Changing Abortion Views

September 11, 2007 | 23 comments

Over the last decade, being “pro-life” has got a lot more popular. To a lesser extent, pro-life political positions have also got more popular. An extremely comprehensive recent look at changing opinions in a swing state is here.

I’ve had a hard time finding data about LDS attitudes towards abortion, let alone about changes in those attitudes over time. This site claims that Mormons are the most hostile to abortion of any religious group, but the data appears to be from small samples two decades ago. We have some pretty smart, well-informed readers here, so maybe some of you can help me.

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23 Responses to Changing Abortion Views

  1. Jacob M on September 11, 2007 at 6:19 pm

    To quote the Ramones: I’m against it!

    On a more serious note, while I am definitely pro-life, I do feel that there might be times where it should be allowed to happen. I just think those instances should be very limited.

  2. Blain on September 11, 2007 at 6:20 pm

    I’m not a fan of abortion. I’m also not a fan of labels that stop being labels and start being battle standards, and pro-life and pro-choice have done so. I’m even less a fan of the dishonesty found in their counter labels of anti-life and anti-choice. I believe that life is important, as is choice, so I’m pro-both and anti-neither.

    I have seen situations where abortions were appropriate, and I have seen situations where they were not. I don’t think we’d be on the brink of a police state if abortions were just a little harder to come by, but I don’t see a need for a blanket criminalization of the practice either. I could probably anger someone from NARAL/whatever with my position on the issue, and that would kinda tickle me. I can also anger some of my more rabid anti-abortion friends, and I think the need to relax a little bit.

    I don’t think you’re going to find a large number of Mormons saying that abortion is a wonderful thing. I don’t think you’d find a large number of people who call themselves “pro-choice” who think it’s all that great either, they just want it to remain a legal option (and, probably, with fewer limitations on it than I would like so as to see to it that anybody who “needs” one can have one).

    What value do you see in finding something more up-to-date and statistically significant on this question?

  3. Ray on September 11, 2007 at 6:46 pm

    Adam, with an issue like abortion, you can generate just about any response statistics you want just be changing a few words on a survey. If the question implies an either/or choice of extremes (teach that abortion is nothing more than a personal choice to rid one’s body of some unwanted tissue that really isn’t human life vs. teach that abortion is a sin in the eyes of God), I think the vast majority of Mormons would pick the latter. If, instead, the survey was more along the lines of, “Indicate which of the following reflects your beliefs most closely: 1) All abortions should be outlawed, no matter the situation; 2) Abortion should be allowed without restriction; 3) Abortion should be allowed only in certain, clearly defined situations” – then I think most Mormons would choose option #3.

    My own reasoning is much more complex than any of those options (since it is influenced heavily by the current state of our judicial system and not just the moral issues), but the result is that I end up being more liberal as to my political position on this particular issue than most members, I believe.

  4. Alan Jackson on September 11, 2007 at 7:18 pm

    All it takes is one look at the number of abortions being performed in our society right now for me to think our societies current position on abortion is horribly wrong. I think I read that somewhere between 20-30% of all pregnancies are terminated.

  5. David Keller on September 11, 2007 at 9:13 pm


    I looked into what statistics could be found a little over a year ago at my original blog. If it you check out the bottom of my long entry and comments #14 and #24, I do cite some stats and there are links where more info can be found. Basically I was looking into what scope the three Mormon possible exceptions to a general no abortion rule (rape/incest, life/severe health threat to the mother, and life/severe birth defects of the fetus) have. I looked in terms of national rates vs. state rates and there is a 1995 Heaton article in Dialogue that addresses the Mormon angle. There is some comparison with Catholic thought and statistics throughout, as well.

    I realize this isn\’t directly what you are asking for, but perhaps it is a start?

  6. Adam Greenwood on September 11, 2007 at 9:33 pm

    Thanks, David K., I thought that was a very valuable contribution the first time I read it and after rereading it this time I thought so again.


    All, please do not use this thread as an opportunity to say whatever you have to say on the question of abortion.

  7. MrClark on September 11, 2007 at 9:37 pm

    This comment is more related to #2 and a general thought about the labels and the tug-a-war between the two sides. I feel that there is a lot to be done in Christian service before anything like an overturned Roe vs. Wade would/should happen. If the pro-life movement has such strong beliefs, then why does it seem that the pro-choice movement does more? Where is the real Planned Parenthood? Those who believe that there should be fewer abortions, and I include myself, should be looking at starting/supporting pro-life clinics and make them as much a household name as Planned Parenthood for those who are desperate and in need our help.

  8. MrClark on September 11, 2007 at 9:40 pm

    Re: #6, Sorry Adam, I wrote my post while you posted your very appropriate anti-threadjack.

