Life is a sacred gift from God. The Family: A Proclamation to the World affirms the sanctity of human life and its importance in God's plan for the happiness of his children
One of the ways we deepen our reverence for human life and for the Creator is by guarding life from the moment of conception. Unfortunately, innocent human life is often not cherished but is destroyed. This is the tragedy of abortion.
What is Abortion?
Abortion is either the premature, involuntary expulsion of a fetus from the mother's womb (a miscarriage) or the deliberate termination of life by forcibly removing a developing child from its mother's womb. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, abortion means to "cut off the existence of someone" or to "cause someone to disappear."
The Alan Guttmacher Institute estimates that in the United States from 1973 to 1996, about 34 million abortions were deliberately induced. During the 1980s and 1990s, about 1.5 million abortions were performed each year. In more recent years the number of abortions has declined somewhat but still remains high. About 49% of all pregnancies are unintended, and more than half of these are terminated by abortion. In rare cases, an emergency abortion is performed to save the mother's life. In addition, some victims of incest or rape who become pregnant choose to abort.
Elective abortion, or abortion-on-demand, refers to the voluntary destruction of a fetus for nonemergency or nonmedical reasons. This practice gives a woman the right to take away the life of an unborn child based on her social, emotional, personal, psychological, or financial concerns. Elective abortion denies the sanctity of life and undermines the traditional family roles of motherhood, fatherhood, childhood, brotherhood, and sisterhood.
Why are Elective Abortions Performed?
The vast majority of women who seek abortions, about 75%, do so for reasons of convenience. These women say having a child would cut into their work life, social life, or other responsibilities. Most women who have abortions are single and don't wish to raise a child alone. Other women feel they aren't prepared or emotionally mature enough to raise a child.
Many people who argue in favor of abortion-on-demand do not consider the fetus a human being. However, many medical scholars join the majority of religious leaders who affirm that human life begins at conception. In 1981, during U.S. Senate hearings on abortion, Dr. Hymie Gordon, chairman of the Department of Genetics at the Mayo Clinic, testified: "By all the criteria of modern molecular biology, life is present from the moment of conception." Dr. Alfred Bongiovanni of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine said at the hearings: "I am no more prepared to say that these early stages represent an incomplete human being than I would to say that the child prior to the dramatic effects of puberty . . . is not a human being."
Religious leader Russell M. Nelson, also an internationally renowned heart surgeon, has said:
In the biological sciences, it is known that life begins when two germ cells unite to become one cell, bringing together twenty-three chromosomes from both the father and from the mother. . . . A continuum of growth results in a new human being. The onset of life is not a debatable issue, but a fact of science. Approximately twenty-two days after the two cells have united, a little heart begins to beat. At twenty-six days the circulation of blood begins. Scripture declares that the "life of the flesh is in the blood." Abortion sheds that innocent blood"2 (p. 14).
In rare instances an abortion is justified, such as when the life or health of the mother is in jeopardy, when the fetus has severe defects that will not allow it to survive beyond birth, or when pregnancy result from incest or rape and carrying the child to term would create serious emotional trauma for the mother. But because human life is so sacred, even these cases demand serious, prayerful consideration and consultation with clergy.
What are the Effects of Abortion?
Abortions bring with them increased health risks, both physical and emotional. Physically, risks include infection, bleeding, uterus complications, cervical injury, and increased risk of breast cancer. Emotionally, risks include post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, self-doubt, and regret. Abortion is also linked with depression in women. One large study reported that two years after an abortion, one-fifth of the 1,177 women surveyed felt "substantial depression."
Some scholars have found that some women who have elective abortions are less likely to bond with their next child. A failure to bond often leads to neglect, expressed in part by inattention to a child's physical and emotional needs. Children without secure attachments to their mothers face higher risk of a variety of difficulties during childhood and later on as adults.
Fathers can also be affected by abortion. One study shows that in some cases fathers of aborted children become even more depressed than their partner who received the abortion. When this happens, the man's ability to support his partner in her post-abortion adjustment can be significantly compromised.
How Can I Support the Sacredness of Life?
Dr. Cynthia Hallen of Brigham Young University offers several ways every person can support the sacredness of life (pp. 210-214):1
- Remain chaste before marriage and faithful after marriage. Because unwed pregnancies often lead to elective abortions, abstaining from sex before marriage and remaining faithful after marriage are two of the most important things anyone can do to preserve the sanctity of life.
- Support women and men facing unwanted pregnancies. Couples or individuals experiencing an unwanted pregnancy, especially those who are very young, often face overwhelming emotional, social, and financial challenges. These challenges can become a motive for abortion. Thus if you act as a resource for people in this situation, you can help uphold the sanctity of life. Approximately 4,000 crisis pregnancy agencies in the United States offer solutions for problem pregnancies, including adoption. These agencies almost always need volunteers.
- Become informed about life-related issues. Study articles written by legal scholars who support the sanctity of life and identify persuasive arguments. One excellent article written from the perspective of family law is "Mediating the Polar Extremes: A Guide to Post-Webster Abortion Policy," published in the 1991 Brigham Young University Law Review. Professional organizations such as Americans United for Life (www.unitedforlife.org) and University Faculty for Life http://www.uffl.org/) are also helpful resources.
- Recognize the trauma of abortion and provide support. Those who have already chosen abortion and their partners and families may be experiencing grief and other kinds of psychological pain. Providing support and directing those who are suffering to appropriate resources is another way of recognizing the sanctity of life.
For additional ideas to preserve the sanctity of life, see the book Why Can't We Love Them Both: Questions and Answers About Abortion , by John and Barbara Willke.
Written by Vjollca Martinson and Andrew Tegeder, Research Assistants, and edited by Stephen F. Duncan, Professor, School of Family Life, Brigham Young University.
- Hallen, C. L. (2000). The sanctity and importance of human life. In D. Dollahite (Ed.),Strengthening our Families: An In-depth Look at the Proclamation on the Family (pp. 206–214). Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft.
- Nelson, R. M. (1985, May). Reverence for life. Ensign, 11–14.