Note: this post mentions rape, incest, abortion, stillbirth, death of infants, etc. If those topics are going to be triggering, please honor your health and pass on reading.
A few months ago, we were discussing the need for modern-day prophets in Sunday School. One woman raised her hand and said that she was grateful for modern-day revelation because of issues like abortion. I fought my urge to exclaim, “Yes! Isn’t it great that the Church is pro-choice?!” because it would really derail the lesson, so I’m going to say it here.
Isn’t it great that the Church is pro-choice?!
The section in the Church Handbook of Instructions Volume 2 (2010) on birth control states:
It is the privilege of married couples who are able to bear children to provide mortal bodies for the spirit children of God, whom they are then responsible to nurture and rear. The decision as to how many children to have and when to have them is extremely intimate and private and should be left between the couple and the Lord. Church members should not judge one another in this matter.
Married couples should also understand that sexual relations within marriage are divinely approved not only for the purpose of procreation, but also as a way of expressing love and strengthening emotional and spiritual bonds between husband and wife.
I think it is wonderful progress that the rhetoric around birth control has gone away from the word “selfish,” though I will point out that the Eternal Marriage Student Manual (2003) still uses quotes laden with guilt over the issue. I also think the line that sex is for binding a couple together and not just for creating babies is an important move, too.
I would suggest it’s fair to say that the Church supports each couple in their own personal decisions as to how many children they should have.
But pro-choice is more than being ok with any family size. It brings abortion into the debate. The handbook gives three circumstances in which abortion is justified.
- Pregnancy resulted from forcible rape or incest.
- A competent physician determines that the life or health of the mother is in serious jeopardy.
- A competent physician determines that the fetus has severe defects that will not allow the baby to survive beyond birth.
First, I want to say that I’m impressed about #3 there. I had always heard that the three exceptions were 1. rape, 2. incest, 3. health of the mother. The addition of health of the fetus was new to me. Second, the term “forcible rape” is a legal term used to differentiate statutory rape from other kinds of rape. It does not mean that force was used or that a struggle happened. The rape of someone who was passed out is considered “forcible rape” as is the rape of someone who said “no” but then retreated into themselves and did not struggle against his/her attacker.
I think these exceptions are very merciful. Can you imagine forcing a woman or girl who had been through the violating act of rape or incest to then force them through the ordeal of labor childbirth? Even if a mother was 100% anesthetized, the face that other people (doctors, nurses, etc) would be completely in charge of her experience/body for a time could be very triggering. It is also merciful that the Church does not expect women to sacrifice their lives for the possibility of a child or for a couple to have to go through the trauma of waiting for a stillbirth or possibly months of waiting for a labor and birth that they know will not mean that they get to decorate a nursery.
These exceptions are full of the mercy that I imagine Christ has for these women. I am so proud to be in a Church that recognizes that these instances are not black/white and that women are people and their quality of life matters.
But what does this mean politically? It means that if we really are as merciful as we state here, we have to support laws that allow women to have abortions and have full control of their bodies throughout pregnancy.
If we want abortion to be available to victims of rape or incest, we need to have it available to everyone, no questions asked. Someone close to me was raped and I’m glad that her support people were ok with Plan B (which does NOT cause an abortion) as an option. Luckily her rape did not result in pregnancy, but if it had, it would have been imperative for abortion to be an option for her without any limitations on “proving” it was rape. It took her a couple days to even tell anyone and then did report it to the police. That resulted in months and years of court dates. If you expect a woman to wait until a rapist is convicted of rape, then a resulting pregnancy would have already resulted in a child. And she’s lucky that it even got to court! So few do.
In the case of incest, there are no good statistics. Incest is alarmingly underreported and very rarely prosecuted. Forcing a child to carry the pregnancy of a family member is just wrong. Abortion needs to be available without restrictions for these girls and women.
If we want abortion to be available in cases where the mother’s health is at risk, we need it to be available for further into a pregnancy than just a trimester. Health issues are going to show up at any time. I would also suggest that beyond the physical health of the mother, the mental health of the mother is also important. Will another pregnancy or child “break” her? Would ending this pregnancy allow her to heal and be in a healthier place for a future one? On the LDS topics page on birth control it states about birth control, “Issues to consider include the physical and mental health of the mother and father and their capacity to provide the basic necessities of life for their children.” Health is much more than physical health and the mental and emotional health of a mother is going to impact relationships with the spouse and possible other living children. Her mental health will impact her ability to hold down a job, nurture her children, and even her ability to leave the house to buy basic necessities. If we value women, we need to have abortion available for them to protect their health and families. Being pro-choice is pro-family because it allows mothers to have all options available to protect and preserve their families.
In the case of the health of the fetus. I can not purport to say I have any personal experience with the loss of a child, wanting one badly and knowing I was going to lose that chance. Only someone in that situation can best make the decision of if and when to end the pregnancy. We need abortion available as a choice for women in this situation, if they want it.
We do not know when the spirit of a baby/child enters a the body of a fetus. I personally believe it is variable. I have had 3 children and I felt that they had “spirits” at different times in the pregnancy, varying from the moment I knew I was pregnant to much later. If I had miscarriages, for the one that I felt was there immediately, it would have felt like a loss of a child. For the pregnancies where it seemed later, I think a miscarriage would have been more like the loss of a chance for a child. I trust women who feel their miscarriages mean the loss of a chance to raise a particular spirit. I also trust women who feel that perhaps that spirit will come at a different time. I believe every situation is different.
I can’t imagine a God who would tell a spirit who missed a chance to be born due to miscarriage or abortion, “Well, that was your one chance, but since your mother’s progesterone levels were too low/because of your mother’s health/because such and such happened… you’ll never get another chance. Too bad for you.” If there are spirits waiting to come down, I believe each one is going to get a fair try at earth life.
We Mormons do believe that abortion should be allowed in many cases. We believe in being merciful to the experiences of the mother. Because of this, we need to protect women’s rights to abortion. Whether or not we individually would consider abortion for ourselves in a particular situation is irrelevant to the fact that we need to protect the rights of women who need them. In the United States, 1 in 3 women will have had an abortion. While we Mormons might imagine that number to be smaller amongst ourselves, it is still important to remember that chances are, in our relief society classes on Sunday, there is probably someone there who has had to make the choice to have an abortion. I do not think the choice of abortion is ever chosen lightly. I don’t believe any woman doesn’t wonder “What if?” We must be sensitive to our sisters in Zion and make sure they feel welcome and avoid comments that vilify abortion. These are our sisters, our aunts, our mothers, our friends, ourselves. Their abortions gave them a second chance at life and family.
We all must have the option to choose a safe, legal abortion. As Mormons, we need to support measures that allow this to happen.