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Dave, I don't think there's any change here in the exceptions, if by change you mean something in the last 10-15 years. I remember reading about these exceptions about that long ago in manuals of the era. Also there was a faithful couple in our student ward with a fetus that was not viable (no brain as I recall), and I distinctly remember these exceptions being in my consciousness at that time.

Dave, what part of the TTTF piece on abortion are you looking at to support the conclusion that "only local LDS leaders can safely make a recommendation in favor of abortion under these exceptional circumstances." That is not how I read the requirements. TTTF does say that exceptional circumstances "do not automatically justify an abortion," and further provides that "[t]hose who face such circumstances should consider abortion only after consulting with their local Church leaders." But the piece does not place final authority for making the ultimate decision in the hands of local leaders. Rather, a woman may make this decision, after "consultation," once she has "receiv[ed] a confirmation through earnest prayer."

Perhaps you are saying, as a practical matter, that such a decision may not be "safe" in that the local leadership might second-guess the woman's decision despite her sincere belief to have received confirmation through prayer. I would hope -- and expect -- that the vast majority of local leaders would be sensitive to this situation and handle it appropriately. But crazier things have happened.

Randy, the "not automatic" language, coupled with the statement that a woman can make a choice under one of the three exceptions "only after consulting with their local Church leaders," does on the face of it give that local leader a veto over the woman's decision, prayerful or otherwise. It appears to be an approval process, not a notification requirement.

One rarely knows how this kind of thing plays out in practice, of course. I share your hope that most local leaders handle such situations with compassion and sensitivity, and believe that most local leaders in fact do so.

I like the Church's position on this, but it has one potential conundrum: there is no allowance for an LDS doctor to perform an abortion. Imagine one is needed and the woman lives in an area where all the doctors are LDS. Could any of those doctors do it?

Although under certain circumstances seeking an abortion might not be a sin, it seems to say that any performance of an abortion is a sin. Thus, we're asking non-Mormons to sin for our benefit. Is that ethical?


I see what you are saying now. I suppose it turns on what is meant by "consult." If consult in this context means to seek information of, as in, to consult a dictionary, then I suppose your interpretation would be correct. If, however, consult instead means to seek advice, to take into account, to consider, or to exchange views, then I think my view is correct. It strikes me that the latter reading is more plausible and certainly more palatable. But maybe that is simply my personal preferences showing. I think that local leaders in this context are more akin to counselors than dictionaries.

I think that if any of the three listed circumstances exist it is highly unlikely that anyone would receive official church discipline whether they got an official "ok" from their bishop or not. Even if there were an extreme case where an overzealous bishop intended to pursue discipline there is always a stake president that could be turned to. As Christian C. pointed out, these three caveats have been in place and very public for a long time. (In fact, I believe some hyper-zealous abortion opponents call the church "baby killers" for allowing those exceptions at all).

But the cautions are important ones. My mother's life was in real danger when she was carrying my baby brother. After great amounts of fasting and prayer my parents felt impressed to not abort. Mom is fine today and my baby brother is now a strapping 6'3" surfer who just got home from a highly successful mission in Zimbabwe a few weeks ago. God knows how to give good advice... We just need to learn how to hear it.

Dave, I agree with Randy. I don't read the TTTF text as giving any authority to local leaders regarding the abortion decision. I read it as an exhortation for the woman to seek guidance and counsel from local leaders before making the decision. Further, I don't know of any instance where church leaders are given this kind of executive authority in members' personal decisions. They have authority to judge only.

I suppose giving the authority to judge can be seen as giving leaders some measure of executive authority in that a faithful member may feel compelled to conform to their leader's judgment for fear of discipline. But obviously the final say is always the member's.

Dave, I believe your rendering of the text borders on "bad faith" and deliberately twists what seem to me to be the obvious intentions of the authors. It is very clear that they are trying to strongly discourage abortion while making it clear that there are some circumstances under which it may be justified, and that people should consult with their leaders for help and advice. It never says that the leader has the final decision. That leap in your logic in not justified by the text, in my opinion.

