I don't normally weigh in on politics and social issues, but I really must post a link to Abortion, Up Close and Personal at Get Religion (despite the title, nothing graphic in the post). The post summarizes a recent MSM abortion story that goes beyond the normal stereotyped statements and poses a few difficult questions about the practice of abortion in the US. Interesting development, in light of Wednesday's oral arguments before the US Supreme Court on two abortion cases, as well as the inevitable media discussion of abortion rights that will accompany nominee Judge Samuel Alito's upcoming confirmation hearings. This is a topic that will be in the news for the next few months.
So here's a question: What is the LDS position on abortion? Has it changed over the last few decades?
The LDS Position
The official LDS doctrinal booklet True to the Faith has this to say under the short article "Abortion":
Latter-day prophets have denounced abortion, referring to the Lord's declaration, "Thou shalt not ... kill, nor do anything like unto it" (D&C 59:6). Their counsel on the matter is clear: Members of the Church ... must not submit to, perform, encourage, pay for, or arrange for an abortion. If you encourage an abortion in any way, you may be subject to Church discipline.(First ellipsis in original.) This seems quite clear.
However, the next paragraph notes that "Church leaders have said that some exceptional circumstances may justify an abortion," then lists three such circumstances: when pregnancy results from incest or rape, when the health of the mother is judged by doctors to be in serious jeopardy, and when the fetus has serious defects that compromise viability after birth. In other words, it is now LDS Church policy that abortion is justified in some circumstances. This seems like a change in policy or at least a shift in emphasis.
The article goes on to note that only local LDS leaders can safely make a recommendation in favor of abortion under these exceptional circumstances. In other words, a pregnant woman herself can't make that call. So the ability of a pregnant LDS woman or teenager to seek an abortion under one of these exceptional circumstances is dependent on (1) her asking for the blessing of her local LDS bishop to get an abortion; and (2) the bishop agreeing that her situation fits one of the exceptional circumstances and that he gives his permission for her to proceed. His agreement does not appear to be required just because the case fits an exception. It sounds like a bishop might agree that one of the circumstances applies, yet decline to support a request to proceed with an abortion.
If the bishop says no, it's not clear what recourse the woman or teenager has. I suppose one option would be to proceed anyway with knowledge of the exceptions and one's own situation, then raise that as a justification if the bishop or other LDS official initiates disciplinary action. Note that, according to the first paragraph, a husband or parent who supported a woman or teenager in pursuing that course might themselves be subject to an LDS disciplinary proceeding should they offer such advice. So tread carefully should you ever find yourself in such a difficult scenario.
Perhaps some journalists aren't the only ones rethinking their approach to abortion. However, if there has been some shift in emphasis on the LDS postition, it appears to be limited to rather narrow circumstances and subject to careful institutional oversight and control. I suppose I ought to add that I have never in any way encouraged an abortion, nor do I think I would ever be inclined to do so.