Today, I’m studying the talk Reverence for Life, by Russell M. Nelson. This talk was given in the April 1985 General Conference.
This talk was about a grave and controversial subject – abortion. You know, as I think about it now, I find it pretty courageous that President Nelson would talk on this subject. He had been an apostle for only a year at this point. It takes time for the general population of the church to feel like they “know” the apostles. And he came out of the gates with a talk like this. He states early in his talk:
“I pray for the Spirit of the Lord to help me communicate his mind and will on a very vital and sensitive subject. I apologize for the use of words repugnant to me and ill-suited to this hallowed pulpit. I do so only for clarity of communication regarding reverence for human life.” – Russell M. Nelson
I wonder if he felt like Jacob – whose soul grieved to testify to the people of their sins. Instead of preaching about the pleasing word of God – that which heals the wounded soul – Jacob had to talk about the evil practices of the day that had become commonplace among his people. He had to admonish them. This would be a hard thing to do as a prophet.
I wonder if President Nelson felt similar.
Now – this isn’t to say that President Nelson was admonishing the people, in general. President Nelson taught about reverence for life, and he admonished the use of abortion as a “reason of convenience.” (By the way, at the time of this talk, only 3% of abortions were performed to save the mother’s life or because of rape/incest.)
Because of the gravity of this subject, this talk was kind of sad to read. I would imagine that it was also sad to give.
There were a few points that I found striking and would like to share on my blog.
Shaking My Head
The tone at the beginning of the talk seems to take on a “shaking my head” feel. First President Nelson gave some statistics. I will not include them here because they aren’t current, and I cannot take the time to find the current statistics.
After giving the staggering statistics, President Nelson states:
“Yet society professes reverence for human life. We weep for those who die, pray and work for those whose lives are in jeopardy. For years I have labored with other doctors here and abroad, struggling to prolong life. It is impossible to describe the grief a physician feels when the life of a patient is lost. Can anyone imagine how we feel when life is destroyed at its roots, as though it were a thing of naught?”
I haven’t ever thought of abortion from the point of view of a doctor – much less a cardiologist who routinely saves lives.
President Nelson continues with his proverbial head shaking:
“What sense of inconsistency can allow people to grieve for their dead, yet be calloused to this baleful war being waged on life at the time of its silent development? What logic would encourage efforts to preserve the life of a critically ill twelve-week-old infant, but countenance the termination of another life twelve weeks after inception? More attention is seemingly focused on the fate of a life at some penitentiary’s death row than on the millions totally deprived of life’s opportunity through such odious carnage before birth.”
Good questions. I’m shaking my head, too. It doesn’t really make any sense.
When Life Begins
It seems that some of the justification for a woman to perform an abortion is that the fetus inside of the woman isn’t it’s own individual life. The political question is “when does life begin?” I suppose that we have to try to redefine a universal, biological law about life in order to justify it.
Often, abortion is framed in the slogan of “women’s right,” so “when does life begin?” has to be redefined otherwise it would logically mean that this isn’t only a woman’s right, but also the right of another soul.
President Nelson teaches:
“The woman’s choice for her own body does not validate choice for the body of another. The expression “terminate the pregnancy” applies literally only to the woman. The consequence of terminating the fetus therein involves the body and very life of another. These two individuals have separate brains, separate hearts, and separate circulatory systems. To pretend that there is no child and no life there is to deny reality.”
Yes – this is exactly what must be done – we must “pretend” in order to defend abortion as a means of convenience. We must “deny reality.”
President Nelson continues:
It is not a question of when “meaningful life” begins or when the spirit “quickens” the body. 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. These chromosomes contain thousands of genes. In a marvelous process involving a combination of genetic coding by which all the basic human characteristics of the unborn person are established, a new DNA complex is formed. A continuum of growth results in a new human being. The onset of life is not a debatable issue, but a fact of science.
I found this passage really interesting, and to me it rings true – that we should define the beginning of life the way that biology defines it. Why would our politics be at odds with an undebatable truth?
Again, President Nelson continues:
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.9
President Nelson is a cardiac surgeon. He is an expert on matters of the heart and circulatory system. He has had to put in the time and training to know facts like this: that a heart begins to beat within 22 days of the first uniting of cells. And that within 26 days blood circulates in this little body.
When I was about 17 years old, I was at a youth conference activity. We were doing service by cleaning and maintaining a place called Fort Mifflin – in the Philadelphia area. I can’t remember the details of my particular assignment. It seemed like trail maintenance. I don’t know. All I know is that there was a group of us with shovels, and we were supposed to be clearing out some of the grass and weeds and we were making some kind of trail. I can’t remember the purpose.
What I do remember is that it was hard work – digging into the ground. I had been shoveling for probably 10 or 15 minutes. I had grown accustomed to how hard the ground was. I would raise my shovel high, and pound it into the ground. Then, I would jump on the shovel with both feet to get it in the ground deep enough. It was hard work for me.
