabled child is a serious mental health threat because caring for a disabled child is emotionally roiling. I disagree, for the following reasons:

(a) First, people who do have disabled children do not generally go mad; in fact, aborting a child seems to pose more risks to mental health than carrying the child full term does. This is true even of people who are categorically opposed to abortion so we can’t say that its just because God only told the people who were able to care for the child to not abort it.

(b) Second, aborting a child because of the burden it will pose after birth isn’t really what the mother’s serious health threat/life threat exception has in mind. If we’re talking about threats that occur after birth, infanticide would also be justified, but in fact we view infanticide always and everywhere as a sin.

(c) Third, aborting a child because of the burden it will pose after birth would allow for aborting it on the basis of serious threats to the health of the father (i.e., if the father would go mad or become gravely depressed), but the church does not make an any exception for the serious threats to the health of the father. Together reasons (b) and (c) mean that the serious health threat/life threat exception is just about pregnancy and childbirth risks.

(d) Fourth, since many are willing to adopt disabled children, and since most states have ‘foundling laws’ that allow parents to abandon their child at birth, the harm of caring for a child after it is born are not sufficient justifications for ending its life.

87 Responses to Is it Right to Abort Unborn Disabled Babies?

  1. Adam Greenwood on August 1, 2007 at 12:00 pm

    I apologize for the delay in getting this up. Work intervened.

  2. Adam Greenwood on August 1, 2007 at 12:07 pm

    In the threadjack part of KLS’ prior post that inspired this discussion, Sam B. said that (1) members can receive individual revelation that contradicts church revelation and (2) they can also licitly make their individual revelation public (Nephi killing Laban being the example).

    I’m skeptical of #1 but not willing to rule it out entirely. I don’t agree with #2 and I think Nephi killing Laban doesn’t suggest otherwise. Nephi wasn’t really subject to any ecclesiastical authorities at the time he wrote his account. He was the authority, so he wasn’t contradicting them by discussing his individual revelation.

  3. Adam Greenwood on August 1, 2007 at 12:11 pm

    One of the narrow exceptions when the Church is not willing to state that abortion is categorically wrong is when

    • A competent physician determines that the life or health of the mother is in serious jeopardy

    The italics are my own, but the Church’s use of “is” instead of “will be” shows that the focus is on the health risks of pregnancy and childbirth, not on the chance that after birth the baby will make the mother or father depressed to the point that the depression is medically serious.

  4. john f. on August 1, 2007 at 12:11 pm

    ancient Christians made a practice, Rodney Stark says, of rescuing abandoned babies

    Wow — a truly noble heritage. I am humbled. Thank you for bringing this historical item to my attention.

  5. bbell on August 1, 2007 at 12:25 pm

    I would agree that the abortion of a disabled fetus is sinful. I would not read the official LDS policy on abortion in such a way to sanction aborting a child with, say, Downs.

  6. bbell on August 1, 2007 at 12:26 pm


    I also think you switched mother in your post accidentally with father in a couple of places.

  7. MikeInWeHo on August 1, 2007 at 12:27 pm

    Does anybody know if the Church has ever imposed ecclesiatical discipline on a member who terminated a DS pregnancy?

  8. MikeInWeHo on August 1, 2007 at 12:30 pm

    Oops, make that ecclesiastical. No auto spell check here at work!

  9. Kathryn Lynard Soper on August 1, 2007 at 12:32 pm

    Adam, I agree that, generally speaking, “life and health” means what you say it means. But I think that there’s some grey area in regards to “life and health”. Yes, it’s a slippery slope, one I am glad not to find myself on. As I stated in the other thread, it’s territory that can only be navigated by the parents, in conjunction with their ecclesiastical leaders and, of course, God.

    Likewise, I agree with your four points above. But I believe there are exceptions to every rule. Thank goodness it’s not up to me to decide what those exceptions are. I leave that up to those who will be accountable for the decisions.

    I like what Wacky Hermit said in that long-ago thread: All other things being equal, it is wicked to abort a child for no other reason than that he or she has Downs Syndrome. Unfortunately, all other things are never equal, and there is seldom only one reason for anything.

    That being said, I am appalled at the widespread termination of DS pregnancies. I’d rather focus on what’s wrong with this situation rather than debate over whether there are rare exceptions to the wrongness.

  10. Sam B on August 1, 2007 at 12:36 pm

    I don’t want to fight this through too hard, because, at the end of the day, I pretty much agree with you. You’re skeptical of #1; so am I. Nonetheless, I find, based on scriptural precedent, that it is at least possible, and I’m forced to accept the possibility, that you or I could receive revelation that contradicts church revelation. (And I don’t want to push this too far: in spite of Nephi’s and Abraham’s situations, I’m dubious that such revelatory contradictions will happen, and I’m sure they won’t happen to me. To wit: I will never be commanded to kill, practice polygamy, participate in the decision to cause an abortion to happen, barring life-threatening injury to my wife or rape, and only then with huge discussions with the Lord, etc.)

    On #2, however, I stand by my statement. Although I don’t know that status of ecclesiastical leadership in Jerusalem at the time, he was clearly bound by the law of Moses, including the injunction not to kill. I find that commandment clear enough—as did he, as he wrestled with the Spirit, as it were—and his actions, which he duly reported, were clearly contradictory to the law he was under.

    At the end of the day, however, it’s probably moot, because I consider it doubtful, at very best, that God would give such an individual revelation. If, however, He did, neither you nor I would have any right to judge a person less for obeying that commandment.

  11. Adam Greenwood on August 1, 2007 at 12:36 pm

    Thanks, BBell. I’ll make corrections. I tend to make errors when I try to write calmly and reasonably while being hopping mad.

    Looking it over, I was talking about the father but I left out a key ‘not.’

