The Church’s New Statement on Abortion

As mentioned previously, I’m very pro-life. As far as we could tell, we were the only “Latter-day Saints” for life sign at this year’s March for Life, and living in the DC area I’ve had the opportunity to do pro-bono work for pro-life organizations.

However, I also have no desire to consume the remainder of my weekend with some grand Latter-day Saint Pro-life versus Pro-choice fight (fellow blogger Nathaniel Givens has already done much of that), so instead this post is about something much narrower: the Church’s new statement on abortion. (For a more general take on the Church’s stance the abortion question, along with primary sources, etc., see Mormonr’s great synopsis of the subject).

I say new because it is in fact different. The new statement replaced the line

The Church has not favored or opposed legislative proposals or public demonstrations concerning abortion

which is a clearer statement of neutrality, with the somewhat ambiguous:

The Church’s position on this matter remains unchanged. As states work to enact laws related to abortion, Church members may appropriately choose to participate in efforts to protect life and to preserve religious liberty.

Of course, this is ambiguous because, while not going all-in on pro-life activism, it is clearly tilted towards the pro-life side of the scale, and it leaves unsaid whether Church members may appropriately choose to participate in contravening efforts. It kind of sounds like a compromise document. Latter-day Saint Vaticanology is always a fraught game, but it sounds like there are some voices in leadership that want the Church to clearly tilt in the pro-life direction, but there are also some hesitations with going all in on this issue a la the Catholic Church.

In terms of the implications, three points:

  1. I have a hard time seeing local leaders successfully discipline somebody over pro-choice activism. Over at Wheat and Tares there was some speculation this could happen, but the Tribune’s reporting on the subject brought up the fact that the Church’s political neutrality statement provides a sort of legal-theological cover for politicians at variance with the Church. While there is still a concern that a lower-level official could go rogue, this is where the comparison with Pelosi breaks down and becomes apples and oranges. If an LDS bishop were to go crazy and start trying to excommunicate deacons for skateboarding on Church property (I’m not saying that’s the same as being a pro-choice activist, but for the sake of argument), there are many rungs of potential levels of appeal. Theologically, a lot of priesthood holders lie in between the LDS bishop and President Nelson. In the Roman Catholic world, according to my understanding, theologically nobody lies between Pelosi’s bishop and the Pope. Literally the only person who can order the bishop to give Pelosi communion would be Pope Francis himself, which is why a Catholic bishop denying communion is much more definitive than an LDS bishop denying communion.
  2. I don’t suspect this new statement will change much on the ground. On the left and right in the Church I think people use “follow the prophet” as a cudgel for political purposes and then conveniently ignore it when it doesn’t fit their views. For what it’s worth, my Latter-day Saint pro-life activism doesn’t have a whole lot to do with the fine-grained exegesis of past leadership statements or particularistic scriptural interpretations; it’s clear that the Church’s position could easily shift a few centimeters here or there over the next couple of decades. I enjoy a good proof-text as much as anyone, but for me it’s much more deep, more primal than that, frankly having more to do with 3D ultrasound imaging technology, some bloody miscarriages we experienced, and Levinas’ Face of the Other than some highly speculative theological game about the exact moment the breathe of life enters the body.
  3. Finally, in the spirit of speculative Latter-day Saint Vaticanology, for me this is kind of another nail in the coffin for the idea that there’s some secret liberal fifth-column in high Church leadership ready to shake things down after biding their time (and don’t pretend like that wasn’t whispered about back in the day). The November Policy gave that view a rude shakedown, and little shifts like this suggest to me that, regardless of what your aunt working at the COB might suggest, if there are meaningful theological-ideological groupings among the brethren, it’s probably between “moderately conservative” versus “very conservative.”

 

 

42 comments for “The Church’s New Statement on Abortion

  1. Well, I will put in my two cents’ worth and then run immediately for cover.

    One question, first: what is the November Policy?

    Stephen C. states that he is pro-life, but what does he mean exactly by that phrase? There is a lot of sloppy use of sweeping terms. I consider myself pro-life but was sad to see the Roe v. Wade precedent overturned.
    I also think that the Church’s position on abortion is pro-natalist, but it is much less absolutist than the Catholic position. The Church’s position is much more nuanced, particularly with the thankfully vague exception for serious threat to the health of the mother.

