Sunday, June 28, 2009

On Abortion

Fair Request: Be kind in your comments. This is meant for discussion.

I came across this article not too long after the abortion doctor, George Tiller, was found shot to death by pro-life extremists. It's eye opening. It should help others to see that the abortion issue is not as black and white as many would like to think. The truth is that very little in this world is as black and white. I would almost dare say nothing is black and white. But I digress.

You can find the article here: Between a Woman and Her Doctor

An excerpt:

My doctor turned around and faced me. She told me that because dilation and evacuation is rarely offered in my community, I could opt instead to chemically induce labor over several days and then deliver the little body at my local maternity ward. “It’s up to you,” she said.

I’d been through labor and delivery three times before, with great joy as well as pain, and the notion of going through that profound experience only to deliver a dead fetus (whose skin was already starting to slough off, whose skull might be collapsing) was horrifying.

I also did some research, spoke with friends who were obstetricians and gynecologists, and quickly learned this: Study after study shows D&Es are safer than labor and delivery. Women who had D&Es were far less likely to have bleeding requiring transfusion, infection requiring intravenous antibiotics, organ injuries requiring additional surgery or cervical laceration requiring repair and hospital readmission.

Not everyone who opts for an abortion or a procedure does so because he or she finds the baby an unwelcome and inconvenient interference in their lives. History suggests women opted for abortion because they had given birth/become pregnant so often they couldn't handle it anymore. Many don't understand what a pregnancy can do to a woman's body and mind. And if anyone would like to tell a married woman to abstain from sex, be my guest. I'm sure she and her husband will appreciate that.

Back in the day before birth control, women had babies galore. I can say from my own genealogical research that many of my forebears had up to twelve children, many whom died soon afterward. Does anyone have any idea what psychological and physical ramifications this had on these women? These families? I've suffered from one miscarriage and post-partum depression. I know only mildly what some women go through.

On a semi-related note, I wonder how many LDS women opt for larger families out of "obedience" or an actual longing for a larger family. I know I felt the pressure and know of at least one other woman who wondered if she was selfish for not wanting more children.

This isn't so much about a woman's choice as it is about other people (men especially) having so much say over what a woman does when they haven't spent even ten minutes in her shoes. This is about a woman's body. It's about her mind, too. Her life matters just as much as that baby's life. Not everyone who finds themselves in this situation finds themselves there because they "chose" to have sex. Many are married and as such, according to our Church, given the right to have sex. What of a situation like the one mentioned above when a woman is forced to undergo a more dangerous procedure because the safer has been deemed unconscionable?

I am not a proponent of abortion. I am a proponent of giving women the benefit of the doubt. Of allowing some people to make their own damning choices so other women, like the one mentioned above, can have the choice of what to do. A safer choice.

Allowing a choice for abortion does not mean you condone abortion. Just like teaching a child about safe sex is not a blessing to run out and screw everyone they see. It is saying "you have free agency: here is some information, use it wisely."

Out of Many: A History of the American People says this:

"The maintenance or achievement of a middle-class lifestyle required the joint efforts of husband and wife. More cooperation between them was called for than in the preindustrial, patriarchal family. The nature of the new, companionate marriage that evolved in response to the market revolution was reflected most clearly in decisions concerning children...

"When mutual efforts at birth control failed, married women often sought a surgical abortion, a new technique that was much more reliable than the folk remedies women had always shared among themselves...Some historians estimate that one out of every four pregnancies was aborted in the years from 1840 to 1860 (compared to one in six in 2000)"

Consider this:

"Accompanying the interest in family limitation was a redefinition of sexuality. Doctors generally recommended that sexual urges be controlled, but they believed that men would have much more difficulty exercising such control than women were uninterested in sex. Although it is always difficult to measure the extent to which the suggestions in advice books were applied in actual practice, it seems that many middle-class women accepted this new and limited definition of their sexuality because of the desire to limit the number of their pregnancies" (315)

Middle-class couples had fewer children because they didn't need the extra labor out in the fields. These were suburban families, so to speak.

Imagine being a woman and at God's mercy regarding your pregnancies. Indeed for a long time our church said limiting family was a sin, recalling with nostalgia the times before the pill. But birth control isn't so much about killing or curtailing babies as it is about sex, and men (hell, anyone) deciding what is best for a woman to go through.

