The topic of discussion is abortion.
To review and respond to this topic I will reference an official statement made by the LDS church in 2006 regarding abortion the article of which can be found here. I will first explain my own views and stance on abortion and the issue before addressing direct points raised by Russell M. Nelson in the statement.
Let me begin by clarifying that I am Pro-choice because I believe in Agency, I believe that no person should be allowed to dictate the choices or actions of another in regards to their bodies, health, or life. While I believe all people should be allowed to make their own choices and live their own lives and would NEVER judge someone for choosing to have an abortion, I do have timelines and times set up where I believe would be reasonable to ALWAYS allow for an abortion, should the mother choose one.
- In an instance of rape, incest, or the pregnancy of a minor bellow 15 years of age.
- When the pregnancy places the mother's life or physical health at risk.
- When the pregnancy places the mother's mental well-being at risk.
- In cases of poverty, extreme or otherwise, where the mother would not be able to care for the child adequately or the child may be in danger due to poverty after birth.
- When the child has an incurable medical condition that would not allow for survival after birth (this does not include disabilities that are not life-threatening)
- At any point before the 16th week of gestation.
I am in accord with the LDS church in my position in #1 and #2, at least mostly (they do not include an age in which abortion is an option). ALMOST no one would argue that the a woman should have to carry the child of her rapist, father/brother/uncle/grandfather or continue her pregnancy if she could die.
Unlike the church, I believe that a woman's mental health should also play an important role in her ability to carry the pregnancy to term. Mental health should be counted just as highly as physical health.
In cases of poverty the mother should always have the option to choose not to bring a child into the world to potentially suffer the same situation and fate of their mother, to potentially starve or worse. In such cases it is in the best interest of everyone to make their own calculated decision, which might lead to abortion.
If there is a known defect that would cause the child's death soon after birth or a severely limited lifespan after birth that has no cure, I believe that it should be the mother's choice whether to abort the child to prevent the maximum amount of suffering to all parties.
Finally, I feel that there should be no questions asked of abortions at or before 16 weeks. I am even fine with abortions later but if we are not careful we then approach the minimum age of viability (about 22 weeks, 24 for a better outlook).
A few follow up points before I begin tackling Elder Nelson's talk: Abortion is not murder. There is no "War on the defenseless.
Review of Elder Nelson's talk
Elder Nelson's talk, "Abortion: An Assault on the Defenseless," concerns me slightly in the language used, the facts glossed over, and the message portrayed.
The first concern I have with Elder Nelson's talk is that he uses the term "War" as an analogy with abortion. It is used as such 6 times in the opening few paragraphs, setting the tone for the rest of Nelson's statements. Nelson then refers to a document where the church stated that abortion was akin to infanticide and feoticide. These statements show a sense of unforgiving "wrongness" to abortion, despite the concessions that there are times when an abortion is considered "alright" by the church. This tone is dangerous as could lead to both social and personal repercussions to those who get an abortion, even for an "approved" reason.
In his section, "Special Concerns," Elder Nelson does acknowledge that some abortions could be considered as options for a small variety of reasons (Medical necessity of mother, incest and rape, and potentially due to fetus disability). He states that instances where abortion occurs to save the life of the mother and those that occur to terminate a pregnancy from rape or incest are "very rare" and "also rare". There are several problems with Elder Nelson's wording of the data, as well as the data itself. In a study done in 2005, just a year before this talk, they found that about 12% of abortions were performed due to medical necessity to save the mother. While this is not a large percentage, it is also NOT "very rare" as Elder Nelson described. On the other hand, the same study found that less than 1% of abortions took place to terminate the result or rape or incest. Regardless of the facts, Nelson's wording would not only have us believe that medically necessary abortions were more rare than they are (potentially dissuading a woman from receiving a medically necessary abortion because of this belief) but would also give us a false impression on the number of abortions performed as a result of rape and/or incest.