As I went along, I raised my shovel, and this time, when it struck the ground it glided easily and smoothly. That was easy! I’m getting better at this! I thought. In fact, I shouted to my friend, Spunky, “The ground is getting softer!”
For good measure, I jumped on the edges of the shovel, and then went to pry out the dirt.
The dirt came up easily. A huge chunk came from the ground – much to big for my shovel. And I could see why. As I lifted the shovel and dirt from the ground, I noticed this white stuff. I also noticed that the dirt wasn’t solid and packed. It had a goopy nature to it.
I dropped my shovel, and bent over to inspect the ground. Horrified, I screamed out, “Oh no!!!!” Spunky came over to see what was happening. And we both were surprised to see that I had dug right into a turtle’s nest.
Inadvertently, I had destroyed the eggs inside this nest. I felt sick to my stomach. I had destroyed life. All of my friends and I mourned for a moment on those poor turtle eggs. They hadn’t hatched yet, but they would have. They had potential, and in a swift stroke that potential ended before they had even emerged from the egg. What a tragedy.
I can’t help but think of this experience when I think of abortion – the decimation of the tiny egg, with a human! embryo – destroyed before it even had the chance to emerge. It’s so cold and sad, and even colder and sadder to think that it is often done intentionally.
And, like President Nelson states in his talk – the reason I was so sad about inadvertently smashing those turtle eggs – is because I knew, just like we all know, that the onset of life is not debatable. That those eggs, though seemingly inanimate, were living.
Love of Life
“Why destroy a life that could bring such joy to others?” – Russell M. Nelson
One of the reasons that this talk touches me so much is because I know that I could have been aborted.
I’m not saying this to be dramatic.
I was born in San Francisco, in the late 1970s to a single woman in her early 20s. Roe vs. Wade had made abortion legal in the US only a few years before, and being in San Francisco, my mom was living in a place that was “progressive” when it came to “women’s rights.”
Yet my mom chose to have me – in the late 70s. I have had children, I know the work and commitment involved. It isn’t easy! A little baby would absolutely cramp the lifestyle of a single, 20-something woman. But my mom didn’t think only of herself. She took responsibility for her actions, and brought me into this world.
Some would say that it isn’t fair to bring a child into the world – knowing that they don’t have some of the “resources” needed for that child. This is false generosity. Don’t tell me what I do and do not need. I want to be alive. I love life. I have fought every day to enjoy this life I have. I don’t care that my situation was not “ideal!” I don’t care that I didn’t know my biological father for more than 30 years of my life. I don’t care if my coming into this world was unconventional or even “unfair” to me. I don’t care that my mom had to work and struggle to take care of me as an infant. It’s what we do for our children. What would have been unfair is my life ending before it even had a chance to begin.
My mom’s selflessness gave me life. My mom’s selflessness gave me opportunity. My mom’s selflessness gives you this blog post today. 🙂
I, personally, have an extremely difficult time understanding how anyone that is alive and is enjoying life on this earth can be so selfish to keep that choice from another. I can’t even bring myself to say/write “women’s rights,” because as a once-unborn fetus, I ask, “What about my rights?!”
Now, before I get too angry or passionate about this, I want to include a quote that I found especially loving from our dear President Nelson:
Now, is there hope for those who have so sinned without full understanding, who now suffer heartbreak? Yes. So far as is known, the Lord does not regard this transgression as murder. And “as far as has been revealed, a person may repent and be forgiven for the sin of abortion.”13 Gratefully, we know the Lord will help all who are truly repentant.
I know that there are many people who have had an abortion. They were most likely young and desperate. They probably didn’t fully understand the ramifications of such a decision. And they don’t need to live with such guilt.
The Lord offers hope and forgiveness. When we repent, he Lord will forgive. We can’t change the decisions we have made in the past, but we can change the decisions we make in the future.
I also want to state that I understand there are times when a woman must choose an abortion because her life, and most likely the life of the unborn child, is in danger. I know someone who had to make this decision in her life. It was a terribly difficult decision that she had to make. She made it prayerfully, and I know that it was heart-wrenching for her. This decision was not about convenience, and it was not faithless. I know that sometimes life can be tricky, but I know that the Lord will comfort us – and that comfort comes only when we are living worthy of His Spirit.
One final quote from President Nelson:
Life comes from life. It is a gift from our Heavenly Father. It is eternal, as he is eternal. – Russell M. Nelson
I know that our Heavenly Father is our Creator. He is life. And He has given us life. I’m so grateful for this gift. Even when life is painful and hard, I would rather have that than no life at all.
Though this topic doesn’t come up much now in General Conference, I am also comforted to know that our prophet and president of the Church – Russell M. Nelson – has a reverence and love for life. He understands that the Lord offers us not only physical life, but also spiritual life. I’m comforted to know that President Nelson has not been afraid to bring life into this world through his marriage and family. And now, even though he has finished having children – his family grows through no effort of his own. He has children and grandchildren – more on the way I’m sure.
There is so much joy in life! I know this, and I know that our prophet knows it, too.