Some Abortion Thoughts

Abortion has been in the news of late. Given the polarized times we live in, particularly those of us in the United States, it’s perhaps unsurprising that states are pushing extreme bills. New York’s passed a very liberal law at the beginning of the year making it purely a health care issue. Georgia, Alabama and a few other states effectively banning abortion with no exceptions for rape or life of the mother. Both sides are up in arms over what they perceive as extremism by the other side. I don’t want to get into the politics here – I’d say in many ways the focus of these laws is more symbolic. After seeing many Latterday Saint comment on these in various places, I thought a short primer of our differences from other Christian sects might be in order.

There’s a fundamental different ontology for us as compared to our friends in most other forms of Christianity.[1] Most Christians, following medieval reasoning such as by Aquinas, assume that the soul is created at conception. This affects their view of abortion quite a bit since in some sense nothing is lacking in a fetus except development.

For us things are quite a bit more complex. We existed prior to birth. Our body is a part of us, but in a fashion more analogous to how an arm is a part of us. Perhaps that is underplaying things somewhat given how huge a role the brain plays in our way of choosing and thinking. Yet fundamentally we have a mind independent of our mortal body. Further it’s completely unclear when our spirit and body are unified and at what point a miscarriage leads to a spirit entering a different fetus versus just being dead and going to the spirit world.

Often people have assumed that this transpires when the mother feels the fetus moving. However as we’ve come to better scientific understanding we can see that movement as instinctual on the part of the developing nervous system and not necessarily an intentional (meaning here tied to its spirit) action. The Church hasn’t taken a formal position when a body is “quickened.” This is significant since from the time a woman knows she is pregnant (roughly around 12-14 weeks) about 15% of pregnancies miscarriage. The number of miscarriages is much higher earlier in the pregnancy. Many miscarriages a person may not even know happened. Church policy is that miscarriages aren’t put on family records and thus in one sense don’t count as people. Stillbirths (typically death in the third trimester or at normal time of birth) are and can be given a name. While this tends to suggest that the Church assumes third trimester fetuses are fully people, it’s also largely a policy open to change and not intended as a doctrinal claim.[2] The line between miscarriage and stillbirth is also extremely blurry, and mostly up to the family’s discretion.

These differences have a huge implication on the abortion debate. The distinction between part and person in particular is important. If a fetus is a part for a pre-existing spirit that doesn’t mean killing it isn’t wrong. We’d say, after all, that cutting someone’s arm off without their permission is quite wrong even if it’s not the same as murder. While the rhetoric of abortion has tended to be about murder in religious circles, it’s important to realize that the logic leading to that is different for members of the Church compared to Catholics, Protestants and others holding to the creation of a spirit at conception. For us it may well be murder once the spirit is essentially tied to the body. I suspect most members would assume that by the third trimester that is the case. I think few members would assume that a fertilized egg not yet implanted in the uterus is fully a person. (Some do, although it’s not clear upon what basis they make that judgment) In general theologically most members see first trimester abortion or miscarriage as fundamentally different from third trimester abortion or miscarriage. Most importantly the consequences for the person are quite different. In one case the person simply is born to a different family. In the other case their mortal probation ends before it really began. Our practices correspond to that distinction.

One common argument on the pro-life side of the US political debate is that abortion is the killing of an innocent person and thus always wrong. However if the fetus is a part of a person rather than the person, that argument fails. After all an arm is made up of human cells but is not equivalent to a full person. So many pro-life arguments depend upon when the spirit is essentially joined to a fetus to function in a Church context.[3]

An other argument that has come up due to recent laws in a few states is the issue of the life of the mother and rape or incest.[4] The question is how to balance the rights of the woman abused with a resultant pregnancy with the fetus. Again it’s important to note that the Church takes no clear position here beyond clearly treating rape different from elective abortion in general. Their position is that it should only be decided upon after sincere prayer with God to know what to do. No Church discipline is supposed to follow an abortion for rape nor if the mother prayerfully thinks it necessary because of medical conditions.

I don’t want to here take a position on the legality of abortion in the United States. After all sins that we consider exceedingly grave and serious such as adultery are legal. In general though the Church has condemned abortion, one can suffer Church consequences for abortion, and abortion is typically an issue for interviews of those considering baptism in the Church. (I don’t know the current policy but we had to refer it to the Mission President when conducting such interviews – although in a few cases he’d approve it over the phone)

Given the grave seriousness many, and perhaps most, members of the Church oppose abortion. According to the last Pew poll 70% of members think abortion should be illegal in all or most cases. While some might suggest this simply reflects the fact most American members of the Church are Republican, it’s also quite likely that abortion was a major driving force of moving members, particularly in the west, to adopting the Republican party in the 1970’s and 1980’s after Roe v. Wade.

On the pro-choice side, the assumption tends to be that abortion is unfortunate but should not be illegal. Sometimes this argument rests upon the distinction between what should be illegal and what is immoral and should be opposed. The analogy to adultery is rather common among pro-choice proponents who are members. However once the spirit is essentially joined to the fetus, the choice is not really akin to adultery. Rather is the permanent ending of a person’s mortal probation before they get a chance to really consciously experience it. In that sense it really is very much akin to murder. That doesn’t mean that balancing arguments can’t be made. So balancing the chance of a mother dying against the rights of the life of the person as a fetus is something the mother will have to prayerfully make.

Rape is much trickier. Appeals to balance and the psychology of the mother and her mortal probation are necessary. Different people will simply come to different conclusions here. Those differences may well manifest themselves politically and can’t easily be evaluated in terms of what we know. At a minimum not knowing the particularities of a case along with the Church’s policy here suggest that one should leave this open as an option.

With the Church’s exceptions to abortion that doesn’t mean that individuals can’t make egregiously wrong decisions. However the Church’s policy seems to suggest that is their choice to make and their consequences to take up.

Unfortunately politics, particularly at this point in time, is much more about tribalism and emotion rather than firm supported arguments. As such the politics of abortion seem difficult to discuss constructively. I’ve just seen a lot of bad arguments on both sides of the debate in a Church context. At minimum we have a radically different ontology of birth from both atheists as well as Catholics and Protestants. That difference entails that we must we think through the problem differently from how the public discourse tends to proceed.

1. By ontology I just mean the nature of being that can’t be known using current science. So the question of spirits typically is seen as metaphysical even if for members of the Church we typically see the spirit as material and thus in principle open to scientific inquiry.

2. While in one sense the distinction between policy and doctrine is blurry at best, in general one relates to practices while the latter relates to claims about the actual state of the world. In this case the Church is not making a claim about when a spirit enters a spirit or when a spirit can go to a new attempt at a body. It’s also important to note the Church has no doctrine on a spirit being “determined” to go to a particular family. That tends to be a folk doctrine and one that at least a few General Authorities have disparaged.

3. I’d add that the term “innocent” does a lot of work in these debates. There’s often a lot of equivocation over the term. I’ll not get into that debate here, beyond suggesting that killing an innocent is not always wrong.

4. The cases of incest worried about are all for minors which is a particularly egregious type of rape even if done by an underage sibling. So I’m here just going to talk about rape.

79 comments for “Some Abortion Thoughts

  1. Kristine A
    May 21, 2019 at 11:46 am

    Someone I know recently referenced that after talking with a temple president and someone who has access to Handbook 1, that they were told stillbirths cannot be given a record/sealed etc. I suppose a family would and could still name/bury them. As someone without this access to H1 I just thought this might be additional valuable info to your post.

    I am a rather conservative “pro-choicer,” mostly because of my experiences with IVF, based on my interactions in discussing the issue with family and other mormons I’m not sure how deeply they think about all of the different variety of issues a pro- or anti- position covers. One brother seemed fairly disturbed to find out IVF centers create and destroy embryos at a furious pace. They don’t seem to weigh what being against abortion on demand but allowing women to have exceptions really means in practicality (ie who gets to decide what a valid exemption is? etc.).

  2. Clark Goble
    May 21, 2019 at 12:57 pm

    I think many Mormons reject the “at conception view.” IVF is one good reason, although just the large number of spontaneous miscarriages in the first month (primarily due to the body deciding it’s not viable) seems to make that view problematic. I tried to refer to the view of the Church on stillbirths. I don’t have access to the handbook but there’s a page up at lds.org on the topic of stillbirth. I think most members tend to not view first trimester abortion nearly as bad as third trimester. That actually ends up corresponding to national views where some studies suggest the majority distinguish between the two quite a bit. Even among self-identified pro-choice proponents often there’s grave discomfort in third trimester abortion while openness to first trimester. (Buttigieg recently made comments like that appearing quite open to many third trimester restrictions)

    I think many members have grave problems even with first trimester abortions if done primarily for economic or related issues. i.e. as an alternative to brith control. However I also agree with you that not all members have really thought through the issues much. Most people largely pick up the views of their primary peer group and then embrace them on a more emotional level. For many members that’s the typical pro-life rhetoric, even if our religious views differ somewhat from Catholics. There’s also a fair bit of tribalism at play. That’s one reason why the politics are somewhat problematic to discuss. It’s as often as not more about emotion and expressing tribal unity on a deep emotional level than reasoned argument.

    I think polls show Americans are pretty inconsistent on the issue. How questions are worded makes huge differences in result. You also get oddities such as supporting say the Alabama law while opposing overturning Roe v. Wade that make little sense and likely reflect tribal identities and emotional responding.

  3. libcon
    May 21, 2019 at 2:39 pm

    If there is a baby inside you, moving, and you kill it, you’ve killed a baby inside you.
    Period. Not a clump of cells. Once it looks like a baby, it’s a baby. And you’ve killed it.

    I realize that stark language may not be seen as “helping” the debate. But there’s no debate for me on this issue. Don’t kill babies. Do what you can to keep them alive.

    I have no position on the soul, and so on. I think that’s all just confusing the issue, but in general it would surely seem that if the baby is moving it has a spirit or at least some intelligence, according to latter-day saint theology, whether it’s been defined as such or not.

  4. Nate GT
    May 21, 2019 at 2:44 pm

    “However once the spirit is essentially joined to the fetus”

    Not a valid legal argument. Modern law does not define or recognize what a spirit is nor does it recognize when this spirit would enter the body. It is not hard to make the case that abortion, according to LDS standards and rules, is immoral and that members in good standing shouldn’t get abortions, much like you can make the case that adultery is wrong and immoral, but shouldn’t be illegal.

    “really is very much akin to murder”

    Is it murder in cases of rape and incest? Also who would be the murderer? The pregnant female asking for the abortion, or the person performing the abortion? If a gang leader ordered a subordinate to murder someone, the gang leader, not the subordinate, would be considered more responsible for the murder than the subordinate. Yet with abortion, even the most reactionary of pro-life groups don’t argue for prosecuting the mother asking for the abortion.

  5. Dsc
    May 21, 2019 at 3:57 pm

    I’ll echo a comment I made over at BCC. We absolutely should give due consideration to the spiritual questions around abortion. It informs Church policy, how we interact with people who have had an abortion or miscarriage, and how we conduct our own lives. But I think it is a mistake to import spiritual questions into questions about policy. In essence, law is incapable of touching spiritual questions directly, and so must only deal with the physical. And in terms of the physical, biology teaches us that our bodies begin at conception. Once fertilized, two fuse into a single, new, distinct organism. And from that point forward, there is no concrete, easily determined point of demarcation in development. Every step in the process from zygote to mature adult is extremely gradual.

    That fact should inform our view of policy on the matter. If law exists to protect “life, liberty, and property”, and in that order, laws prohibiting abortion carry out the most basic mission of government.

  6. Gilgamesh
    May 21, 2019 at 4:59 pm

    To respond to the 3rd trimester approval for temple work, etc… In the state of California, if a fetal demise occurs prior to 20 weeks, it is considered a non-entity and can be disposed of as medical waste. At 20 weeks and on, it is considered a life and a birth certificate and death certificate are created and the disposition of remains is left to the family. So, I wonder if the church policy merely follows legal policies. If it is placed on the records of the state, it can be added to the family record.

  7. Ryan Mullen
    May 21, 2019 at 5:05 pm

    Clark, thanks for this post. I appreciate your effort to discuss abortion separate from the politics. I suspect your post will influence my still evolving views on the topic.