  12. Matt Evans on August 1, 2007 at 12:44 pm

    Wacky Hermit was wrong. It is evil to let a person’s Down syndrome, their race, or their gender play any role in our decision of how to treat them on matters of life and death. Christ has called us to overcome our biases, ugly remnants of the natural man, and treat everyone as a fellow child of God.

  13. Adam Greenwood on August 1, 2007 at 12:46 pm

    I’ll just make clear my Nephi point, Sam B., though I do think we’re mostly on the same page. My #2 is really concerned with contradicting the duly constituted authorites. Because of the principle of continuing revelation, at the time Nephi wrote the Book of Nephi Moses was not his duly constituted authority. Nephi himself was the leader of the church at the time, so to speak, so he wasn’t contradicting his authorities by publishing his account.

    I’ll also note that the idea that the idea that in principle someone could receive a private revelation contradicting God’s revelations to the Church does not necessarily indicate that we have to believe that people claiming private, contradictory revelation have a reasonable chance of being right.

  14. se7en on August 1, 2007 at 12:48 pm

    Do it later.

  15. john f. on August 1, 2007 at 12:50 pm

    re # 12, It is evil to let a person’s Down syndrome, their race, or their gender play any role in our decision of how to treat them on matters of life and death.

    This is a very important point and powerful statement. It is baffling to think that it could be controversial to anyone, even the most devoted atheist. But, alas, we know that people are making arguments in favor of using these and other (i.e. economic) criteria to determine matters of life and death.

  16. Sam B on August 1, 2007 at 12:51 pm

    Thanks Adam. I don’t know if I’m completely behind your objection to #2, but I understand it now, and it’s interesting.

    And for myself, by means of clarification, I was positing a hypothetical world where the person actually received a real and true revelation from God. I totally agree that, just because somebody claims to have received revelation doesn’t mean he or she did.

  17. Adam Greenwood on August 1, 2007 at 12:53 pm

    Point taken, Sam B.

  18. Kathryn Lynard Soper on August 1, 2007 at 12:54 pm

    Matt (12)–I think what she meant is that it’s possible to have no bias against people with Down syndrome (for their mental retardation, etc) but still take burden of care into account when making decisions. I can accept someone as a person but still feel incapable of caring for them. But I hasten to add that, generally speaking, parents in this situation should choose adoption over abortion.

  19. Kathryn Lynard Soper on August 1, 2007 at 12:58 pm

    Sam and Adam, I also agree that just because someone claims revelation doesn’t mean they received it. But if the alleged revelation concerns a purely personal matter, why would I feel the need to doubt them? If they were publishing their experience with the intent of watering down Church authority, that would be one thing, but if they’re simply sharing their experience, I don’t see a problem with that.

  20. danithew on August 1, 2007 at 12:59 pm

    There all kinds of circumstances that can arise during a pregnancy and a birth and no doubt there are exceptional circumstances that arise that have not even occurred to me. In some or perhaps even many of these exceptional circumstances – it may not be immoral to have an abortion.

    However, in general, having established that I believe there are exceptions – I agree with what Adam is saying – that it is immoral (or wicked, if you prefer to choose that word) to abort a disabled baby.

  21. madera verde on August 1, 2007 at 1:01 pm

    Re #9.
    Kathryn you are appalled by the numbers of termination to to be DS kids (90%). At what point would you cease to be appalled? I am not asking for a guide to determing on a case for case basis merely an assesment of what you think would be a reflective amount if people were to abort only after the personal struggle etc. You can give me a range if you’d like.

  22. jennifergg on August 1, 2007 at 1:01 pm

    I find the “burden of care” argument is a slippery slope; because, again, people with disabilities have differing needs of care. In my experience, my son with Down syndrome has required less medical care than my other two children. I know this is not the same for every family; but it is the case in mine.

    I would argue that any child presents a “burden of care” issue, and that it goes back to the original desire to even have children. If a woman/man has a strong feeling that they need a certain type of child, then why not pursue adoption of that child?

  23. Peter LLC on August 1, 2007 at 1:03 pm

    “the modern equivalent of exposing imperfect infants on a hillside or dungheap to die”

    That sounds not unlike the contemporary practice of some adherents to certain major religion on the Indian subcontinent of shunning their widows. Abominable no matter the age, if you ask me, though I’m sure practitioners have perfectly good reasons for it.

  24. Adam Greenwood on August 1, 2007 at 1:05 pm

    But if the alleged revelation concerns a purely personal matter, why would I feel the need to doubt them?

    Abortion isn’t a purely personal matter. Nor, by definition, is anything our leaders have counseled us about.

    If they were publishing their experience with the intent of watering down Church authority, that would be one thing, but if they’re simply sharing their experience, I don’t see a problem with that

    I think publishing the experience–assuming such experiences existed–would almost always have the effect of watering down Church authority, whatever the intent. This is especially true when the reason for publishing is to let people know that the bright lines the Church has established shouldn’t really be thought of as bright lines.

  25. Sam B on August 1, 2007 at 1:10 pm

    I’d say that, ultimately, it doesn’t matter if I doubt them or not (unless, as you mention, they’re trying to water down Church authority).

    It does matter, however, in a purely theoretical matter: the part of the question I’m interested in is whether it is ever acceptable, in an LDS doctrinal worldview, to have an abortion because the fetus has Downs Syndrome. To me, the morality of the decision turns on whether the hypothetical person received revelatory instruction or not. I believe that such revelatory direction would be rare, if it were to come at all, and that, absent such direction, the abortion would be an immoral choice to make. So the morality of the decision, for the hypothetical person, turns on whether the revelation occurred or not.

    As an outsider in that situation (as long, I suppose, as I’m not in some sort of position where I’m supposed to determine whether there will be ecclesiastical sanction for that person), it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference if I doubt them. I probably would, in the same way I doubt people’s revelation instructing them to take a second wife of kill Ned Flanders, or anything else that is in contravention of the established Church (and Adam, the more I think about it, the more I think you’re probably right that, in general, where we receive personal revelation in contravention of Church authority, we should, for the most part, keep it to ourselves, although again, I don’t think I’ll ever be in that position), but that doesn’t bear on the morality of the hypothetical person’s decision. And I try to be horribly polite and non-judgmental, and I’m capable (sometimes) of reading social cues, so I could probably figure out, if someone were to confide in me their experience, how I should react.

