In his April 2021 conference talk, “The Personal Journey of a Child of God,” [1] Elder Neil L. Anderson raised the issue of abortion for the second time in as many years. This time Elder Anderson encouraged members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (CoJC) to share our reflections on the holiness of life. That was an important question and one on which I have thought deeply. In the most general sense, for me, and, I hope, most people, I can say unequivocally that life—my children, other people, plants, animals, creation, all of it—is holy to me. But on a more fundamental level, Elder Anderson’s talk left me asking different questions: both “why aren’t women also talking about abortion in General Conference?” and “why aren’t the men being talked about at all?”

Where are the Women?

Based on a search for the term “abortion” in the LDS Conference Corpus, [2] the subject of abortion has been referenced in more than 80 talks, going back to 1864. Only three of those talks were delivered by women. Or, said another way, when abortion has been raised in General Conference, about 96 percent of the time it was a male providing perspective and instruction. [3]

For me, watching my wife bring our children into this world taught me what love and sacrifice look like—but it also reinforced to me that though I tried my best to participate in all parts of her pregnancies, and though I have tried to fully accept my fatherly responsibility, we males are largely spectators when it comes to gestation and birth. Given this reality, it seems striking that so few women have opined on abortion in General Conference.

The CoJC needs more women’s voices in General Conference. As a practical matter, this may change if more women have the opportunity to speak in General Conference (as others have noted, only two of the thirty-seven talks in the most recent General Conference were delivered by women). As a pastoral matter, we would all benefit from hearing more female perspectives on gospel topics, including how they tackle this difficult issue that concerns women so intimately.

Where are the Men?

While the General Handbook’s language about abortion (38.6.1) very carefully avoids gender-specific pronouns, General Conference talks regularly portray the responsibilities associated abortion as primarily resting on the women. For instance, quoting President Hinckley, Elder Anderson states, “You who are wives and mothers are the anchors of the family…Abortion is an evil…I plead with the women of this Church to shun it, to stand above it, to stay away from those compromising situations which make it appear desirable.” [4]

While it does not happen in every instance, it seems to me that abortion is too often framed as connected primarily to women’s sexual immorality [5] and has been portrayed as something that women use to make “free sex even freer still” [6] and as a tool that allows promiscuous women to “cover up their sin.” [7] But, why focus this conversation on the women? Aren’t men similarly responsible when it comes to these issues? To paraphrase Elder Anderson (and President Hinckley), aren’t “husbands and fathers” also anchors of the family? If the women are instructed to “shun it” shouldn’t the men be similarly instructed? After all, there is no abortion without impregnation, and there is no impregnation without men. [8]

Further, Elder Anderson makes a point of noting that when an “unanticipated child is expected, let us reach out with love, encouragement, and, when needed, financial help.” This is an important acknowledgement of the reality surrounding abortion-related decisions. In his response to Terryl Given’s treatise on abortion, Sam Brunson cites a study that looks at the socioeconomic drivers of abortion, noting “75% of abortion patients in 2014 had incomes of less than 200% of the poverty line, and nearly 50% were below the poverty line.” [9] Other studies bear this out as a world-wide phenomenon. One noted that “In six of the 13 countries [studied]…the most commonly reported reason for having an abortion was socioeconomic concerns.” [10] Other studies points out that resource concerns extend beyond financial issues. One notes the largest group of women in the United States seeking abortions “expressed lacking the financial, emotional, and physical resources to adequately provide for a/another child.” [11] Access to resources is a key variable in decisions about abortion. [12]

However, Elder Anderson does not seem to highlight the fact that men, in particular the man who was party to the pregnancy, have a particular responsibility where issues of reproduction are concerned, and this seems a regrettable omission. The provision of “love, encouragement, and…. financial help” is left to the general “us,” rather than to the specific man who was involved in the pregnancy. In the printed version of the talk there is a footnote on this point in which he is more direct, which reads: “Safeguarding the lives of a daughter or son of God is also the responsibility of the father. Every father has an emotional, spiritual, and financial responsibility to welcome, love, and care for the child coming to earth.” But why not say this directly, out loud, over the pulpit? Why is this important statement relegated to a short footnote? On this point I fully recognize that individual situations trump broad generalities. There are certainly times when having a particular father uninvolved is better for all involved, e.g. instances of abuse. My point is only that it is important for leaders in the Church to be as equally vocal about male responsibility as they are about female responsibility. We males should not be left off the hook.

Coming at this issue acutely aware of my maleness, I want to pause here briefly to acknowledge that any discussion of male responsibility for pregnancy must always be couched within the reality that men do not get pregnant. Men will never have to walk into a church building as a pregnant, unwed woman (much less have to do it for 40 weeks). In fact, men are largely shielded from the social stigma in our church surrounding unplanned pregnancy precisely because the fact of sexual activity, and its results, is not physically visible for men. And Jesus is likely the only man who ever lived on Earth that will ever truly understand the anguish women face when staring down the decision to terminate a pregnancy, give a child up for adoption, or care for a child without adequate resources. The fact is that the social, physical, and spiritual challenges associated with pregnancy (both planned and unplanned) are different for women and men, with women bearing the brunt of the burden. Thus, my discussion of male responsibility here is properly understood as suggesting that when this issue is raised in a religious context, Church leaders should not perpetuate or add to this imbalance by singling out women while male involvement is left unmentioned.