    Dsc, “I think it is a mistake to import spiritual questions into questions about policy.” Yes, absolutely. “And in terms of the physical, biology teaches us that our bodies begin at conception.” In my understanding, biology does not teach any such thing (disclaimer: not a biologist). At conception, there is one cell. One cell is not a body. A body perhaps develops from that cell given the proper conditions, but that is part of the “no concrete, easily determined point of demarcation” you cite. Hence, the OP differentiates between first-trimester and third-trimester fetuses. It’s my understanding that that is also why biologists and medical professionals refer to a new life being viable rather than about a new life beginning or being spirit-filled.

  8. Dsc
    May 21, 2019 at 5:28 pm

    Ryan,

    Biologists do not talk about life being spirit-filled. They talk about the beginning of a new organism. Fertilization is the beginning of human development. In a separate comment, I’ll post a link to a National Review Article by Wesley Smith, which is absolutely a biased article and source, but which cites unbiased embryology textbooks on the matter. There are sources online for dozens of other embryology textbooks that all say the same thing.

    Fertilization marks the beginning of an organism because it is at that point that all of the markers of life are present (homeostasis, growth, cellular organization, etc.).

    The concept that many people introduce into the equation (as you have) of whether the organism is viable, or is likely to continue to survive, is not something that we consider when it comes to the law with respect to born persons: you are guilty of criminal homicide if you intentionally hasten the death of an already dying person. Whether something is living vs viable (likely to continue living) are separate concepts.

  9. Ryan Mullen
    May 21, 2019 at 5:56 pm

    “whether the organism is viable … is not something that we consider when it comes to the law with respect to *born* persons” That is my understanding as well. But before birth, viability is legally relevant, while the question of whether life has *begun* is not.

  10. Dsc
    May 21, 2019 at 6:35 pm

    Ryan,

    Clearly you have the law right on what the law is. However, the law *is* that way because it was imposed on the country by unelected judges in a legal decision that defies coherent legal reasoning. Given that we do not consider viability in any other context, it makes no sense (to me and to majorities of legislators in dozens of states) to consider it in the context of abortion.

  11. ji
    May 21, 2019 at 6:51 pm

    “At minimum we have a radically different ontology of birth from both atheists as well as Catholics and Protestants. That difference entails that we must we think through the problem differently from how the public discourse tends to proceed.”

    I’ll echo Michael2. Is it expected that “we” (Latter-day Saints) must think of this matter in the same way (because we are Latter-day Saints), and there is one right way for us to think of this matter?

  12. Clark
    May 21, 2019 at 9:43 pm

    JI, of course people don’t all think the same about it. But if they have Mormon doctrinal commitments they have to tie in those radically different commitments to how they view abortion. The typical pro-life arguments based upon religious commitments we don’t hold simply fail in a Mormon context. I certainly am not saying people can’t make different arguments, but it is up to them to make it.

    Ryan, legally I’m not sure that’s correct. But of course there isn’t a single legal theory at play. Legislative branches (either federal or state) can of course form their own reasoning to pass a lot. It’s not exactly clear what SCOTUS’ reasoning will be (and of course there’s apt not to be a single view from the judges). At this stage Roe v Wade is already basically dead. Only a few threads remain. That said I rather doubt SCOTUS will take the Alabama law into consideration. From a pro-life perspective it’s very bad strategy both politically and legally to push those laws.

    To the question of life, that’s not really a category biology weighs in on in a substantial fashion. At least not as the term is used in the abortion debate. Even when not overtly appealing to religious categories the use of life in that context usually is making metaphysical claims. For instance is bacteria life? If so, why not a human cell? What about a virus? These simply aren’t scientific categories that don’t end up being problematic when examined carefully. (Which is not to say scientists don’t talk about life, but then they also talk about intentionality and other things but usually qualify them as metaphoric even if some individual scientists may make stronger metaphysical claims)

    Dsc, the problem of course is that we can grow tissues outside of a human body. So modern medicine and biology is making this a rather complicated argument. Being life and being a full human life simply aren’t the same thing. Further as critics like to point out, the “life at conception” argument runs into trouble with IVF and other technologies that pro-life proponents often support. This isn’t a problem for the Mormon position given our part/whole distinction for human life. I’d say that it also affects end of life issues as well.

    Nate while questions of soul, life, and spirit aren’t legal categories they are extremely significant for what laws get passed and supported. Thus from a legislative perspective they matter a great deal.

  13. May 21, 2019 at 10:30 pm

    DSC,
    Why is it wrong to consider pregnancy and the associated health and legal concerns a unique context? Don’t we treat it differently because it is, in fact, different? And sufficiently different from euthanasia that having separate legal categories is appropriate? (Note: not a lawyer)

  14. Dsc
    May 21, 2019 at 10:56 pm

    John C

    I absolutely agree that pregnancy is unique, which is why so many attempts to compare it to something else ultimately fail. But we know scientifically that an embryo is a living organism (in terms of biology, it is not merely tissue; that’s not a controversial position), and if it has human parents, then it, too, is human. That’s enough to settle the question for me that we ought to require some justification to cause its death.

    The main problem from a legal standpoint is that legislatures are prevented from deciding these difficult questions based on a couple of nonsensical Supreme Court decisions.

  15. Libcon
    May 22, 2019 at 1:32 am

    Almost anyone that mentions rape and incest is a disingenuous.

    Are you ok with no abortion is those exceptions are carved out?

    Do you think those exceptions have anything to do with 99.99% of all abortions?

    Have the police been contacted in those scenarios? If not, destroying a life but failing to report a serious crime, is outrageous. I would surely expect that if someone gets an abortion for those reasons, we all need to be supportive of them reporting the crime and not talking about them getting abortions in secret. Those heinous crimes need to be shouted from the roof tops, not asking the victim to cover up the consequences of them in shame.

    That said, I can imagine many millions of people in history and many tens of millions of descendants who would never have existed if they were aborted because a violent crime was committed against the mother. It’s a terrible thing all around. I have a hard time agreeing to the destruction of innocent life because of the actions of the perpetrator.

    The truth of the matter is this; at no point in human history have we been better equipped to deal with the fallout of unwanted pregnancy, caring for the life of the mother and child, ensuring both have the opportunity to live healthy lives, reducing the discomforts of pregnancy and child birth (both in physical comfort of surroundings compared to the past and the actual medical care), and what have we done with those blessings from heaven???

    Found a way to destroy that life in the face of so much support and capability (compared to the past).

    This is tragic and it surely speaks to our moral decline.

  16. IDIAT
    May 22, 2019 at 6:35 am

    A brief internet search on statistics relating to reasons for having an abortion reveal that health of mother/fetal health/rape amount to a low percentage – like 5 – 7 percent. The rest are elective based on a variety of reasons, giving support to Libcon’s position that society isn’t using all its resources to favor carrying a fetus to full term.

  17. Cyl
    May 22, 2019 at 7:14 am

    It would be awesome if that were true, Libcon, that in the US we are better equipped than ever, but we’re not. Maternal mortality rates are climbing, and social support systems fail repeatedly.

    I always appreciated the church for not outright banning abortion and recognizing nuance. I was raised Catholic. I was also raised on National Review with a lifelong love for their columnist, Florence King. I just never could come around to the idea of banning abortion entirely, especially once I studied best practices for preventing it.

  18. ji
    May 22, 2019 at 7:17 am

    “But if they have Mormon doctrinal commitments they have to tie in those radically different commitments to how they view abortion.”

    Are we talking about theological views of abortion, or public policy views of abortion? It seems to me that these are different discussions for different settings, and that a faithful Latter-day Saint could have different views of abortion (one for theological settings and another one for public policy settings). It is confusing and unfruitful (or so it seems to me) when we try to discuss both in the same setting.

    We are a minority in a pluralistic society (except in Utah), so I wonder if the Prophet Joseph Smith’s teaching applies about teaching correct principles but allowing them to govern themselves?

  19. May 22, 2019 at 7:36 am

    DSC,
    What do you believe will prevent legislatures from putting forth more laws like those in Alabama and Georgia if Roe is overturned? While I appreciate that you find Roe nonsensical, I’m uncertain that removing it will result in better approaches to the problems that result in abortion.

  20. Dsc
    May 22, 2019 at 8:16 am

    John C

    Well, first of all, these laws are being passed in part to directly challenge Roe, so you wouldn’t have laws designed to challenge the Court. Second, who’s to say that Georgia and Alabama’s laws are unacceptable? Wouldn’t that be the people of Georgia and Alabama? I would favor a law similar to Georgia’s but adding a rape exception. It’s not the judiciary’s job to overrule bad laws; it’s their job to overrule unconstitutional laws. For example, Griswold vs Connecticut was also legally dubious, although it dealt with a really stupid law.

  21. Old Guy
    May 22, 2019 at 11:31 am

    Clark, your article was excellent in doing its best to avoid a political or even a religious debate. Kudos to you. It brought up a lot of items from both sides of the fence without judgement — many of us do actually need to hear what both sides are advocating. And yes, Roe vs Wade, along with the proliferation of government-funded Welfare, were two of the main factors that turned a lot of Saints into Republicans way back then.
    I personally am very grateful for two things when it comes to the abortion debate:
    One, I’m very grateful for prophetic leaders who have set what I believe to be some very good guidance on the topic. The more I hear both sides, the more wisdom I find in their words.
    Two, as a young missionary in the ’70’s, I was VERY grateful that missionaries in the country I served in were not allowed to conduct baptism interviews. Where I was serving in the Orient, abortion was looked at as nothing more than birth control and was very, very common. I was very grateful that bishops/branch presidents conducted those interviews and not 19-year-old boys who barely knew anything about Life. Baptism interviews with married couples nearly always involved this topic, and they were long interviews. At the time the official church policy was that a person who had participated in or encouraged an abortion were not allowed to be baptized, but in the Orient, where it was so utterly common, the church leaders were given different instructions that involved very searching interviews. Bishops never shared these instructions with us; they only described the process as “very soul-searching.” I saw perspective members come out of those interviews with new light in their faces, and they were baptized. My view at the time was that in places where they had been taught from infancy that it was “a normal thing to do” the Lord was giving them the opportunity to learn otherwise and then choose to follow the Lord on the topic.

  22. Clark Goble
    May 22, 2019 at 12:01 pm

    DSC But we know scientifically that an embryo is a living organism (in terms of biology, it is not merely tissue; that’s not a controversial position), and if it has human parents, then it, too, is human. That’s enough to settle the question for me that we ought to require some justification to cause its death.

    I don’t think that settles it given that it’s not a human person without the spirit. In a certain sense it is dead. So this category of life which everyone is appealing to simply is much more problematic particularly in a Mormon context. I recognize not everyone wants to deal with these questions, but they matter a great deal. For some people, such as libcon above, so long as it resembles what we’d consider a full living baby that’s enough. What the point of this post is to raise the questions I think many are avoiding.

    Also the whole tissue vs. person issue is a bit more complicated than you suggest, particularly now as we’re figuring out stem cells. More or less what one has to appeal to is developmental futures here. But again, most people don’t make the full argument necessary to make these distinction. Further since the arguments then take an other step toward rights, they have to make the argument that these differences don’t impact upon rights and how rights are balanced. So, for instance, someone might say the rights of a raped woman are trumped by the rights of a third trimester baby but that the developmental issues mean the woman’s rights trump the fetus in the first trimester. One has to address those issues and typically most people haven’t thought through those issues.

    What I suspect most people end up appealing to who try to avoid these religious questions is that resemblance that libcon appealed to. At least he was forthright in his claim. The problem is that a zygot simply doesn’t resemble a third trimester baby. I do think our intuitions get primed the closer it resembles a baby. Thus the appeals to photos of early babies (typically second trimester). My point though is to suggest that resemblance might be a somewhat problematic category once we start thinking about it more. So in that balancing of rights issue, it seems intuitive that the less it resembles a baby the less it is one in those calculations. I think that’s the intuition for the many (perhaps majority) who see 1st trimester differently. Again though, I suspect most of them haven’t thought this through too much either. Since it’s not at all obvious that rights depend upon resemblance.

