IMPORTANT NOTE: these are my views and my views alone. I do not claim to speak for anyone else but me, and I do not claim to speak from any sort of religious or temporal position of authority. I write this as a Latter-Day Saint (aka: Mormon) who has thought long and hard about these questions over many years, and continues to think about them. It is entirely possibly I may change my mind in the future, based either on evidence, or persuasion, or by the prompting of my own heart.
EDIT TO ADD: this is a Gallup poll highlighting the strong division on what is a strongly-emotional issue. Take a look at it before you read further. I think it says something about the current state of the debate, and about how truly polarized things are.
As often happens, things that get posted here on my blog first begin life as sentiments on other peoples’ blogs. Eventually they get so large and complex that others’ comment threads are no longer an appropriate forum. And so it was with today’s discussion at John Scalzi’s blog, regarding the de-funding of Planned Parenthood by the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation.
Without simply repeating what I wrote there, I want to try to better encapsulate my own views.
For as long as I have been an adult, I have been very careful about how I approached the subject of abortion in America. When I look at the two “sides” of this thing, and see and hear the strident militarism of the opposed factions, I shake my head and sigh. I can’t say I’m on one side or the other. I think both the pro-choice and the pro-life people each make good points.
If I may, I’d like to attempt to boil down the opposed platforms, as I understand them…
Pro-choice: the fundamental assertion of the pro-choice ideology is that women and women only are authorized — on an individual basis — to decide what is best for their bodies, to include whether or not they should bring a conceived embryo to term. It is not the state’s job to deny them this, nor is it the job of moral crusaders to confiscate the right in the name of protecting the fetus — moral crusaders being more concerned with controlling women than with defending the lives of babies.
Pro-life: the fundamental assertion of the pro-life ideology is that a woman is in charge of her own body, yes, but that once conception takes place, it’s not just her body that’s at stake anymore. It’s her body, plus the body of the unborn baby growing slowly in her womb. That this baby is every bit as human as his/her mother, and deserves all the same rights and protections of the newborn, freshly delivered. The state has no right to abridge or ignore the baby’s rights, and moral crusaders have no right to abridge or ignore the baby’s rights either — moral crusaders being more concerned with consequence-free sexual freedoms than womens’ health.
Doubtless many might quibble with me on the finer points, but I do think these two paragraphs sum up the “doctrines” of the opposed camps.
Now, to my own moral and ethical considerations. I approach the subject as a member of a religion that is highly conservative, when it comes to abortion. Very much pro-life.
And yet, I wonder. What’s the core concern? Loss of unborn life, or loss of womens’ freedom to choose what happens to their bodies?
According to LDS doctrine, in the pre-existence there was a division amongst the Host of Heaven. On the one side you had Christ the Lord. Jesus favored a plan that had free agency as its keystone. Men and women would go to Earth and be free to choose good or ill, righteousness or evil, with all glory to God the Father regardless. Lucifer — Christ’s spirit brother, and opposite in the matter — promised a plan of rigorous and absolute conformity to the Lord’s law — all would obey without question — but the glory would be to Lucifer himself.
And thus Lucifer was cast out, and with him a third of the Host, and Christ was allowed to go forth with His plan — and so all of us as the embodied children of God now enjoy in our temporal lives the gift of agency. To choose. To say for ourselves, we will or will not do a thing. Liberty.
This would seem to indicate that preservation of agency — the freedom to choose — is paramount. It is absolutely essential to Christ’s plan. Wars both ancient and modern have been fought to preserve and strengthen agency, both at the national and the personal levels.
Still, there is the commandment: thou shalt not commit murder! It’s a commandment shared across the traditions of the bulk of the world’s population. For LDS people murder is the most evil of all the proscribed sins, save denial of the Christ after a man or a woman has witnessed of Him in his or her heart. And is it not murder to cancel the budding life of the fetus — the unborn child — before its had a chance to draw its first breath? Why do we pretend that the unborn aren’t human, while a child freshly delivered from its mother’s belly suddenly enjoys legal status?
Thus the conundrum. To revoke abortion and criminalize it is to revoke the agency of the woman.
To condone and legalize abortion, likewise, revokes the humanity and legal rights of the unborn.
Two seemingly equal moral imperatives, slamming headlong into each other.
No wonder abortion continues to be a moral, ethical, legal, and political tornado, all these years after Roe v. Wade. There is much validity to both sides and depending on your natural ideological predisposition, you may be inclined to slew one way, or the other. In some cases, you may slew hard, and go so far to one camp (or its opposite) that the ideas and positions of the people on the other side not only seem strange, but downright heinous, morally repugnant, or evil.
Pro-choice: the pro-lifers hate women!
Pro-life: the pro-choicers kill babies!
I hate neither women nor do I like to kill babies. What is my option?
