A Brief History:
The Supreme Court did not “invent” legal abortion, much less abortion itself, when it handed down its historic Roe v. Wade decision. Abortion, both legal and illegal, had long been part of life in America and well before that. The legal status of abortion has passed through several phases in American history. Generally permitted at the nation’s founding and for several decades thereafter, the procedure was made illegal under most circumstances in most states beginning in the mid-1800s. The antiabortion laws that Roe v. Wade overturned were not originally adopted to halt “the murder of unborn children,” but to reduce the mortality rate of women who obtained abortions from midwives, homeopaths and untrained helpers. Surgical abortions in the 19th century carried a 30% mortality rate from infection. In addition, some historians think the push against abortions was also a reaction by males in authority to the feminist movement. Anti-abortion laws were not from a public outcry but rather through the efforts of a few powerful groups such as the American Medical Association.
In the 1960s, states began reforming their strict antiabortion laws, so that when the Supreme Court made abortion legal nationwide, legal abortions were already available in 17 states under a range of circumstances beyond those necessary to save a woman’s life.
When Does Life Begin?
George Cannon delivered a talk in the Tabernacle in 1884 and denounced the practice of abortion. Among other things, he said this regarding abortion,”I say to you, my sisters, you teach your daughters against this accursed practice, or they will go to hell, they will be damned, they will be murderers, and the blood of innocence will be found upon them.” The current version of the Church has a bit more refined approach and does not consider abortion to be murder and allows it under certain conditions.
What do the scriptures teach in this regard? This becomes important because while there are many reasons people oppose abortion, the main reason in the Church and among the religious right is based on religious grounds. So what do the scriptures actually say on the subject? The second chapter of Genesis is pretty straight forward. It says this,
2:7 And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
As I read this verse, life begins when someone takes their first breath. Lets move to Exodus and see what we can learn from case law.
Exodus 21:22-25 describes a case where a pregnant woman jumps into a fight between her husband and another man and suffers injuries that cause her to miscarry. Injuries to the woman prompt the normal penalties for harming another human being: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a life for a life. Killing the woman is murder and a capital crime.
The miscarriage is treated differently. It seems to be treated almost as property loss, not murder. The assailant must pay a fine to the husband. The law of a life for a life does not apply. The fetus is important, but it’s not human life in the same way the pregnant woman is.
The Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade, created the “trimester” system to sort through the legal implications of the constitutional “right to privacy” they said we all have as Americans.
The justices ruled that the early and late stages of pregnancy are morally and legally distinct.
Early on, in the “first trimester,” the embryo undeniably is human life, but it’s not “a human being” in the normal sense of the term. At this stage of pregnancy, a womans right to privacy trumps any responsibility the state might have to protect the embryo by interfering with the woman’s decision to terminate the pregnancy.
Late in the pregnancy, certainly by the “third trimester,” the child has reached a stage of development that changes its moral and legal status. To protect the rights of the fetus, states can put serious limits on a womans right to abortion, though they must continue to respect her right to self-defense, to terminate the pregnancy to save her own life or prevent serious injury.
Is The God of The Scriptures Pro-Life?
Most members of the Church align themselves with the religious right when it comes to self identifying as pro-life. They earnestly believe they stand with God on the position of the sanctity of life. They may even use a generic scripture to support their position. Case in point would be President Spencer Kimball. He said, “Members of the Church guilty of being parties to the sin of abortion must be subjected to the disciplinary action of the councils of the Church, as circumstances warrant. We remember the reiteration of the Ten Commandments given by the Lord in our own time, when he said, ‘Thou shalt not steal; neither commit adultery, nor kill, nor do anything like unto it.’” His quote comes from D/C 59:6. If we go digging in the scriptures, is this the message we find? Hardly!
God kills every first born child in Egypt, even the child of the captive in the dungeon. Why kill the most innocent of the country and those already suffering? Exodus 12:29-30.
God sends 2 bears to kill 42 youth who mocked Elisha for his bald head. That is all it takes to feel the wrath of God. 2 Kings 2:23-25.
God kills 14,700 people who complained about him killing other people. This is not exactly pro life behavior. Numbers 16.
Saul is commanded to commit genocide on the Amalekites, including infants. Why? Because he held a grudge about what they did when Israel fled Egypt. What happened to forgive and forget? Afterwards he was mad at Saul because Saul had decided to spare animals. 1 Samuel 15:2-3.
God killed the child that David had with Uriah’s wife. This is another example of punishing the innocent one. 2 Samuel 12:14-18.
The list goes on, the flood of Noah, Midianite genocide, and Sodom and Gomorrah. It does not get any better when we move to the Book of Mormon. The climactic event of Jesus coming to America to share words from the King James Bible is preceded by destruction of cities and the land southward and northward with wide spread death.
This does not even take into account that most abortions occur because of a miscarriage that falls in the realm of “God let it happen.”Does that not make him the largest practitioner of abortion?
I wonder how many members are single issue voters,particularly in this last election and feel they have a religious obligation to vote Republican because they are pro- life and the Democrats are the godless party who support choice. We see this played out in the rancor toward Harry Reid, a prominent member and Democrat. He very well may be the most hated man in the Church simply because of his political leanings.
Let’s look and see if this simple narrative actually plays out in the real world.When Ronald Reagan took office, abortions were over one million per year in the United States. Not only did the numbers not go down once this well known conservative was in office, but went up. The highest single number of abortions recorded for a single year did not take place when a Democrat was in office, but a Republican. There were 1,429,247 in the year 1990, when George H. Bush was in the White House. The smallest number of abortions per year took place during the presidency of Barrack Obama. Here are the stats in percentage on how abortions went down for the last few presidencies. The info is from Jana Riess.
George H. W. Bush (Rep.), 1988–1992: .008% decrease over 4 years
Bill Clinton (Dem.), 1992–2000: 36.9% decrease over 8 years
George W. Bush (Rep.), 2000-2008: 3.7% decrease over 8 years
Barack Obama (Dem.), 2008-2013: 19.5% decrease over 6 years (data from 2014 and 2015 are not yet posted by the CDC)
Even if we assume for argument sake that God is pro- life, how does reversing Roe v. Wade play out. The toll that abortion laws before 1973 took on women’s lives and health was substantial.Roe’s reversal would likely herald the return to a two-tier system where safe abortion is available to the wealthy and poor women would suffer disproportionately. I hope that is not what pro-life means.
Abortions have and will continue to take place, regardless of its legality. One analysis, extrapolating from data from North Carolina, concluded that an estimated 829,000 illegal or self-induced abortions occurred in 1967.
A report from the Lancet, a medical journal, shows that the abortion rate in countries that have banned the abortion is higher than in countries where women have access to abortion.
Abortion is a complex issue that simply voting in so called pro-life judges will not even come close to addressing the issue and very well may make conditions worse. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC) cites multiple factors that influence the incidence of abortion. These factors include access to health care services, including contraception, the availability of abortion providers,state regulations, parental involvement laws , and legal restrictions on abortion providers, shifts in the racial/ethnic composition of the U.S. population, and changes in the economy and the resulting impact on fertility preferences and use of contraception.
Providing women and men with the knowledge and resources necessary to make decisions about their sexual behavior and use of contraception can help them avoid unintended pregnancies. Pro-life and Pro-choice would both win. Win-Win.