    You tell me what you mean by the term pro-life, and I will tell you if my concept of pro-life matches yours; I will not be bound by another’s definition.

    I agree with Stephen C.’s assertion that the Church’s most recent statement on this issue has a different “tone.” But I think that the Church leaves wriggle room for its members about how to politically approach the question of abortion.

    ”Church members may choose to appropriately participate in efforts to protect life.”

    Fine. But what does that mean? Do we really protect life by restricting access to abortion? That is a facile assumption. If a woman wants an abortion, she is going to get one, regardless of efforts to stop her. Anti-abortion laws only put the mother’s life at risk. I could well assert that allowing access to abortion better protects the life and health of the mother, rather than the back-alley approach that is going to inevitably plague us once again, now that Roe v. Wade is overturned.

    One more thing: I have known several women who have had abortions. Not one of them did so without deep regret; they felt, reluctantly, that having an abortion was the lesser of two evils. These women I knew had become pregnant through rape, or their health was quite precarious, or they were in abusive circumstances.

    It would have been awfully self-righteous of me to try to reduce their options of dealing with their bad situations.

    I strongly dislike absolutist approaches to the issue of abortion. I don’t like abortion, and I love it when babies are born, but I believe it wrong to limit a woman’s options.

    I am sure people will have their own opinions about what I have written. Reasonable discussion of differing views is good. But please spare me any obnoxious attempts to duplicate Nathaniel Givens. It is unproductive to deal with such mindsets. He was both unreasonable and self-righteous. His Times and Seasons post on abortion was a stain on T and S’ reputation.

  2. “I strongly dislike absolutist approaches to the issue of abortion. I don’t like abortion, and I love it when babies are born, but I believe it wrong to limit a woman’s options.”

    Thank you

  3. As always, you see what you want to see.

    Because I think of this SCOTUS decision as having been planned, orchestrated, and carried out by proponents of Christian Nationalism, and because I know that Christian Nationalists do not accept Latter-day Saints as Christians (to say nothing of their enmity toward overtly non-Christian religions), I can easily read “Church members may appropriately choose to participate in efforts … to preserve religious liberty” as sustaining our opposition to the imposition of evangelical politicoreligiosity on all Americans. To oppose this decision is to sustain religious liberty.

  4. Piggy-backing off of Ardis’s comment: it’s worth remembering that in years past, whenever the Evangelicals came to protest General Conference, inevitably one of them would wave a sign reading “Abortion is Murder!” which always provoked guffaws from attendees, saying, “We agree with you, ya weirdos!” But here’s the thing: we don’t actually, not totally. Abortion is a spectrum, not a binary; and the fact that the LDS Handbook carves out exceptions for rape, incest, and preserving the health (not even just the life!) of the mother, while still putting us well to the right of, say, Planned Parenthood, is still considered too far left for the Evangelicals. Look: I served my mission among Evangelicals, and while they may be our provisional allies on certain issues, they are most certainly not our friends.

    To connect then to Taiwan Missionary’s comment: what, then, do we even mean by the term “Pro-Life”? Listen: I was raised in a staunchly Republican, anti-Bill Clinton household, in a deeply conservative part of the country, and got my BA at deeply-conservative BYU-Idaho. My late-Mother whom I miss dearly was profoundly Pro-Life (she struggled with infertility for years before I was born), and would needle my Dad at the dinner table for occasionally voting for the Democrat for state governor (because he was an educator and the Dems were more supportive of public education, but that’s a different topic), accusing him of throwing babies under the bus to help the teachers. I do not for a moment doubt the moral sincerity of the vast majority of self-identified Pro-Lifers.

    But as you’ve likely guessed, I myself lean firmly left now on most issues–and ironically, my left-ward shift pivoted on the rhetoric of abortion.

    Because I really did internalize all that Pro-Life preaching about the inherent “sanctity of life” growing up, you see–it was the one argument that overrode and answered all other Pro-Choice claims, in my view. Yet as I came of age in the Bush years, I couldn’t help but note that the “sanctity of life” was also the strongest argument in favor of, say, universal healthcare, and public welfare, and pro-immigration reform, and environmental protection, and gun control, and opposing war, and abolishing the death penalty, and etc.–that if I was going to champion the right to life before the child was born, then logically I had to champion the right to life *after* the child was born, as well.