  9. Mike on September 11, 2007 at 9:57 pm

    I would consider myself pro-life, but I agree with a previous commenter that labels are over-used.

    From what I can tell though I would disagree with the statement that we are the most hostile religious group towards abortion. Many religious groups (notably Catholics if I\’m not mistaken) do now allow any exception to their pro-life stance, while our religion does make exception in some cases.

    While on a mission it also became clear to me that the Church does not look at abortion the same way it looks at murder, as some pro-lifers do. If you have committed murder you cannot be baptized without a special exception from the president of the Church, but if you have had an abortion you can be baptized as long as you are repentant. I realize I am interpreting this a little, but to me that seems like abortion does not equal murder in the eyes of the Church.

    Also I\’ve seen statements (sorry I can\’t quote them) of Church leaders saying that they don\’t know when human life really begins, but some people are adamant that it begins at conception. This might explain why the Church has no official position on stem-cell research.

    For these reasons I feel that the LDS Church\’s position on abortion seems to be more liberal than many other churches, although of course still on the pro-life side of the spectrum.

  10. Ray on September 11, 2007 at 10:27 pm

    fwiw, I think it’s hard to make the argument that Mormonism is the most hostile religion toward abortion, when I have never heard of an organized group of Mormons boycotting, picketing or fire-bombing an abortion clinic. That, imo, is the best definition of “hostile”. Also, ditto Mike’s point about how the Church does not equate abortion with murder – as many other denominations and non-denominational congregations do. The choice to abort or deliver ultimately is left up to the individual parents, after consultation with the Bishop. I understand that such consultation is not meant to have the Bishop give specific directive one way or he other, and that most Bishops would be very wary of seeming to advocate abortion, but hostile, that ain’t.

    Adam, when I read the actual site, I found it hard to read it as saying that Mormons are “hostile” to abortion. The actual words are “less accepting” – and the most striking difference is “if the reasons are lack of money, being unmarried, or not desiring the child.” It is surprising to me that over 1/3 of Catholics say such justifications are OK, with the unstated implication that the numbers for Protestant groups is significantly higher. I can understand the other justifications showing more acceptance (not agree, but understand), but the numbers in this category appall me. I just don’t get that.

    Do you know if there were self-identifying “evangelicals” interviewed for this survey? I couldn’t see any indication that there were – and I would be interested to know what the numbers are for that group.

  11. A. Nonny Mouse on September 11, 2007 at 11:43 pm

    I think it’s interesting that apparently everyone who’s weighed in so far is male.

    I don’t mean to say that men can’t have an opinion about abortion, it just seems that choosing to have an abortion is a decision that can ultimately only be made by a woman, so it seems that maybe a female opinion would be important.

  12. LRC on September 12, 2007 at 12:42 am

    re #11 – If you look at all of the comments on T&S, you’ll find that men almost always outnumber the women, no matter what the subject is. That’s just the way the T&S universe is.

  13. David Keller on September 12, 2007 at 2:21 am

    Thanks Adam for your kind words. I just realized you actually posted a comment on that blog discussion and hence I am feeling a little sheepish for pointing out something you were already aware of.

    I have been looking around for some more recent statistics on LDS abortion rates. There is an article by some BYU and UoU scholars that uses a 2002 survey of 800+ non-Hispanic white females living in Utah. The participants in their survey were 55.9% active LDS, 13.9% inactive LDS, 7.8%/12.3% active/inactive other religion, and 10.2% no religion.

    In terms of % of women in each category who experienced an induced abortion, we have:

    act LDS: 4.1%
    inact LDS 2%
    act other: 5.3%
    inact other: 10.7%
    none: 11.1%

    To compare this to Heaton’s numbers Dialogue 32:4 (1999),

    In the 1995 National Survey of Family Growth, women reported that 13.5 percent of their pregnancies ended in induced abortion. The comparable figure for Mormon women was 5.2 percent.

    I calculated abortions/(mean pregnancies* # of woman) in each group

    act LDS: .98 %
    inact LDS: .58%
    act other: 1.7%
    inact other: 3.5%
    none: 3.8%

    However I took the 2002 Utah abortion vs. live birth data and factored in that around 13% of pregnancies result in an outcome other than a live birth or abortion and I calculate 3524/(3524+7971 (est) +49140) = 5.8% Nationally around 20% of pregnancies end in abortion.

  14. David Keller on September 12, 2007 at 2:50 am

    For a quick comparison, how Mormonism does in the counties it has the most adherents in vs. the number of abortions performed in each US county, try juxtaposing two maps:

    and use the one at the bottom of this page:

  15. Aluwid on September 12, 2007 at 6:53 am

    “I don’t mean to say that men can’t have an opinion about abortion, it just seems that choosing to have an abortion is a decision that can ultimately only be made by a woman, so it seems that maybe a female opinion would be important.”