The fact that you don't fully quote the text to allow readers to draw their own conclusion about your rendering seems to indicate some amount of awareness on your part that you were stretching it.

This counsel has been in the church handbook for a long time now; it does not represent a recent change in church policy. Your assumption that it does is yet another example of what appears to me to be a tendency to "watch for iniquity" or to assume recalcitrance in church leadership--for what other reason would you immediately assume that such counsel represented a shift in policy?

While I have enjoyed many of your posts before, these kinds of comments make it seem like you have an axe to grind.

Dave, I've known people including family who had to get an abortion due to problems with the fetus and some risk for the mother. I don't believe they consulted their bishop nor did I get the impression that anyone expected them to. It seems, in those circumstances, that as difficult as the choice was, it was an obvious one.

Dave, a couple of other thoughts that occurred to me after I posed. First, when actual "approval" -- as opposed to mere "consultation" -- is required, the Church generally makes that clear. There are several instances in the CHI, for example, where approval is required. To the best of my recollection, it is never couched in terms of merely having to "consult." Rather, the need for actual approval, if necessary, is expressly spelled out. Conversely, there are several instances in the CHI where consultation with local leaders is advocated. Surely this does not give local leaders the final say so in each instance.

Second, as worded, the TTTF piece cautions women to "consider" having an abortion only after consulting with local leaders. If local leaders had the definitive final say, there would be no need for further consideration on the part of the individual.

I'll take up the point Jared made several comments ago--both OB's and general practicioners with OB training *need* to know how to perform abortions. It forces LDS practicioners and members to read exceptions into the official statements that simply aren't there.

Dave's parsing of the church's statements on abortion, in my view, is the kind of activity these statements are inviting.

Wow, nice comments. Here are some quick responses:

"Rethinking" - This applies more to the Get Religion post I linked to (which you really ought to read) than to the TTTF article, which simply took CHI directives on this topic, summarized them, and made them easily available to the members. But doesn't that sort of new openness and disclosure constitute a shift in policy or emphasis?

Clark (no. 9), what those people did sounds reasonable ... but that's not what the policy says. Which suggests the written policy isn't what local leaders are actually applying. "Consult" apparently doesn't really mean anything.

Carl (no. 8), I provided a direct link to the TTTF text and provided several quotes -- if I were trying to misrepresent or shade the text, I did a pretty poor job of it. I'm not sure what axe you think I'm grinding, I'm just starting a discussion. Finally, just because the counsel has been in the CHI for years doesn't mean most members have had access to it. That document is pretty tightly controlled.

Randy (no. 10), I guess I'd agree that a lot boils down to what "consult with" means. Reasonably, it means more than "give notice to" but less than "obtain approval from." But in Clark's examples people didn't even give notice, so it's not clear that it really means anything.

But doesn't that sort of new openness and disclosure constitute a shift in policy or emphasis?

Fine, but it's a shift in policy about openness and disclosure in general about most Church policies, not a rethinking of abortion in particular. Your post came across (at least to me) as meaning a rethinking of abortion in particular.

Christian, let me press my point a bit. I think if a previously covert set of exceptions is now published to the general membership (when the prior public rhetoric has generally been "abortion is like unto murder") that it may amount to substantive if quiet shift in policy: the rhetoric doesn't change but the practice does. It's similar to women in the workplace (the rhetoric hasn't changed, but local leaders are now much more comfortable with women who work) or debt (the rhetoric hasn't changed, but no one gets disciplined for carrying a credit card balance, a student loan, or a car loan).

It's also worth noting that if a practice is allowed under prudential exceptions, that practice is obviously not a sin per se. You wouldn't, for example, allow the killing of a five-year-old to eliminate a serious health risk to the child's mother, but we do allow an abortion to eliminate a serious health risk to the mother. So abortion really isn't "like unto murder," it is a qualitatively different act. Recognizing that implication of the current policy does, I think, amount to a rethinking of the LDS position on abortion.