    Of course, it scarcely bares reviewing at this point how often self-identified Pro-Lifers were the ones who, say, most supported the invasion of Iraq, and the use of torture, and the Muslim travel ban, and the Child Separation Policy, and refused to aide the Syrian refugees, and opposed even the mildest forms of universal healthcare (that one has never stopped baffling me), and claimed global warming is a hoax, and refused to vaccinate or wear face-masks during the pandemic. This is certainly not to claim that *all* Pro-Lifers oppose universal healthcare, or immigration reform, or environmental protection, or COVID vaccinations, or what have you–modern Church leadership has made statements supportive of at least 3 of those 4 issues, for example–but it *is* to say that whenever I meet someone who is anti-universal healthcare, anti-immigration, anti-EPA, and anti-vaxx, I can be reasonably certain they will also claim to be Pro-Life with a straight-face. There simply became no limit to the number of born people they were willing to throw under the bus to protect the unborn.

    So if on the off-chance you (and I mean the generic “you” here, not OP specifically) are a Pro-Lifer who is irritated at having your motives impugned, please understand why it’s so easy to give your stances the most cynical possible interpretation in the first place.

  5. I also regret the decision, not for religious reasons but for public policy reasons. I understand Taiwan’s and Ardis’ comments. To me, this is not a religious question, and the church’s official statement of having no position was sound. Frankly, I am more scared by the most ardent “pro-life” absolutists than I am by those on the “pro-choice” side — there are moderates on both sides, to be sure, but I want nothing to do with the wackos leading the pro-life side.

    I recommend that all Americans actually read the decision (the majority opinion, the concurrences, and the dissent). These are all available in a single .pdf document on the Supreme Court website. Frankly, I see the majority opinion as political legislation, not as resolution of an Article 3 “case or controversy.”. That scares me.

  6. Stephen C, I think your comparison of a Roman Catholic bishop to a Latter-day Saint bishop is inapt. To me, there is no equivalence or comparison to be made. Rather, a Latter-day Saint bishop might be somewhat comparable to a Roman Catholic parish priest. And your comparison of Catholic discipline for pro-choice activism to Mormon discipline for juvenile skateboarding, even just for the sake of argument, cannot be taken seriously.

    I don’t have the text of the prior official church statement from the newsroom for side-by-side comparison, but I note that the new statement retains the reach only to Church members, not the general public. For example, the statement declares that the Church “counsels its members not to submit to…” and “[t]he Church allows for possible exceptions for its members when…” It also seems to me that the participation of bishops in the decision-making process has been greatly lessened. I think the Church’s moderate and limited position is reasonable — by its own words, it is a religious statement, not a public policy statement.

    I sustain our constitutional processes, and life goes on.

  7. Taiwan Missionary, why do you feel that way about Nathaniel Givens’ post on abortion now? I really value your comments, and yours over there were complimentary. You called it “very well written and well-thought-out”: I’d be curious what caused you to change your mind. (Also, Taiwan Missionary: the November policy is, I think, referring to the Handbook change that required the children of homosexual parents to be interviewed specially for baptism.)

    As for the OP, I agree that “pro life” is a term that beggars for precision. While I abhor abortion, people do not make the decision because they “love abortion.” There’s a fantastic 2020 study called “How Americans Understand Abortion” that I wish everyone would read. A key line: “None of the Americans we interviewed talked about abortion as a desirable good. Views range in terms of abortion’s preferred availability, justification, or need, but Americans do not uphold abortion as a happy event, or something they want more of.” Rather:

    “Americans focus much of their attention on abortion’s preconditions, alternatives, and aftereffects. We heard contemplations such as, What was the nature of the relationship between conceiving partners? Was it consensual? How did they approach pregnancy prevention, if at all? Was there sufficient knowledge about potential outcomes? What kinds of support (financial, relational) are available to people facing unplanned pregnancies? What are the stages of prenatal development? What health situations would put a mother or baby at risk? What does it take to raise a child (financially, parentally)? What impact does having a child have on professional aspirations, or on reputation, or on permanent ties between conceiving partners? What roles do (or can) men and women play in parenthood? How accessible is a choice like adoption? What are the conditions of children in foster care? This list of questions continues. The point here is that opinions on myriad social issues and corollary personal decisions frame attitudes well beyond the procedural ‘yes/no’ or ‘right/wrong’ of an abortion decision.”

