I reckon I better start earning my keep around these parts and post more often. James G. Duffin presided over the Southwestern States (later Central States) Mission in the first years of the twentieth century. Below I’ve reproduced his diary entries dealing with an abortion case brought before a church court.
Since it’s a sensitive topic, I’ve omitted the names. President Duffin’s diary is available in its entirety at BYU’s “Mormon Missionary Diaries” website.
December 11, 1904: …Today I arranged to hear the appeal of Bro. and Sister [C] accused of the crime of abortion – committed, or permitted to be committed by doctors upon Sister [C]. The first hearing was held before the President of the conference and Elder [AES]. and they were disfellowshipped by them. The time of the hearing was set for to-morrow at two o’clock p.m.
December 12, 1904: To day at two o’clock the hearing of Bro. and Sister [C] on appeal was heard. I appointed Elders [WWM] and [JHG] to sit on the case with me. The witnesses were Dr. [A]. Sister [L], Sister [Y], Sister [P], Elder. [JHM] and Bro. and Sister [C] also gave testimony. We did not complete the hearing, but requested Bro. and Sister [C] to meet us to-morrow morning at eight o’clock. …At the hearing of Bro. & Sister [C] it was proven and they admitted that the abortion was committed, but they attempted to prove that it was necessary to save her life, because she had severe vomiting.
December 13, 1904: This morning Bro. & Sister [C] met us at Bro. [Y’s] but they did not get there until 845 and we had to leave for [E] to take train at nine o’clock, so had no further time for hearing the case. I talked to them for a short time, told them we considered them under responsibility for the abortion, but the degree of responsibility we had not yet determined. We were unanimous at this point. Returned to Kansas City to day, and attended to business at the office.
January 07, 1905: This evening Elder [WWM], Bro. [JHG] and myself went to the [J] branch of the Church, [EK] conference, to continue the hearing of the case of abortion, against Brother and Sister [C]. …Brother [HCB] and [HMC], missionaries, who were at [J] at the time of the abortion, have been notified to be present as witnesses.
January 09, 1905: To-day at 10 a.m. the case of Brother and Sister [C] came up for hearing. Every opportunity was given them to present their case, but it became very clear to the minds of the court of the priesthood that they were guilty of wrong doing and the following decision was rendered: In the hearing, on appeal, from the decision of the Presidency of the [EK] Conference, of the case of Brother [JC] and his wife, [SC], accused of the offense of abortion, before Elder James G. Duffin, President of the Central States Mission assisted by Elders [WWM] and [JHG]. After carefully weighing the evidence both for and against our accused brother and sister, and seeking our Heavenly Father to direct us in rendering a righteous judgement, it is our unanimous decision that Brother and Sister [C] appear before the [J] Branch of the Central States Mission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, at one of the public meetings, and make confession of the wrong they have done and ask forgiveness for the same; and that this decision is to be complied with on or before the first Sunday of February, of this year.
Dated Jan. 9, 1905
James G. Duffin
Walter W. Morrison
James H. Grant, Jr.
February 12, 1905: Yesterday and to-day the [EK] Conference has been in session…. Saturday afternoon of the conference, Brother and Sister [C] came before the Elders and saints and positively refused to comply with the decision of the priesthood, and were excommunicated from the church. During their speaking they accused the members of the church and the priesthood of persecuting them, and Bro. [C] prayed that the judgements of the Lord should be poured out upon the saints of [J]. In their speaking they manifested a very bad spirit.
July 08, 1905: …A letter was received from the Presidency of the church requesting that the evidence in the [C] case be forwarded to them, which was accordingly done.
Firstly, let me say how glad I am that “Conference Presidents”—roughly (very roughly) equivalent to present-day Zone Leaders—are no longer routinely called upon to hear cases of church discipline. (Though in my South American mission ten years ago, men of comparable age and experience did serve in non-mission positions pronouncing judgment. I presume this is still the case.)
Secondly, abortion isn’t anywhere on my radar as a Mormon concern before the latter half of the twentieth century. Is there any literature tracing Mormon thoughts on abortion in the nineteenth century? (I intentionally haven’t looked anything up because that would make it harder to get a post up and might rule out its utility all together.)
Note to visitors: I am interested in the processes and concerns illuminated by these diary entries. That is, how and why did the church work in the way it did in the areas and times supervised by President Duffin. I am not interested in discussing whether the church should or should not treat abortion as a discipline-worthy offense or whether justice was done in this particular case.