Though the churchwide attitude has evolved now to shy away from condemning the use of birth control, this wasn't always the case. Elder Marion G. Romney in this Ensign article, Scriptures as They Relate to Family Stability, states,

With respect to birth control, President Joseph F. Smith said, in 1917:

"I regret, I think it is a crying evil, that there should exist a sentiment or a feeling among any members of the Church to curtail the birth of their children. I think that is a crime wherever it occurs, where husband and wife are in possession of health and vigor and are free from impurities that would be entailed upon their posterity. I believe that where people undertake to curtail or prevent the birth of their children that they are going to reap disappointment by and by. I have no hesitancy in saying that I believe this is one of the greatest crimes of the world today, this evil practice.” (Gospel Doctrine, pp. 278–79.)

On these matters, the First Presidency has recently said:

“We have given careful consideration to the question of proposed laws on abortion and sterilization. We are opposed to any modification, expansion, or liberalization of laws on these vital subjects.' (Letter to stake presidents in the state of Washington, October 27, 1970.)"

Yet another example of when the Church has backpeddled. Changed. How can I trust what they say today is what they will stand by tomorrow? I thought we had a direct line to God.

Hello? Is this thing on?

Back then this wasn't considered a leader's opinion. It was considered doctrine. We follow the Prophet. Period.

While I’m grateful the rhetoric has changed within the church, as a woman who has three children and is done, I find it abhorrent that anyone who doesn't know me dares find any pedestal on which to stand on and tell me when and if it is time for me to stop having children. And I've had plenty of people suggest it is not. I've some choice words for them that I will refrain from using at the moment.

We don't know what these women are going through. Will some abuse the system? Yes. But we live in a society that assumes innocence until proven guilty. We believe in a God that judges our hearts, not as man judges (1 Samuel 16:7). We cannot sacrifice those who have valid reasons, acutely personal reasons, because others may decide to abuse the law.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for articulating what I believe but have been unable to say. =)

Amanda said...

Having grown up in an area where teenage girls used abortion as a form of birth control, I can't reconcile myself to legal abortion except in health-related cases. I'm not a nut. I think people are entitled to their own opinion. But contrary to most liberal people like me, I actually don't agree abortion should be legalized. I don't believe it's about a woman's choice and her body. I believe it's about the baby's choice, which is nonexistant at that point. There is always a choice of adoption, or of using birth control beforehand. I know there are situations when these things are not plausible, but I think the majority of abortions are from simply not wanting kids. I know tons of people who have gotten multiple abortions this way. This just doesn't sit well with me.

I would say that in instances of rape/incest, the circumstances would be a bit different. Again, I wouldn't count myself among the pro-lifers even though I don't agree with legal abortion. It really irritates me that this has become the paramount argument in politics, that people base their votes solely on if a person is prolife or prochoice.

I also think, btw, that birth control should be readily available to anyone. I think products like condoms and the pill ought to be available to people of all ages, including teens, and that t hey should not cost huge amounts of money. I think health insurance should have to pay for procedures like tubal ligations. If I'm going to say the woman's choice involves birth control and lifestyle options, I do think they should have access to all those birth control choices. They shouldn't be left to fend for themselves, especially teenage girls who are going to have sex either way and whose parents would refuse to give them birth control if they asked. I don't think the girl's doctor/clinic/whatever should have to get parental approval.

Amanda said...

Long comment, sorry.

Lisa said...

Don't apologize, you're fine :)

Elective abortions for conveniences sake don't sit well with me, either. But my issue lies mostly with blanket bans.

I've a stepsister who has three children by three different fathers. The latest baby was given away for adoption and was likely born with addiction to meth. The other two are under the care of my dad and stepmom and suffer from post traumatic stress disorder and fetal alcohol syndrome respectively. Women such as her need the sterilization as she's had absolutely no regard for them even while pregnant. No she didn't have the abortion(s), but she sure as hell has neglected to take care of her children even while in utero. That demands something, I would think, as nobody is entirely convinced she has seen the error of her ways.

I agree with you on this: I find it a wedge issue best left the hell alone. There are other issues to be concerned with and a decision regarding politicians should not rest solely on any one issue, and this certainly is a firey one. I also agree with you on the birth control issue: it needs to be available.

The Faithful Dissident said...

"Just like teaching a child about safe sex is not a blessing to run out and screw everyone they see."