    This suggests to me that the best ways to fight abortion are not necessarily to illegalize it. In fact, the strict illegalization is clearly more about control and punishment than anything else,and when paired with callous indifference to the questions above, it comes off (rightly) as cruel. To be properly pro-life strikes me as addressing these questions: robust pro-natal and family support, destigmatizing pregnancy. And even beyond this: care for the lives of the elderly, the marginalized, men and women and children, at all stages. This I would like to see.

  8. Happy to see the Church lean in further to protect life.
    It is a great day for our country, for the gospel of Jesus Christ and, of course, for our innocent, unborn brothers and sisters. The Dobbs ruling strengthens democracy, the rule of law, liberty, the family, and sets the stage for further progress. Saints around the world are rejoicing and angels join in chorus. Three cheers!!!

  9. @Taiwan Missionary: The November Policy was the policy about children of same-sex couples not getting baptized.

    Yes, here “pro-life” means “pro-abortion restriction.” I use pro-life/pro-choice as shorthand because that’s the compromise convention in the US, but if you look at pro-choice orgs they refer to pro-life as anti-choice, pro-life orgs refer to pro-choice as pro-abortion, etc. 

    @Ardis: I guess you’re welcome to read the text that way, but from an originalist perspective that read is kind of a stretch (of course one can argue the validity of that legal philosophy for constitutional law, but for First Presidency statements I do think intent matters). I highly doubt that’s what the brethren were thinking, much more likely that’s an allusion to, say, a doctor not being required to perform an abortion.

    @JI: Yes, I’m aware that a Catholic bishop is the rough equivalent of a Stake President/Area Authority 70 than an LDS bishop, but for that and other reasons the comparison not being apt is the very point I was making against the idea that the Pelosi situation is some kind a harbinger for a Latter-day Saint analogue. 

  10. Maybe the biggest change in the statement is that consultation with one’s bishop is no longer required or even expected, but is purely optional. That should be a ripe topic for “Latter-day Saint Vaticanology.”

    “As states work to enact laws related to abortion, Church members may appropriately choose to participate in efforts to protect life and to preserve religious liberty.” (my emphasis)

    Stephen, does this mean I may honorably (“appropriately”) seek to amend the Utah trigger law, which bans abortions from the moment of conception, and argue instead for a 15-week period like the Mississippi law which was just upheld by the Supreme Court? And inasmuch as the Utah state senator who sponsored the trigger law envisions a future law to restrict women from traveling out of state for an abortion, may I honorably (“appropriately”) oppose that bill when it is brought to the floor? I ask because you say the First Presidency’s intent matters, even though they seem to be purposefully vague, making some Vaticanology necessary.

  11. The Church has no doctrine/policy on when the spirit unites with the body. So how can it have an opinion on abortion?

    If Church leaders are truly for religious freedom, they need to be against this decision. Catholics and the Christian Right shouldn’t tread on the religious rights of others. All this decision does, at this time, is further divide America.

  12. Let’s see. We outlawed alcohol. That worked well, right? We currently are winning the war on drugs, right? While turning a blind eye to the opioid epidemic. The church in November 2015 tried to outlaw gay marriage among its members and their children. That was super successful right?

    I am pro choice and proud of it. If the church wants to kick me out as a result, that’s their choice. They lost my money years ago. If they no longer want my time, it’s their loss.

    My firm, EY, saw this coming and recently expanded our healthcare coverage to include travel cost for services. I couldn’t be more proud.

  13. I highly doubt that’s what the brethren were thinking

    CFM (indeed the New Testament itself) is replete with interpretations of Old Testament scripture that almost certainly does not reflect what the writers intended. Thus, Ardis is engaging in a long and thoroughly correlated tradition. Furthermore, if the brethren do not want their words interpreted that way, it would be a simple matter to lay out exactly what they intend.

    Also, good catch by ji on the optional nature of consulting with the bishop.