Going Forward

Perhaps the renewed discussion on abortion in General Conference is because of the current push in the legislatures of some U.S. states to pass so-called “heartbeat” laws—controversial laws built to invite challenges, and which are ultimately aimed at creating a situation for a now-more-conservative U.S. Supreme Court to potentially reconsider Roe vs. Wade? Or perhaps it’s in an attempt to hold ground on this moral/social issue in the face of larger societal shifts? Or perhaps it is an issue of particular moral/social concern to those raising it? Or perhaps it’s a prophetic warning? Whatever the cause, the issue of abortion is making its way to the pulpit in General Conference more regularly: in General Conference, there have been seven talks explicitly referencing abortion in the last ten years (2012-2021); the ten years prior (2002-2011) there were zero.

With regards to the issue of whether abortion should be a medically available, legal procedure, I know from personal interactions with fellow ward members, as well as the variety of opinions published in articles, on blogs, and on websites, that the general CoJC memberships’ views on this topic are not monolithic. So, setting aside for a different day the issue of the CoJC’s policy position relative to legislation governing female access to legal abortion, what can be done in the Church setting to improve the way we approach this difficult topic?

I have already offered a few ideas:

And there are a number of additional, derivative ideas that can be further drawn from this discussion. For instance:

Abortion is a difficult topic. I do not have clear answers to all the issues that surround it, and my thoughts are continuing to evolve. As a male, I struggle to find a way to constructively contribute to the conversation. So, as the intra-CoJC discussion on this continues, I hope that we can hear more women’s voices. I hope we can learn to see and help fix the social ills that result in inequality. I hope we can continue to foster a culture of fatherly responsibility. I hope we can think, study, and pray about how to approach this issue. Most importantly, I hope that we show all women the grace and kindness Jesus modeled throughout His ministry.


[1] --- [Back to manuscript].

[2] --- [Back to manuscript].

[3] Virginia H. Pearce, “Fear,” October 1992 General Conference; Ruth H Funk, “Come, Listen to a Prophet’s Voice,” October 1978 General Conference; Barbara B. Smith, “Woman’s Greatest Challenge,” October 1978 General Conference.
[Back to manuscript].

[4] Neil L. Anderson, “The Personal Journey of a Child of God,” April 2021 General Conference. [Back to manuscript].

[5] See for instance Gordon B. Hinkley, “Walking in the Light of the Lord,” October 1998 General Conference; Joseph B. Wirthlin, “Deep Roots,” October 1994 General Conference; W. Eugene Hansen, “The Plan of Happiness,” October 1993 General Conference. [Back to manuscript].

[6] Mark E. Peterson, “Warnings from the Past,” April 1971 General Conference.
[Back to manuscript].

[7] Delbert L. Stapely, “Beware of Conspiring Men,” October 1961 General Conference. [Back to manuscript].

[8] In virto fertilization does introduce the opportunity for impregnation without sex; but that is a topic for another day. [Back to manuscript].

[9] Sam Brunson, “On Terryl Givens and Abortion,” By Common Consent (October 20, 2020). --- [Back to manuscript].

[10] “Reasons why women have induced abortions: a synthesis of findings from 14 countries” Sophia Chae, Sheila Desai, Marjorie Crowell, and Gilda Sedgh; Contraception. 2017 Oct; 96(4): 233–241. [Back to manuscript].

[11] “Understanding why women seek abortions in the US.” M Antonia Biggs, Heather Gould, and Diana Greene Foster; BMC Womens Health. 2013; 13: 29. Published online 2013 Jul 5. doi: 10.1186/1472-6874-13-29 [Back to manuscript].

[12] This may help explain why Utah law insists that fathers pay at least half of the cost of maternity care, whether they are married to the mother of their child or not.
[Back to manuscript].

[13] Preach My Gospel, (2019). “Chapter 12: How Do I Prepare People for Baptism and Confirmation?” --- [Back to manuscript].

[14] This is not a discussion whether Memberships Councils, in general, should exist, though that is a topic worthy of additional discussion. Rather, for my purposes here I am taking as a given that the General Handbook currently makes provisions for Membership Councils. [Back to manuscript].

[15] Some have suggested that, when it comes to issues of women’s sexuality, male church leaders should not be involved at all. See Lisa Butterworth, “13 Articles of Healthy Chastity,” in Mormon Feminism, Essential Writings, Joanna Brooks, et al, ed. (2016). Oxford University Press. Pgs 243-246. [Back to manuscript].

[16] Arguably this should be true of any membership council on any topic. I could see this argument extended to include, for instance, other situations such as those tied to individuals who are LGBTQI. [Back to manuscript].

[17] On this point, I am intentionally sidestepping the debate surrounding paternal rights, e.g. whether a father can ‘veto’ either the choice to have an abortion or the choice to carry a pregnancy to term, or whether a male can appropriately ‘opt out’ of responsibility for a pregnancy if a women chose to proceed with an unplanned pregnancy against the desire of the father. The point, for the purposes of this paper, is only that men bear the same responsibility for the pregnancy that women do.
[Back to manuscript].

Full Citation for this Article: Huston, M. David (2021) "Where are the Women? Where are the Men? Abortion and the CoJC," SquareTwo, Vol. 14 No. 1 (Spring 2021),, accessed <give access date>.

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