In many respects, Catholics and Mormons have similar views on abortion. In general, both churches are pro-life, although individual Mormons are probably more likely than Catholics, at least in the U.S., to be pro-life. Plus a larger number of U.S. Catholics are more likely to emphasize (Democratic) legislation and interventions to reduce abortion, rather than (merely) emphasize (with Republicans) repealing Roe v. Wade. So, on average, it is probably safe to say that individual Mormons are more conservative than Catholics on the abortion question.

However, in terms of their institutional positions, it is the other way around–the LDS church is more liberal.

These differences are relevant in light of the Catholic church’s recent automatic excommunications of the family and doctor of a nine-year-old Brazilian girl who received an abortion. The pregnancy (twins) was a result of rape from the girl’s father (the girl is not subject to automatic excommunicated because of her age). Two weeks after the decision (March 2009), the archbishop Jose Cardoso Sobrinho (who made the ruling) stepped down, prompting some to wonder whether the Vatican disagreed. Time Magazine (above link) reports, however, that a recent Vatican publication “unequivocally confirmed automatic excommunication for anyone involved in an abortion — even in such a situation as dire as the Brazilian case.”

In contrast, the official position of the LDS church is that “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.” These circumstances do not automatically justify abortion, as “those who face such circumstances should consider abortion only after consulting with their local Church leaders and receiving a confirmation through earnest prayer.”

Certainly, the 9-year old scenario (quite possibly fitting all four “exceptional circumstances”) would almost certainly receive an exception if it was wanted by the girl and/or her family. I imagine that in almost any case like this, local leaders would advocate for an immediate abortion as the most humane response. Moreover, no one would be “automatically excommunicated.” In fact, no one in the LDS church is “automatically” excommunicated for any reason, but only as a result of a church trial in which the persons in question, along with witnesses, are able to defend themselves.

Now, I don’t mean to “dog” the Catholic church. I deeply respect the church in terms of so many things that it does, including its general pro-life position on abortion. However, I do wish to affirm my belief that Latter-day Saints are (rightfully) more flexible and humane in these matters. The LDS church does not believe that human life must be saved in every single circumstance, no matter how dire. There simply are other issues that cannot be ignored, such as the respect for a woman’s right to choose whether to have intercourse, coupled with the crippling trauma of being forced to carry your rapist’s child.

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