You wouldn't, for example, allow the killing of a five-year-old to eliminate a serious health risk to the child's mother.

I think this is an unfair comparison, Dave. Under what circumstance would there need to be a choice between the life of a mother and the life of a 5 year old? The closest example I can think of is on airplanes where they tell adults to put their own oxygen masks on first.

I'm curious when you think a change in policy happened. I can't remember a time when the three noted exceptions weren't well known in the church (going back 20+ years). It seems to me that if there was a "shift" in policy or message then it must have happened in the 70s or earlier.

Regarding the issue of the consult, I served a mission where almost all the women above a certain age had been told that abortion was basically contraception and, therefore, most of them had had an abortion. My mission president had frequent interviews with them and told us, speaking in general, that they always felt guilty about it (even in a country where the social stigma was much lower). He felt his role in these interviews was to help the women know that God had forgiven her.

In a much more politically and socially charged situation (like the one in the US), these consultations could often be an attempt to let women know that God loves them, no matter what the decision is that they make. The guilt surrounding abortion is notorious and this may be an attempt to help these women through it.

John C., that certainly puts the "consultation" requirement in a very positive light. It would be nice if some of the official rhetoric heard over the pulpit reflected this line of thinking.

I can't remember a time when the three noted exceptions weren't well known in the church (going back 20+ years). It seems to me that if there was a "shift" in policy or message then it must have happened in the 70s or earlier.

During the 1970s the church recognized possible exceptions where "the life or good health of the woman is seriously endangered" or "where the pregnancy was caused by rape and produces serious emotional trauma in the mother" (emphasis added).

The incest exception first appeared in the 1983 General Handbook. The "emotional trauma" language was dropped in the same handbook.

The exception relating to a fetus having severe defects did not appear until the publication of the 1989 General Handbook of Instructions.

Dear Sir,

Your write:

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."

Please note that the article does not say the woman/girl cannot make that call. It ways that only "Local" leaders - that is, those who know the case - can safely make a recommendation."

Making a recommendation to the sister is not making a determination, nor is it giving or withholding permission.

It is a matter of providing spiritual counselling to someone in their time of need.

To make that mean: "In other words, a pregnant woman herself can't make that call." is doing violence to the policy statement.

After that, all your arguments:

"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"

is a crock, because you have based it on a manufactured scenario posited on a misunderstanding of what was written and intended.

Many Church policies are non-prescriptive, and the Abortion Policy falls under that heading.

Mormon Bishops not only do not hand out "Permission to Abort" certificates, but they are not required to do so, they never have been, and they never will be.

As with so many issues of conscience, the Church's policy is for the "individual member to search their conscience deeply" before proceeding on any serious course of action which, once effected, is incapable of reversal. No one of any sense or sensitivity would argue with that or make of it a cause for criticism.

A clearer understanding of LDS Church policy and its interperetation by leadership will preclude the necessity of anyone having to write,"In other words ..... " and then proceed to spin in the dark.

Abortion is a serious subject that deserves to be well treated rather than used to build a straw man to be knocked down for sport.


Ronnie Bray
Mesa AZ

Thanks for the comments, Ronnie. The policy itself is quite clear: "If you encourage an abortion in any way, you may be subject to Church discipline." Your suggestion that this wording means that LDS women are allowed to get abortions as long as they "search their conscience deeply" first is simply inconsistent with the statement. That a pregnant woman can't make the call herself (without risking church discipline) is exactly what the policy means.

Then it says "some exceptional circumstances" might justify an abortion. Do we know what the word exceptional means? It's an exception, not a general rule and certainly not a "talk to your bishop it you want to, or don't" sort of optional counseling.

I'm not sure why people are reacting so sharply to the thrust of this post — the fact that some exceptions are recognized is a change toward permissiveness, but a very small step. Maybe it's my suggestion that how the rule works in practice is a function of who one's particular local leaders happen to be -- but that's the case for a lot of doctrines and disciplinary issues ... isn't that obvious to everyone?

