Nearly half of Utahns polled believe that the soul enters the human body very early on, either at fertilization or within a few days, when the egg attaches to the womb. So does that mean they would ban abortion under any circumstance? A new Dan Jones Deseret Morning News/KSL-TV poll shows that the issue is a lot more complicated than that.

Not all religions agree, or even discuss, at what point a fetus gains a soul or spirit. But many people of faith have an opinion.

Thirty-eight percent of Utahns believe a fertilized egg has a soul, and another 10 percent believe the soul is present at the moment the egg implants

in the womb. Members of the Catholic and LDS faiths are more likely to share this view. Those who reported no religion are likely (44 percent) to say the soul enters the body at the moment of birth.

While 38 percent say a fertilized egg has a soul, only 19 percent would definitely ban any type of birth control that aborts a fertilized egg. This may seem a minor point. But the question is urgent in several states other than Utah, where some pharmacists have refused to fill birth-control prescriptions. (Although it happens only rarely, birth-control pills can allow fertilization.)

The poll also showed that Utahns' main concern is for the health of the mother. Seventy-four percent either definitely or probably would allow abortion in the first trimester if the health of the mother was at risk, and 71 percent would allow it in the second trimester.

Seventy-five percent would allow abortion in the first trimester because of rape or incest, and 63 percent would allow it in the second trimester. In comparison, birth defects came in fourth as a reason to allow abortion, behind "mother's choice." During the first trimester, 57 percent of Utahns would definitely or probably not allow abortion for reasons of the mother's choice. During the second trimester, 68 percent would not like to see an abortion performed because of the mother's choice.

The poll was conducted Nov. 29-30 and has a margin of error of 6.5 percent. Of the 313 people interviewed, 64 percent were active or somewhat active LDS, about 5 percent were Catholic and another 5 percent Protestant. Ten percent reported no religion.

Fifty percent of Catholics said the soul enters the body at the moment of fertilization, as did 45 percent of LDS respondents and 28 percent of Protestants. Of Catholics, 31 percent definitely approve of birth-control methods that may abort a fertilized egg. Fewer of those who are "very" active LDS — 7 percent — would definitely approve. An additional 19 percent of Catholics and 9 percent of those who consider themselves active LDS would approve.

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Young people were more likely than their parents to say that a soul enters the egg at fertilization. Of those 18-24, 52 percent agreed that the fertilized egg has a soul, while only 31 percent of those 45-54 said it did.

The young are also less likely to favor abortion in the first trimester of pregnancy. Sixty-one percent of 18- to 24-year-olds would definitely or probably allow it for the health of the mother, while 84 percent of the 45-54 age group would allow it.


E-mail: susan@desnews.com; jarvik@desnews.com