Posted by: adventlife | March 2, 2012

What Did Our Adventist Pioneers Say About Abortion? By Nic Samojluk

It is common knowledge that ourAdventistChurch’s position about abortion is definitely Pro-choice/Pro-abortion. If you are in doubt, all you have to do is to read our “Guidelines on Abortion” document, which was approved back in 1992. So a reasonable question would be: Did our Adventist pioneers share the current Adventist position on abortion or were they, perhaps, Pro-life? Did Ellen White ever say anything about the sanctity of human life, or was she silent as some of our ethicists and theologian have suggested? In order to elucidate this enigma, we will have to go back in history to 1870, slightly over a century before the U.S. Supreme Court removed the protection from the unborn, thus legalizing the practice of abortion. What was the Seventh-day Adventist forefathers’ attitude towards the destruction of human life prior to natural birth?

At that time, one of the most prolific spokesmen for the nascent Adventist movement was James White, the founder of the SDA publishing work and also president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. Here is what he included in a book he published dealing with sexuality. One of the chapters written by E.P. Miller, M.D., has a section entitled “Abortion” where the practice of killing the unborn is condemned in the strongest possible terms:

The Opinion Apparently Supported by James White:

“Few are aware of the fearful extent to which this nefarious business, this worse than devilish practice, is carried on in all classes of society! Many a woman determines that she will not become a mother, and subjects herself to the vilest treatment, committing the basest crime to carry out her purpose. And many a man, who has as many children as he can support, instead of restraining his passions, aids in the destruction of the babes he has begotten. The sin lies at the door of both parents in equal measure; for the father, although he may not always aid in the murder, is always accessory to it, in that he induces, and sometimes even forces upon the mother the condition which he knows will lead to the commission of the crime.”[1]

Do these statements published by James White, the founder of the SDA publishing work and president of the SDA church sound like pro-choice statements? Not a chance! Are there any references in them to a woman’s right to choose between life and death for the developing baby? Not so! Do they contain any indication that there might exist some exceptions in the event the pregnant woman is not mature enough to raise the child after delivery, or if the parents already have enough mouths to care for and feed? Certainly not!

Are there any euphemisms in this declaration such as “pregnancy interruption,” “product of conception, or “reproductive freedom?” The answer is No. James White did not feel there was a need to soften the terms Miller had used for abortion, who labeled this practice as “murder.” This is important to notice, because the purpose of this study is to discover the true attitude of Adventists towards the practice of abortion when the church was young and growing in order to determine whether the SDA Church still holds these values in high esteem; or whether perhaps there has been since then a significant departure from the clear pro-life attitude towards abortion manifested by the early SDA pioneers.

Were there any voices among Adventists speaking on the subject? The answer is yes. Actually, “Between 1850 and 1890 in this country, the medical community led a campaign to outlaw abortion except to save the life of the mother,”[2] and notable SDA torchbearers heartily supported such a campaign. Here are some statements by leading members of the nascent SDA church as evidence that this religious community was not silent on the issue of abortion:

*James White’s assumed position on abortion: Pro-life.

A Statement by John Harvey Kellogg

The idea held by many that the destruction of foetal [sic] life is not a crime until after “quickening” has occurred is a gross and mischievous error. No change occurs in the developing human being at this period. The so-called period of “quickening” is simply the period at which the movements of the little one become sufficiently active and vigorous to attract the attention of the mother. Long before this, slight movements have been taking place, and from the very moment of conception, those processes have been in operation which result in the production of a fully developed human being from a mere jelly drop, a minute cell. As soon as this development begins, a new human being has come into existence–in embryo, it is true, but possessed of its own individuality, with its own future, its possibilities of joy, grief, success, failure, fame, and ignominy.”