  26. Adam Greenwood on August 1, 2007 at 1:10 pm

    I’ve never heard of such a thing, LLC Pete. Is it a development of suttee?

    If so, I’m reminded of how Napier handled suttee.

    “You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: when men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours.”

    Napier was one of the new breed of Evangelicals, like Wilberforce. Up to that point, the British authorities had grudgingly tolerated the practice.

  27. Kaimi Wenger on August 1, 2007 at 1:15 pm

    Matt writes,

    “It is evil to let a person’s Down syndrome, their race, or their gender play any role in our decision of how to treat them on matters of life and death. ”

    Interesting and very strong statement, Matt. Of course, it raises questions of its own. When (if ever) can we let such factors play a role in our decisions of how to treat people (not just on matters of life or death)? Should such factors play a role in whether people may marry, for instance, or receive the Priesthood?

    If so, why is it “evil to let a person’s Down syndrome, their race, or their gender play any role in our decision of how to treat them on matters of life and death,” but apparently not evil to let such factors play a role in other matters (which may be important in quality of life, for instance)?

  28. Matt Evans on August 1, 2007 at 1:15 pm

    Kathy #18, I was pointing out that race could pose a severe burden for some mothers, as Down syndrome does for others. I don’t think “the baby’s race poses severe problems for me” justifies aborting a baby because of its race, just as don’t think “the baby’s disability poses severe problems for me” justifies abortion for disability. In cases like these adoption is the only morally acceptable option.

  29. Kaimi Wenger on August 1, 2007 at 1:18 pm

    Adam notes that, “many are willing to adopt disabled children.”

    I don’t doubt this. However, the question is not whether many are willing to adopt. It is whether _enough_ are willing to adopt.

    A neighbor — a wonderful, truly Christian woman — was in the process of adopting a mentally disabled crack baby. According to her, the supply/demand ratio of disabled crack babies is heavily skewed. No one wants to adopt these babies, speaking generally, and so many (most?) of them languish as wards of the state.

  30. Kathryn Lynard Soper on August 1, 2007 at 1:19 pm

    jennifergg (22): I agree. I just wanted to point out that people who choose to terminate DS pregnancies aren’t necessarily discriminating against Down syndrome per se (like we talk about sex or race discrimination). And you’re right, making life-or-death decisions based on an alleged worst-case scenario is dangerous indeed.

    Adam (24)–One couple’s decision to terminate pregnancy based on what they consider to be revelation is personal ground I would not presume to intrude upon. And I maintain that there are innocent ways to share unusual experiences.

    Madera (21)–That’s a great question. I don’t have an answer. My level of concern about the overall concept of terminating DS pregnancies is exacerbated right now because the numbers suggest to me that clinical climate is playing a significant, and somewhat preventable, role.

    While I’ve made some effort in these threads to point out the possibility of their being exceptions to rules, grey areas, etc, my fundamental position is the same as Adam’s: It’s wrong to abort disabled fetuses.

    My point in my post was not to argue this point, but rather a different one: It’s wrong for doctors to influence patients to abort disabled fetuses.

  31. Matt Evans on August 1, 2007 at 1:24 pm

    Kaimi, I qualified my statement with “life and death” because there are circumstances when I think we can, or even should, treat people differently based on disability (and sometimes gender). I can’t imagine any scenario where it would be moral for me to treat someone differently because of their race, but there may be some.

  32. Kathryn Lynard Soper on August 1, 2007 at 1:35 pm

    Sam (25): My point was more specific, and I should have stated it as such. What I meant to say was, what good does it do to pin Xena to the wall? She may have been justified in her (unexecuted) plan, she may not have been. I’m certainly not willing to demand to know whether she had revelation or not, and I sympathize with her situation in any case. However, I do agree with the argument you outlined.

    Matt (28): The problems possibly posed by race are much more subjective than some of those that can be posed by disability. I do believe that many people foresee (and focus on) problems related to Down syndrome that are just as flimsy as those we can dream up about race (such as social discrimination). But there are other considerations in the case of disability, such as severe health problems, lifelong dependency, etc. Generally speaking I think it’s wrong to terminate a pregnancy based on supposed burden of care, but I maintain that you can’t compare race and disability when talking about abortion.

    Kaimi, you make an interesting point. I believe a vital part of any attempt at abortion law reform is making provision for the children. But the argument some present, “abort them because nobody will care for them” doesn’t do it for me.

  33. Adam Greenwood on August 1, 2007 at 1:36 pm

    One couple’s decision to terminate pregnancy based on what they consider to be revelation is personal ground I would not presume to intrude upon.

    I don’t think it is personal ground if (a) it involves a silent third party, (b) it contradicts public revelation and (c) you are posting public comments to a public blog contradicting public revelation. I think we’ll have to agree to disagree.

    And I maintain that there are innocent ways to share unusual experiences.

    I maintain that there are very few innocent ways to share an experience where you believe God told you something different than the prophets. We’ll probably have to agree to disagree on this one also.

  34. Sam B on August 1, 2007 at 1:40 pm

    In that case, I totally agree with you. I have no interest in attacking Xena, or anyone else, and don’t see any positive results from doing so. I was solely interested in the question on a theoretical level.

  35. Kathryn Lynard Soper on August 1, 2007 at 1:40 pm

    Adam: Okay. I’m getting a better idea of where you’re coming from, and I see your points, although I think it’s wise to tread lightly when someone shares something so painful and personal.

  36. Adam Greenwood on August 1, 2007 at 2:07 pm

    As part of the threadjack in the other thread, someone observed that

    Those who are critical of [the decisions of some parents to abort disabled children] do so from the perspective of well-intended idealism but also from lack of actual real-life experience in these matters.