Classic quote. LOL. :)

I'm a bit confused by that 1970 quote from the letter to stake presidents. Sounds like the Church was opposed to ANY liberalization of the laws back then, which I'm guessing banned abortion. So, in other words, they were OK with a ban? I wish I knew the history behind it.

I think that my feelings on the whole subject of abortion ban vs. no abortion ban were summed up PERFECTLY by Ray from Mormon Matters when he did this post a while back. It's one of my favourites.

Anonymous said...

I, too, have always found it hard to articulate my feelings on this. Back in the day, as a young woman, I found it absurd that I didn't "have the choice" over what to do with my own body. I never felt comfortable sharing my opinion of pro-choice with church members and only recently started talking about it (the past 5 years). I mean really...who's ever REALLY pro abortion anyway?

That all said, I do think, as Amanda stated, it shouldn't be used as a repetitive form of "birth control". I think consequences are good, and I am HUGE about adoption. I know that there are an astounding amount of couples who want a family and can't. I'm all for prevention too...why is there such a stink over handing out comdoms at high schools when teen pregnancy could be avoided by having a few condoms laying around from the school nurse?!

As far as the church goes, I HATE (hate) when church members keep telling me that "I need a girl" (I have 4 boys). I don't NEED anything. I'm fine with what I have and when the 4th one came, I KNEW I was done. Commandment or not, I have always felt fine with limiting children based on mental, emotional, physical and financial reasons, and I'm certainly in no place to judge others. Unfortunately, others are a little slow on this concept ;)

Anonymous said...

The dividing line on this issue, it seems to me, is belief regarding when life begins.

I think we can all agree that NO ONE wants to kill a human life.

So, the people who are either pro choice or have had abortions are most likely doing so under the belief that what they are getting rid of is not alive, is not a human life.

Those who are pro life most often believe that life begins at conception.

Trying to change someone's mind on that is difficult.

And as far as making birth control available to teens, I agree that it should be, but, in my experience, alot of teens that end up pregnant are pregnant, not because birth control wasn't available, but because they are trying to hold onto a relationship, get attention, or have someone to love them unconditionally.

shannon j said...

I can't wrap my head around the whole notion that most members think that life begins with the moment the sperm reaches the egg. If that is the truth than, a) hormonal birth control could be considered abortion, and b)in vitro could be considered abortion too because normally 2 to 4 fertilized eggs are inserted. Not that I have a problem with either of those, I just see some fallacy in the idea that life begins at that point.

That said, I am all for having the choice, but I do think there should be restrictions about how late in the pregnancy abortions could happen. I don't think this issue is "one size fits all."

Mel said...

Speaking as a man, it's been fascinating to me how one person's "convenience" is another person's "necessity." As you wrote, without us actually being in the other person's shoes, we just don't know the true situation. It's easy to back-seat drive.

Thank for you a very thought-provoking posting.

sharazad said...

This is an excellent post.I am pro-choice, but not pro-abortion.An abortion is a sad event. No one wants to have to make that choice but each situation is different: what if the baby would be sick? What if pregnancy threatens the woman's life? What if she's an alcoholic? Here in the Atlanta area, a few years ago, there was an 11 year old girl raped and impregnated by her adult cousin. In her case, nobody found out until she delivered the baby, but the question remains: what's to be done in a case like that?

Some people do use abortion as birth-control, but I think that is largely due to a lack of education about contraception. Through public education, we have changed people's use of tobacco, seatbelts, drugs etc. I think that we could reduce the number of birth control abortions if we made the alternatives clear.

Jess said...

The abortion issue has always been really hard for me. I'm an active member of the LDS church, but have also experienced being young, unmarried, impregnated by a loser, and scared to death about my future. Abortion never even crossed my mind because I had loving parents who helped me and supported me, even though they were disappointed in the decisions that brought me to that point.

I can't say I'm pro-life or pro-choice. I can say I don't agree with abortion unless it's in the case of rape, incest, or danger to the health of the mother. But I also think about the life that the baby might be born into. Will it be abused? Will it be born in the toilet at the prom and thrown in the garbage?