  14. The church permits abortion in certain cases following prayerful consideration. In that context, “church members may appropriately choose to participate in efforts to protect life and to preserve religious liberty” is easily read to ensure that members facing those types of pregnancies retain their religious liberty to follow divine direction they receive in prayer. Most states that are competing to have the most stringent abortion restrictions care nothing about the religious liberty of Latter-day Saint (or other) women to prayerfully choose to terminate their problematic pregnancies. We will soon find ourselves in a situation where a difficult choice allowed by the church and by God is nevertheless against the law of the land. That’s not religious liberty. Perhaps it would be well for us to participate in efforts to preserve religious liberty.

  15. @JI: That is a good catch, one that I missed. I’d still argue that the new statement is more explicitly pro-life than neutral, but the removal of that passage is a little swing in the other direction.

    @lestlemming: Indeed, and Ardis’ reaction makes my point that the Church’s statement isn’t really going to affect things. It’s not clear enough to force anyone into a corner, and if you don’t agree you don’t agree, regardless of whether you come up with some weird interpretation to justify your disagreement. The intent matters inasmuch as somebody is sincerely trying to use the statement to channel the brethren.

  16. I wish I could agree with Ardis’s interpretation, but I think it’s pretty clear that the church’s new statement encourages people to politically protest only in favor of the pro-life / anti-choice position, and more importantly that is how most bishops, stake presidents, and CES instructors are going to see it, especially within the Mormon Corridor.

    In addition to abortion, I’m concerned about the church’s position and the court’s potential overturning of other things that the church has “discouraged” in the past.

    I’m not sure, and I’m not going to check right at the moment, if the current church policy still discourages surgical methods of birth control, like tubal ligation and vasectomies, but the Dobbs decision and particularly Thomas’s concurrence calls into question the precedent that kept states from regulating birth control. I wonder what the church position on that would be, and if we’ll see political movement in direction. Would the church quietly or tacitly support regulation against tubal ligation?

    I know many couples that only conceived children through in vitro fertilization. Bills / laws that ban abortion at conception might have unintended (or intended) impact on in vitro, since many embryos are created destroyed in the process. Many fertility treatments may soon be illegal. The church already discouraged in vitro, although most people don’t seem to know that. I think it likely the church would quietly support legal limitations on in vitro fertilization.

    Ji says that a Utah state Senator is planning to propose a bill making it illegal to leave the state for an abortion. If such a bill were to pass, I could envision women feeling like they need to get a negative pregnancy test before leaving the state. It sounds ridiculous but it is a natural and foreseeable consequence of such a law. I don’t think the law would pass, and if it did I think it would be rendered ineffective either by the courts or federal legislation, but it’s still concerning.

  17. One thing that the change in language implies (IMO) is an understanding (on the part of church leadership) that with abortion being sent back to the states the people will have better access to the legislative processes involved with making further modifications–a good thing, IMO.

  18. Bryan:

    Thank you for your response. Somewhat to my surprise, it seems that some people actually read what I write……

    More seriously:

    I re-read Nathaniel Givens’ post on abortion and my comment in response it. This is how I square what you think is an inconsistency between what I wrote back then and what I write now.

    I was very active on my high-school debate team, and (fortunately or otherwise) had to cultivate an attitude of dispassionately arguing a particular side of an issue, without necessarily believing what I was debating. I learned to appreciate well-reasoned arguments, even when I disagreed with them.

    Thus my reaction to what Givens wrote. It was indeed well-reasoned and carefully thought out. But, back then I said I was sorting out in my mind how I felt about what he wrote.

    Well, since Givens wrote that post, I have concluded that it is obnoxious, because in my opinion it gives weight and heft to an atmosphere of intolerance in the Church (speaking of Mormonism as a whole) on the question of abortion. 50 years of home teaching have taught me that women confronted with the question of whether or not to have an abortion are not well-served by merely reading to them from the Handbook of Instructions. In every one of the several cases I dealt with, a woman was in horrible circumstances, and trying to do what was right. In some of these cases, the woman reluctantly chose to have an abortion.

    As to Givens’ post being a stain on the reputation of T and S: Givens’ post brought out an awful lot of heat from anti-abortion fanatics, who delude themselves into thinking they are pro-life, and it did not do any good to W and T’s good name.

    I will admit that my views on this question have hardened as a result of the excessive over-reach of anti-abortion zealots. What some state legislatures (Texas, Oklahoma, Alabama) are doing is really awful. Some activists are now targeting Griswold vs. Connecticut, for crying out loud. Why don’t they start arresting people for having pre-marital sex:

    I don’t think any woman WANTS an abortion. Some feel that it is necessary. And people should neither judge nor try to stop them. A woman will get an abortion if she feels it is her only way out. Let’s not endanger her life (which is the greater value) by making her do it in a back alley.