I'm new to this conversation, but have read those passages in the CHI from many years (my first reading of the CHI was as an Elders Q President in the late 80s). I also am aware of minor word changes in that policy over the years. I think the strong reaction is due to the suggestion that the Church is changing doctrine to be more permissive. Every time someone disagrees, you have taken their comments out of context to support your suggestion (the 5 year old thing was pretty well out there). I don't think the exceptions are a change towrd permisiveness at all, but a clarification of issues that come up. As we have gained technology, we can now identify the difference between a mass of tissue that may or may not ever have been a fetus and a living fetus. That knowledge leads to questions that must be answered. While incest and rape are not new, I think most of us can agree that it is more common now and we are much more aware of it than in say, 1955. Not to mention the growth of the Church has made it a requirement to document policies. Does that mean we previously allowed abortion, or didn't allow it in those circumstances? Not necessarily. Before the policy was documented, there were probably General Authorities (and maybe the First Presidency) directly involved.
Actually, the latest trend is to document fewer policies and leave more items to the local leadership. While that may leave some minor variation, the critical gospel-related policies are still there. For example, some of the meetings for various groups have become less proscribed. Does that change the Gospel or the Church's stance? No, it just means that local leaders can do what they need to meet their needs.
I am unaware of any effort that has ever been made to hide the policies of the Church. I joined the Church at 14 in 1977, and was ordained as a Teachers Q President soon after. Several times times I was in discussions with my Bishop where he would show me the CHI to read. I was asked to give a talk in a Stake Conference, and he showed me sections in the manuals then to give me resources. Since then, I've been in numerous leadership meetings where Bishops have pulled the CHI out and read them.
On the specific issue of abortion, I can't read any back tracking on the issue at all. The specific changes that have taken place have not substantively changed the policy.
Yes, encouraging people to get abortion could expose a member to Church discipline. After all, it is akin to murder. As for the exceptions, there are exceptions to taking the life of another as well (Alma ordered Nehor executed for his crimes - Alma 1). As a member, if I worked in a family planning clinic encouraging and helping people get abortions, I would be subject to discipline. If I was a priesthood leader and encouraged members to get abortions, I would be subject to discipline. If I, as a husband (or boyfriend for that matter), encouraged my wife (or girlfriend) to have an abortion, I would be subject to discipline. If I published articles encouraging abortion, as a member I would be subject to discipline. If I was a pregnant woman and got a voluntary abortion for no reason other than I didn't mean to get pregnant, I would be subject to discipline. I'm not sure that I understand your complaint. Discipline relates only to membership in the Church. There are no "punishments" or anything like that, so what's the beef? This is a major element of the Church, so if someone was acting that way, I can't see why they'd want to continue membership. Ultimately, discipline doesn't necessarily mean excommunication or disfellowshipment. It means a court is held to determine whether that course of action is necessary to help the member.
On the policy itself, you ask what exceptional means. Of course, you mentioned 3 of them.
In no way does the Bishop or any ecclesiastical leader have way to stop a person from doing anything. All they can do is deal with the results. For example, if a Bishop believed a woman wanted an unnecessary divorce, he could not stop her from having one. All he could do is after the fact hold a court to determine if she needed some specific repentance process to continue having her name on the records of the Church as a member. She could still attend Church, she would only be asked not to take the sacrament and would not be able to hold a calling, speak or pray in the meetings.
If the case were justified, the court may determine that it was a valid course of action and do nothing.
The policy is there to help people understand that is truly a sin, and that there are very few exceptions and those are not necessarily automatic. It lets people know that they need to take the issue very seriously and discuss it with their bishop. The bishop should provide counsel and comfort, but should not ever suggest a final course. He should discuss the issues, help the individuals understand the eternal ascpects of their actions, and then let them make a final decsion.
It is not much different than any major life decision. A person should consult with their Bishop prior to marriage (to go to the Temple they have to) or before a divorce. My son who is now serving a mission spent a lot of time consulting with the Bishop and Stake President about going on a mission, and he was planning on going.
The point being, that faithful members of the Church include their ecclesiastical leadership in their lives because they know they are entitled to receive revelation to help. That doesn't mean that all Bishops are wise and always give the best counsel. But they are there to help, and ultimately the individual has to rely on his or her own relationship with the Lord.

