Question: What is the Mormon position on abortion?

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Question: What is the Mormon position on abortion?

Except in certain circumstances, the LDS Church opposes abortion and denounces it as a serious sin

LDS Newsroom, "Abortion"

LDS Newsroom,  LDS Newsroom
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes in the sanctity of human life. Therefore, the Church opposes elective abortion for personal or social convenience, and counsels its members not to submit to, perform, encourage, pay for, or arrange for such abortions.


The Church allows for possible exceptions for its members when:

  • Pregnancy results from rape or incest, or
  • A competent physician determines that the life or health of the mother is in serious jeopardy, or
  • A competent physician determines that the fetus has severe defects that will not allow the baby to survive beyond birth.


The Church teaches its members that even these rare exceptions do not justify abortion automatically. Abortion is a most serious matter and should be considered only after the persons involved have consulted with their local church leaders and feel through personal prayer that their decision is correct.

The Church has not favored or opposed legislative proposals or public demonstrations concerning abortion.

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Except in certain circumstances, the LDS Church opposes abortion and denounces it as a serious sin. However, unlike some movements, the Church does not equate abortion with murder. Further, the Church acknowledges that women and men who have been involved in abortions can be forgiven and become members in good standing. The exceptions to the commandment prohibiting abortion highlight the Church’s commitment to women’s rights and to our intrinsic value apart from our biological roles as mothers.

Question: Are there exceptions where abortion may be appropriate?
Answer: Yes.

The Church has not adopted a simple, all-or-nothing approach to abortion. While the Church stands firmly by the commandment “Thou shalt not . . . kill, nor do anything like unto it” DC 59:6 and Church members are cautioned that participating in abortion will usually bring their membership under scrutiny, allowances are made for situations where abortion may be appropriate.

The Church recognizes there are cases when abortion is medically necessary. When a woman or girl’s health would be severely threatened by carrying a pregnancy to term, the Church offers counsel and support while mothers themselves decide how to proceed. The same approach is taken even when the mother's life is not at risk but a pregnancy is medically deemed to have no chance of being viable. In such cases, the Church leaves the final choice of whether an abortion will be performed to the parents themselves. There is no universal formula for how the exceptions to the Church's usual stance on abortion must be applied.

The list of situations where abortion may be appropriate showcases the Church’s commitment to women’s rights to make choices. In cases of rape or incest (crimes sometimes known by other names but likely meant to describe any non-consensual sexual intercourse brought on by force or by the abuse of a position of power), the Church does not require victims to accept pregnancies arising from someone else’s abusive choices. If a woman does not consent to sexual contact, the Church does not consider her morally obliged to accept the consequence of it.

At a gathering of university students, Member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Dallin H. Oaks quoted the following:

The woman’s right to choose what will or will not happen to her body is obviously violated by rape or incest. When conception results in such a case, the woman has the moral as well as the legal right to an abortion because the condition of pregnancy is the result of someone else’s irresponsibility, not hers. She does not have to take responsibility for it. To force her by law to carry the fetus to term would be a further violation of her right.[1]

The fact that an impending threat to the mother’s health is accepted by the Church as a valid reason for opting for abortion suggests that the Church prefers the life of the adult woman to the life of the unborn fetus -- especially if there is no chance the fetus would be able to live if the pregnancy took its natural course. This preference is controversial to many in the mainstream Pro-Life movement. However, it is a strong indication of the value the Church places on individual women. Clearly, we are not valued solely for our reproductive abilities. We are free to protect and preserve our own lives even if doing so directly compromises our reproductive abilities.

Though denounced by the Church, abortion is not considered murder

In a revelation given to Joseph Smith, the ancient Biblical commandment “Thou shalt not kill” Ex 20:13 was expanded to read “Thou shalt not…kill nor do anything like unto it.” D&C 59:6 Abortion seems to fall into the category of “anything like unto it.” Though denounced by the Church, abortion is not considered murder. It is a less serious sin and one for which men and women can be forgiven.

Member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Russell M. Nelson has said:

So far as is known, the Lord does not regard this transgression as murder. And “as far as has been revealed, a person may repent and be forgiven for the sin of abortion.” Gratefully, we know the Lord will help all who are truly repentant.[2]

This doctrine sets the Church apart from some of the other organizations that denounce abortion. The Church does not persecute or demonize people involved in abortion. Instead, it reaches out to them with compassion and the promise of a possible redemption.

The Church itself has not been involved in the politics of abortion

As explained in the Church’s official statement on abortion, the Church itself has not been involved in the politics of abortion. However, Church members are free to express their own opinions and to be involved as individuals in political causes including abortion legislation.

The Church has come under criticism from conservative groups for not taking a stronger stance against abortion. At the same time, the Church is criticized by “pro-choice” groups for its extremely limited tolerance for abortion. Both sides of the argument accuse the Church of trying too hard to please the opposite side. Clearly, the Church’s stance on abortion cannot be the result of political pandering. If it's meant as a compromise, it would be a poor one that leaves both sides of the abortion argument angry and unsatisfied. In an argument as polarized as the abortion debate, no compromise would ever be acceptable. Rather than crafting a position that fully pleases either side of the debate, the Church position is a tempered one – one based in a real, complicated world where difficult situations must be reckoned with on careful, individual bases.

Despite its lack of direct engagement in abortion politics, some Church leaders have warned members against aligning with movements that would promote the use of abortion beyond the circumstances of rape, incest, and catastrophic health outcomes accepted by the Church.

Dallin H. Oaks said:

Pro-choice slogans have been particularly seductive to Latter-day Saints because we know that moral agency, which can be described as the power of choice, is a fundamental necessity in the gospel plan. All Latter-day Saints are pro-choice according to that theological definition. But being pro-choice on the need for moral agency does not end the matter for us. Choice is a method, not the ultimate goal. …In today’s world we are not true to our teachings if we are merely pro-choice. We must stand up for the right choice.[3]

Adoption is encouraged as an alternative to abortion

Wrote the First Presidency in 1999:

Every effort should be made in helping those who conceive out of wedlock to establish an eternal family relationship. When the probability of a successful marriage is unlikely, unwed parents should be encouraged to place the child for adoption, preferably through LDS Social Services. Adoption through LDS Social Services helps ensure that the baby will be reared by a mother and father in a faithful Latter-day Saint family.

Unwed parents who do not marry should not be counseled to keep the infant as a condition of repentance or out of an obligation to care for one’s own. Generally, unwed parents are not able to provide the stable, nurturing environment so essential for the baby’s well-being.

When deciding to place the baby for adoption, the best interests of the child should be the paramount consideration. Placing the infant for adoption enables unwed parents to do what is best for the child and enhances the prospect for the blessings of the gospel in the lives of all concerned.[4]


Notes

  1. Dallin H. Oaks, "Weightier Matters," BYU Devotional, Feb. 1999.
  2. Russell M. Nelson, "Reverence for Life," Ensign (May 1985), 11. See also Russell M. Nelson, "Abortion: An Assault on the Defenseless," Ensign (Oct 2008), 32–37.
  3. Dallin H. Oaks, "Weightier Matters," BYU Devotional, Feb. 1999.
  4. Cited in "Policies and Announcements," Ensign (April 1999), 80.


Further reading and additional sources responding to these claims