    Just to lay out my own position. I deeply oppose abortion, consider myself pro-life, oppose the legality of abortion in the second and third trimesters, but simply think the first trimester – particularly the first few weeks – probably is something different.

    John C What do you believe will prevent legislatures from putting forth more laws like those in Alabama and Georgia if Roe is overturned?

    Democracy. Even many hard core conservatives find the Georgia law disturbing. It’s not hard to find conservative outlets saying that. Even Trump, who has made placating Evangelicals his primary political strategy, has come out and said he finds it problematic. I can’t see such a law ever passing in Utah simply due to not having a rape exception. You might get a few more states passing something, much like Missouri did. Perhaps Louisiana or Mississippi. But few others simply because of the political coalitions in the states.

    I also can’t see SCOTUS even accepting the law as a case given the politics of Roe v. Wade and Roberts history. So it’ll almost certainly be overturned by the 11th Circuit Court and refuse to be taken up by SCOTUS. So even legally I doubt other states will pass it. I’d lay good odds that the legislatures in Georgia and Alabama know this and this is an appeal to placate a particularly thorny part of the activist base. So I’d lay very good odds that particular local issues are ultimately driving this. Further it may well be that the Alabama and Georgia legislatures are counting on this to avoid the expense of having to argue it before SCOTUS.

  23. Dsc
    May 22, 2019 at 12:36 pm

    Clark,

    I admit that the tissue vs organism question does get fuzzy (particularly when it comes to twinning) in the extremely early phases of development (although again, and this bears repeating, biologists almost universally classify living things as organisms immediately post-fertilization; debates about classification of organisms typically surround things like whether a virus is an organism). But that question is irrelevant in terms of abortion, since abortions always occur long after the distinction ceases to be fuzzy, unlike in the context of IVF or stem cell research.

    Personhood, of course, is a different issue. But that will necessarily bring in questions far less concrete than whether the subject of discussion is human and is alive. The “is it a human organism” standard is, to me, the best standard because it is definite, errs on the side of preserving life, and is an appeal to rationality. From a religious standpoint, the sanctity of creation, our mortal bodies, and human life in general is enough to resolve questions to me, regardless of when the spirit enters the body.

  24. Clark Goble
    May 22, 2019 at 12:53 pm

    Dsc, it seems to me you’re assuming the distinction ceases to be fuzzy in the context of abortion. But that’s rather the argument of the original post. That if we take our doctrine seriously, a body without a spirit just is tissue. So I don’t think it’s as obvious as you are making it appear.

    The question of human and alive likewise isn’t separate from personhood I think. This seems obvious in cases of brain death but where the body is undeniably alive. Admittedly I’ve not here gotten into end of life debates but I think they’re related in obvious ways. The real question ends up being why being human and alive (recognizing life just isn’t a scientific category – and thus problematic) has the ethical implications some argue. Again I think the real issue is personhood or at least what belongs to a person. To me the “human organism” is ultimately beside the point. After all a fetus that won’t survive due to huge birth defects is a human organism but it seems wrong to ban abortion in that case.

    It’s when we start dealing with these other situations and balancing rights that I think the “human organism” argument really fails. It’s advantage is that it’s simple. But it just seems like it can’t answer rather big questions – especially since it seems like these issues of birth defects are the leading cause of third term abortions and a major percentage of second term abortions. In Florida they made up close to 15% of 2cd term abortions.

  25. Nate GT
    May 22, 2019 at 1:11 pm

    As for the oft-heard complaint that abortions are legal only because of unelected judges, bear in mind that according to a recent CBS poll, 67% of Americans do not want it overturned. Even 45% of Republicans don’t want it overturned. 48% would be angry if it were overturned. So it would seem that the idea of there being a right to an abortion is supported by the majority of Americans, even though majority of Alabamans probably don’t support it.

    https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.cbsnews.com/amp/news/majority-of-americans-dont-want-roe-v-wade-overturned-cbs-news-poll-finds/

  26. Dsc
    May 22, 2019 at 1:45 pm

    Clark,

    I think we’re talking past each other. Life absolutely is a scientific category. Biology is the study of it. Words like “organism” and “tissue” are biological terms, wholly unconcerned with terms like “spirit” and “soul”. So when I say that a zygote is an organism, what I mean is it that it does all the things that biologists define as attributes of an organism. It is far more complex than many bacteria, which are unambiguously organisms. The question of “organism” vs “tissue” is only even vaguely relevant in the earliest stages of development, since at early stages, one organism can become two, and all cells are of the same kind.

    Although I firmly believe in our dual physical and spiritual existence, spiritual questions are best left out of policy discussions.

    And I don’t see why granting rights on the basis of “is it a living human organism” is all that problematic. We balance the rights of living humans all the time. If you threaten my life, I have the right to protect my own life by ending yours in certain circumstances. People can pull the plug on family members whose ability to continue life is highly doubtful. You can come to all kinds of results by balancing rights. There’s nothing about assuming that all human organisms have rights that precludes determining that a human organism destined to immediately die has fewer or lesser rights than a healthy mother whose health would be improved by hastening its demise.

    Nate,

    Three points. First, approval by a majority does not cure undemocratic action. A dictator’s rule is not made more valid just because his dictates sometimes coincide with popular opinion. Second, popular opinion polls about Supreme Court decisions are notoriously unreliable because most people do not understand what the decision means. I can’t tell you how many people think that overturning Roe would mean that abortions would be illegal in all states. Third, in the United States, we have a system of federalism, whereby states are separate sovereigns and make their own laws. Roe flies in the face of that fundamental principle.

  27. SDS
    May 22, 2019 at 2:05 pm

    I want to know if I’m following the reasoning here. In Clark’s understanding, the crucial question is not when a fetus becomes a living organism, or a human organism, but rather when the soul connects with the body. And we have no theological reason to suppose that this necessarily happens at conception, or at “quickening.” Have I got that much right? And if so, do have any theological guidance regarding when the crucial point– i.e., soul connecting with body– does happen?

  28. Nate GT
    May 22, 2019 at 4:47 pm

    Dsc, so Supreme Court rulings violate democracy? I’m really confused.

    There are many other polls on abortion with different questions showing that a majority supports its legalization. So even if we brought the issue to a nationwide referendum, it isn’t unreasonable to think that it would still remain legal.

    Based on your incorrect argument on federalism, South Carolina and other states should have been legally allowed to secede from the US and racial segregation laws should be able to remain in force. You’re conflating a federalist state with a confederation. It is almost as if you want the articles of confederation to still be in force where there is no balance of power among three branches of government.

  29. Dsc
    May 22, 2019 at 5:11 pm

    Nate,

    When a Supreme Court ruling has no basis in law or the Constitution, then yes, it violates democratic values. Decisions like Dred Scott, Korematsu, and Roe were all an affront to democracy.

    Polls typically show that a majority of Americans believe abortion should be legal in some circumstances, but illegal in other circumstances. But again, democracy is not run on public opinion polls–it runs on elections and the actions of legislative bodies. And if abortion remains legal after Roe is overturned, then so be it. Democracy wins. If that truly is the case, then pro-choice advocates have nothing to fear from the overturning of Roe.

    But I’m confused about what kind of nationwide referendum would decide the issue. We don’t have nationwide referenda in the United States. I’m also not sure what authority Congress has to protect or prohibit abortion on a federal level (the 1995 Partial Birth Abortion Act was probably unconstitutional on federalism grounds).

    And no, federalism does not imply the right to secede. As for segregation, state-imposed segregation is illegal under the 14th Amendment, and Congress has power to legislate matters of interstate commerce, including segregation by private parties in the contexts legislated by the Civil Rights Act.

  30. Clark Goble
    May 22, 2019 at 5:20 pm

    Dsc, it’s worth noting that not everyone views the constitution the same way. As a practical matter is not one group’s ideal reading so much as how the justices on the court view it. And clearly there are big divides in how they view it. While I tend towards textualism myself, I’m also anything but an attorney, so I’m not sure how much that is worth. Even among textualist they don’t always agree which is why the conservative justices don’t always vote the same way in SCOTUS cases.

    Regarding life, again it’s complicated. To say that biology studies life doesn’t mean that life is defined scientifically. This boundary problem is hardly unique to biology either. More to the point though when you move from life to an ethical demand, there are important missing steps. It’s within those steps that the nature of the spirit ends up being rather significant.

    Nate, abortion polls are notoriously difficult since how questions are phrased can have huge differences. As I mentioned in the OP you also get pretty contradictory answers even within the same poll. A lot of polling on abortion is much more about signaling tribal identity.

    SDS, yes, I don’t think whether a fetus is a human organism necessarily has the ethical implications some suggest particularly in a Mormon context. If it’s a part of a person rather than a person then the “human organism” bit doesn’t matter because a human organism is just itself a part and thus not autonomous or of inherent value. As I said a lot of arguments that make sense in say a Catholic context don’t in a Mormon one. It’s just that because people don’t tend to go through all the steps of the ethical argument they don’t realize it. They assume resemblance or humanness is all that matters. But there are missing steps there that simply aren’t as obvious as I think people’s intuitions make them.

  31. SDS
    May 22, 2019 at 5:57 pm

    Clark, I tend to agree that the crucial question (at least for making judgments about “killing”) is about when an organism becomes a “person,” and also that science can’t by itself settle this question. I also agree that in deciding when one becomes a “person,” it seems helpful on our assumptions to ask when a spirit becomes connected to a physical body.

    It is a little unsettling, though, if on that crucial question our theology gives us no guidance. (Not sure if you’re saying that, but if not, what sort of guidance do you see?) In that circumstance, telling a person or even a bishop to pray about the matter seems a kind of evasion. If the Church has no answer to the question, why would we expect individuals to be able to pray and receive an answer? So the whole thing seems quite frustrating. Any help?

    In this respect, though, it does seem that we shouldn’t conflate the question of the rightness or wrongness of abortion with the question of individual culpability. In other words, given the difficulty and lack of clarity regarding the issue, it might well be that a particular abortion does entail taking the life of a person– i.e., “killing”– and yet that a woman who has the abortion shouldn’t be held to be fully accountable. This would be especially true in cultures in which abortion is viewed as completely normal (as described earlier by Old Guy).

    As an analogy: I know prisoners who are incarcerated for murder; in some cases they were young men who got caught up in gang activity in neighborhoods where involvement would be hard to avoid. Today some of these men seem to me wonderful people who are trying valiantly to learn and live in accordance with the Gospel. Given their circumstances, I find it hard to consider them fully blameworthy for their wrongful actions in the past. But I don’t think it follows that what they did was not, or should not be called, murder.

  32. Nate GT
    May 22, 2019 at 6:17 pm

    Dsc, you may disagree with particular rulings, but it doesn’t mean that they violate democracy. Plus, you have to recognize that direct democracy was never part of the US system nor the intention of the founding fathers. The founding fathers actually spoke ill of direct democracy. Hamilton opined, “If we incline too much to democracy, we shall soon shoot into a monarchy.” Madison wrote, “Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.” Instead the founders opted for a republic, or an indirect democracy, in which there is a balance of power among three branches of government. The Supreme Court, even though it sometimes seems to act like an extension of the legislature, is vital for the preservation of the republic. You can’t just dismiss it as illegitimate simply because it issued a ruling that you don’t like. As Clark points out, not everyone views the Constitution in the same way. And it has to be that way.

    I agree with your and Clark’s points on the polls changing according to how you ask questions. But they at least show that a fair number of people favor abortion rights, to a much greater degree than you. So your point about the Supreme Court not representing the will of the people (which it doesn’t have to anyways) is probably moot in this regard. It is highly likely that the majority of the US population is in favor of abortion rights (to some degree). Polls aren’t completely invalid. When they yield a result that you don’t like, you can’t just dismiss them as ridiculous and incorrect. I have every reason to believe that a few polls emerged showing that a strong majority of the US population was against abortion rights, you would be all over that. On referendums, I brought those up because those are direct democracy. Hypothetically if we had a nationwide referendum on abortion (and you’re right, there are no nationwide referendums, for good reason), it is likely that abortion rights would continue to be upheld. But again, the goal is not and never was direct democracy. So your championing of democracy, inasmuch as you are implying direct democracy, is unconstitutional in a sense.