Thanks for the comments, Rick. I'll just respond to a couple of points from your lengthy remarks. About the CHI: No, it's not a secret document, but it's certainly not accessible. You can't buy a copy; when sections were posted online, the Church took legal action against those posting and even some who just linked to it. So I disagree with the idea that all statements of policy in the CHI can be assumed known by church members. This means, of course, that the TTTF booklet does provide some information not previously accessible to most church members, a nice move.

I think the "akin to murder" phrase is unfortunate, murder being the unlawful killing of a human being with malice. Abortion is not unlawful and is not done with malice. I think a more accurate characterization would be "akin to taking a life, which is justiable under some circumstances." If I were inclined to make a sharper distinction, I would say that the TTTF statement shows abortion is qualitatively *different* from murder because abortion is deemed to be justified and permissible in some circumstances, whereas murder is not. (Let's just ignore the whole Nephi and Laban episode for the purposes of this discussion.)

"Thanks for the comments, Ronnie. The policy itself is quite clear: "If you encourage an abortion in any way, you may be subject to Church discipline." Your suggestion that this wording means that LDS women are allowed to get abortions as long as they "search their conscience deeply" first is simply inconsistent with the statement. That a pregnant woman can't make the call herself (without risking church discipline) is exactly what the policy means."

I don't believe you could read that into what I said. My intention was to point out that the person who has the last say in a decision to have an abortion is the woman herself, NOT the bishop.

You are quite right to point out that disciplinary action could follow an abortion, but that is the same for any other serious inferaction of the commandments and policies.

Abortion is viewed as a serious matter. Latter-day Saints believe that human life is God-given and termination is morally wrong except in certain circumstances, such as to save the life of the mother if carruing the child to term would seriously jeopardise her health and welfare..

My main objection to your post, and I could have misunderstood you, is that I feel that you create the impression that Mormon bishops interfere with individuals' lives to an unwarranted extent.

This is an old charge that I am more used to hearing from the pens and lips of anti-Mormon critics than from faithful saints.

The impression has been woven since earliest times that Mormons are priest-ridden and unable to think for themselves. Not only is that not the case, but it has never been the case.

If I tell my bishop that I have it in mind to murder someone, and he advises me that if I do I will be subject to Church discipline, he is not telling me anything that I do not already know. But, unless he secures me with chains and padlocks to the wall of his soundproofed basement, I am free to walk out of his office and do as I please regardless of his advice.

I am not sure how familiar you are with LDS Church policy or whether you have ever been in a position to see how this policy works out in practice, but I have, and it is not as grim as you see to anticipate it could be in your scenario where you determine:

"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."

I have never known a bishop be anything other than highly supportive in the difficult circumstances that provide the exception. That there could be the odd bishop who might take a more Inquisitorial a[pproach is acknowledged, but if so, he would be wrong, and the sister would have recourse to appeal to the stake president, then onward through area president, to the First Presidency if need be.

In practice most cases are resolved satisfactorily at the local level.

In cases where an abortion has been performed that lies outside the exceptions, disciplinary action has not in mym experience ever exceeded a period of repentance accommodated under probation with resinstatement after a suitable period.

The exteme sanctioion that Church councils can impose is excommunication which would, I believe, only ever be used in cases where serious moral turpitude was involved or when serial abortion was involved.

Best wishes.


I have been reading your posts, and I think most of you, especially Dave, are missing the spirit of these directions.

Lets say I become pregnant by being raped. I go to my bishop, tell him what has happened, and explain to him that I cannot have a child who was concieved by an emotionally debilitating act of violence. He is not sensitive to my situation and encourages me to carry the child and bear the child. I, on the other hand, in hours of heart wrenching prayer, have felt comfort and peace about my decision. After consulting with God and Bishop Unwise, what do you think my decision is going to be?

