Terryl Givens, one of the most prominent LDS intellectuals, has written the best article on abortion I have ever read. Of course it helps that Prof. Givens is a member of our Church and is writing from the perspective we can understand and appreciate as Latter-day Saints. But by any standard, Prof. Givens’ article is well-written and well-argued.
Prof. Givens, who is considered in many circles a “progressive Mormon,” has done an extremely rare and praise-worthy thing: he has gone against orthodoxy among many people in his peer group. It is not brave to do things that will generally win you applause from people who agree with you. It is very brave to “come out” as a conservative on this issue when most academics, entertainers, artists and the media are certain to disagree with you. Prof. Givens has proven himself a brave man.
(I want to make it clear that I don’t know Prof. Givens’ politics, but I do know many, many people who consider him a “progressive Mormon.” I apologize if that description is not accurate).
I cannot do this article justice by extensively quoting from it, but I would like to quote just one section at length because it is so well written and so convincing. The background is that you will often hear people say that they are personally against abortion but not in favor of legislation limiting the act. Prof. Givens destroys that argument:
If abortion is wrong, it is wrong because it involves the intentional destruction of another human being. This is really the heart of the matter. You must ask yourself, why are you personally opposed to abortion? I am not personally opposed to abortion because of religious commitment or precept, because of some abstract principle of “the sanctity of life.” I am personally opposed because my heart and mind, my basic core humanity revolts at the thought of a living sensate human being undergoing vivisection in the womb, being vacuum evacuated, subjected to a salt bath, or, in the “late-term” procedure, having its skull pierced and brain vacuumed out. (I have spared the reader the clinical descriptions of those procedures, although I think those who support abortion rights while willfully avoiding direct confrontation with the specifics of what they countenance are in an indefensible position). According to the Mayo Clinic, an infant in the womb has a beating heart by 5-6 weeks of pregnancy. The first electrical brain activity also appears at this point. Well over two-thirds of abortions are performed at that stage or later. And as we saw above, at a very early, undefined moment in the child’s development, a nervous system responds to the horror of such inflicted suffering. There is no more ethical or logical sense in being “personally opposed, but pro-choice” than in being personally opposed to sex trafficking, slavery, or child abuse, “but” pro-choice regarding the adult’s prerogatives in those cases. Abortion is not like heavy drinking or pornography or blaspheming, where one deplores the action but accords another the right to act immorally. Abortion is of that class of wrongs that entails the willful infliction of pain or killing on another human being.
Ultimately, the pro-life position is not a commitment predicated on sectarian values or God’s precepts. It is the fruit of a more universal commitment to protect the most vulnerable and voiceless. It is a commitment to the most fundamental obligation we have as part of the human family: to defend the defenseless.
As you might imagine, Prof. Givens’ article is being pilloried by his angry progressive friends who seem to think they have been betrayed. I will not link to any of their jeremiads, but Prof. Givens’ son Nathaniel wrote a very good article defending his father that will give you a taste of the battle going on. Nathaniel Givens’ point, which is somehow being ignored by many, is that there IS room for a moderate position in between a total ban on abortion in all cases and current law, which allows abortion up until birth in many states (including my state, Colorado).
If we did away with late term abortion (after 20 or 22 weeks, for example) in most cases, I think the issue would be much less contentious. What pro-choice people seem unwilling to accept is that legal late term abortion is what drives many of us to become activists on this issue. Does a six-week-old fetus have a human soul? Nobody knows for sure, but I think most people believe that a seven-month-old fetus definitely has a human soul. The unwillingness to compromise on late-term abortion is hurting the pro-choice position more than helping.
My stake in Colorado, never involved in politics up to this point, put out a request for Church members to support Proposition 115 this year. This proposition makes most late term abortions (after 22 weeks) illegal. I already voted for Proposition 115. I would also point out that the claim that the Church is somehow pro choice on abortion is contradicted by the Church’s official position on abortion as described here. President Nelson has given several talks about abortion, two of which can be read here and here.
So, I thank Prof. Givens for his excellent article and for his bravery. Bravo!