    Your understanding of federalism seems to be that states should have more rights than they are actually granted under the constitution and court interpretations of it over the centuries. You’re understanding the US to be a confederation, in which states almost operate as independent countries, which it most certainly isn’t. The federal government has a right to overrule states’ laws in many regards.

    Everything you are saying seems to be arguing against the actual legitimacy of the Supreme Court. Come on. This is silly.

  33. Dsc
    May 22, 2019 at 8:25 pm

    Nate,

    By pointing out the illegitimacy of Roe, I am no more questioning the validity of the Court than I would be questioning the validity of the presidency by pointing out the illegitimacy of building a wall without federal funding or the validity of Congress by noting that the detainee treatment act was unconstitutional.

    No one in legal circles seriously defends the legal reasoning in Roe. The arguments you hear today are based on precedent and reliance interests. Laurence Tribe, by no means a conservative, said “One of the most curious things about Roe is that, behind its own verbal smokescreen, the substantive judgment on which it rests is nowhere to be found.”

    My view of federalism is the same as the 10th Amendment. The Constitution grants certain powers to Congress, and in those powers, Congressional Acts are superior to state law. The federal Constitution itself is also superior to state law. But since a right to abortion “is not inferable from the language of the Constitution, the framers’ thinking respecting the specific problem in issue, any general value derivable from the provisions they included, or the nation’s governmental structure”, it is illegitimate for the Court to impose a policy where there is no basis in law.

    And no, I’m not much concerned with polls that support my position as a basis of law. The only polls that matter are at the ballot box and in the chambers of the legislature.

  34. jpv
    May 22, 2019 at 8:48 pm

    “While this tends to suggest that the Church assumes third trimester fetuses are fully people, it’s also largely a policy open to change and not intended as a doctrinal claim.”

    Strongly disagree.

    I hate that people like you in the church ignore the Prophet Joseph’s teaching :
    “Children who are born dead will have full grown bodies being made up by the resurrection.'”

    P.S. I’m someone who otherwise always agrees with you here and elsewhere.

  35. Nate GT
    May 23, 2019 at 2:13 am

    Dsc, in your first response to me you wrote that the legalization of abortion occurred undemocratically. It was unclear what you meant. The Constitution doesn’t even mention the term democracy for one. In your last comment you noted that its legalization was unconstitutional. That doesn’t make sense either given the fact that the Supreme Court is perfectly constitutional branch of the government and the Roe v Wade decision passed 7-2. Is it because the legalization goes against the will of the people? Polls suggest that it may not. Is it because were a referendum to be held on the matter that people would vote against abortion? For one, polls (again) suggest the opposite, and two, the US was never intended to be run like a direct democracy. It would be complete chaos to hold referendums on every last issue. This is why we have an elected legislature. But to hold legislatures in check, we have a Supreme Court, who is not bound to the will of the people, popularity, etc., but their interpretations of the constitution, which are to be based in large part on legal precedent (the US system being based not on civil law, but on common law). Originalism and formalism are in a sense a violation of the true spirit of common law, which is that laws are to accommodate the ever changing attitudes and mores of society and are not to be bound by the mores of a few white landowning men of the 18th century.

    I think what you mean to say is that its legalization was immoral. You are conflating the constitution and constitutionality with morality. All sorts of immoral things have been justified on the basis of the constitution, as you pointed out earlier. But alas, since multiple, competing conceptions of morality exist within our country, current laws simply cannot accommodate all simultaneously. Abortion is a constitutional right, like it or not.

    “No one in legal circles seriously defends the legal reasoning in Roe”

    Simply not true. If no one did, then we would expect there to have been many challenges to it much earlier. Some justices, including liberal-leaning ones, don’t defend it, that is true. “No one” is an untenable generalization.

    The 10th Amendment simply states a truism, that which the federal government doesn’t have power over, the states have power over. It does not confer extensive power over laws to the states, such as the right to disregard Supreme Court rulings. The 10th Amendment is commonly misinterpreted to mean that laws passed at the federal level and Supreme Court rulings must have approval of all the states, which is ludicrous. Were this the case, the US could not have become anything to what it has become today. The constitution grants implied powers to the federal government. And it is on this basis that the US expanded its territory, divvied up state boundaries, stopped a separatist movement from gaining independence in the southern US, expanded freedoms to minorities (also abused minorities as well in the case of the Japanese during WWII and Mexicans in the 1930s), declared all sorts of wars, maintained a military, and done innumerable other things that have shown the strong arm of its federal government. The Constitution was based on the idea of strong federal government. It replaced a confederation government which was proving to be an utter disaster in just a few years after its inception.

    What I commonly hear from the so-called “tenthers,” such as yourself, is an odd call to confederationism where the federal government is stripped of its power, having really only a legislature and a small executive. And of course, more often than not, the tenthers only call for states rights when the federal government is doing something they don’t like. They love big, strong government when it is on their side and doing things they like such as waging wars in the Middle East and ruthlessly cracking down on illegal immigration. It is utter hypocrisy.

  36. GEOFF -AUS
    May 23, 2019 at 3:12 am

    1. Do religious/ or political people have the right to impose their view on others who don’t hold those views?
    2. Is there a cost to trying to impose your views on others? Moral credibility?
    3. Do those religious people understand what they are talking about? For example if a foetus dies in the third trimesta, the removal process is called an abortion. If it is not possible the woman dies. Other facts: Women in their twenties accounted for the majority of abortions in 2015 and throughout the period of analysis. The majority of abortions in 2015 took place early in gestation: 91.1% of abortions were performed at ?13 weeks’ gestation; a smaller number of abortions (7.6%) were performed at 14–20 weeks’ gestation, and even fewer (1.3%) were performed at ?21 weeks’ gestation. In 2015, 24.6% of all abortions were early medical abortions (a non-surgical abortion at ?8 weeks’ gestation) that makes 99% by week 21. Most of the after 21 weeks would be life of mother or child problems.
    4. Does making abortion illegal mean there are no abortions? No! But they were not counted, so can’t compare numbers.
    5. Are anti abortion people aware that the death rate for mothers who have illegal abortions is 5 times higher than legal abortions.
    6. The evidence shows that if abortion is legal, and sex education, and birth control are freely available abortion rates are lower. Generally rates are lower when Democrats are in power than when Republicans.
    7. Will the states banning abortion be increasing availability of sex education abd birth control? See 1.
    8. Is this at least partly about conservative men, controling the choices of women?
    9. Are women really going to be put in prison for having an abortion?

  37. Dsc
    May 23, 2019 at 3:42 am

    Nate,

    Who defends the legal reasoning in Roe? Find me a serious legal scholar who thinks that Roe was sound reasoning.

    Roe was undemocratic because it wasn’t law passed through the democratic process. If you don’t value democracy, I can’t help that. It’s unconstitutional because the constitution does not hint at a right to abortion, and the constitution does not give the courts the power to legislate. When the Supreme Court acts legitimately, it acts democratically because either A) it is enforcing a provision of the Constitution, which was adopted and ratified through a democratic process or B) it is acting in a judicial capacity, which power is given to the court by the democratically adopted constitution.

    I’m not arguing for a weak federal government or a return to the confederacy, so stop saying that I am. But the federal government has only the powers granted to it. That’s what the 10th Amendment means. Again, no serious legal scholar thinks otherwise.

    I won’t even answer your blatant guilt-by-association fallacy.

  38. Nate GT
    May 23, 2019 at 9:57 am

    Dsc, this is my last comment to you (and I won’t bother reading your response or commenting to it) since you don’t seem to be defending your points and are just repeating yourself.

    “Find me a serious legal scholar who thinks that Roe was sound reasoning”

    Roe was decided 7-2 a long time ago. That is has not been seriously challenged is testament to its general legal acceptance among lawyers, judges, and experts. Not all find it well-reasoned obviously. But this idea that no one finds its well-reasoned is a generalization. But I’m just repeating myself here.

    “If you don’t value democracy, I can’t help that.”

    Please, I went over this and you ignored my response. This childish response of yours signals you’ve lost the debate and is why I am writing this as a last comment and am bowing out.

    “It’s unconstitutional…”

    You’re confusing the constitution for law. The constitution merely defines who has the power to make laws. Also, I repeat, Supreme Court rulings that may seem unjust and immoral to some are not inherently unconstitutional. All sorts of immoral laws and rulings have occurred on the basis of the constitution. You’re also confusing constitutionality for morality. It isn’t the same thing. Slavery and segregation were once deemed constitutional (and moral).

    “I’m not arguing for a weak federal government”

    It is strongly implied. But alas, I usually don’t take tentherism too seriously since I have every reason to believe that if abortion rights were popular at a state level but not a federal level that you wouldn’t be invoking the 10th Amendment but just calling for the federal government to overpower states, because, well, you think that abortion is deeply immoral and should be stopped at almost all costs. But I don’t know, there are tenther purists, like Mike Lee, who actually argue against the legitimacy of child labor laws because these weren’t passed on the state level by each and every state (an argument that reads too much into the power granted to states in the 10th amendment). Simply put, you’re ignoring the fact that the federal government has all sorts of implied powers on which it operates and has long operated to expand its power over the US. And it is because of these implied powers that we have a single US that isn’t broken up into different countries, that the US expanded its territory well beyond the Mississippi, we have a large centralized military, and a central bank.

  39. Dsc
    May 23, 2019 at 10:21 am

    Nate,

    What does “Constitutional” mean if not that it is rooted in the constitution?

    And Roe has been challenged. Constantly. When the Court in Planned Parenthood v Casey upheld portions of it, it did so strictly on the basis that it was precedent. The Court made no attempt to defend Roe’s reasoning.

    If I sound repetitive it’s because you haven’t actually addressed my points.

  40. Clark Goble
    May 23, 2019 at 12:24 pm

    JPV, Joseph’s comments don’t really help here since he doesn’t specify an age. One imagines he means still births or 3rd trimester deaths. It’s not clear though. My point about doctrine vs. policy was more about the age not whether babies would be resurrected. It’s very hard to take Joseph’s comments as applying to the 1st trimester.

    I should also add that there are controversies with Joseph’s statement. Jonathan Stapley did a post that included that discussion a few years back. “Children Who Pass Away” It’s probably worth reading relative to this discussion although it doesn’t get into the age issue which is the primary focus of my OP.

    Dsc, I think that Roe v Wade is already been mostly overturned. As you note, there’s wide consensus that the original decision was poorly reasoned although not everyone agrees. (Again what ultimately counts is the vote by SCOTUS not their reasoning) That said it’s also true that there’s broad desire to maintain Roe v Wade although as I noted what exactly that means isn’t clear. Polls don’t necessarily tell us about support for particular laws but often are more about tribal signaling.

    Nate, as I mentioned, Roe v Wade is already mostly been walked back. The courts have supported quite a lot of restrictions on abortion that Roe v Wade’s original supporters couldn’t have imagined. The big remaining one is full restriction for 2cd or 1st term abortions. I doubt we’ll get a pull back on 1st term abortions for a slew of reasons. Even if Roe v Wade was poorly reasoned, I suspect even the conservative justices will always appeal to stare decisis to avoid having to rule on 1st term abortions. Even though clearly Alabama and Georgia want them to rule on it. (There’s a theory they want it struck down to keep abortion anger inflamed on the right and avoid obvious problems with the current GOP tied to Trump)

    My guess is that the court will simply make a viability argument relative to abortion and allow the banning of 3rd trimester abortions. But who knows. The big shift on Roe v Wade was the replacing of a 14th amendment based “right to choose” with an “undue burden” criteria. That goes back decades though. Typically the reason people think even conservative justices won’t allow 1st trimester bans is because of that appeal to burden. So you’ll get different sorts of restrictions instead such as we’ve seen the past 15 years.

    That said, it’s a mistake to assume SCOTUS only rules in terms of obvious interpretations. Lawyers by their nature are good at figuring ways out to defend a position already held.

    But such legal politics are somewhat beside the point if we’re talking about the ethics of both having an abortion and what laws should ideally be passed independent of democratic politics.

    Geoff, by and large democracy means passing laws for whatever reason voters want. There’s no real limit on their reasoning. Indeed to say only certain reasoning is just ends up being quite at odds with democracy itself. The only limits are state and national constitutions.