“From this moment, it acquires the right to life, a right so sacred that in every land to violate it is to incur the penalty of death. How many murderers and murderesses have gone unpunished! None but God knows the full extent of this most heinous crime; but the Searcher of all hearts knows and remembers every one who has thus transgressed; and in the day of final reckoning, what will the verdict be? Murder? MURDER, child murder, the slaughter of the innocents more cruel than Herod, more cold-blooded than the midnight assassin, more criminal than the man who slays his enemy—the most unnatural, the most inhuman, the most revolting of all crimes against human life.”[3]

Who wrote the above quoted statements? Those declarations were made by the most influential SDA physician at that time, the one groomed by Ellen G. White to be the founder of the Adventist medical work. There is no need to emphasize the fact that he was definitely and unambiguously on the pro-life side of this issue. His choice of words, and the emphasis he placed on them, suggests that his opposition to the practice of abortion was stronger than those in the pro-life movement today. He minced no adjectives in expressing his profound aversion to the destruction of human life from the moment of conception.[4] But there is more. Let us consider what J. N. Andrews, the first Seventh-day Adventist missionary ever sent abroad had to say on the subject:

*John Harvey Kellogg’s position on abortion: Pro-life.

The Thinking of J.N. Andrews, And John Todd

“One of the most shocking, and yet one of the most prevalent sins of this generation, is the murder of unborn infants. Let those who think this a small sin, read Ps. 139:16. They will see that even the unborn child is written in God’s book. And they may be well assured that God will not pass unnoticed the murder of such children.”[5]

These strong words came from the pen of J. N. Andrews, editor of the original official magazine published by the SDA church. There is no doubt that he was a strong supporter of the sanctity of human life from the moment of conception. Andrews’ views on abortion were similar to that of John Todd, another influential writer whose views were included in our official magazine by none other than James White, the founder of the Adventist publishing work:

“Nothing but an imperative sense of duty could induce me to pen what I am about to write. Letters from different sections of the country, and from physicians too, are so urgent that I should write on this subject, that I may not choose. I have no fear but what I am about to write will be read; but I wish it might be solemnly pondered. I am about to speak, and plainly too, of the practice of producing abortions. If any of my lady readers shall complain of a want of delicacy, I beg them to remember three facts; first, that the practice is fearfully common; second, that probably they are every week associating with those who are guilty of the practice; and third, that seventy-five per cent of all the abortions produced are caused and effected by females. What then of delicacy?”

“As a class, the medical profession have taken a noble stand. The desolations have become so fearful that, as the guardians of human life, they are compelled to do so: and society owes a debt of gratitude to Dr. H.R. Storer, of Boston, especially for his powerful arguments, lucid arrangements of facts, patient investigations and earnest and eloquent remonstrances. Among his writings on this subject, the little work entitled “Why Not?” Is a “book for every woman,” and I do wish that women might carefully read it. But the medical profession cannot arrest the evil, and they tell me they need, and must have, the moral power of good people to aid them. Even now, as I have reason to fear, all the profession are not beyond the reach of personal appeal, nor an enormous fee, and I do wish that every such an one could see that a fee steeped in blood, and crimsoned with shame, cannot bring a blessing to his family.”

“As to guilt, I want all to know that, in the sight of God, it is willful murder. “The willful killing of a human being at any stage of its existence, is murder. It is quenching immortal existence, it is destroying what, in a few months or weeks, would bear God’s image: and if anyone thinks she can do it without the guilt of murder, she is greatly mistaken. The very remembrance of this guilt has often upset the reason, and by remorse, turned the doer into madness.””[6]

*J.N. Andrews’ position on abortion: Pro-life.

*John Todd’s position on abortion: Pro-life.

The Opinion of Uriah Smith

It might be proper to add a statement by Uriah Smith, the renowned SDA scholar and writer who edited the Advent Review and Sabbath Herald for 40 years. Although he does not refer specifically to the issue of abortion, yet his reference to the SDA publishing norms at the time gives us a glimpse about what the early pioneers thought regarding involvement in politically controversial issues. Considering the emphatic condemnation of the practice of abortion by the above-mentioned SDA pioneers, the following statement by Uriah Smith becomes relevant to the topic under investigation.