    I know for a fact that many of those who are critical currently have or have had disabled children.

  37. Chris Laurence on August 1, 2007 at 2:11 pm

    Regarding the specific issue of the “chance that afterwards the mother will go mad or become depressed to the point that its medically serious”, the chance seems to be highly likely.

    I found this 13 minute video regarding autism to be worth viewing:

    I know that many of the issues these families in the autism video deal with are confronted by parents and families of Downs Syndrome children.

  38. Matt Evans on August 1, 2007 at 2:15 pm

    Kathy #32, I view the burdens of disability as stemming solely from social pressure. Because parents can place their disabled children for adoption, the fact that many disabled kids require a lot of care or lifetime assistance is irrelevant to the decision to abort. The parents don’t have to care for the child whether or not they abort her. Parents who say they had to abort because they couldn’t care for him are lying liars. They choose abortion because the embarrassment of abortion is less than the embarrassment of adoption; we should strive to make abortion infinitely more humiliating than adoption. Exposing the lying liars is one way to help.

  39. Ray on August 1, 2007 at 3:50 pm

    This has taken forever to write, because I’m trying very hard to be precise in what I say. Just to reiterate my central point from the other thread:

    I am anti-abortion. Hard core. I really am. I agree, in principle, with almost everything that has been said in this thread. There are VERY few cases where my wife and I would consider abortion – even in clearly “acceptable” situations. However, I also understand three things:

    1) The Church allows for exceptions.

    2) The Church places the burden of the decision on the parent(s). They (or she) must make the final decision. It urges counseling, sincere contemplation, prayer and deep soul-searching in ALL cases, even those that seem to be squarely within the scope of the exceptions. This means that the Church does not encourage abortion EVEN when the pregnancy is the result of rape or the mother’s health is in danger. It NEVER encourages it, but it also does not label it as murder – and it places the final responsibility for the decision squarely on the persons who make the final decision, with the explicit understanding that it can be “acceptable” in some situations.

    3) Unless I am called and set apart as a Judge in Israel, I have NO right whatsoever to pass judgment on someone, especially in a situation where counseling, sincere contemplation, prayer and deep soul-searching have occurred. I can express an opinion regarding the general principle, but I have NO right to challenge an individual’s decision within that individual’s situation – especially when all I know about the situation is the limited information that person has shared in a forum like this. I can’t judge whether the person’s health and life actually would have been in jeopardy; all I can do is make the allowance for an individual to receive revelation / inspiration for his or her own life. If I don’t do so, I believe I am denying the heart of the concept of personal revelation – and should be praying daily that I never feel inspired to do something outside the bounds of general command.

    I know that the example I am going to provide next seems trivial in comparison to abortion, but it carries the same general issue of individual exception. If it is not right for someone to receive individual revelation contradicting general counsel / command, and if it is not right to make an exception public, how do you view a high profile athlete’s decision to not go on a mission – especially since the very decision is a public one? What about a mother with young children who chooses to work due to financial necessity when you don’t think it really is financially necessary? I’m not going to charge him or her with selfishly ignoring the counsel that applies to the rest of us when there are exceptions written into the very counsel, although each decision certainly could be interpreted that way. I’m going to focus on the general principle, take responsibility for how I govern myself and honor someone’s else heartfelt, tortuous, terrible decision – even if I still don’t accept it for myself.

    In summary, when it comes to personal revelation and general counsel or command, what is the point of deep soul-searching and anguish and pain if the result MUST be conformity to a general command? Why encourage contemplation in the first place, especially in a way that implies the possibility of actually reaching your own conclusions, if the result can only be one thing? Why not just publish a Pharisaic list of do and don’t? Does the Church encourage this type of anguish simply so that each and every person will feel the weight of the decision and opt for the exact same conclusion? Is there really no hope of receiving an individual answer to disregard the general counsel? That, I believe, would be sadistic and wrong (and borderline Satanic – “I’ll let you suffer terribly, but I won’t let you reach a conclusion any different than anyone else’s – so you might as well not bother.”).

  40. Adam Greenwood on August 1, 2007 at 3:58 pm


    I understand the point you’re trying to make, but phrased in the strong way that you have done I think its a self-contradictory point. If its wrong for me to say ‘aborting a down syndrome child is wicked’ in response to someone who says they thought God wanted them to do it, surely it is wrong for you to say that the position I’ve taken is pharisiacal and borderline Satanic in response to my taking it?

    Now, as it happens, I understand where you’re coming from and I’m not upset by what you’ve said. But it still seems like you’re saying that its wrong to judge others, unless we’re judging them for being judgmental.

  41. Ray on August 1, 2007 at 4:04 pm

    Point taken, Adam. (This is a good spot for an evil smiley-face emoticon.)

  42. Kathryn Lynard Soper on August 1, 2007 at 4:15 pm

    Ray, I’ve really enjoyed and appreciated your thoughtful, considerate posts. Too bad we can’t clone you and spread the love around.

    Matt (38): I understand now. I agree with your points here, and I’m glad you took the time to keep explaining until I understood.

    However–I’m not about to call someone a “lying liar.” There’s so much progress in dialogue that could be made if we eschew inflammatory language. Matt, I appreciate your firm moral stance, and I agree with nearly everything you say–same to you, Adam. But a firm moral stance becomes counterproductive if it’s expressed in a way that alienates the people who most need to consider it. There are people who won’t post here because of the aggressive tone in some of the threads, people who have important things to say.

    Pardon the threadjack–if I’m invited to guest post in the future maybe I’ll bring this up.

    I’m not saying this in a finger-pointing, you’re-so-bad

  43. Adam Greenwood on August 1, 2007 at 4:17 pm

    Besides, Matt E., ‘lying liar’ is such a lefty thing to say. Doesn’t Michael Moore or one of those guys have the patent on the phrase?