I really wish that support and counseling was more available (and affordable) for pregnant women, especially the young ones. It is so scary realizing that you're pregnant. That fear drives people to make a rash decision that they end up regretting for the rest of their life. When I was pregnant I went to counseling through LDS family services. After much thought, consideration, and some serious soul searching I decided to keep my little guy. Things turned out great for me. I met and married a stellar guy who adopted my son and we have another little boy together. If girls had more options available to them and felt like they had SUPPORT and TIME to think through things they would be able to make a decision that they would feel confident about.

And I wish more parents were like mine. My parents weren't happy about my situation, but I knew I could go to them. I knew they wouldn't kick me out our dis-own me. I knew they wouldn't force me to marry the douche-bag (they actually told me they would support me in any decision I made, as long as I didn't marry the guy).

I guess it took me 5 paragraphs to say that I don't support unneccesary abortions, but I do support a womans right to decide what she does with her body, and I support better woman's programs for pregnancy prevention & and support and care after she is pregnent. Care for her physical health and mental health.

annalee said...

Lisa, you're right. Things are rarely, if ever, black and white. Why then do you criticize church leaders for mitigating counsel over time? This issue is complicated and case specific yet you fault the church for not being hard and fast and immovable in their counsel on birth control.

It bothers me when couples announce, "we are done," in reference to child bearing. I can't understand the compulsion to voice family planning--if I had a dime for every time I heard that phrase..., I sure hope children aren't hearing their parents declarations.

But, I mostly agree. Abortion should not be a method of birth control but I fear abortion statistics suggest otherwise. It's just sad.


Annette said...

Below is a piece of the Church's stance on abortion (from - please go there for the full meal deal, lest I be accused of taking anything out of context.)

If an abortion would be ok in the event of incest or rape or if the mother's life is at risk, then how can abortion be considered murder? Life is NOT black and white, and taking away the choice of women isn't the answer--unless the question we are asking is how do we suppress the right to free will.

"Church leaders have said that some exceptional circumstances may justify an abortion, such as when pregnancy is the result of incest or rape, when the life or health of the mother is judged by competent medical authority to be in serious jeopardy, or when the fetus is known by competent medical authority to have severe defects that will not allow the baby to survive beyond birth. But even these circumstances do not automatically justify an abortion. Those who face such circumstances should consider abortion only after consulting with their local Church leaders and receiving a confirmation through earnest prayer..."

This has alway rung in my mind because even the leaders of the Church don't list it in black and white (and so much doctrine IS).

I too, don't like abortion, but who does?? No one is calling it "good"...only something we need to leave to individuals to make their own decisions about.

Amanda, it's a shame you only know young women who have used it as birth control. I too think this is a travesty, but in refusing the right to choose for these tragic cases, you restrict EVERYONE'S rights. I don't ever recall anywhere that Christ wanted to take away choice. Ever.

To me, that's the answer...

Lisa said...

Annette: It's not like I'm saying "Shit, I'm so done with kids. I can't believe I had the three I did."

I'm saying I'm done, I want to enjoy the three I have.

Honestly, I regret sometimes that i had #2 and 3 so fast because I missed out on a lot with my first. And I'm going to miss out on a lot with #2 because he's off to kindergarten, so #3 will get much time with me.

After a point, it becomes selfish to keep having kids. It becomes not about them anymore, but about me trying to reach the ideal big mormon family.

I love and adore my kids. I'm done for them as much as I am done for me. I don't think them hearing I'm done is going to have any psychological ramifications. Truly we need to be honest about parenthood. I'm not a machine, after all, and nobody should be expected to be one.

As far as the church changing it's stance on many issues, I say it's a problem when the previous stance is unequivocally declaring something a huge sin, such as with birth control and with interracial marriage (oh yeah). Then, later, they'll say "oh we were acting on limited knowledge" and then expect us to follow them unquestioningly on something else, such as the issue of gay marriage.

Excuse me, how can you be sure you have all the light and knowledge now when you have a history of missing out on the truth before?

Birth control is a godsend. To tell women to keep having kids until their health forbids it is harmful on many, many, many levels. Psychologically. Emotionally. Physically. I live in the fricken 21st century and I had so much guilt for wanting, needing to stop at 3. My bishop gave me the ol' "yeah right, that's cute" look and others insisted I would change my mind.

The topic comes up and people say they are done. They should be able to. The decision should be respected. After all, the commandment to multiply and replenish the earth wasn't given to me alone. It's not a personal challenge, and the truth is that even if I did want more kids I shouldn't have them.

