Instilling pro-life moral principles in difficult times: the experience of one faith community.

Author:Wardle, Lynn D.
Position:III. The Organization, History, Doctrine, Theology, and Policies of the Church of Jesus Chris of Latter-Day Saints Concerning Elective Abortion H. LDS Church Positions on the Legalization of Elective Abortion through VIII. Conclusion: The Miracles of the Message and Modern Communications, with footnotes, p. 331-366
  1. LDS Church Positions on the Legalization of Elective Abortion

    On March 7, 1974, just a year after Roe, an official, designated representative of the Church testified before a United States Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Constitutional Amendments hearing

    considering several proposed Amendments to the United States Constitution that would reverse Roe. David L. McKay, a son of the former President of the Church, David O. McKay and then-President of the LDS mission in New York and New England, presented "a statement on behalf of the Church of Jesus Christ of latter Day Saints," that included the recent LDS First Presidency statement opposing abortion as "one of the most revolting and sinful practices in this day." (116) He concluded: "The church is therefore against the legalization of abortion." (117)

    That baseline position against the legalization of elective abortion has never been repudiated or disavowed. However, the Church, qua Church, has deliberately avoided getting involved in the political battles over whether and how to preserve, change, and shape the law regarding the myriad potential incidental legal issues (such as abortion funding, parental consent, spousal participation, waiting periods, informed consent, disposition of fetal remains, regulation of methods used to perform abortion, etc.). Rather, the Church has taken a clear position on the big issue (elective abortion should not be legal) and avoided the bramble bush of political battles on the many lesser issues that seem to even divide the most sincere pro-life groups and persons. Thus, the current published position of the Church regarding legalized abortion states: "The Church has not favored or opposed legislative proposals or public demonstrations concerning abortion." (118)

    However, the Church has encouraged members to be actively involved individually in supporting laws that protect the sanctity of life. The "Proclamation on the Family" has become the anchor for LDS policy positions regarding the family since it was issued by the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles on September 23, 1995. It includes, in relevant part, the declarations: "We affirm the sanctity of life ..." and "We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society." (119)

    In his first sermon after he was sustained as President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a little more than a year after the United States Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade, President Spencer W. Kimball

    the World, Sept. 23, 1995.

    delivered the first of many sermons explicitly condemning abortion, including a direct repudiation of abortion for reasons of personal convenience, and in the same speech admonished members of the Church to be politically active in "their respective political parties and there exercise their influence." (120) He later declared:

    There is today a strong clamor to make such practices legal by passing legislation. Some would also legislate to legalize prostitution. They have legalized abortion, seeking to remove from this heinous crime the stigma of sin. We do not hesitate to tell the world that the cure for these evils is not in surrender. (121) Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught students at Brigham Young University:

    The Church opposes elective abortion for personal or social convenience. Our members are taught that, subject only to some very rare exceptions, they must not submit to, perform, encourage, pay for, or arrange for an abortion. That direction tells us what we need to do on the weightier matters of the law, the choices that will move us toward eternal life. (122) Many General Authorities have encouraged Mormons to "stand up" and have mentioned the legalization of elective abortion as one example of the moral deterioration that must be resisted and opposed. (123)

    1. Foundational Theological and Moral Principles Underlying LDS Doctrines and Policies Regarding Elective Abortion

    Clarity and coherence in the foundational theology is important so that the particular doctrines and policies of the Church are understood to be based on foundational moral, theological, and spiritual principles. There are some powerful religious theological and moral underpinnings for the LDS position on elective abortion. Mormon religious doctrines and policies regarding bioethical issues are, as Professor Courtney Campbell puts it, "embedded within a comprehensive worldview of divine design, human destiny, and ultimate meaning." (124) Mormon Christians believe that there are eternal truths about right and wrong--which all have the duty and agency to discern and follow. (125) While time, culture, context, and many other factors influence how those truths may be practically understood, expressed, lived and applied, (126) Mormon Christians reject the premise of relativism--that ethical principles of good and evil are merely (wholly or primarily) social constructs. (127)

    Six foundational beliefs, core theological principles of the Mormon Christian worldview, incorporating the LDS understanding of the gospel and God's Plan of Salvation for his children, are the cornerstones of Mormon Christian ethical theory regarding prenatal life. They are:

    (1) God is the eternally loving Heavenly Father of all humankind; He created the spirits of all humankind, all of whom are His sons and His daughters. (128) As the spiritual offspring of God, human beings have a divine nature and divine potential, including the divine capacity to do whatever He asks us to do.