  44. Kathryn Lynard Soper on August 1, 2007 at 4:48 pm

    Whoops– I’m not saying this in a finger-pointing, you’re-so-bad way, merely trying to bring this to your attention. I’ve actually had people email me telling me they wanted to post but are reluctant to jump into the middle of a contentious-feeling discussion.

  45. Ray on August 1, 2007 at 4:58 pm

    To echo Kathryn, my wife won’t comment on this topic. She agrees with 95% of what has been written, but she won’t comment. In her words, “Xena’s courage in sharing what she did was incredible. She got slapped around like an unfeeling witch. There’s no way I’m commenting.”

    Hugh B. Brown encouraged independent thought and dissenting opinion, but he also asked that dissent be informed AND expressed with modesty. As Adam pointed out, I was guilty of a touch of immodesty in my hyperbolic comment about borderline Satanism. We all need to be very, very careful when we are discussing such a sensitive, emotional, potentially divisive issue – especially if we say we value dissenting or even just differently nuanced perspectives.

  46. jennifergg on August 1, 2007 at 5:05 pm

    Most of this discussion has circled around abortion: I would like to raise a different point. To my way of thinking, the world is a richer place for having people with different physical body experiences in it.

    Children, and adults, with learning differences and physical differences bring to us opportunities to extend ourselves, and our understanding of the physical body. It would sadden me if the world was without their contribution.

    Much has been said about suffering: these lives are often filled with love, and tenderness, and grace, and laughter too. And most often, the people who understand this clearly, the parents, are discounted as being biased. It’s true I am biased; but what I say is also true, too.

  47. Adam Greenwood on August 1, 2007 at 5:10 pm

    Ray, I don’t think Xena was a heroine or anything, and I don’t think that saying she was sharing a personal experience insulates her views. I could say ‘in my personal, heartfelt experience people who want to abort their children with Down Syndrome are unfeeling witches.’ Would your wife think I should get a pass?

  48. Kathryn Lynard Soper on August 1, 2007 at 5:20 pm

    Jennifer (46)–So true. IMO, the medical profession’s insistence on giving only “unbiased” information has, ironically, led to a very clear and harmful bias.

  49. Matt Evans on August 1, 2007 at 5:36 pm

    Kathryn, if there are people interested in talking about their experience deliberating whether or not to kill their daughter because she had Down syndrome, I think they are smart to keep those thoughts to themselves. Having a child killed because it has Down syndrome is an horrifically evil act, and people should be ashamed to admit they agonize over such things. Social psychology has proven over and over that dialogue can break down taboos, so it’s better for children that people not talk about the various challenges they face treating children appropriately. Those taboos protect kids.

    Thank you, Jennifergg.

  50. Ray on August 1, 2007 at 5:38 pm

    No, Adam, she wouldn’t. She doesn’t like any form of name calling – so she would have agreed with your criticism of my over-the-top description. (*Smile*)

    Neither of us think Xena was a “heroine” – but both of us think it took a good deal of courage to add her perspective. My wife isn’t against disagreeing – and disagreeing quite strongly; she was turned off by the implication that anyone who reaches a prayerful, deeply painful decision should be considered a murderer in her heart. She views abortion as a very complicated issue, and she viewed the conversation as getting too simplistic and aggressive.

  51. Adam Greenwood on August 1, 2007 at 5:49 pm

    Social psychology has proven over and over that dialogue can break down taboos, so it’s better for children that people not talk about the various challenges they face treating children appropriately. Those taboos protect kids.

    A very good point. We don’t want to normalize some things. We don’t to make them seem the kind of thing that requires sympathy and understanding. I put killing unborn children with Down Syndrome in that category.

  52. Joseph Walch on August 1, 2007 at 6:01 pm

    Interesting, Over at Postmodern Conservative, James G. Poulos has written on this same topic today. Good to see that the LDS cognoscenti are mostly in accord on this topic.

    Kathryn (35, 42): I agree with you in part, and am happy that in this blog nobody can call me a drooly-head with impunity. However, I am always circumspect when hearing somebody call for an ‘elevation in the tone’ or ‘mood’ of the dialogue. The implication here is that the argument may be right, but since the style and manner of exposition is wrong, it is all wrong (re: don’t pay attention to this person’s post). Of course there needs to be respect, but style and rhetoric over reason is not productive.

    It is a subtle form of thought policing. This is a forum in which some choose to anonymously expose their deepest personal moral choices, and in discussing what is reasonable or true we are obliged to endorse or criticize practical applications of principle (whether hypothetical or real). Personally, I don’t think Adam was inflammatory, disrespectful or even overbearing in this thread, and I hope your sentiments were respectfully received and understood.

  53. Ray on August 1, 2007 at 6:26 pm

    Frankly, Adam, my problem with this thread is that the title is rhetorical. The “correct” answer is, “No – never.” Anything that allows for exception is wrong and needs to be shot down. In fact, it is wicked on its face.

    I know you were very upfront about this in the post, but what that means from a practical standpoint is that there is no room for constructive enlightenment – even for those of us on the same side of the general debate who agree with 95% of what you say. For someone like me, who simply says that I have to allow someone to seek counsel from their ecclesiastical leaders and God (follow the Church’s own standard) and allow them to act on what they perceive their answers to be based on their willingness to follow the Church’s standard, there is no reason to contribute to this thread if my view is judged to be corrupt from the outset.

    I think that this is one case where we will have to agree on the 95% and disagree on the 5%. I don’t mean this pejoratively, at all, but I am bowing out of this thread because I don’t think either one of us is gaining any new insight from the exchange. I think we have spent years refining our views on this issue and that we understand each other’s position pretty well.

  54. Jonathan Green on August 1, 2007 at 6:30 pm

    My thought policing tends to be pretty blunt. Keep it respectful, even in disagreement on issues that you feel very strongly about, or the whole thing goes pfhhhtt.