    I realize that you didn’t say this exactly but I find the point of view that women’s opinions regarding abortion are more important than men’s opinions to be a strange way of looking at things. Men don’t have the same conflict of interest about abortion that women do since the discussion is the competing right of women to control their bodies verse the right of unborn children to live (fetuses if you prefer). Given this, I wouldn’t find it surprising if more women than men supported abortion. But I imagine if we were able to poll those in the womb the opinion would be the opposite and they wouldn’t be too happy about the idea. Having men participate in the discussion as well provides a way to introduce an outside viewpoint, a group that doesn’t have a direct right at risk, and perhaps deliver more objectivity and fairness.

    That isn’t to say that women shouldn’t give their opinion just as readily as men, in this thread as well as elsewhere, but if they don’t choose to post a comment, then they don’t choose to post a comment…

  16. Mike on September 12, 2007 at 7:57 am

    In response to #11, this thread, and my comment on the thread, is not intended to voice opinions on abortion, it is intended to discuss the feeling towards abortion of the church and its members. At least it seems that way to me. Whether men’s opinions on abortion are as valid as women’s is a separate discussion. But certainly males are equally able to observe the general attitude of the church and its members toward abortion.

    On an unrelated note, my comment (#9) deals more with the church’s official position toward abortion, but the original post had more to do with the general feeling of its members. I failed to realize that there may be a gap between the two. My feeling is probably Mormons are more homogeneous in their attitude toward abortion, which is why we came out ahead of others in response to the question asked in the poll. Members of ther religions may have a wider variation of opinions, regardless of the official position of their church.

    Still, I agree with a previous poster that “hostile” probably isn’t the right word to describe the result of the poll.

  17. MrClark on September 12, 2007 at 8:17 am

    Re: #11, I don’t think we will get close to “solving” (or at least reduce) the abortion issue by having men say or do less. Isn’t it our inaction (after birth) that is big part of the problem? Having men take the sideline on this issue isn’t going to help.

  18. Kim on September 12, 2007 at 8:59 am

    \”That isn’t to say that women shouldn’t give their opinion just as readily as men, in this thread as well as elsewhere, but if they don’t choose to post a comment, then they don’t choose to post a comment… \”

    Ahem. It seems a little odd for T&S to develop a reputation as an aggressive site with a couple of permabloggers and othe regular participants that attack (as opposed to engaged in constructive dialogue) commenters that aren\’t viewed as sufficiently orthodox, and then say, \”well, if women don\’t participate, it\’s their own damn fault.\”
    I think a better conclusion would be, \”Well, if women don\’t participate, it\’s T&S\’s big loss, I wonder if we ought to be doing anything differently.\”

  19. Frank McIntyre on September 12, 2007 at 9:47 am

    Perhaps we could let the gender counting go by the wayside in favor of comments relevant to the post. Anyone with constructive comments for changes they’d like to see at T&S is more than welcome to email whichever T&S blogger they think would be most receptive.

  20. Adam Greenwood on September 12, 2007 at 9:58 am

    Gender bean counters who read the article linked in the post would discover that women are significantly more pro-life than men.

    David Keller and others who have insights about the attitudes the Saints have towards abortion and ways in which those attitudes might have changed over time: please email me your comments and I will post them here. The email address is adam at times and seasons dot org. I realize that the majority of commenters here have not been thoughtless or derailing and I apologize to them for this inconvenience.

  21. Adam Greenwood on September 13, 2007 at 10:14 am

    From David Keller:

    Let me give some of the trends I see in attitudes about abortion over time. I will do it without citing the evidence, so as to get these points across efficiently. Also let me point out that I can’t address some of the political aspects. It would be hard to survey Mormon political thought without more sophistication than such polls typically use. I have looked more at the principles each group promotes and try to detect a link to how that group actually does in practice. Some of the most polarized pro-life political factions are perhaps in part motivated by the frustration caused by their lack of influence to circumvent more abortions among their own group and hence they seek to enlist the aid of government to compensate. At least it seems that way to me, but I will try to focus most of my comments on Mormonism, to maintain goodwill.

    1. Mormon teachings on abortion has liberalized to some extent since the 70′s. As some examples:

    We now hear the list of possible exceptions almost every time abortion comes up in the most recent correlated doctrine.

    That articulated list has expanded from the life of the mother (which has always been present in Mormon thought, but not always mentioned) to include serious threats to the health of the mother or fetus (severe birth defects, etc.) and rape.

    We have done this is response to advances in medical technology, such as early detection of fetal health,

    So in the 70′s, it would have been difficult to distinguish Mormon theological thought from other hardline pro-lifers, but it is clear that we have adapted to medical realities, while they have hardly shifted at all.