    The argument for allowing abortion because people will still do it seems an odd one to me. I recognize people appeal to this but typically they treat abortion differently from other dangerous practices such as black market drugs (not just recreational ones). The same people who appeal to this argument to legitimize abortion typically don’t think heroin and cocaine should be as readily available as an abortion. (You may, I don’t know, there certainly are many who think all drugs should be legal but administered only by doctors)

  41. GEOFF -AUS
    May 23, 2019 at 4:22 pm

    Perhaps you could compare it to divorce which was seen as immoral, but not illegal, rather than hard drugs. I think most people who want to make abortion illegal, believe that will stop it. The point of it continuing is that by arguing to make it illegal you are arguing for 5 times as many women to die, and may not reduce the number of abortions that much. Is the cost worth the percieved benifit?
    All the legal argument above, is very high level, but does not apply to the practical reality for those who use these services.

  42. Dsc
    May 23, 2019 at 5:01 pm

    “death rate for mothers who have illegal abortions is 5 times higher than legal abortions”

    Since you’ve repeated this line twice, I’m going to ask for a source. I’m skeptical. Chile imposed one of the strictest abortion laws in the world in 1989. Deaths from illegal abortions continued to decline to practically zero for the next two decades. Until recently, Ireland had very strict abortion laws, and it has been one of the leading countries in terms of women’s health for decades.

  43. Michael 2
    May 23, 2019 at 5:20 pm

    I know the very day when my daughter’s spirit entered her body. Two spirits came, one returned to its source. I presume one was my daughter-to-be and the other an escort or possibly the next spirit in line hoping for a body. It was about the 12th week. Of these two spirits, one was very powerful and scary the other stood off a small distance and watched. I’m not sure which was my daughter but she was and remains quite forceful.

    Abortion prior to that moment is disappointing but to me not murder. After that its human life. I’m not all that binary and I’m also mostly libertarian; so even if I call it murder I’m not sure I have a duty to prevent all murders on Earth and I’m certainly not culpable for your decisions. On the other hand I don’t support abortion; I won’t pay for it even if it is your “right” except in case of medical necessity.

    GEOFF -AUS asks the right man (me!): “1. Do religious/ or political people have the right to impose their view on others who don’t hold those views?”

    Yes. Whether that imposition results in you actually changing your view is not for others to decide. But they certainly have a right to TRY. In a democracy, the majority creates whatever rights they wish, ex-nihilo, by force of arms.

    “2. Is there a cost to trying to impose your views on others?”

    Yes. Thanks to the internet the cost is usually minuscule. If by “views” you mean forced behavior, that can be expensive.

    “3. Do those religious people understand what they are talking about?”

    Yes. All people always know what they are talking about. Less common is knowing what someone else is talking about.

    “5. Are anti abortion people aware that the death rate for mothers who have illegal abortions is 5 times higher than legal abortions.”

    Yes. This suggests a caution for someone thinking about an illegal abortion.

  44. GEOFF -AUS
    May 24, 2019 at 4:42 am

    I think there are accepted/agreed moral principles that governments can impose, like murder not being acceptable. There are other things that are seen by some as moral issues, and other groups see the other point of view is the moral one. Abortion, and gay marriage, and sexism are examples of these. If one group tries to impose their view on the other they put their credibility on the line. You have the right to practice your beliefs, but imposing them on others is problematic.
    On the abortion issue, those who believe abortion should be available, are not requiring those who do not believe in it to have to have abortion, but those who do not, want to make others conform to their view. The cost of this is the suffering of others, but also abortion will become permanently legal, and those who have resisted loose credibility. Those who insist on being racist are not well respected by the majority for example. Where I live no political party likely to form government is talking about abortion. Another consequence is that members here vote conservative because of abortion, even though it is irrelevant. The new political educators could be helpfull?
    By do people know what they are talking about, I mean are their opinions based on truth, rather than prejudices.
    I would suggest that if you accept no responsibility for the consequences of imposing your views on others, like women having illegal abortions dying at greater rates, you are not considering all the things you should in coming to your view. Slavery is a great for the owners, so long as you ignore the consequences to the slaves. Making abortion illegal must make you feel good, but the consequences for those who have need of an abortion should be taken into account by those trying to prevent it.
    Are those of you wanting to make abortion illegal, promoting sex education, and provision of birth control, and funding womens health? These are proven to reduce abortion. Is it inconsistent to be anti abortion but not support the things proven to reduce it?

  45. libcon
    May 24, 2019 at 7:36 am

    “women having illegal abortions dying at greater rates”

    100% of all babies die in abortion.
    Do 5% of all women die in illegal abortions? Surely the rate isn’t drastically high — otherwise the illegal provider would be piling up bodies left and right.

    So let’s assume abortion is rightly illegal and one million more people are born each year.

    Now let’s assume that one million women get illegal abortions, and a massively high 5% die. That’s 50,000 women who violated the law in an attempt to destroy a life, who die.

    Tragic — for sure. I’d hope in that scenario, like assisted suicide hotlines (also illegal to commit suicide I might add), we’d encourage women that they don’t need to risk an abortion just because they don’t want a child.

    But even so, if the numbers were unchangeable, I’ve put 1 million new, never had a chance to live before humans, against 50,000 lived for many years before making a tragic mistake humans.

    I’ll take the million new chances at life, regardless of your strange penchant for introducing politics into every conversation Geoff-Aus.

  46. Old Guy
    May 24, 2019 at 9:23 am

    GEOFF -AUS — I want to address your question: “Are those of you wanting to make abortion illegal, promoting sex education, and provision of birth control, and funding womens health? These are proven to reduce abortion. Is it inconsistent to be anti abortion but not support the things proven to reduce it?” . . .
    Many of those promoting the anti-abortion side of this debate do in fact promote sex education, ect . . . but they also promote teaching Chasity to both boys and girls. Somehow Chastity is being left out here. They promote sex education, but not the encouraging of promiscuity, and in too far many places sex education is merely a “how-to be promiscuous” class and not the “heath-science” class it is advertised to be.
    Many of those promoting the anti-abortion side of this debate promote that Chastity is one of the surest forms of birth control. Many of them also recognize that there are times that abortion is a viable option — in cases of rape/incest; to save the life of the mother. But abortion as merely a form of birth control does not fall into that category.
    I believe that if a society would return to teaching Chastity to both boys and girls, and then promoting, encouraging, expecting, and living it as an example, the pregnancy rate would decline, and with it the abortion rate. And the STD rate. And the divorce rate. And the early marriage rate. Let’s face it: the so-called “sexual revolution” has become a holocaust that makes Hitler and Stalin look like beginners. A holocaust that will only end when we return to unashamedly teaching and practicing Chastity and Restraint.
    I will never condone abortion as a form of birth control, but I will always defend it as an option in cases of involuntary pregnancy such as rape/incest and in order to save a mother’s life. I encourage sex education as a health-science, but never when it turns into a mere “how-to” class. I will never agree to handing out free birth control on a school campus because that’s the same as telling the kids to “go for it.” And I have fully funded my wife’s health our entire marriage. . . . And, my wife and I actively taught “the proper use at the proper time” to our six children, all of whom managed to “save it” for that proper time and place.

  47. Old Man
    May 24, 2019 at 12:08 pm

    Hi Geoff-Aus:

    “If one group tries to impose their view on the other they put their credibility on the line. You have the right to practice your beliefs, but imposing them on others is problematic.”

    This only makes sense if you view an unborn child as a non-person. And don’t those seeking abortions impose their will on the unborn with rather nasty ramifications? Do the unborn have rights?

    “…those who believe abortion should be available, are not requiring those who do not believe in it to have to have abortion.”

    Once again, the assumption is that the unborn is a non-person unworthy of protection. Abortion advocates do expect those who disagree with their low evaluation of human life to stand aside and refuse to offer legal protections.

    “…I mean are their opinions based on truth, rather than prejudices.”

    I believe we can point out that there is a high level of prejudice against the unborn child. And the results are catastrophic.

    “but the consequences for those who have need of an abortion should be taken into account.”

    I agree. But those who “need” an abortion are different than those who “want” an abortion.

    “Is it inconsistent to be anti abortion but not support the things proven to reduce it?”

    Do you support the teaching and practice of chastity and abstinence? The promotion of adoption as an alternative to abortion? They have been proven to work. Sex ed has a rather mixed record. And how about laws which limit access to pornography?

  48. Clark
    May 24, 2019 at 1:51 pm

    Geoff, I did in the OP compare it to adultery which is considered extremely immoral but not illegal. The comparison with drugs is more that it is an act that even while illegal people widely participate in despite obvious consequences to their life including death. So the argument that abortion should be legal because otherwise people would still do it and suffer parallels an argument that drugs should be legal because otherwise people would still do it in unsafe ways risking death.

    The argument that morality and legality separate is of course common – brought about in part by people’s perceptions of the difficulty of enforcement, consequences to the laws, as well as of course disagreements over morality. The reality of law making is that people will make laws on moral conceptions not everyone shares. As you may well know, divorce law in the United States was heavily shaped by religious belief particularly in the 19th century.

    As to the claim about consequences, that’s very much what the OP was about. After all if a spirit has inexorably joined the body, and abortion kills them preventing their mortal probation, that seems an undeniably horrible consequence. People with pro-choice biases see the consequences typically in terms of poor or uneducated attempting abortion on their own. People with pro-life biases typically see the consequences in terms of permanent killing of a person. Understandably those on the pro-life side frequently see the consequences as analogous to slavery.

    To the issue of reducing abortion, I certainly agree the best way to do this is education, better adoption, child services, and helping eliminate poverty. That’s somewhat orthogonal to the OP though that primarily focuses on the arguments regarding the ethics of abortion.

    I do think that in terms of arguments that comparing costs is essential – particularly relative to abortion among the impoverished, for those who are pregnant due to rape, and those for whom there are health risks. However how to calculate the trade offs there tends to be what people rarely do in practice. Instead they “join a tribe” and simply adopt the arguments and intuitions of their tribe.

  49. Michael 2
    May 24, 2019 at 3:25 pm

    GEOFF -AUS writes ? “I think there are accepted/agreed moral principles that governments can impose”

    Accepted by whom? You mentioned murder as one of these principles. How exactly does government obtain a right to regulate or prosecute murder? In western societies it obtains that right by consensus, agreement and ultimately force of arms.

    Rights are simply these agreements codified into law and enforced by government. There’s no need to specify a right that isn’t in conflict. Freedom of speech was assumed until it became clear that some people don’t want you to speak.

    You mention “moral principles”. Where are these to be found? You seem to assume widespread adoption of specific moral principles when in reality this may not be anywhere near the truth. The British commonwealth nations are experiencing a huge inrush of people that simply do not have Western (Christian) moral principles.

    Rights exist the moment you think of one and defend it. Rights not defended don’t exist, except in your mind, which is where they start in the first place.

    No limit exists on the rights I can imagine. The hard part is persuading you or tricking you into believing it exists.

    So what about fetus rights? They do not exist and cannot exist because (1) they don’t vote and (2) they cannot defend their claims.

    But *I* vote, and i can make a claim on fetus’ behalf and defend that claim. I can also do that for any kind of life! I suppose you have heard of “guardians ad litem” for animals. https://animallaw.foxrothschild.com/2019/01/15/animals-should-not-be-afforded-more-legal-representation-than-people-in-court/

    “By ‘do people know what they are talking about’, I mean are their opinions based on truth, rather than prejudices.”

    I believe all or nearly all persons will say their decisions are based on truth. They might also be prejudices.

    Let us consider one of my prejudices. I believe it is unwise to walk alone in southeast Washington DC. That is based on some truthful observations, but extended to the realm of probability. It is not certain that I will be molested while walking alone in southeast Washington DC but the odds are that it is more dangerous there than in Oslo, Norway. I have walked alone in both locations so my opinion is both truth-based AND prejudicial.

    “you are not considering all the things you should in coming to your view.”

    Likely so. In what way do you differ?

    The word “should” is always conditional. To reach a goal, “X” for instance, you should do “Y”. If you do not care about the goal the “should” vanishes!

    “Making abortion illegal must make you feel good, but the consequences for those who have need of an abortion should be taken into account by those trying to prevent it.”