  55. Bill MacKinnon on August 1, 2007 at 7:04 pm

    I’m a relative late-comer to the group observing (and occasionally commenting on) the essays on this blog. I’m also about to be an early departee. I’m seeing a number of essays introduced into the discourse about subjects on which the author obviously has deeply-held views and which very soon produce highly emotional, sometimes uncivil clashes of the polarizing, finger-pointing variety. Important as they may be to the author, some of the essays go up without a clear (or any) connection to Mormonism or even a single reference to the religion or its history (my main interest) to help the uninitiated understand the relevance to the blog’s mission. The internet is full of such chat groups. I’d urge T&S to check its institutional compass and make a mid-course correction if necessary lest the blog lose its way and its reputation. A few weeks ago the group that made the blog so happy to be “mentioned in dispatches” almost immediately delivered what should have been a wake-up call. There was a reason for that.

  56. Jacob on August 1, 2007 at 7:21 pm

    Threadjack alert

    Bill – As another late-comer, I couldn’t disagree more with what you are saying. Well, that’s rather hyperbolic (if that is a real word), but the point is that I disagree rather strongly. The posts that have been on here have opened my eyes to different ways of thinking, both of things in the church and out of it. To me, the gospel encompasses all truth, so if you are blogging about what you believe is the truth, then it has a place in the gospel. And while I also have some problems with some of the “highly emotional. . uncivil clashes”, I also realize that just happens whenever people talk openly about deeply held beliefs. And what exactly was that wake-up call? I’m not sure what you’re getting at. If you could explain, briefly.

  57. Ray on August 1, 2007 at 7:26 pm

    As strange as this might sound, I agree with Jacob. I have an issue with this particular thread, but I think the overall tone of T&S has been great recently.

    Now I am done on this thread. (*Chuckle*)

  58. Jacob on August 1, 2007 at 7:41 pm

    Ray – Is it strange that you agree with me, or is it that is is strange for us to think that you find the overall tone of T&S has been great?

  59. Ray on August 1, 2007 at 8:21 pm

    I should have said, “I agree with Jacob. As strange as this might sound to someone who has been following the last few threads, I think the overall tone of T&S has been great recently, since I have been one of the voices saying that the tone of some comments in the last few threads has been too harsh.” Sorry, I didn’t clarify that better; I was rushing to get to something else done.

  60. Ray on August 1, 2007 at 8:23 pm

    Switch the last two parts of the quote in the last comment. I promise I will slow down now.

  61. Myka on August 2, 2007 at 1:15 am

    This post is completely unnecessary and yes, the question it poses is rhetorical. I nodded my head with Bill because Adam got carried away here asking a question that no one could disagree with without being flamed. Although I\’m not going to stop reading.
    However, for some interesting reading regarding this topic, see
    In it a severely disabled woman asks \”Should I have been killed at birth?\”

  62. danithew on August 2, 2007 at 8:06 am

    Yesterday two abortion posts from Adam Greenwood showed up on the same date. Now they appear on two separate dates. Knowing what I do about WordPress, that only happens if a person consciously makes an effort to change a date stamp.

    To make the point a little clearer, the date on the post is now currently at 7/31/07. The first comment on the post, from AG himself, is posted 8/1/07 at 12:00pm. Anyone who has been around at T&S for any period of time knows that it never takes that long for a comment to appear on a post. At least not on this blog.

    So what’s the purpose of messing around with the date stamp?

  63. Adam Greenwood on August 2, 2007 at 8:33 am

    Joe Walch,

    Thank you very much. Attacking rhetoric is often a cover for real disagreement or even a way of suppressing disagreement, but I don’t think that’s what Kathy S. is up too. But I really appreciate your support and the James Poulos tip.

    Bill MacKinnon,

    The morality of abortion, in my mind, is clearly a topic of religious interest. The reasoning in this post is almost entirely based on what the Church has said about the subject. That said, I appreciate your being sensitive and elliptical in your comment. Parts of it are too elliptical for me, though, so if you’d like to email me at adam at times and seasons dot org we could have a franker discussion.

    Thanks, Jacob.

    Thanks for the link, Myka.


    A coblogger didn’t want two abortion posts on top, burying Kaimi W.’s cinema post. Since this post here was really just a way of avoiding a threadjack in KLS’ post, it seemed reasonable. Shoot, come to think of it, I should probably put it behind KLS’ post too.

    Ray, #53,

    A thought for your consideration: in the LDS view, there are circumstances where the morality of abortion is a question that a couple and their bishop have to decide between them. You and I disagree about the contours of those circumstances, but we agree that they are there. So lets consider the nature of the decision that is to be made in those circumstances. Its supposed to be prayerful. For the LDS this means that the decision would properly entail quite a bit of ‘studying it out in your mind,’ which could and should include moral reflection. So examples of moral reflection like the one in this post, which suggests some reasons why post-natal mental health may not be proper considerations, may actually aid the couple and the bishop in their process of private decision-making.

  64. danithew on August 2, 2007 at 10:07 am

    Sounds good AG. I was just being nosy. My bad. Sounds like a good thing then.

  65. Kathryn Lynard Soper on August 2, 2007 at 11:04 am

    Matt (49): I absolutely agree that aborting a DS pregnancy is a horrific thing. You have to wonder, what would drive someone to consider such a act? And those emotions–that desperation and pain–is what I am sympathetic to. I can be all full of moral indignation over someone’s choice, or intended choice, yet still have compassion for them. Someone in Xena’s situation has no malice in her heart, only despair. If you can’t recognize that, and sympathize with that, then I am sorry for you.

    Joseph (52): You say to-ma-to, I say to-mah-to. I’m not at all surprised that you didn’t find Adam’s tone aggressive. The fact remains that some people did. If T&S is interested in making this forum welcome to a wide audience, not just those who enjoy pointed, objective, largely theoretical debate, it would be wise to consider the points of view of those who do not feel comfortable here. Talk about thought police.

