We've been around long enough to know that this unit, the "Living a Virtuous Life" unit each year, poses some of the greatest teaching challenges to you and usually includes lessons that many of you find to be poorly written, or which contain troubling weird stories, or which need so much adaptation that you wonder if there's anything salvageable in them.
Yeah, Lesson 32 is pretty much like that. Your comments on our poll hint that many of you struggle with how to make the kickoff chastity lessons relevant to the girls in your particular classes.
Amelia says, "I'm desperately looking for help on 'The Importance of Life' lesson. Almost half of it is one huge story that I know will lose our girls."
Vieve agrees, "Yep, would've loved your input on Lesson 32! The long story wouldn't just 'lose' the girls, it actually has a subtext that distresses me (we'll skip it!)" She adds, "We're going to focus on creation and our role in it. We're also going to talk about the perfectionisms we get sucked into, and how it can lead us to try to cover our sins (eg having an abortion to hide that one is sexually active). Our bishop gave the YW a lovely lesson on repentance being a good thing, and I'll make reference to that."
So. We all know the doctrine never changes, but the cultural/historical/emotional context does, and that makes these lessons somehow more fraught with dangers than most of the others in the manual. Maybe it just makes them more quickly outdated because they depend so much on context for understanding. Although I wonder if people even "got" that strange fiction story even when it was first published in the New Era in February 1973. Written as if from the point of view of a young woman with cognitive challenges (but clearly not written by someone with cognitive challenges), the story's supposed to help "normal" girls realize that abortion discards people whose lives could be emotionally and spiritually rich despite their physical & mental challenges. I'm guessing you won't have to look far in your ward or extended family to find a story that explains that far better than this odd little narrative. Just take comfort knowing that young women's leaders have been reading that story and going "Huh?" for over 37 years and that you are in good company trying to figure out what its point was, and whether to use it in your lesson.
Obviously, the underlying message of this lesson is reverence for God's creations and in particular, reverence for the miracle of human life. A pro-life lesson, clearly written to counter the potential reverberations of the Roe v. Wade US Supreme Court decision in January 1973. AND a pro-choice lesson, because our official Church doctrine makes clear that abortion is a choice with long-lasting consequences, an agonizing alternative for only the most dire circumstances.
So this could be taught (especially for younger girls) as a lesson about the joy/beauty of life, with only the barest hint of content about human sexuality. Or it could be taught as a full-on lesson about the Church's clear teaching about abortion, which should include a discussion of the positive options to abortion that the Church promotes, such as adoption and counseling services - and make a clear connection to the gospel of Jesus Christ, with possibilities for repentance and the cleansing, purifying power of the Atonement and the tremendous embracing love of our Heavenly Father for all of his children.
If you feel making the lesson directly about abortion is the right route for your group, then you'll need some auxiliary resources for sure. The Manual 2 Resources recommend the statement about abortion from True to the Faith (and in fact pleads with you to replace the story about Cindy with a clear statement of Church doctrine instead):
"In today’s society, abortion has become a common practice, defended by deceptive arguments. If you face questions about this matter, you can be secure in following the revealed will of the Lord. Latter-day prophets have denounced abortion, referring to the Lord’s declaration, “Thou shalt not … kill, nor do anything like unto it” (D&C 59:6). Their counsel on the matter is clear: Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints must not submit to, perform, encourage, pay for, or arrange for an abortion. If you encourage an abortion in any way, you may be subject to Church discipline.
Church leaders have said that some 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. But even these circumstances do not automatically justify an abortion. Those who face such circumstances should consider abortion only after consulting with their local Church leaders and receiving a confirmation through earnest prayer.
When a child is conceived out of wedlock, the best option is for the mother and father of the child to marry and work toward establishing an eternal family relationship. If a successful marriage is unlikely, they should place the child for adoption, preferably through LDS Family Services (see “Adoption,” pages 7–8)."
Gospel Library "Gospel Topics" puts it even more simply:
"Human life is a sacred gift from God. Elective abortion for personal or social convenience is contrary to the will and the commandments of God. Church members who submit to, perform, encourage, pay for, or arrange for such abortions may lose their membership in the Church."
The Church's Newsroom has a clarifying statement to explain our official position to the outside public:
"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes in the sanctity of human life. Therefore, the Church opposes elective abortion for personal or social convenience, and counsels its members not to submit to, perform, encourage, pay for, or arrange for such abortions.
The Church allows for possible exceptions for its members when:
• Pregnancy results from rape or incest, or
• A competent physician determines that the life or health of the mother is in serious jeopardy, or
• A competent physician determines that the fetus has severe defects that will not allow the baby to survive beyond birth.
The Church teaches its members that even these rare exceptions do not justify abortion automatically. Abortion is a most serious matter and should be considered only after the persons involved have consulted with their local church leaders and feel through personal prayer that their decision is correct.
The Church has not favored or opposed legislative proposals or public demonstrations concerning abortion."
Three recent talks/articles should give you enough material to address this issue with sensitivity and the Spirit & using quotes from within the last decade.
Russell M. Nelson's article, "Abortion: An Assault on the Defenseless," (October 2008);
An article collecting statements on abortion and out-of-wedlock elective births from the Ensign in 2005, "Strengthening the Family: Multiply and Replenish the Earth;"
and Dallin H. Oaks, "Weightier Matters," (January 2001), based on a 1999 BYU Devotional address. In it he discusses how the whole debate over abortion in the US falsely opposes life v. choice. He writes, "Pro-choice slogans have been particularly seductive to Latter-day Saints because we know that moral agency, which can be described as the power of choice, is a fundamental necessity in the gospel plan. All Latter-day Saints are pro-choice according to that theological definition. But being pro-choice on the need for moral agency does not end the matter for us. Choice is a method, not the ultimate goal."
I've noticed this week on the tabloid mags that a certain celebrity (let's call her Jen) has decided that she's ready for a baby "on her own" and "without a man" (those are the headline's words, not mine). Now, putting aside that she's gonna need the other half of the baby's genetics from SOMEWHERE, it's pretty clear that these days some people openly celebrate their option to create (and conversely, to destroy) human life at will. As Latter-day Saints, though, we have a responsibility to seek the Lord's will - not our own will - especially when it involves someone else's life. I think that's the take-home message for youth, that human life is interdependent and that we find happiness and joy in keeping our Father's commandments and in aligning ourselves with His purposes for the human family and the divine creation.
Good luck with it, and let us know how you approached it with your girls. Your experiences are really helpful to our other readers!