Saturday, November 12, 2016

Abortion and the Supreme Court

Speaking of controversial (and complicated) subjects, I've pondered and written about abortion and the Supreme Court in connection with the recent US presidential election. I can't help writing about these topics from a personal perspective, and that perspective includes my religious convictions as well as my life's experience and my relationship with and concern about other people.

As I noted in a recent blog post, "I am religious through and through--a Latter-day Saint, which means also a Christian, a believer in and an aspiring follower of Christ." But for that very reason, I have felt compelled to view things differently from many other Latter-day Saints. For one thing, I think many Latter-day Saints don't have a clear idea of what the Church's official position is on abortion. It is not really a political position--in fact, the Church doesn't take a position for or against specific legislation on the subject. It is, of course, a moral position, and that means it is essentially counsel--very serious counsel--about choices people make in their individual lives.

The Church has also given counsel about other important issues, including immigration and our response to refugees. Church leaders have also spoken strongly on the need for civility and respect in public discourse, respect for religious diversity, and kindness and compassion in general. There are many issues on which we can expect to consider ourselves under the judgment of God, both as individuals and as a nation.

Specifically on the issues of abortion and the Supreme Court, here's what I wrote a few days ago in a blog post titled "The Morning After (November 9, 2016)" (see

Opposition to abortion and hoping for a Supreme Court that will be more restrictive in response to abortion are among the main reasons many people (including a good number of Latter-day Saints) have supported Trump despite an awareness of everything that is bad and dangerous about him.

In my opinion, a Trump presidency is a very bad way of hoping for a good outcome on these issues.

First, abortion. I am strongly opposed to abortion for convenience--for its use as a form of birth control, as some have put it. I believe abortion that could be avoided has several ill consequences. It diminishes our humanity and our respect for life. It encourages sexual irresponsibility. It also, I think it's fair to say, prevents new and precious life from entering into the world.

Several things recently have strengthened my feelings about the preciousness of life within the womb. One is our youngest daughter's pregnancy, which has now come to fruition in a beautiful baby girl. Another is a video presentation I saw recently about a couple who learned an almost full term child had died in the womb and would need to be removed. The couple's grief and disappointment, their need for comfort, their deep, mutual love all reminded me of what is best in human beings: our connectedness, our participation in the miracle of conception and birth, and our willingness to welcome and nurture new life.

Having said that, I know that there are difficult situations in which the possibility of abortion needs to be considered, especially when the mother's life is at stake or when her health could be seriously damaged. I believe such decisions need to be made carefully and prayerfully. I do not believe the possibility of abortion for such reasons should be prohibited by law. Though I believe different people will come to different decisions, I believe law should allow for abortion in the cases of rape, incest, or threat to the life or health of the mother.

I believe this is essentially the position of the LDS Church. Officially, “the Church opposes elective abortion for personal or social convenience” but allows for possible (but not automatic) exceptions in cases of rape, incest, severe defects, and serious threats of the life or health of the mother. But “the Church has not favored or opposed legislative proposals . . . concerning abortion” (see This is much closer to Hillary Clinton's position than many would suppose.

She has taken some heat for voting against a ban on late-term abortions. She did so precisely because it did not leave an exception for saving the life of the mother. I've recently become aware of terribly difficult situations people I know have dealt with, which required performing a late-term abortion to save a mother's life. Those involved certainly don't favor abortion in general and found the experience traumatic, even though it meant saving a mother's life.

The fact that the LDS Church "has not favored or opposed [specific] legislative proposals" may have something to do with the fact that laws may not be adequate to deal with many of the difficult situations people face. I also believe that changing laws, while they may accomplish some good, will not solve the problem of unnecessary, avoidable abortions, with all the spiritual and social damage they can bring. I believe that the best solution is to change minds and hearts, and that can be best done through example, through intelligent and compassionate persuasion, and through encouraging alternatives to abortion (such as adoption) and providing greater support for mothers, including unwed mothers.

Legal rulings, angry denunciations, and extreme rhetoric are likely to strengthen resistance rather than persuade.

The Supreme Court: I'm aware that some good people convinced themselves to vote for a very bad man because they think he will nominate the "right people" for seats on the Supreme Court.
I've written another post partly on that subject. In that post--found here: compare our situation to that of good people in Italy who thought that Mussolini would protect their nation's religious and moral traditions. To what I said there, I add these thoughts:

(1) The Supreme Court is a complicated institution--and you can't simply stack it with the "right people" and thereby save the country, especially if the Court starts departing from the national consensus. I've just read an illuminating book titled The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court, and it makes those complications clear.

(2) The Supreme Court faces many issues, and on some of those issues I believe justices Trump would nominate would move us in the wrong direction rather than the right direction, particularly on some issues where the Court really can make a difference (including voting rights and immigration). As for the second amendment, I don't believe it should or was ever intended to give everyone unrestricted rights to carry and use firearms, any more than the first amendment gave absolute freedom of speech, including libel or speech that endangers the life or safety of others. I believe that the second amendment can be applied reasonably and still accommodate some degree of gun control. (See for some additional light on this issue.)