  66. Adam Greenwood on August 2, 2007 at 11:21 am

    Its impossible to cater to every taste in every post, but generally I think we do a good job of having posts for every temperament. On abortion, for instance, your post on Down Syndrome information was very good and not hard-edged at all.

  67. Matt Evans on August 2, 2007 at 11:25 am

    Kathryn, I have compassion for those considering doing harm to Christ’s little ones, but it is not beneficial for society to hear them talk about their temptations openly, especially when they’re unapologetic. Those conversations should be strictly reserved for therapists, clergy, and others who are in a position to offer direct help. Despair is an emotion that must be kept in check like any other.

  68. annegb on August 2, 2007 at 11:32 am

    No, it’s not right, Adam. Nor is it right to do a lot of other things that we do not legislate. My gripe is about the legislation. I have a concern that if abortion were carte blanche legalized, serious moral issues would arise. However, if abortion is carte blanche illegalized, serious wrongs would also occcur.

    This is so not a black and white issue. And I would hate to be the judge deciding on a woman’s guilt in any case.

  69. Kyle R on August 2, 2007 at 11:36 am

    #52 & #65 I’ve grown in a short while to quite enjoy and value Adam’s tone. So much so that I’ve laid aside my initial hope of goading him simply for amusement. His intellect is worthy, his way with words is entertaining, and the well-defended rigidity of his principles is extremely useful in demarcating the lines of debate. As for the aggression, the fact that it threatens at any moment to turn into shrill apoplexy is rather fun. I’m a non-LDS in London England for whom T&S is one of the few blogs I’ve ever read and the first I’ve ever participated in, just last week in the Book of Mormon thread. One of the only television channels I watch over here is the BBC Parliament channel and it occurs to me that Adam would be a great House of Commons MP. If you ever feel unappreciated on social and medical issues in America Adam then please do come to England and lend your adroit verbal savagery to our politics. You’d feel very much at home.

  70. Adam Greenwood on August 2, 2007 at 11:39 am

    That compliment will leave a mark. It tingles and stings all at once.

  71. Kyle R on August 2, 2007 at 11:42 am

    Yes, something or other about it seems complimentary, even to me.

    [Its a good compliment. I didn't mean to imply otherwise.

    --Adam Greenwood]

  72. Kathryn Lynard Soper on August 2, 2007 at 11:46 am

    Sorry, Adam. One more off-topic comment and I’m done.

    Kyle, I agree with you. I admire Adam in many ways. I think he’s incredibly intelligent, insightful, and moral. But “adroit verbal savagery” can put people off.

    Adam, I agree that the posts here have a good variety of approaches and tones, but the discussion that follows is not consistently welcoming to people who want to muse and chat, rather than argue.

    Matt, I applaud your horror over abortion, and I think there should be equal horror over the circumstances which precipitate it. And if we never hear about those circumstances, we will be woefully misinformed. It can be very “beneficial to society” to know what happens behind the scenes of sorrowful decisions.

  73. Ray on August 2, 2007 at 12:30 pm

    #63 – I agree, Adam.

  74. Joseph Walch on August 2, 2007 at 1:28 pm

    Kathryn, understandably there are many people who feel uncomfortable for a variety of reasons and perhaps I could expend my energy ameliorating their discomfort. Sensitivity, however, runs a two-way street. My wife has a genetic mistake which causes blindness, and there is a high probability that our children will also inherit the gene for her type of blindness. Now imagine the discomfort (re: indignation) I feel when people express their whole-hearted support for her, while strongly affirming their own ‘right’ to prevent such a person as my wife (with her strengths and weaknesses) from ever being born into their family.

    What about HMOs that decide that anybody who chooses to have a blind or otherwise disabled child will be exempt from health coverage for the mother or child. Don’t my feelings count? Why should there be a double standard in the sensitivity.

    My answer: no my feelings really don’t matter. Neither do my individual socioeconomic costs. What matters is the Good, the True and the Moral. Will we ever prove Righteousness through argument? No. That is why these lines which cut through the gray must be ‘fought’ and ‘won’ through force of argument and will. Many lament this polarity, but this isn’t new; the strongest voices have always most defined the lines of demarcation. Unfortunately, the weaker voices of society are usually more concerned with their own comfort, mortality or imperfections.

    Truthfully, I do feel great pathos for those who are not comforted by my words, but even more, I feel greatest pain for those who see any excuse for convenience killing of our most vulnerable and are NOT agitated.

  75. Kathryn Lynard Soper on August 2, 2007 at 1:38 pm

    I don’t support a double standard in sensitivity, Joseph. Nor do I support the termination of fetuses with disabilities. My agitation over that widespread practice is the reason why I wrote my post to begin with. I believe viewpoints can change through discussion, and I’m simply making a plea for a touch of diplomacy so that productive discussion can happen.

  76. Kathryn Lynard Soper on August 2, 2007 at 1:56 pm

    p.s. Joseph, I’m glad you shared a bit of your personal situation. One of the chief reasons why I trust Adam’s viewpoints is that I know a little bit about the personal context of his perspective. Maybe feelings are irrelevant to you, but not to me.

    That is why these lines which cut through the gray must be ‘fought’ and ‘won’ through force of argument and will.

    I believe talking in ways that foster connection and understanding is a valid approach to solving conflict. Peace talks rather than war.

  77. Adam Greenwood on August 2, 2007 at 2:06 pm

    Here’s an interesting secular perspective, arguing that aborting children because of Down Syndrome is a challenge to our perspective that everyone is equal.

  78. Kathryn Lynard Soper on August 2, 2007 at 2:18 pm

    Interesting. Thanks for that link, Adam.

    I don’t see why the author said this, though:

    it is not based on race distinctions or assessments of intelligence or social class; it is often (though not always) carried out by parents, when they find their child has a condition they believe would be a grave detriment to his or her welfare or happiness.