Nelson also mentioned abortion due to congenital malformation (although there were no specifics) and then gave an example where a couple decided not to terminate and had a healthy little girl who was actually a genius and lived a full and happy life. While the story is touching, it truly downplays the severity and reasoning behind terminating a pregnancy due to some ailment in the fetus. The example he used was of a pregnancy that occurred in the mid-1960's, before ultrasound was commonly used, where a simple fear of exposure could result in potential abortion of an otherwise healthy baby. Today, with the medical advancements, if a doctor is suggesting termination, there is almost always a serious malformation or danger to the fetus if the pregnancy is continued. Nelson's "pray and trust in the Lord" method of dealing with fetuses causes shame to those who decide to terminate early and, occasionally, the decision to continue the pregnancy, despite medical risks (having a large number of multiples and deciding not to reduce the number, thus placing the lives of all parties at risk of serious health concerns is one example).
Nelson's, "Abortion on Demand" section of the talk was the most judgmental and harsh towards women, stating the consequences towards their actions, likening their pregnancy to leaving in a spaceship after choosing to become an astronaut. The astronaut reference is referring to a woman's decision to have sex (it does not clarify protected or unprotected), implying that one this one choice if the definition of the rest of her life because "the ship has sailed" at that point. The problem with this analogy is that 1) not all sex lead to pregnancy and so there is no reason for a woman to prepare for and anticipate pregnancy every time she has sex and 2) there are no "astronaut" repercussions for the men that have sex with the woman.
The main argument for Nelson is that a fetus is already a person, he follows the belief that life begins at conception, so the mother's decision to terminate the pregnancy is effectively terminating the entire unlived life of a full human being, whom she has no right to make decisions for. The problem with this argument is that it creates an equality between the mother (a person with years of experience and life) and the fetus/embryo/unborn child (a potential person). It also discounts the fact that the mother's life is required to give life to the potential person, meaning that it is her decision on whether she desires to fulfill her "task" as incubator. His argument is also lessened by the fact that abortion is not treated as murder by the church (where you can simply repent and it is forgiven instead of being a thing that cannot be forgiven), so his analogy of the potential person being equal with that of the mother is not even supported by the doctrine he is quoting.
There is no scientific age where a potential person is considered to be a person, for that is the discussion of morality and religion. However there are statistics that make abortion a great deal less "horrendous" than the implications of war and murder might lead us to believe. According to the CDC, in 2009 91.7% of all abortions occurred at or before 13 weeks gestation (within the first trimester) and 64% of all abortions occurred at or before 8 weeks gestation. I am sure that Nelson would not be concerned by the semantics of where in the pregnancy abortion occurs, it is merely more of a comfort that dissuades others from over-reacting to false videos and information.
Nelson goes on to mention that adoption is always an option for an unwanted pregnancy and this is true. If a woman does not mind carrying the pregnancy to term but does not want the infant after birth she could always place it for adoption. However, there are risks to this process as well. Going back to the data in 2009, there were about 784,507 abortions that took place. If none of these abortions occurred and all the children were placed for adoption, that would be 784,507 babies needing homes. Now, in America in 2009, there were 421,350 children in the foster care system a the end of the year (the number fluctuated throughout the year). The infants not aborted would then add to that number, leaving 1,205,857 children in the system to be adopted. The probability of all of these children being adopted is next to zero, even the majority of the infants would remain in foster care, potentially their entire lives. Living within this system would mean that most of these children would not go to college, if they even finished high school. Most would end up in jail at some point and have children themselves that may end up in the same system they did. This number of unadopted children in the system increases at the Church's insistence on two parent households. The entire narrative is a ridiculous improbability if not impossibility that would require taxing an already underfunded system beyond its potential capabilities.
Nelson's insistence and referral to 2 parent households will be addressed in a future post.
It is obvious that there are differing opinions in the country about whether women should be allowed to abort potential people from their bodies. Perhaps one way to overcome this difference is to encourage teach safe sex practices, including birth control and protection. It is also important to fund health clinics and parental support within the country to help aide with the care of infants and teach parents about the best options to guide their choices.