    Thank you. I will let you have the last word.

  19. When the blm riots started, the church released a statement. Even the prophet wrote something himself. Trying to make sure everyone knew we were friends with the NAACP. When the jan 6 riot happened the church made a statement that being a US citizen isn’t that important. It has made statements about illegal immigration. It tells local leaders to use people’s preferred gender pronouns. It has a women’s issues meeting in general conference but no longer a priesthood meeting. Women hold the priesthood now.
    But when the most important political event in half a century happens, one that deserves a celebration, the church is silent. I don’t know if this is the right church for me anymore.

  20. Mr Thinker, I’m confused. The church did release a statement. That’s what this post is responding to. Perhaps you were looking for more? But, in all reality, an objective look at most of their statements would put them at fairly neutral and bland.

  21. I wouldn’t call the abortion statement neutral and bland; rather, I would call it reserved. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has no position on abortion legislation. According to the statement, the church teaches its members correct principles so they can govern their own lives, but does not reach further with a position on a public policy matter affecting non-members. It makes sense: Roe v. Wade really had zero impact on church members — it forced no one to do anything at all. So neither the Roe decision in 1973 nor the Dobbs decision in 2022 have any impact on Latter-day Saints as such. The church teaches and counsels its members, and neither Roe nor Dobbs changes the church’s teachings to its members.

    Citizens of the U.S. (some of whom are also church members) will have opinions on the decisions, of course, since they help shape and are affected by public policy.

  22. A number of comments here refer to the wording ” … and to preserve religious liberty” but do so largely to support the arguments one way or the other of the person writing the post regarding the church’s position on abortion. But what do folks think is church leadership’s intended meaning of this wording this context and reason for including it in the revised statement? I think referring to how “religious liberty” is used by LDS leadership would be the most helpful.

  23. David’s question highlights what I meant by neutral and bland: the “positions” in the statements rarely provide clarity, but instead result in an enormous amount of parsing and justifications across the political spectrum and how “their side” is supported by the statement. But “reserved” is a fine adjective as well

  24. I think referring to how “religious liberty” is used by LDS leadership would be the most helpful.

    Based on the Priesthood lesson I just got out of, the brethren in my quorum believe that the leadership uses it to mean that the government should not have forced the church to shut down two years ago. Seriously.

  25. Perhaps I should elucidate (I’m still fuming). The brethren may have all of these logically consistent high-minded principles in their heads when they talk about “religious freedom”, but the effect of their rhetoric is to unleash a torrent of paranoia that is completely untethered from the facts. For example, Elder Oaks has stated (out of earshot of most members) that religious freedom does NOT extend to county clerks who do not want to issue same-sex marriage licenses. But if you polled my quorum, you would get 80-90 percent agreement that it does.

  26. WRT to David’s question, I didn’t originally pay much attention to the religious liberty part. General leaders, and especially Oaks, have long been using “religious liberty” as the code word for fighting same sex marriage. So in my interpretation the church statement encourages members to protest against reproductive freedom and against same sex marriage, but using coded language to avoid offending people who disagree. These are not positions that I agree with.

    WRT to Mr. Thinker, “I don’t know if this is the right church for me anymore.” I have had that question for a long time, but for different reasons, perhaps even opposite reasons. It reminds me of Jonah. When commanded to go to Nineveh he resists. In the story it seems obvious what he should do because the story outright tells us what God commanded. In real life it is harder to determine whether the word of god is coming through the church or one’s own moral compass. Best of luck on your journey, Mr. Thinker. May we both reach a higher level of peace and enlightenment.

  27. You faced a couple of “bloody miscarriages”? Congratulations, you can now be prosecuted for abortion in some of these red states in the stranglehold of vicious Republican Christianist Nationalist state legislators. You will have to prove you haven’t aborted after miscarriages there. Good luck with that as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in front of a Republican Christianist Nationalist DA, prosecutor, or jury in one of these Dark Ages red states. You think you’re one of them. Insane. Please take Ardis’s comment seriously. You are not one of them. They will never view you that way, even if you leave the Church because of your elevation of “pro-life” activism (which of course omits anything in support of the actual life of the human being that is born from the fetus you “protect”) over religious freedom or your religious beliefs. You are not one of them, and having been a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints means you never truly will be, even after you have the Church.

