By Adam Greenwood
According to a Gallup Poll, for the first time ever, a majority of Americans are pro-life. As many support the LDS Church's moderate prolife position -- that abortion should be illegal, but with some exceptions -- as support the extreme pro-choice and the moderate pro-choice positions combined.
Among abortion opponents, the Church often gets criticized for having an "incoherent" and "convenient" position on abortion. Revelation, schmevelation, they say. The same types of criticisms of revelation are made more generally by critics of the Church. Isn't it clear, they say, that you would only need continuing revelation if you were planning on compromising with the times? Indeed, I say, and explicitly so. Said Joseph Smith, drawing on Old Testament examples, "that which is wrong under one circumstance, may be, and often is, right under another." More explicitly, he maintained that the guiding principle was divine "revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the kingdom are placed." God is a fisherman. He lets the line run out a little and then reels it in a little. He is not aloof. He condescends to speak to us in our own fatuous tongue, as it says in D&C 1:24, "Behold, I am God and have spoken it; these commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language." He adapts to our weaknesses.
Some evidence suggests that Mormons are far more pro-life than other denominations. I think the reason is that the Church has spoken very clearly on the evil of abortion in most circumstances, on the basis of uniquely LDS scripture that expands on the Ten Commandments -- "thou shalt not steal; neither commit adultery, nor kill, nor do anything like unto it" (D&C 59:6). The LDS Church has just as clearly refused to condemn what most people would consider to be the hardship or difficult cases. More than 95% of abortions (over 900,000 per year) are of the kind the Church condemns, so the usefulness of this attitude is obvious.
I can't credit the Church's stance on abortion for the recent upsurge in Americans who identify themselves as pro-life. The change is real -- a couple of other recent polls have shown the same thing -- but its also too sudden to be explicable. The public, however, has slowly and gradually been shifting pro-life for years, and I believe the LDS Church does have quite a bit to do with that. The pro-life movement has done a lot better since it adopted a step-by-step approach in the '90s. The widespread involvement of Mormons in pro-life groups made this adoption easier. And, I believe, the fact that Mormons aren't ultimately committed to outlawing all abortions everywhere has and does make the step-by-step approach more credible; it seems less like a stalking horse for a total ban if many of the backers are religiously committed to avoiding a total ban.
So thanks be to God who gives us life and children and procreation and revelation.
Note: I'm not persuaded that the LDS revealed pro-life position is actually a pragmatic accommodation to public opinion. It could well be that there are fundamental reasons for drawing the lines that are drawn. But if it is a pragmatic accommodation, so what?
Adam Greenwood is a family man and LDS attorney residing in New Mexico.
8/6/2009 4:00:00 AM