In the end, I really think that the wording of the manual is less important than what can become of someone who doesn't follow the spirit. We endanger ourselves when we become enslaved to wording from an organization. Those guidelines are tools to help us make the best decision, not the rulers of our lives or spirituality.

Thanks for the comments, everyone. Since I think there is considerable agreement, I'll respond in general rather than to particular points.

First, there's a trivial sense in which no bishop really tells any woman what to do; she can always make her own choice about having an abortion. Just like if a guy sticks a knife in your ribs in a parking lot and asks for your wallet, it's still your choice whether you give it to him or not — but that doesn't mean you are giving it to him voluntarily or that there isn't (obviously) some coercion going on.

So those who comment that, under the written guidance, a woman still really makes the choice herself seem to be missing the point. The policy says: "But even these circumstances [the exceptions] do not automatically justify an abortion." In context, "automatic" means justifying the procedure without clearing it with the bishop. So: (1) under any circumstances, a woman is required to consult her bishop; and (2) he may or may not agree with her request for approval. If he doesn't and she proceeds, she "may" be subject to discipline. In context, "may" means subject to the discretion of the bishop.

Second, I don't dispute that most bishops are good men with understanding hearts and sound judgment. But we properly judge bureaucratic systems on their weakest link. For example, consider a police department that states: "Very few of our police officers routinely beat African American suspects." Sorry, that just isn't good enough. Acting properly 9 times out of 10 (or even 99 times out of 100) just isn't good enough for that scenario.

What's the acceptable rate of "abuse of discretion" in the bishop/abortion scenario? Well, that's a whole 'nother post, I imagine, one I don't intend to start. But I'm willing to at least admit that (1) such abuse of discretion can and does happen from time to time (that is, a bishop withholding approval when most other bishops would grant it); and (2) while the Church is likely willing to admit that a bishop can make a wrong decisoin in theory, mid-level leaders are largely unwilling to admit it actually happens (i.e., reverse a bishop's decision in the particular scenario we are discussing) in practice.

With a policy that states, as a general rule, "If you encourage an abortion in any way, you may be subject to Church discipline," what mid-level leader would, on appeal, support an assertive woman claiming an abortion exception over the judgment of a bishop who declined to agree with her? It just won't happen.

Last point: We're kind of debating hypothetical points in extreme cases (but not so extreme they don't happen from time to time). And with very little data to guide the discussion. I'm not trying to dispute the general point that, whatever the CHI says, most of the time the system works pretty well and that most bishops have good judgment and treat those they oversee as fairly as they are able.

I hope this discussion is still running among you forum/blogger folks. I think a key issue in these hypothetical circumstances is wether the said bishop is a convert, lives in and/or raised in a specific part of the world, and carries with him views similar to non-member peers or views taken with him from his previous denomination. These attitudes of being holier than thou and persecuting people for the sake of "self glorification" I have heard of personally. I know the personal is political, but politics for the most part should stay out of religion(i.e. telling someone which candidate they must vote for in an election or face God's wrath). Our mission is to bring the truth to the world, not harass people, that are not members, who don't believe what we believe. If they choose to sin they will sin. God is the ultimate judge in the end. Regardless of a person having been baptized in the church or not I am sure some will still be punished if they do not truly repent. Even then who is to say who is clean of sin or not--God is the omniscient,omnipresent,omnipotent one. Maybe our missionaries should spend a lot more lessons in gospel doctrine and gospel essentials to potential converts/converts before and after baptism! In any case, I understand the hesitancy of the church leadership in witholding clarification of these types of issues you discuss because they are afraid there words and policies will be sinisterly twisted, etc. I really think the leadership should step up for the sake of the membership/congregation and clarify the semantics and truth of the issues. They owe us that much. Church is for guidance, right?
Now, enough big words from you people. You use these SAT vocabulary words, but you don't do a spell check!?!

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