    There’s that should again. What is the goal? Your goal may well not be my goal, in which case your shoulds are not my shoulds.

    “Are those of you wanting to make abortion illegal, promoting sex education, and provision of birth control, and funding womens health?”

    Some are, some aren’t. In my youth, sex education was looking at National Geographic. Nobody got free birth control and husbands funded wives’ health (and their own, and their children’s). If you want to provide birth control and fund women’s health go for it, do it now! If you want to take my labor and money for your charity I won’t be so willing.

    “Is it inconsistent to be anti abortion but not support the things proven to reduce it?”

    My decisions are consistent with my value systems.

    You are mixing value systems and that’s where inconsistency arises. In the value system of my youth, children will be born only to husband and wife and he will provide for birth control and women’s health and where her health is at risk (including emotional health) he won’t even start a baby. STD’s largely won’t exist, divorce largely won’t exist and society itself would barely have a reason for existing.

    In the value system of my daughter everything is turned over. Society is now “in loco parentis” and parents are no longer needed or useful (Karl Marx held this vision) since “society” provides everything except love and caring and pretends even to that.

  50. GEOFF -AUS
    May 24, 2019 at 10:04 pm

    I live in a country with universal healthcare, and where there is no party likely to be in government, talking about abortion. It is accepted as the mothers right to up to 22 weeks, after that there needs to be a good reason.
    We also see caring for minorities as important. The rates of abortion are 15 per 1000 of women between ages 18 and 44. https://abort73.com/abortion_facts/worldwide_abortion_statistics/ though this is 2010 and I understand these rates are reducing in most countries. A very small minority, of a verynlarge minority(women)
    I understand all your arguments above.
    They all involve one group of people imposing their views/standards on another group.
    The more free a society becomes the less desirable it is to have people imposing their limitations on others. In the free society we all work together so that each can persue their freedoms. It is all about respect (a part of love) for your fellow man/woman.
    You would point out the freedom of the feotus. There is nothing above saying the foetus under 22 weeks is independent being, even in the church. In our society it is part of the mother and her responsibility.
    You live in a society which is more restricted and less free, so you may not be able to understand.
    I was in America during prop8, and then coming home the feeling of freedom and love was tangible. This debate is similar.

  51. Libcon
    May 25, 2019 at 1:28 am

    You realize you have others views imposed on your by what kinds of products you can own, what kinds of medicines you can buy, what kinds of food you can buy, what kind of restaurant you can eat at, what kinds of drugs your doctor can prescribe, what kinds of doctors you can visit, what kinds of car you can drive, what kind of garden you can grow, what kind of noise you can make, what kind of stores you shop at, what kind of neighbors you have, what kinds of buildings you can walk inside, what time you can cross the street, what kind of fuel you can buy, what kind of employment you can do, what kind of contract you can engage in, what kind of online post you can make, and so on and naseum.

    I’m not sure how you can preach about the alleged maturity of a society that thinks regulation protecting the life of a developing child from being destroyed is an affront to freedom on one hand, and yet talk about love and responsibility in the same breath as being supportive of a mother destroying her growing baby.

    Your nation countenances restrictions on freedom for an infinitely petty number of reasons, and you think the fact that apparently the a majority of the nation has adopted a tragic form of false consciousness with regard to mothers destroying babies.

    I can fully understand every pro abortion argument, and I can make exactly the same persuasive case; if I was inclined to support medical holocausts of convenience.

    But I have rarely been impressed that those supporting abortion are not like ostriches with their heads in the sand when it comes to morality, ethics, responsibility, and so on.

    There is no lasting freedom without responsibility. Abortion is abdication of responsibility a mother has to her child.

  52. GEOFF -AUS
    May 25, 2019 at 8:09 am

    I have just watched a show called Planet America which is an Australian show about American politics, one of their articles was about how divided politically it is, and how it is becoming less possible for each side to respect, and try to understand the other point of view.
    The only one of the list above is that we try not to disturb our neighbours with noise. It must be difficult to feel restricted as you describe. Yes there are financial limitations, otherwise no. All the health limitations you list are covered by medicare.
    Perhaps if you could respect each others views, you would be less restricted.
    You seem unable to see that, insisting that you are right to impose your views on others, and disrespecting the right of others who hold a different opinion, is self defeating.
    A free society requires mutual respect, which you seem incapable of.
    No point continuing to engage

  53. Old Guy
    May 25, 2019 at 12:03 pm

    GEOFF -AUS — You judge all Americans by a generalized television show? I’ve checked with old mission companions who are Australians and they assure me that all is not as rosy as you portray it in their parts of the country.

    One of the big problems in respecting each other and not imposing our views on others is that it doesn’t stop the other side from imposing; it has to be a mutual end to the battle. In our country the liberal side has so taken over the public schools that they are teaching children to stop listening to their conservative Christian parents as they are silly and don’t know anything. They are indoctrinating children as young as five years old into the “joys” of various sexual lifestyles. They are teaching the teenagers to become sexually active as young as 14 and 15. They are teaching them to leave Christianity and live according to their base desires. They are teaching them it is okay to not work but depend on the public welfare system because working is too confining. As parents, how can we not fight back against this imposing of their view on our children? We cannot stay silent and face God. When they return to teaching and stop the political indoctrination, then will find ground to respect each other and work together, but not while they are actively undermining everything God has told us to teach out children and how to raise them.

    You yourself have reported in comments to articles on this website that it’s impossible for someone in your country to get elected if they are not pro-gay — is that not indoctrination? Is that not one side imposing their view?

  54. Michael 2
    May 26, 2019 at 2:31 pm

    GEOFF -AUS: Australia is not “free” and neither is any other civilized western nation.

    “They all involve one group of people imposing their views/standards on another group.”

    That they do. Carbon tax, anyone?

    “In the free society we all work together so that each can persue their freedoms.”

    LOL!

    Hello, George Orwell, are you in there? How is it remotely possible that everyone in a free society “all work together”?

    Science fiction writer Poul Anderson writes: “Freedom is having a cage larger than you want to fly in.”

    Abortion is simply another Darwinian natural selector, one of many such selections. Societies and religions that encourage live birth eventually dominate those that do not.

  55. lehcarjt
    May 26, 2019 at 3:55 pm

    I live in one of the most liberal areas of the US and have kids in the public school system from college to pre-school. The way Old Guy describes the educational system is ridiculously incorrect and way more hyperbole than fact.

  56. Clark
    May 26, 2019 at 11:09 pm

    Guys we’re getting way afield to the thrust of the OP. I normally allow a bit of tangents but let’s bring it a little closer to the topic.

  57. GEOFF -AUS
    May 27, 2019 at 9:31 am

    A lot of the problem is that mostly the conservative side (for banning abortion) has been presented here and have a twisted and unrealistic view of what those who believe differently believe.

    This is very appearent by the description of public schools, then corrected by someone, with actual experience.

    The original post discussed at what point a foetus becomes a living human, and said that other people might believe it was at conception, but our understanding as members is very different. It might be just before birth, and the church does not say, but does, allow for various occasions when abortion might be appropriate for a mormon woman. If it is murder to abort a feotus concieved by rape or incest, would the church considder it?

    Most of the comments following act as if it is established that conception is that time that the spirit enters the body, that God has said so, and that it should therefore be imposed even on those who don’t agree. That it is equal to murder to abort a feotus at any stage. Even though 15% abort spontaneously.

    This is conservative culture not the church teaching. It is also conservative culture that you should be able to impose your understanding (just established not church teaching) on others. There may be meaning to conservative culture I don’t understand or intend. I mean it is not church teaching, so what is it?

    Some of the commenters live in a world where others limit their choices. Not moving in these circles I do not know if this is a standard argument, but I don’t get it. There are things imposed by governments supposedly for our own good, but limiting your choice of car or restraunt? I drive a Mercedes S 500e because I believe it is the best car I can afford, I take my wife to whichever restraunt has good value for money.

    If it is not church teaching that a foetus at 18 or 20 weeks has a spirit, We don’t know. A person dies when their spirit is separated from their body, and becomes a person when the spirit and body are united. By your logic spontaneous abortions (miscarriages) whould involve a spirit? If a spirit is not involved, is there human life? If no spirit it is not able to be murdered, it is not human.

    Freedom of religion is the freedom to practice what you believe ( but if it is not taught by your religion )? It does not extend to imposing your beliefs on others. There are costs to trying to do that. Credibility, of religious people, being used up quickly.

    People who believe abortion should be legal believe the foetus is not a human life. They also believe a woman should make the decision, and should not be a criminal for making that choice. They also wonder how the women the church says might be able to access an abortion will get one?

  58. SDS
    May 27, 2019 at 6:14 pm

    Maybe this thread has run its course, in which case I apologize for this late entry. For me, the OP and some of the comments have been somewhat illuminating. I’m a little disappointed, though, because I haven’t perceived much positive guidance with respect to the central questions: in our theology, is abortion wrong, and why, and at what point? Yesterday in our ward council, our YW president remarked that some of her girls– very nice girls brought up in the Gospel, as we say– don’t see what’s wrong with abortion. She thought they need more serious instruction on the subject. Seems right to me. But what instruction are they supposed to receive? So far as I can make out from our current discussion, the Church’s position is something like this: “We don’t believe orthodox Christian teaching on the subject; we don’t accept the view that killing a fetus after conception is killing. For us, the question is when the spirit connects with the body. And we have no official teaching or doctrine about when that happens. So we have to leave it to individuals and their local church leaders, urging them to take the matter seriously and prayerfully but without any very concrete guidance from the Church.” Is this the best we can do? I hope that someone might point out what I’ve missed, or else that some future discussion here may shed a little more light on this question.

  59. IDIAT
    May 28, 2019 at 10:52 am

    SDS — how about youth leaders go to the church’s official website and search “abortion.” I think the church’s position is laid out fairly well in Newsroom and other sites so that teaching the youth how the church views abortion is very simple. The church’s view is that abortion is to be avoided, is very serious, and is never done for personal or social convenience. Unfortunately, the statistics on why women have abortions reflect that the vast majority of abortions are performed for personal or social convenience. Hopefully we’re teaching our youth to value life more than inconvenience.

  60. Deseret Defender
    May 28, 2019 at 3:11 pm

    The church’s position, as presented in both Handbook 2 and the “topics” page on abortion, is extremely pro-life. Getting an abortion is a violation of one of the most serious commandments we’ve been given: “thou shalt not… kill nor do anything like unto it.” Anyone who submits to an abortion, performs an abortion, arranges for an abortion, pays for an abortion, consents to an abortion, or even encourages an abortion is subject to church punishment, up to and including excommunication.

    The only scenarios in which receiving an abortion may be justified are (1) when the pregnancy is the result of forcible rape or incest, (2) the life or health of the mother are in serious jeopardy, and (3) the child has severe defects that will not allow him/her to survive beyond birth. These scenarios do not automatically justify an abortion, and abortion should only be considered after consultation with ecclesiastical leaders.

    Note that the aforementioned justifications do not include the age or viability of the child. An abortion performed in week 1 is as much a violation of the commandment to not “kill nor do anything like unto it” as an abortion performed in week 40.

    Relatively few abortions are performed for the possibly permissible reasons. The Guttmacher Institute (a pro-choice organization) estimates that these scenarios account for only 8% of abortions performed in the US. Data from Florida indicate that only 2% of abortions are performed for these reasons. In other words, between 92% and 98% of abortions performed in the US are unjustifiable. Members of the Church attempting to rationalize their support for liberal abortion laws on the basis that some abortions are justified must contend with the fact that of the 61 million abortions performed in the US since Roe, between 56 million and 60 million have been performed for unjustifiable reasons.

    When it comes to theological questions regarding the union of body and spirit, the best we can do is plead ignorance. The Lord has not yet revealed that knowledge to us, but he has called prophets and apostles to lead his church and inspires them in their callings. Those men have, for generations, preached the depravity of abortion with a consistent and unified voice. We damn ourselves if we ignore their counsel.

  61. Clark
    May 28, 2019 at 4:43 pm

    Geoff, I think in the comments that everyone is appealing to “resemblance” but without making a rigorous argument. Likewise those who argue pro-choice often defend it by our ignorance of when the spirit enters the body. I think though that the very fact of our uncertainty matters. So if we find out someone may be in a box we’d consider someone who acts as if they aren’t in a fashion that could hurt or kill them extremely negligent. They should have taken care. I think the resemblance arguments are actually making an argument along those lines, but on an emotional level rather than an analytic level.