“You show me a church that fails to take a stand on political issues that involve moral principles, and I’ll show you a church that is spineless, irrelevant, and morally bankrupt. . . . No issue is too controversial for us to address and honestly in pages of our church paper.”[7]

Statements by Ellen G. White

It is true that Ellen G. White in her prolific writing career spanning seven decades never used the term “abortion” in her writings; nevertheless, she talked about almost murdering the unborn when addressing the issue of pregnant women’s health, and she did have some strong words for those men who neglect the care of their wives health needs during such a critical time for the normal and healthy development of the unborn baby.

Her opinion regarding the sacredness and value of incipient human life is crystal clear from her deep concern for the welfare of expectant mothers. Several of her statements highlight the relevance of prenatal care and the influence of the pregnant woman’s diet, general health, mental attitude, and self control on the development of the unborn:

“Life is mysterious and sacred. It is the manifestation of God Himself, the source of all life. Precious are its opportunities, and earnestly should they be improved. Once lost, they are gone forever.”[8]

“Human life, which God alone could give, must be sacredly guarded.”[9]

“Children derive life from their parents, and yet it is through the creative power of God that your children have life, for God is the Life-giver.”[10]

“Women who possess principle, and who are well instructed, will not depart from simplicity of diet at this time of all others. They will consider that another life is dependent upon them and will be careful in all their habits and especially in diet.”[11]

Every drop of strong drink taken [by a mother] to gratify appetite endangers the physical, mental and moral health of her child, and is a direct sin against the Creator.”[12]

“The effect of prenatal influence is by many parents looked upon as a matter of little moment; but heaven does not so regard it. . . .Two lives are depending upon her, and her wishes should be tenderly regarded. . . . By the command of God Himself, she is placed under the most solemn obligation to exercise self-control.”[13]

“If the father would become acquainted with physical law, he might better understand his obligations and responsibilities. He would see that he had been guilty of almost murdering his children [emphasis supplied], by suffering so many burdens to come upon the mother, compelling her to labor beyond her strength before their birth, in order to obtain means to leave for them.”[14]

If Ellen White, the most influential leader of the SDA Church, was so concerned about the influence of the expectant mother upon the unborn and the harm the developing baby might suffer during the nine months of pregnancy, logical thinking might reasonably lead us to conclude that dismembering the little creature’s body or poisoning it to death would be condemned by her even in stronger terms. Notice that she equates forcing a pregnant woman to work beyond her strength and endurance with “almost murdering his children.”

Then the question arises: What adjective would she have used for the actual killing of the unborn? Would it not be murder? Is there room here to avoid this logical conclusion? What force then remains in the argument claiming that Ellen G. White was silent on abortion? Perhaps the reader might ask the following question: Why was she silent on the abortion issue? Is there an explanation for her silence? What were the societal, political, and religious circumstances that might have prompted her to abstain from talking about the subject? Here is what P.A. Lorenz had to say in answer to these questions:

“Perhaps one reason why she was silent on the practice of abortion in her day was because there was no need for her to say anything–the medical profession led a very vocal and successful campaign to prohibit abortion. The religious community, as a whole, also agreed that abortion should be prohibited. The Adventist Church leadership also spoke against abortion, as did the majority of society. It was simply not the controversy it is today, nor was it as widespread as it is today. . . . Her silence must be interpreted in light of the circumstances of her time–there is no evidence that there was any disagreement in the early Adventist Church on this issue.”[15]

It might be proper to add another timely question: Would Ellen White have remained silent on the issue of abortion had she disagreed with the then prevalent thinking about the subject? Would she have spoken on the subject had she deviated from her husband’s attitude on abortion? She probably would! Therefore, what we need to consider is not her silence, but rather what she would have said today, given our drastically changed circumstances regarding this hotly contested topic. But notice what Ellen White stated about shortening human life, as well as indulging in passions that might lead to injurious acts towards others:

“All acts of injustice that tend to shorten life . . . or any passion that leads to injurious acts towards others, or causes us even to wish them harm . . . all these are, to a greater or less degree, violations of the sixth commandment.”[16]

Doesn’t abortion shorten human life by an entire life span? How about the uncontrolled sexual activity with total disregard to the fact that such action will likely lead to harming the baby in case of pregnancy?