  28. Thank john f, for pointing out that footnote, which I had not read. Stephen, are you really arguing that your position is primarily based on 3D imaging and personal experience? Because that’s not a very good metric to use to argue legislation. I mean, my sister-in-law (pro-birth, mother of four, birth -instructor, doula) had a miscarriage and it confirmed to her the opposite of the OP–that it wasn’t a life that she flushed down the toilet.

  29. @Brian

    Everybody’s moral sentiment is a combination of logic and emotion. You can’t give me a mathematical equation showing why I shouldn’t beat kittens to death for fun, nor for example, why it shouldn’t be legal in Canada to suck the brains out of a screaming child seconds before they are born, but our sense of morality is formed by experiences that shape how wide our empathic circles run, so no, I’m not going to apologize about my moral sense being shaped by my experiences, even if others may interpret those experiences differently, it’s always been thus for virtually every major moral issue.

  30. I understand very well how people come to moral sentiment, Stephen, and I’m not asking you to apologize for it. I was just wondering if, indeed, your position was based primarily on your experience with miscarriage w/o the religious implications or w/o concern for other people’s experiences, which is also a prime factor in forming moral sentiment for many people, though, of course, not everyone. And I understand the book you read also played into it, and I don’t know how many personal experiences it relates, so there’s that.

    But also, much of personal experience is framed, as you well know, by empirical information. I don’t think you’re really arguing against empirical evidence either. Perhaps you are, though? I understand it’s an emotional issue, but I don’t really thing “it’s always been thus” is very strong argument. Many, many views and laws are based on empirical evidence.

  31. Jurisprudence and legislation can be based on empirical evidence but they almost always have meta-ethical principles and moral sentiment lurking in the background even if they’re taken for granted. I can argue that the death penalty has X effect on this or that, but at the end of the day some people argue that categorically the state should not have the right to put people to death regardless how the empirical literature lands and yes, personal experiences can inform that moral sense that is prior to any empirical verification or disconfirmation. On the abortion question, recent scientific advances in our knowledge about fetal pain, for example, have potential implications for where on the fetus/person continuum one is at a certain gestational age. The philosopher Peter Singer makes an interesting case that, given our scientific knowledge about the lack of self-awareness in infants and standard premises for the pro-choice position, we should be open to committing elective infanticide. He actually makes a very strong case given the empirical reality he describes and some premises that on the face of it aren’t that controversial, but at the end of the day I still think it’s immoral to kill infants, sorry. So yes, it’s an interplay between reason, facts, and moral intuition.

    And to your question, my Latter-day Saint belief isn’t irrelevant to my pro-life position, but more as a side effect of my faith strengthening my moral sense about life altogether–to be honest, if I was a complete naturalist I’d be more nihilistic about life in general whether in or out of the womb (I’m not saying that’s what secularists lean towards, just that that’s probably what I’d lean towards), and less as some natural take-away from our scripture and tradition since, as has been pointed out, it’s still somewhat vague and ambiguous on the legal restriction question or fetal development question even if I’d argue it generally leans pro-life.

  32. And so you’re going to force women to give birth because of your “moral sentiments” arising from 3D imaging and emotions from miscarriages? This is the Dark Ages. Women have fewer rights in these vicious red states than pre-viability fetuses (which, by the way, is contrary to how abortion was treated under the common law, in which the women determined when the baby was quickened and termination before quickening wasn’t actionable).

  33. I’m going to reduce the argument for my small brain. A secular cabal makes RvW federal law. A religious cabal sends it back to the states. And we should choose which course of action is better based upon which cabal hates us less.

  34. Several people have pointed out the change that members considering abortion “may counsel with their bishops” while it used to be required. The interesting question is why it changed.

    Suppose a bishop meets with the family of a twelve-year-old girl who has been raped and is now pregnant. (If Stephen C is going to use extreme examples then turnabout is fair play.) They pray together and receive a confirmation that the girl should get an abortion. The bishop then counsels them to obey the Lord. In several states he is now in legal jeopardy for abetting an illegal abortion.