    (2) God's "work and [his] glory," his purpose and plan, are "to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man." (129) AS their loving Heavenly Father, He both knows and wants what is best for his mortal sons and daughters collectively and individually; He knows what they must do to develop divine nature and gain immortality and eternal life; (130) He gives no commandment that is not crafted to help them gain eternal life and eternal happiness, and none that they are unable to obey. (131) All of humankind's lives--pre-mortal, mortal and post-mortal, individually and collectively--are part of God's Great Plan of Happiness (or Plan of Salvation) for His children and through the atonement of Christ are intended to effect the immortality and eternal life of man. God created man that man "might have joy." (132)

    (3) God sent his spirit children to earth, to mortality, for two main purposes essential to their salvation and eternal development. The first purpose is to gain a physical body (which, after our resurrection, will be our own bodies eternally); Mormons believe that God has a physical body; thus, keeping (a resurrected) body is necessary for His children to become like Him. Mormon Christians believe fervently in the sanctity of human life; mortal life is extremely important, and to deprive someone of it is a very grave offense against God, His Plan of Salvation, and the agency and mortal life of the victims. (133) Mormons do all they can to avoid and prevent death, but they are not afraid of death. Death is not the victor; and dying, while sad, is not the end. A Mormon funeral is like a missionary farewell or a wedding; death is only a temporary parting, a sad separation but not permanent. Mormons believe that because of Jesus's atonement and resurrection, all who ever lived on the earth will be resurrected and can be joyfully reunited again with God and Christ, and with beloved family and friends. (134) The official Church position on end-of-life medical care states:

    When severe illness strikes, members should exercise faith in the Lord and seek competent medical assistance. However, when dying becomes inevitable, it should be seen as a blessing and a purposeful part of eternal existence. Members should not feel obligated to extend mortal life by means that are unreasonable. These judgments are best made by family members after receiving wise and competent medical advice and seeking divine guidance through fasting and prayer. (135) (4) The second purpose of mortal life is for men and women to exercise the great gift of free agency in this mortal setting, to learn to distinguish between good and evil, to learn to choose good over evil, and to gain knowledge and growth from those choices and experiences. God has given humanity free agency--the capacity to choose and act in ways that have real consequences for the development (or diminution) of their divine nature. All humans must freely choose to exercise their moral agency in accord with God's will in order to experience the growth process that eventually, through the atonement of Christ, will enable them to obtain immortality and eternal life. (136)

    (5) Two conditions are necessary for the exercise of free agency and for the unfolding of God's Great Plan of Happiness. They are (a) knowledge of what is right and wrong, and (b) opportunity to act upon that knowledge (e.g. "temptations and choices"). Knowledge of right and wrong, (including moral or ethical knowledge), comes in various ways--by study, by mental exertion, by reason, research, and analysis--and it comes by experience, including the "school of hard knocks" when people make mistakes and learn from them. Such knowledge also comes through the scriptures (the "Word") and through prophets and apostles, other priesthood leaders, teachers, missionaries, and parents. It also can come by personal revelation from God to each individual, most often by inspiration from the Holy Ghost. (137) However, revelation by the Spirit and through authorities are not substitutes for personal study, examination, reason, thought, logic, analysis, deliberation, discussion, and full mental exertion. (138) The opportunity to exercise free agency requires "opposition in all things" so that individuals may freely make righteous, obedient choices that help them to do and become what...

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