(3) Even if Trump were to pick the "right people" as nominees, I don't believe it's worth it to trade a supposedly better Supreme Court for the damage that is certain to be done to the moral and political tone of our nation by the mere presence of Donald Trump in the presidential office. I am certain he will do this sort of general damage--and given his impulsiveness, unpredictability, and anger control issues, he could do much, much worse.

(4) Given the refusal of the Senate to consider President Obama's sterling nomination for the Supreme Court--and given the threat some Republicans made to turn down ANY nominee offered by Hillary Clinton if she became president--isn't it possible that Democrats in the Senate might engage in similar obstruction of any nominees offered by Donald Trump? I don't think such obstruction is right on either side (and it's certainly not what the Founders had in mind--the Constitution makes it pretty clear how open seats on the court should be filled). But I suspect it will happen.

(5) Speaking of the Constitution, Donald Trump has shown that he does not understand the Constitution and does not respect Constitutional principles. He has shown that, among other things, by making a number of proposals that violate those principles, including surveillance of American citizens based on their religion, asking for a religious test for immigrants, requiring the armed forces to violate international law (for instance, related to torture), and making threats against the judiciary showing his lack of understanding of the separation of powers.
In interpreting the Constitution, I am not an "originalist"--I think that approach is overly simplistic and ultimately impossible to sustain--but I do have great respect for efforts to understand and apply the actual language of the Constitution. Interestingly, a number of prominent "originalists" (including George Will) oppose Trump on the grounds that he does not understand or respect the Constitution. (See )

(6) Finally, I don't believe Trump can be trusted to keep his promises. I don't think he has a coherent Constitutional philosophy. And I believe he lacks a genuine moral core.

In a nutshell, I believe those who (for the sake of the Supreme Court) voted for Trump, despite their hesitation--even revulsion--at much of what they know about him, will come to regret his election.

Friday, March 4, 2016

What kind of people should we try to be?

At the moment this is a place holder for something longer I want to write. What I'm feeling my way toward here is an answer to the question, "What kind of people should we try to be?" and the closely related question, "What kind of people should we want to be?"

For me, scripture offers much in the way of answers. For instance, Alma 7:23-24 offers the following:
 And now I would that ye should be humble, and be submissive and gentle; easy to be entreated; full of patience and long-suffering; being temperate in all things; being diligent in keeping the commandments of God at all times; asking for whatsoever things ye stand in need, both spiritual and temporal; always returning thanks unto God for whatsoever things ye do receive.
 And see that ye have faith, hope, and charity, and then ye will always abound in good works. 
I have to admit that one reason I've asked myself the questions is the troubling display of qualities very different from these we've witnessed recently in the public arena. Last night a political debate took place that was in some ways the distressing culmination of several weeks--to an extent, several months--of public discourse that has descended to a level not seen in US presidential campaigns for generations.

Earlier yesterday, Mitt Romney--a good man I've had a handful of conversations with in the past but for whom I did not vote four years ago (I voted for another good man)--described and condemned traits that are virtually the opposite of those listed in the scripture I've quoted:
  • Bullying
  • Greed
  • Showing off
  • Misogyny
  • Absurd third-grade antics
I could add to that list mockery of the disabled, stubborn defensiveness, taking pleasure in humiliating, insulting, attacking, and punishing others, and insistence on always being right and always getting one's way. (For Romney's full speech, see or watch it here:

We all have faults, and we've been commanded not to judge--or as some translations would put it, not to condemn or not to judge unrighteously. At the same time, we all need to be clear about what constitutes good character and civil behavior and what does not. At the very least, we can invite others as well as ourselves to engage in self-examination, to acknowledge our faults, to seek to become aware of those that we're not aware of, and to desire and try to change. The scriptural language for that project is humility and repentance, and scripture teaches that we can't experience the change we need without divine help.

We also need to seek for good character and civil behavior in political leaders and other public officials. We must not celebrate bullying, mockery, hatred, or strutting self-importance that tries to pass itself of as "leadership." Certainly, we need strength in our leaders. But true strength is very different from being a "tough guy" or thinking other people will do whatever you order them to do or threatening people who don't comply.

Amazingly, scripture again provides the perfect response to such a misconception:
 We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.

 Hence many are called, but few are chosen.

 No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;

 By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile (Doctrine and Covenants 121:39-42)
So it appears that ignorance, unkindness, cunning, and the unwillingness to listen or learn do not constitute true leadership, and neither do the will to dominate, the desire to intimidate and humiliate, or other elements of the tough guy persona.

Being a tough guy is not among the qualities we are advised to look for in a leader:
 Wherefore, honest men and wise men should be sought for diligently, and good men and wise men ye should observe to uphold; otherwise whatsoever is less than these cometh of evil. (Doctrine and Covenants 98:10)
We're also told we "cannot always tell the wicked from the righteous" (Doctrine and Covenants 10:37). But we need to do our best, especially in selecting public officials, to look for the qualities of honesty, wisdom, and moral goodness. And we need to cultivate those qualities in ourselves--because if we don't have them, we'll be less likely to discern them in others, or to be aware of their opposite, even when it's staring us in the face.