    2. Discipline and counseling on abortion issues has become more relaxed. New converts are not held as accountable for past abortions (although some discretion is advised for the baptismal interviewer.) The single woman has been more empowered (now then in the past) to make decisions involving moral gray areas, as are the couple in the married case, with a de-emphasis on ecclesiastical oversight.

    3. The liberalization of doctrine on allowing birth control to used at a married couples discretion has pragmatically increased their usage and reduced abortions that occur in the married state. On the national scale, abortions are steadily decreasing and that has been primarily attributed to increase access to (and usage of) birth control items.

    4. Some other correlations with the number of abortions are income and education level, the higher these are the lower the abortion rate. The LDS church has always stressed higher education, but I think we are now seeing, in practice, more women complete college and have independent means of generating finances. These follows along with the theme where we are seeing Mormon women empowered, in this case they have more power to reduce indirect risk factors. The article you point to noted a past correlation between education and women becoming politically pro-choice. This is ironic given the degree that education makes actual scenarios that might lead to an abortion much less likely.

    5. Another Mormon trait is to marry at younger ages than the national average. Glancing at Utah stats about 75% of abortions involved a pregnancy out of wedlock. However the trend for Mormons appears to be putting off marriage longer these days. This may increase the number of Mormon abortions, but I think this factor gets mostly offset, because the reason why Mormons are delaying marriage are generally related to increasing education. This will be my most conjectural point.

    6. If one were to compare unmarried Mormon teenagers with their national contemporaries on abortion rates, I would suspect that the ratio of the former’s rates to the latter’s might actually increase over time because Mormonism doesn’t condone birth control for this group (too premeditated), while the national peer group has, on average, less resistance to birth control. I don’t have stats yet to support this theory.

    7. Along the same theme, I notice that the active Mormons in Utah abort at a higher rate than inactives. This may not be statistically significant. But if it holds, it may be not having an abortion may be the reason why some of the young women went inactive, as going through with a pregnancy under public notice would definitely take courage.

    8. While Mormonism has become increasingly liberal (or at least its liberal elements have been increasingly articulated and clarified) over time, it seems to be making all the right moves to reduce the number of abortions in practice. The Church is attacking the problem from other angles to relieve the burdens and reduce the factors that singles out unwed mothers–who can be caught in bad or tempting situations. I am thinking about how the Church advertises adoption and counseling services and advertises the importance of not being judgmental.

    9. In contrast other faiths seem to still be putting their most visible efforts into rhetorically denouncing the abortion decision and defending a no-exceptions theology. There seems to be a disconnect in practice with those actually caught in potential abortion scenarios disregarding their faith’s theology in practice. I am speaking on an ensemble average basis and I recognize that there are wonderful people in all faiths that are actually living by their faith’s tenants. In terms of how attitudes change over time, some faiths are even more liberal than the LDS faith in adjusting their theology to accommodate the political environment or medical advances. Too little accommodation and adherents tune their denomination’s theology out, too much accommodation decreases an adherent’s conscientious resistance. So the polarization we see on abortion issues seems to make things worse in practice. I expect this trend to continue for some time. The decrease in abortions over time in the US seems to happen on secular factors and in spite of religious shifts or maintaining a hard-line.

    10. Sometimes the low Mormon rate is attributed to geography, because the western states are all low. However Rodney Stark has presented some evidence that minority religion adherents in Mormon country are more devout than their co-religionists are in parts of the country where they are more dominant. The presence of Mormons raises the bar for all their immediate neighbors, if I follow Stark correctly. Typically being a minority religion decreases, on average, measures of devoutness like charitable contribution, church attendance, etc. As Mormonism spreads and comes to dominate more regions, the bar will be raised for its neighbors, and if the ambient society improves, I think this will positively influence Mormons to be even better.

    11. Mormons seem to understand that what makes for good personal beliefs and behaviors does not necessarily make for effective public policy. With a strong moral agency doctrine, Mormons seemed more poised to tolerate diversity and change in political and social thought than, say, a Calvinist, might.

  22. Adam Greenwood on September 13, 2007 at 10:16 am

    My overall impression, David K., is that Mormon doctrine on abortion is more nuanced than that of some other groups (while still flatly opposing something like 95+% of all abortions that occur) and, perhaps as a consequence, Mormons as a group are much less likely to excuse that 95% than other groups. But I don’t know for sure.

  23. Adam Greenwood on September 13, 2007 at 10:17 am

    David Keller and others who have insights about the attitudes the Saints have towards abortion and ways in which those attitudes might have changed over time: please email me your comments and I will post them here. The email address is adam at times and seasons dot org. I realize that the majority of commenters here have not been thoughtless or derailing and I apologize to them for this inconvenience.


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