    I don’t have time to really answer right now, but maybe I’ll make a subsequent post later this week where I go through what I think are the valid arguments in a gospel setting regarding abortion. While I alluded to some in the above, I really didn’t go all the way. The OP was more just saying that any engagement with the issue needs to consider these issues (body = part, not whole; spirit enters in at some time; church distinction between stillbirth and miscarriage)

    Idiat, I agree that most abortions are done as a form of “after the fact” birth control. That is always wrong (IMO). The question then becomes when is it so wrong that it becomes a marriage issue that should be banned. This is significant since there are of course things that work during the first week or so of pregnancy that many people don’t consider abortion. The so called abortion pills (mifepristone and misoprostol) are one example. But there’s also a method of inserting copper after intercourse that works up to nearly a week. So these things do get a bit more complex than it appears at first glance.

  62. Chris Fuller
    May 28, 2019 at 7:30 pm

    I am completely surprised that this Mormon (please excuse my use of that descriptor) blog, both the originating article and the subsequent comments, make no attempt whatsoever to discuss whether there is doctrine that could inform us on the question of abortion. That there is, but no one mentions it, and given the unknown but apparent level of education exhibited by the author and commentators (for the most part), strongly suggest that our Mormon community, like our non-Mormon community around us, is more likely to address issues like abortion based on political leaning rather than as informed by doctrinal considerations. That is both a shame and an indictment of our overall lack of doctrinal study. Sometimes, it is true, we are left to reach our own conclusions in this world without direction or guidance from scripture or prophetic utterances. Keep in mind, though, that neither the temple endowment nor the Handbook is codified scripture nor prophetic utterances and therefore are subject to change, both often and substantively – and recent history confirms that. But where there is doctrine, embedded in scripture or prophetic utterances, should not that doctrine influence our views on matters that become public interest? Discerning what actually is doctrine, admittedly, may not always be easy or clear, but it is always worth an effort to try to discover if holy scripture or prophetic utterances can enlighten us, and help us avoid adopting societal or cultural positions as “God-approved.”

    So, is there scripture or prophetic utterances that teach us doctrine that could inform our position on abortion? A key element underlying the issue is can we know when the spirit enters the body, changing the embryo from a heart-beating, developing organism into a dynamic “person” having in them “the breath of life” – or, as we believe, a body infused with the individual intelligence and spirit from the pre-earth life, that is, a living soul. Until that happens, we may abhor the termination of that living organism but if such occurs prior to infusion of a spirit there is a doctrinally significant difference from terminating that spiritless organism and terminating a living soul, infused with intelligence and with an individual and eternal spirit.

    Yes, there is scriptural and hence doctrinal guidance. I can find no prophetic utterances addressing underlying doctrine, but President Nelson, while a relatively new member of the Quorum of the Twelve at a General Conference addressed the sin of abortion – but without considering anything other than protecting life while considering the health of the mother and circumstances of rape and incest; no mention of when the spirit enters the body. His conference talk is consistent with, and may have informed, the current Handbook policy. Hence, I do not consider it doctrinal. Absent prophetic utterances informing us of doctrine, we look to the scriptures.

    There are three pertinent scriptures of which I am aware. Two are situational and will be discussed later. The third is directly on point and doctrinal. Moses 6:58-62. This is a relatively long passage, so I will not quote it in its entirety here, but it begins forcefully: “Therefore, I give unto you a commandment, to teach these things freely unto your children, saying:”. It then teaches us about the fall, our own redemption through baptism of water and the spirit, how these symbolically mirror the full atonement of the savior, and that all this is the plan of salvation. But most importantly for our discussion here, the passages uses as a teaching tool how we “were born into this world by water, and blood, and the spirit, which I have made, and so became of dust a living soul.” This birth process becomes the model for teaching us that we “must be born again into the kingdom of heaven, of water, and if the Spirit [note the capitalization here, where the previous “spirit” was not capitalized], and be cleansed by blood, even the blood of mine Only Begotten.” According to this doctrine, which we are commanded to teach our children, we are born into this world “by water” (amniotic fluid from the womb – “my water broke!), by blood (the mother’s), and, for our purposes here, “the spirit, which I have made, and so become of dust a living soul.”

    Until the spirit (small “s”) which God hath made – that is, not the Holy Spirit (capital “S”, as used later in the passage) but our individual spirit, made by God – enters the body, according to this unambiguous passage, that body is “dust.” “From dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return.” But once that spirit enters the body, combined they create a “living soul.” And when does that occur? According to this scripture, when “he [are] born into the world.”

    “Dust”? That is a harsh, even cruel, description of a living embryo. More accurately, it is a soul-less description. Yet, doctrinally, it is consistent with our teachings of the plan of salvation. It is also consistent with scriptural instances where significant events serve as symbolic foreshadowing and explicit corollaries of the Savior’s atonement. For this passage, which testifies of the commandment to be born again of water and spirit and cleansed by the blood of Christ in order to qualify for entrance into the kingdom of heaven, to use as the symbolic example for that commandment, our birth into this world when we become a “living soul” is enlightening.

    If we accept this “commandment” scripture at face value, it should inform our discussion on abortion, insofar as it teaches that our living, eternal, individual spirit, with all of our eternal intelligence packed into it, does not enter the embryonic body until birth. And it teaches us, in Old Testament language to be sure, that until that spirit enters the body, that body is considered, doctrinally at least, to be no more than “dust.”

    It is fascinating to me that this passage and the doctrine it teaches is consistent with the legal concept of personhood, as it relates to an unborn child verses one who is “born into this world.” The common law of personhood has always required birth as a pre-requisite for recognized legal status. Anti-abortionists have been trying for a long time to push that legal status onto the embryo in the womb.

    This post has gone on too long, but the other two scriptural passages of interest are, briefly, Jesus’s pre-birth spirit a/k/a Jehovah, spoke to persons in the New World of the Book of Mormon on the night before his birth. See 3 Nephi 9 (verse 15: “Behold, I am Jesus Christ the son of God.”). Did he get special dispensation as a member of the godhead, or being born of an earthly mother, and also required to die like other mortals to fulfill his mission, did His pre-earth spirit not conform with that described in Moses 6, and do what we all did and shall do, that is, enter his earthly body at birth?

    The third scripture may muddy the water somewhat. In Luke1:15 (and D&C 27) John the Baptist is described thusly: “. . . he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb.” This could mean “while still in his mother’s womb” or it could mean “from the time he left his mother’s womb.” If the former, the waters are muddied, for how could an organism that is not yet quickened by spirit to become a living soul, be filled with the Holy Ghost? If the latter, well, then the waters remain clear. The language is too cryptic to enlighten us. (Note that the D&C passage also states he was baptized when he was eight days old. vs 28).

    I don’t believe the scriptural description of John the Baptist helps much, but the Savior’s activity in the New World the night before his mortal birth is instructive, and is spot-on consistent with Moses 6.

    This scriptural doctrine does not undermine President Nelson’s and the Handbook’s articulation of abortion as a sin. But just because we believe an act is sinful does not necessarily mean we try to impose upon a secular world a legalistic prohibition against that sinful activity. Prohibition, itself, is as good an example as any on this point. What we must not do as Latter-Day-Saints is ignorantly embrace Catholic or Evangelical doctrine as our own, that upon impregnating of the ovum in the uterus, the combined cellular structure is the God-created, sanctified human life, the “living soul.” We may choose to be, for policy or our own moral reasons, as rabidly anti-abortion as any Catholic or Evangelical, or we may choose to find policy choices consistent with our Hanbook and Elder Nelson’s conference talk. But we must take care to understand our scriptural doctrine, be informed thereby, and then make a doctrinally-informed choice about abortion.

    I for one cannot shake the command-language of Moses 6. The spirit-less organism in the embryo needs protection, to be sure, but I find Roe v. Wade a reasonable compromise that merges the concept of embryonic viability for protection of a potentially living soul if born early in term, with the right of privacy, though that right is unmentioned in the Constitution but long-found to be a fundamental liberty organically embedded within its terms. Is it possible to be both pro-life and pro-choice? Based on my read of our scriptural doctrine that clearly teaches us that the spirit does not enter the body until birth, my answer is “yes.” I can live with early term abortions in deference to a woman’s right to control her body during a time when that embryonic organism is, according to scripture, “dust.” It is an uncomfortable compromise, but in my view not inconsistent with scripture. The Supreme Court articulated a way to be both pro-life and pro-choice in Roe, and I support their compromise decision.

  63. Chris Fuller
    May 28, 2019 at 7:40 pm

    Correction on my long post: D&C reference should be D&C 84:27, not D&C 27. Thanks.

  64. Deseret Defender
    May 28, 2019 at 9:20 pm

    Clark Goble: “There’s a fundamental different ontology for us as compared to our friends in most other forms of Christianity.[1] Most Christians, following medieval reasoning such as by Aquinas, assume that the soul is created at conception. This affects their view of abortion quite a bit since in some sense nothing is lacking in a fetus except development.”

    In fairness to my Catholic friends, the body and spirit being joined at conception is not a medieval, Thomistic invention. Tertullian thought the same: “Even these [fetuses] have life, each of them in his mother’s womb… Now we allow that life begins with conception, because we contend that the soul also begins from conception.”

    Also Tertullian: “The soul, being sown in the womb at the same time as the body, receives likewise along with it its sex… the embryo therefore becomes a human being in the womb from the moment that its form is completed.”

    Other early Christian texts, such as The Didache and The Epistle of Barnabas, condemn abortion as the murder of children. It should be no surprise that denominations who don’t believe in the Great Apostasy believe likewise.

  65. SDS
    May 28, 2019 at 10:13 pm

    Thanks for these last few comments. I haven’t researched this question (as is probably obvious), and the discussion has been illuminating.

    I confess, though, that I remain a bit frustrated. It seems clear that the Church teaches that abortion is a serious wrong in most situations. I’m grateful for that guidance. But the rationale remains murky to me, given the apparent lack of clear guidance about the crucial question of when the spirit connects with the body. Why are early abortions such a serious wrong, if we aren’t able to say that the spirit has connected with the body at that point?

    Roe v. Wade basically argued that although the fetus is not a person, it is a potential person. (The Court said “potential life,” but for the opinion to have even the semblance of sense it seems this needs to be understood as potential person.) And the state has an interest in protecting potential persons– an interest that grows stronger as the fetus comes closer to birth. Although lots of scholars and critics liked the result in Roe, I don’t think any of them found that rationale at all persuasive. Are people saying that our Church’s position is similar to Roe’s rationale? Or is it more that since we don’t know when the decisive point is, we should err on the side of caution and avoid abortions? Neither position seems especially compelling.

  66. IDIAT
    May 28, 2019 at 10:16 pm

    Chris Fuller — “That by reason of transgression cometh the fall, which fall bringeth death, and inasmuch as ye were born into the world by water, and blood, and the spirit, which I have made, and so became of dust a living soul, even so ye must be born again into the kingdom of heaven, of water, and of the Spirit, and be cleansed by blood, even the blood of mine Only Begotten…”. That language specifically describes how Adam was made, NOT how subsequent children born to Adam and Eve become a “living soul.” The “ye” is only referring to Adam.

  67. IDIAT
    May 28, 2019 at 10:22 pm

    See footnotes to 59b. Footnotes aren’t doctrine but I think you are misreading the verse.

  68. Clark
    May 28, 2019 at 11:17 pm

    Chris, I don’t see Moses 6 as particularly relevant to the question of when the spirit is unified with the body. It’s giving symbolism but just isn’t addressing the issue you are taking it to. I also think you’re reading a lot of significance into the capitalization which seems problematic. 3 Nephi 9 doesn’t have that much relevance since it is Jesus speaking before he died, not before he was born. Whether this is Jesus using his abilities from Gethsemene or someone speaking with divine investiture of authority isn’t clear.