    So by removing the requirement to meet with a bishop, the Church is both protecting bishops and doing what it can to preserve Church members’ access to abortion under circumstances where the Church allows it but their state does not. That’s a very interesting decision. It suggests that the Church’s policy of allowing abortions under a fairly broad set of circumstances (compared to what most pro-life advocates want anyway) was not just an expedient compromise, but something the leadership actually believes in and wants to preserve.

    Note that our current practice is not very compatible with Aristotelean Catholic thinking that an embryo is a person with all the rights of a person from the moment of conception. Actively advocating for our current practice could get us kicked out of the pro-life movement, and maybe the religious right more generally (I’d be okay with that).

    It also raises the possibility, I’d say likelihood, that when Church leaders say members can participate in creating state laws that “protect life and to preserve religious liberty” they mean those laws should allow Church members to get an abortion when their religion says it’s okay to get an abortion rather than having the Catholic standard (that Evangelic al Protestants adopted post-Roe) imposed on them.

    Church leaders asserting our right to freedom of religion against the religious right would be quite a step, but I fear it may be a necessary one. A large faction of today’s GOP has no interest in a plural society where people can choose their own values and live them, and I agree with Ardis, JLB and others that we are not welcome in their long-term vision for the country even if we’re useful allies now.

  35. Jack, if by “secular” you mean the opposite of religious (you set up an opposing religious cabal to the so-called secular one), then the seven-person Roe majority wouldn’t qualify as it was comprised of three Presbyterians, two Episcopalians, a Catholic and a Methodist, all Christians, albeit of the non-fundamentalist variety. But if by “secular” you mean a belief in religious freedom where the state doesn’t impose rules or allow them to be imposed based on religious dogma, rather than in an ersatz Hobby Lobby-style religious freedom, then a secular court is one all religious minorities should hope for.

  36. Bill, some folks are framing the argument in a way that suggests that the powers at work comprise much more than the nine justices. So I’m approaching the argument from that angle.

    Re: Religious Dogma: Dogma is dogma whether it’s born of religion or the academy. What religious minorities should hope for (IMO) is good law made by law makers. If we can stick with that particular program the First Amendment has a good chance of surviving.

  37. The First Amendment wasn’t under threat by the existence of legal abortion. The First Amendment protects religious minorities, such as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, against oppression by religious majorities, such as the American Evangelical Christianist Nationalist Right-Wing, which has a stranglehold on state legislatures in red states. Why can’t those American members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who boast about being “conservative” understand this? The secular state is what makes our practice of religion possible. It wouldn’t (and didn’t) exist in nations governed by religious majorities with state power.

  38. John, I was answering Bill’s statement about why religious minorities should want a secular court in place for their protection. I trust the lawmaking process of a legislature selected by voters over that of appointed justices. The whole abortion argument is a secondary issue relative to that argument.

    Re: Stranglehold: It may seem like a stranglehold to some looking in from the outside–but I could say the same thing about blue states. IMO, it’s the academy that has a stranglehold in those areas of the country. The real test is to see whether an Evangelical majority would really have power to obstruct the practice of other religions–and I don’t see it–not yet anyway.

    And as far as blue states are concerned–they talk a good talk so long as you do it their way. You can practice your religion so long as it doesn’t extend beyond your personal beliefs. Which really means (IMO) keep your religion to yourself–which isn’t practicing religion at all.

    So there are potential problems on both sides of the isle. But even so, I prefer the governance of legislatures (who have been voted in by the public) with respect to lawmaking–let them be informed by whatever institutions they favor. I don’t know of a better way for a representative democracy to thrive.

  39. I don’t see this change reducing the number of abortions. Does this matter to pro lifers?

  40. You’re probably right, Geoff, that it won’t reduce the numbers by much. But from a pro life perspective–returning the question of abortion to the state level makes it more accessible to voters. And that means that they (pro lifers) can begin to have real influence in the political arena. So that’s one of the reasons, at least, why pro lifers see it as a huge victory.

  41. Jack, Are you really saying success for right to lifers looks like; no reductions in abortions required?

    Religious freedom isn’t the right to practice your religion, but to be able to impose your beliefs on others.

    Getting this to the state level is what counts?

    Those you impose your religious beliefs on can be poor coloured women especially, and all other women suffer as a byproduct.

    I’m amazed.

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