People on the side of "traditional marriage" often say that gay people shouldn't give into their desires simply because they are desires, but how many LDS women and couples keep having kids because they're "supposed to" or "want to" despite financial and mental capability?

Lisa said...

oh, and shannonj, some people do consider various forms of birth control to be abortion, such as the IUD.

yeah, i didn't know that either.

Thanks to everyone else for their comments. I'm truly thankful for everyone keeping a level head on what can be a divisive issue :)

Tamara Hart Heiner said...

it bothers me that you would call a still-birth (I read the article) or miscarriage an abortion. They are not the same thing.

I've lost four's true that in Portuguese the word "aborto" is used both for elective abortion and miscarriage. that's not the case in English. I would never tell someone I had four abortions.

Unless one's lost a child, the feeling can't be comprehended. We don't choose it. We don't want it. We didn't elect for it. It's not an abortion.

Onto the rest of the article: obviously abortion for medical reason is okay. Obviously.

Lisa said...

Tamara: That wasn't my point. My point is that there are those out there who would rather women like the one in the article have to undergo more invasive and risky procedures because they are against abortions or anything that smells like one.

These people are too extremist and if they were to get their way, it would cost lives.

People are afraid to offer services and they shouldn't be.

Of course, I went into abortions themselves, so perhaps I didn't make my point clearer. Obviously a D&C/D&E would not constitute abortion if the baby is dead.

But you say "obviously abortion for medical reason is okay. Obviously."

Not everyone agrees with you, but I do.

Thanks for coming by.

derekstaff said...

Lisa, you are absolutely right, the issue is a lot more complex than the blanket statements typically thrown around by the Right (and occasionally the Left) recognize. In particular, I would agree with Sharazad, that one can be pro-choice without being pro-abortion. I would daresay that there are a great percentage of people within the pro-choice camp who fit that description.

I've made several posts discussing the issue on my own blog. I'd love to hear your response to those.

The Misanthropic Mormon said...

i recommend the documentary Lake of Fire, available on netflix.

Mark said...

I do not want to touch on the abortion issue at this time. However, I do want to address the matter of people thinking it is their duty and business to call people out on how many children they should have.

Consider the following.

Gordon B. Hinckley said:
"Of course we believe in children. The Lord has told us to multiply and replenish the earth that we might have joy in our posterity, and there is no greater joy than the joy that comes of happy children in good families. But he did not designate the number, nor has the Church. That is a sacred matter left to the couple and the Lord." (Gordon B. Hinckley, Cornerstones of a Happy Home, Satellite fireside broadcast, Jan 29, 1984, then distributed in the pamphlet of the same name)"

From the Church Handbook of Instructions:

"It is the privilege of married couples who are able to bear children to provide mortal bodies for the spirit children of God, whom they are then responsible to nurture and rear. The decision as to how many chldren to have and when to have them is extremely intimate and private and should be left between the couple and the Lord. Church members should not judge one another in this matter.

Married couples also should understand that sexual relations within marriage are divinely approved not only for the purpose of procreation, but also as a means of expressing love and strengthening emotional and spiritual bonds between husband and wife. (Church Handbook of Instructions, January 1999)"

From True to the Faith (which I think is a great resource):

"When married couples are physically able, they have the privilege of providing mortal bodies for Heavenly Father’s spirit children. They play a part in the great plan of happiness, which permits God’s children to receive physical bodies and experience mortality.

If you are married, you and your spouse should discuss your sacred responsibility to bring children into the world and nurture them in righteousness. As you do so, consider the sanctity and meaning of life. Ponder the joy that comes when children are in the home. Consider the eternal blessings that come from having a good posterity. With a testimony of these principles, you and your spouse will be prepared to prayerfully decide how many children to have and when to have them. Such decisions are between the two of you and the Lord.

As you discuss this sacred matter, remember that sexual relations within marriage are divinely approved. While one purpose of these relations is to provide physical bodies for God’s children, another purpose is to express love for one another—to bind husband and wife together in loyalty, fidelity, consideration, and common purpose. (True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference, 2004, p. 26.)"

See, it is no ones business but the couple's how many children they have. If anyone gives you a hard time, counter them with official church teachings. How will they be able to refute that? By saying the church has gone astray?



Anonymous said...

I just found your wonderful blog and you're done? Augh!!! I really enjoyed this article. We'll see about Livejournal for me.