    The relevant passage for his birth is 3 Nephi 1:13-14. :…on the morrow come I into the world…” That’s certainly been used by some pro-choice arguments (such as one last week at BCC. Perhaps I should have addressed it directly since that post and comments on Twitter inspired the OP. Many pro-choice also frequently appeal to a McKay letter from 1834 saying that verse “indicates that the spirit takes possession of the body at birth. Life manifest in the body before that time would seem to be dependent on the mother.” (David O. McKay to Tiena Nate letter as quoted in Jeffrey E. Keller “Gender and Spirit” in Multiply and Replenish Mormon Essays on Sex and Family) However it’s worth noting that this was part of a letter condemning abortion. He earlier wrote in response to whether abortion was murder, “To this question the Church has not made an authoritative answer. It does, however, condemn abortion as a very sinful act.” That distinction has been repeated in later official First Presidency comments.

    While some use 3 Nephi 1 (and McKay’s comments) the only firm statement that mentions it is the 1909 First Presidency message which says, “The body of man enters upon its career as a tiny germ embryo, which becomes an infant, quickened at a certain stage by the spirit whose tabernacle it is, and the child, after being born, develops into a man.” It doesn’t give a time for when this happens.

    Some have appealed to Bruce R. McConkie who felt that “mortality is fully upon us when we first breathe the breath of life” that appears to assume it is a process and not a one time event. (Note especially his use of “fully.”) However elsewhere referring to the 1909 First Presidency message he said, “appears to bear out the concept that the eternal spirit enters the body prior to a normal birth, and therefore that stillborn children will be resurrected.” (Mormon Doctrine, 2cd edition, p 768) Certainly Church policy on stillbirth undermines the pro-choice appeal to 3 Nephi 1. After all Jesus while in the womb was still fully God, and fully capable of speaking as a voice to the Nephites. We don’t, after all, know the capabilities of the spirit in the womb nor when the veil of forgetfulness falls on us. (And whether, for that matter, Christ as fully God had greater capabilities in the womb than was typical)

    Pro-choice proponents often see the life of the fetus as the life of the mother rather than a separate life. Ignoring the ambiguities of life in this use which match pro-life ambiguities I’ve mentioned earlier, this still is problematic. For one we have the account of John leaping in Mary’s presence while still in Elizabeth’s womb, that you mentioned. We can of course interpret that in various ways, but that’s also true of 3 Nephi 1. So I find it interesting you are willing to explain away that passage but remain committed to 3 Nephi 1.

    The bigger issue is sins that are serious but not applied as law. Again adultery is the obvious example I mentioned in the OP. I’d simply note that the Church treats abortion as far more serious than adultery lending weight to its ethical aspects. Further even those who think it would be wrong to make adultery illegal are fine with it being used in other legal contexts. (Before no-fault divorce it frequently was an issue in divorce proceedings. In many states it remains relevant in alimony or even custody issues. While I don’t want to go down that tangent not everyone thinks no-fault divorce is an unmitigated good.)

    Desert Defender, it’s certainly true earlier figures (not just Tertullian) held to the soul being created at birth. But it was Aquinas who pretty well developed the arguments Catholics use relative to abortion. Those then got picked up by Protestants, particularly after Roe v. Wade, as they formed their own arguments. I don’t think I implied it was all down to Aquinas. His arguments regarding sex, particularly in terms of teleology, were deeply influential though.

    Your point about the Didiche is a very good one though. Since that at minimum reflects early, probably pre-70 AD, traditions it’s relevant relative to early Christianity. For those not familiar, in some translations it’s rendered “you shall not murder a child in destruction nor shall you kill one just born.” However other translations (such as Ehrman’s) put it as “do not abort a fetus or kill a child that is born.” Nearly all commentators see the Didiche as condemning abortion.

    SDS, even if 1st trimester abortions are not murder (in that the designated spirit can go to a different body) you’ve still taken away a body from a spirit. That they can get an other doesn’t mean it isn’t serious. Further I also think the Church has a position of “we don’t know” when the spirit enters to that degree. That means it may be people are committing murder. That is it may just be acknowledging that those doing this are ignorant. Perhaps a distinction more akin to involuntary manslaughter vs. murder.

    I agree though that most legal scholars on both sides seem to agree Roe v Wade was poorly reasoned. A conclusion looking for a justification. Unfortunately common (IMO) in that era of jurisprudence.

  69. Deseret Defender
    May 28, 2019 at 11:58 pm

    SDS: “But the rationale remains murky to me, given the apparent lack of clear guidance about the crucial question of when the spirit connects with the body. Why are early abortions such a serious wrong, if we aren’t able to say that the spirit has connected with the body at that point?”

    I’m not as convinced that the body and spirit are not united early in pregnancy as some of the other posters, but even assuming the union doesn’t happen until birth, we should still respect and protect the bodies of the unborn.

    The human body is God’s final and greatest creation. He described it as “very good.” It is patterned after the body of God himself. Our bodies liberate our spirits, enabling us to experience the wonder of physical sensation. We rejoiced upon hearing we would attain mortal bodies. The devil and his minions are fiercely jealous of our bodies, and seek to possess them. Our bodies are temples, able to house the Holy Spirit of God. We are commanded to care for them as such.

    We also must honor and care for the bodies of others. We are commanded to feed the hungry and heal the sick. We also honor and care for the uninhabited bodies of the dead with hope that they will one day be reunited with their spirits. Why should we not honor and care for the uninhabited bodies of the unborn? Is its natural course not union with a spirit? Is it not also a temple of the Holy Spirit of God, patterned after the Creator himself? Has He given us license to destroy His creation by spilling its blood? Quite the contrary; not only do we have no right to destroy the unborn, our participation in its creation endows us with a duty to love and protect and nurture it, just as He loves all His creations.

  70. SDS
    May 29, 2019 at 8:33 am

    Thanks, Desert Defender, that’s a very helpful perspective.

  71. Chris Fuller
    May 29, 2019 at 10:31 pm

    Thanks for the correction on 3Nephi cite. As for IDIAT’s assertion that Moses 6 refers only to Adam’s creation, this cannot make sense. There is no scriptural reference anywhere that suggests blood was involved in Adam’s creation. And no scripture passage ever describes Adam’s creation as a “birth.” So, respectfully, you need to read the scripture as written and figure out it’s meaning without trying to explain it away as metaphorical or Adamic.

    I have heard objections from several believing, orthodox members to my reading of Moses 6, but all objections were based not on the text but on the objectors’ anti-abortion stand coloring their interpretation, and their not wanting the text to says what it says. I do agree that Moses 6 and 3Ne1 are not directly on point re abortion – no scripture is. And that there are those (some with GA rank) who have taught that angels have stood in for the Savior/Jehovah at times and spoken in His voice as though it were him. I remain one who refuses to believe that such deception is a modus operandi of the Savior – why try to convince his followers that He was there when He was not. In any event, I do remain convinced that when the spirit enters the body is an important factor in considering the evil/degree of sin attached to abortion. When there are so few scriptures addressing this issue, we need to carefully consider the few that do.

    There is also no scriptural guidance on how it is a pre-earth spirit enters the body. Assignments and/or choices there, unexpected deaths or life-altering sin here – what effect does that have on spirits entering bodies? We tried in vain to use pre-earth worthiness or lack thereof to explain away Brigham Young’s ban on temple and priesthood access to black African descendants. Trying to figure out spirit personalities entering a not-yet-born embryo or a new-born infant, and then building an abortion position on such, may prove just as dicey.

    The point I think I really want to make is that members should not be quick to jump on anti-abortion bandwagons if they haven’t considered the underlying doctrinal foundations for that position. Nothing in our doctrine justifies a belief that the spirit enters the combined male-female zygote at conception and remains in that growing organism throughout the gestation period. That does not mean one is not justified in being a committed anti-abortion Mormon. Just that the member who so chooses should have his or her own reasons unrelated to underlying doctrine.

    You all recall, I am sure, the assertions that any members opposed to Proposition 8 in California were on the short road to hell, if for nothing else than for disobedience. Many may also recall the time when any member expressing same sex attraction to his or her bishop was summarily brought before a church disciplinary court, and was likely excommunicated. Times and policies change. And despite GA talks at conference that God’s doctrine never changes, what was once called “God’s doctrine” can later be “clarified” without ever calling that which was once thought to be “God’s doctrine’” false doctrine.

    Finally, if the termination of a pregnancy is church-discipline worthy for the pregnant woman and physician, as per the current handbook, protecting the living organism in the womb even though that organism may not be a “living soul,” what about our obligations to the child born into the world as a living soul? How do we as members and a church avoid the hypocrisy of protecting one but ignoring the plight of the other, particularly where the latter is without doubt a child of God and a person of body and spirit? The complications of this life present remarkable challenges to us. Where doctrinal guidance is wanting, we can only see through the glass darkly.

  72. Clark Goble
    May 30, 2019 at 12:54 am

    Chris I think Moses doesn’t apply in that it just says blood, spirit and water were involved to make us a living soul, not when it happened. (After all at birth the function of water is over – so it couldn’t mean birth) However it’s main point is using those symbolically to make a point about being spiritually born again. It just doesn’t address the fetus at all let alone the “when” question.

    As for feeling it’d be deceptive, again where I think 3 Nephi 9 is relevant is Jesus clearly being located in Palestine while being able to talk to the Nephites. That means either divine investiture of authority (an angel speaking on behalf of Christ) which you find deceptive or Christ having the ability to transmit his voice. If the former then that also explains 3 Nephi 1. If the latter then that also allows Christ as a fetus not yet having the veil in place to do the same. You want Christ to be physically present yet your use of 3 Nephi 9 completely undermines that reading.

    I certainly agree we should protect young children and I think the pro-life side could do more there. Although many do do a lot there already. That seems a different issue from the question of legality though. I also think the pro-life side should do more in the current legal environment to prevent abortions by ensuring more people have birth control and use it. I favor over the counter birth control without the requirement of a prescription for instance. It has its tradeoffs, since birth control can lead to severe hormonal reactions. Ideally everyone should take it under the supervision of a doctor and switch medications if they are having side effects – especially severe psychological side effects. However I think on balance the benefits (fewer unwanted children and abortions) outweighs the costs.

    However by way of analogy I can discuss the issues that might prevent people from murdering others, particularly economic and social contexts, yet simultaneously also think murder should be illegal. Discussions of one don’t necessitate discussions of the other.

  73. Deseret Defender
    May 30, 2019 at 12:01 pm

    The sexual revolution’s decoupling of sex from it’s procreative purpose and effect has led to America’s current abortion crisis. I am skeptical that continuing down that road with government-subsidized birth control will substantially improve our situation.

  74. Clark
    May 30, 2019 at 2:00 pm

    I’d just emphasize that sex isn’t just for procreation. It’s an important feature, but not focusing merely on that isn’t the problem. I certainly agree that the breakdown of the family is a huge issue though and that the sexual revolution in large part contributed to that. However I also think economic forces contributed a great deal to that as well.

  75. Deseret Defender
    May 30, 2019 at 2:36 pm

    Agreed. Sex is essentially procreative, not exclusively procreative. It is, however, exclusively familial. Liberalizing access to contraception, especially to individuals who seek sex outside the familial framework and purpose, further remove restraints on man’s embrace of carnality and libertinism, and can only lead us further from Zion.

  76. Clark
    May 30, 2019 at 3:18 pm

    It’s a tradeoff given that the current state of affairs (no pun intended) is already libertine. That ship has sailed so the argument is we should make contraception easier to obtain, especially for the poor, to reduce abortion which is an evil on the innocent.

  77. Michael 2
    May 30, 2019 at 7:13 pm

    Clark writes “…so the argument is we should make contraception easier to obtain, especially for the poor, to reduce abortion which is an evil on the innocent.”

    Maybe, but that thinking is boundless. Let me try a few variations.

    we should make {food, shelter, transportation, entertainment, medical care} easier to obtain, especially for the poor, to reduce {starvation, hot/cold/wet, sore feet, boredom, sickness} which is an evil on the innocent.

    Then the problem becomes who is this “we” that is going to work all this magic. Would it be better to become one of the poor so as to get free everything? For some, absolutely! Apparently the poor can even get free cellphones (“Obamaphones”).

  78. Clark
    May 31, 2019 at 11:00 am

    Michael, making sure children have enough to get by seems different from everyone “get free everything.”

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