Personally, I believe very much that the time for choice — real choice — comes prior to conception, not after. I believe America as a whole is still caught up in a backlash against Puritanism, which ultimately resulted in the so-called Sexual Revolution. And while it’s been liberating to embrace sex as healthy and vital — not evil and nasty — it’s disheartening to see people take it too far and assume that sex should be care-free, consequence-free, and without strings attached. It is not, nor do I believe it has it ever been, and I think the keyword that gets avoided in a lot of pro-choice discussions is responsibility. It is irresponsible — to say the least — to engage in sex without protection or a plan for the care of children in the event of pregnancy. And I wish more men and women both would carefully consider the ramifications of their sexual conduct, because whether pro-choice folk will admit it or not, abortion is very often used as retroactive birth control, thus the unborn pay the price for the choices of their parents.
But does this mean I think abortion should be outlawed?
No, I say to you. I do not think it should be. But why?
Again, I point back to the foundational doctrine of my faith: Christ came down on the side of agency, so that all men and women would bear the burden of their own choices; their own sins. If we decide to remove agency on the part of women to do what they choose with their own bodies, it seems a violation of that foundational doctrine. Thus I cannot support it.
But how to condemn abortion — thou shalt not murder — without revoking freedom?
Here is where I think women themselves bear the brunt of the question. I believe the biological link between a mother and her unborn baby is so special and so precious, that only God Himself is authoritatively equipped with the wisdom to judge. I may feel that abortion-as-birth-control is heinous and that the loss of life is cruel and heedless. But I think it is a matter that must be settled at the judgment seat. Women must be free to choose this option, despite how strongly opposed to it I may be, and women must be prepared to face their Maker on this matter.
I realize that this may sound hysterical or crazy to secular folk, or to those not acquainted with Latter-Day Saint doctrine. If that’s the case then I’m clearly losing my audience, and my apologies for getting churchy on you if you’re disinclined to understand any argument or precept that is based on religious teachings such as I subscribe to.
But there it is.
I am pro-choice — agency! — while also being pro-life — no murder!
And in precisely that order, too.
The pro-life side is want to question this stance as being spineless or somehow meritless, in a theological sense. I’m not inclined to agree. I think you can oppose abortion, just not with a court room. The battle has to be fought in the hearts of women across the land. If we educate our daughters — I am a father, this matter concerns me thus — about the responsibilities of their biology, this can include the moral and ethical argument that abortion-as-birth-control is not only irresponsible, it is morally repugnant and a terrible sin against God. Even if we take God out of it entirely, and look at it from a humanistic stance, we can argue that life once conceived should not be terminated arbitrarily under the guise of “medical procedure.” A woman convinced of this rationale will not elect to abort her unborn child, thus not only is the child’s life saved, but the woman’s agency is preserved.
Of course, plenty of women won’t ever get the message, and even if they do, they will ignore it. There are strong, fundamental sociological forces which encourage abortion, to include population control, environmental preservation, sexual libertarianism, et cetera. These forces seem to grow stronger every year while the “old fashioned” morality of Judeo-Christendom falls into disfavor. Thus it seems silly — to the mind of the secular pro-choice person — that anyone could approach abortion from anything other than a thoroughly secular and pragmatic standpoint that is entirely focused on the agency of women.
I think this is simply a cross that must be borne, no pun intended. If agency really is the crux of our affairs on Earth — and I believe it is, based on all that I have read and learned of my doctrine — then agency must be protected. Even if it means protecting abortion. Because the sin of abortion is the lesser sin — to my mind — than the sin of enforced morality.
Pro-life: but what about the poor babies?!?!
Speaking religiously, I think God provides for the aborted unborn. Either by “recycling” the soul into a new body with a new mother, or simply by shuffling the unborn off to their estate, in the same manner as babies who die in infancy. I have no scripture nor doctrine to base that on. It is merely my gut hunch. I believe in a just and righteous God who is wise in all things which we men are perpetually unwise. I think He knows what to do, and I think all of the aborted unborn are given a fair shake. Whatever that shake may be.
None of this means that being a middle-of-the-road man is easy.
Far from it. The one thing the two strident camps seem to despise most are moderates — because moderates are an uncomfortable reminder that maybe The Enemy has a valid point, and that The Enemy is human too, and deserving of consideration.
I would like to see fewer women abort — not out of coercion, but out of persuasion for the well-being of their unborn and their own selves.
I would also like to see the pro-life camp come to terms with the fact that in some cases, yes, abortion is not only a good idea, it is the only ethical and moral thing to do. Where is the morality in forcing a victim of rape, molestation, or incest to carry the child to term? Where also is the morality in forcing a mother with complications to risk her own life if the developing child poses too great a risk?
Here again, if we are honest as monotheists of the old (and new) traditions, I think we can admit that God is wise in all the ways men are unwise, and that He will provide a dispensation for such circumstances. If we try to meddle, we arrogate the judgment seat — becoming His “enforcers” on Earth. And isn’t that just the sort of thing Christ was against in the first place? Conformity to the law without agency?