*Ellen G. White’s position on abortion: Unknown, but presumed to be Pro-life.

Tentative Conclusion

The above considerations indicates that at the time of the pioneers, the Seventh-day Adventist community was neither pro-abortion, nor pro-choice, but rather pro-life. There is a striking absence of any pro-abortion or pro-choice arguments in the SDA literature of said period, coupled with a clear and unambiguous condemnation of abortion, and supported by convincing arguments dealing with the sanctity of human life before birth from the pen of Ellen G. White, the most prolific pioneer spokesperson of theSeventh-dayAdventistChurch.


[1] James White, editor. Solemn Appeal (Battle Creek, Michigan: Stem Press, 1870), 100.

[2] P.A. Lorenz. Adventist For Life News, Vol. III, Issue 3 (n.d., Heritage Edition): 3.

[3] J.H. Kellogg. Man the Masterpiece (Battle Creek, Michigan: Modern Medicine Publishing Co., 1894), 424-425. Also John Harvey Kellogg. “Infanticide and Abortion” Plain Facts for Old and/Electronic Text Center/Young/University of Virginia Library. Accessed from http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/etcbin/toccer-new2?id=KelPlai.sgm&images=images/modeng&data=/texts/english/modeng/parsed&tag=public&part=21&division=div1 on 25 Oct. 2006.

[4] For additional details about Dr. Kellogg’s unswerving opposition to abortion, see Dalton Baldwin’s article discussed in Chapter VIII of this study.

[5] J.N. Andrews, ed. “A Few Words Concerning a Great Sin” Advent Review and Sabbath Herald (30 Nov. 1869): 184.

[6] John Todd. “Fashionable Murder” Advent Review and Sabbath Herald (25 June 1867): 29-30.

[7] Uriah Smith. Advent Review and Sabbath Herald. Quoted by P.A. Lorenz. Adventist for Life News, Vol. III, Issue 3. (n.d., Heritage Edition): 3.

[8] Ellen G. White. Ministry of Healing (Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1958), 397.

[9] White. Patriarchs and Prophets (Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1958), 516.

[10] White. The Adventist Home (Nashville, Tennessee: Southern Publishing Association, 1952), 280.

[11] Ibid., 257.

[12] White. Ministry of Healing, 373.

[13] Ibid., 372-373.

[14] White. Selected Messages, Vol. 2 (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1958), 429-430.

[15] P.A. Lorenz, 3.

[16] White. Patriarchs and Prophets (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1958), 316.

More:===> If this topic is of interest to you, I suggest you secure a copy of the book I recently published entitled: From Pro-life to Pro-choice: The Dramatic Shift in Seventh-day Adventists’ Attitudes Towards Abortion from the printer. Here is the link: http://lulu.com. You will need to type my name, Nic Samojluk, in the blank “Search” space to access my book’s web page.


Responses

  1. [...] Strong Pro-life Position of Our Adventist Pioneers Most Adventists are aware that our pioneers were definitely pro-life as evident from the statements made by some of the leaders of the [...]

  2. [...] [2] http://adventlife.wordpress.com/2012/03/02/what-did-our-adventist-pioneers-say-about-abortion-by-nic… [...]

  3. Isn’t it interesting how EGW is conveniently “silent” on all the things that have changed in the church over the last 75 years? I don’t buy it. I think many of her documents have been kept under wraps, and I know many have been re-edited.

    • Yes, many Adventists have argued in the past that Ellen White was silent on abortion. Was she really silent? She never used the term “abortion” but she did talk about the “almost murder” of the unborn. Do we need more than that? If she was against the almost murder of the unborn, can we conclude that she was in favor of the actual murder of unborn babies? Here is her quote:

      “If the father would become acquainted with physical law, he might better understand his obligations and responsibilities. He would see that he had been guilty of almost murdering his children, by suffering so many burdens to come upon the mother, compelling her to labor beyond her strength before their birth, in order to obtain means to leave for them.” [14] 2SM 429-430]


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