    Of all the possible complications of Down syndrome, mental retardation is the chief “threat”–certainly “assessments of intelligence” are an issue here.

    Also, “his or her welfare or happiness” often applies more to the parents than the child.

    I like this argument overall, though. It’s especially good fodder for discussion with nonreligious folks.

  79. Matt Evans on August 2, 2007 at 2:24 pm

    “It can be very ‘beneficial to society’ to know what happens behind the scenes of sorrowful decisions.”

    That point is hotly contested by psychologists. The context I’ve seen it play out most is in the debate surrounding “pro-pedophilia-activism” (the movement to lower or abolish age of consent laws) and their “support groups.” Many psychologists, child advocates, and law enforcement officials believe that simply by talking about their feelings, and acknowledging the reality of others with similar feelings, the taboo against pedophilia is damaged, and the attitudes of readers are modified. (That last point is uncontroversial within social psychology — contrary dialogue softens people’s positions about everything). They believe the simple act of discussion helps perpetrators justify their behavior.

    Because I agree with them, I think the fewer people talking about how they rationalize ending their baby’s life because she had Down syndrome, the better for babies with Down syndrome.

  80. Kathryn Lynard Soper on August 2, 2007 at 2:27 pm

    Matt, I see your point there. Thanks. I will chew on that.

  81. Adam Greenwood on August 2, 2007 at 2:33 pm

    Also, “his or her welfare or happiness” often applies more to the parents than the child.

    I don’t know, but a lot of the justifications I see for aborting kids with Down Syndrome is that ‘it wouldn’t be right to make a kid go through life in that condition.’

    Your intelligence point is good.

  82. Adam Greenwood on August 2, 2007 at 2:58 pm

    The last half of this link is also interesting, and it includes some interesting links:

  83. Joseph D Walch on August 2, 2007 at 4:10 pm

    I have to agree with Matt E.

    I think there are many people who, like the curious onlooker at a vicious accident, relish in the experience of pain and sorrow–almost hoping to get a glimpse of the gore. This is not to say that they are happy that people get hurt, but they find some kind of cathartic (or for some–lustful) outlet in experiencing third-person the pain of others. Such public attention can also do the very damaging job of conferring a kind of sanctified victimhood upon a person. Victimhood empowers people in their sins and mistakes. Tammy Bruce has called this kind of thing “Malignant Narcissism” and Robert Bork, “Radical Individualism.” As my wife would say, “when victimhood is your empowerment, then true healing becomes the disease.” Just as true in the disabled community as it is in Hollywood, Washington or Harvard.

  84. Questions on August 3, 2007 at 6:23 am

    This is my first post here. I am a male member of the Church, who continues a long-term struggle with a wide variety of metaphysical/spiritual/ethical issues. I am blessed (or cursed; sometimes I wonder…) with the ability to see and understand multiple sides of complex issues. Concerning the topic at hand, I would be interested if adding the following theoretical circumstances to the scenario would influence anyone\’s initial opinion on this very complicated issue:

    1. The pregnant woman is your recently widowed daughter, who is barely getting by emotionally and financially, with 3 small children already in the family. You are concerned that the resources needed to raise a significantly disabled child would completely overwhelm the family, jeopardizing the future growth and happiness of each member.

    2. Same situation, but now Technology allows detection of this significant defect at a very early stage of pregnancy (for example, at the blastula stage, when the conceptus is little more than a small ball of a very low number of cells), and the pregnancy could be readily terminated by taking a pill.

    Would this change anything for anybody?

  85. Kathryn Lynard Soper on August 3, 2007 at 11:35 am

    Joseph (83): I like your wife’s quote very much. I agree that the phenomenon you describe exists, and is dangerous. I disagree that Xena’s comment, and my response to her, fall into this category.

    Compassion means “to feel with.” Be careful in your judgment of people who feel distress over the distress of others.

  86. Joseph D Walch on August 3, 2007 at 6:31 pm

    Kathryn (85): I’m sorry, let me confess; I haven’t read Xena’s comment or your responses to her. I wasn’t trying to implicate anybody specifically, and hope it didn’t come across that way. I know they are strong words, but I stand behind them nonetheless.

    I hope we can understand each other. I never meant to judge anybody who felt distress over another’s distress. That would be horrible and most detestable and it is the opposite of what I was actually saying. I think it is clear, however, to any casual observer that there is a meaningful portion of society which enjoys experiencing the suffering of others. As I have said, some people even lust after such things. Why are cable news programs so popular? Witness the explosion of torture movies; the ones which feature those scantily clad nubile maidens. I didn’t even know what happened to Saw II, III, or IV, and out of what deranged mind concieved of Saw X1/2 (unrated)? (Perhaps TV’s 24 also falls into that category).

    As for #84, here’s a better though experiment.

    1) I have a button which, if I pushed, would kill an old man who is totally isolated, and has never had any social contact. His life is nasty and brutish (to quote Hobbes). In return I would receive anything I desired. Nobody would miss him, and his death would be painless.

    2) My family is starving and we live in a concentration camp, and if we don’t get food within the next few days then we will all die. I have the power to feed and liberate ourselves with my little button. My brother Saul reminds me the words of Nephi “it is better for one man to die than for a nation to perish” (purposely omitting the last bit). What do I do?

    I hope I would have the faith and endurance in the Lord to know that the suffering and death my family and I experience in this life is very insignificant in context. I hope I would be valiant in the testimony of Christ, and not trade the life of another for money or anything money can buy; no matter how powerful the technology or insignificant the life. Everybody will have to take one’s own existential journey to find out the meaning of oneself. If they don’t make that effort in this life, then they will have to grapple with it in the next life. That’s my answer.

  87. Adam Greenwood on August 3, 2007 at 6:55 pm

    Thanks for participating, all. This thread is closed.


Times and Seasons is a place to gather and discuss ideas of interest to faithful Latter-day Saints.