Why is Mormon Mitt Anti-Choice When His Church Is Not?

As the Republicans convene in Tampa, we are set to have the first Mormon become his party’s nominee for president.  A milestone in American religious history by anyone’s measure.  And yet we keep talking about his running mate’s religion and its stance on abortion and contraception.  Because the news of the year has swirled around the Roman Catholic bishops and their opposition to provisions for women’s preventative health services in the Affordable Care Act in particular, every religion reporter and blogger, political pundit, and anchor has had to talk about the Catholic Church and its formal opposition to families choosing contraception and abortion.

Paul Ryan gets a lot of attention, criticism as well as credit, for adhering strictly to his church’s teachings on abortion and contraception when it comes to making policy.  Like many others, I use the language of “anti-choice” here to capture what the position really is, and how things like the Human Life Amendment and a call for “protecting religious conscience” advocated by the Republican Party platform has consequences for the availability and legality of both abortion and contraception.  They are opposed to choice – wanting to enforce all pregnancies to term, without exception, and wanting to severely limit the availability of birth control.  On these issues, do read Bryce Covert’s piece over at Forbes.com on “Six Ways the GOP Platform is Bad News for Women’s Bottom Line.”

But what about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?  The church to which the nominee himself is a lifelong member and in which he is a leader?

Here is what they say on family planning:

“Children are one of the greatest blessings in life, and their birth into loving and nurturing families is central to God’s purposes for humanity. When husband and wife are physically able, they have the privilege and responsibility to bring children into the world and to nurture them. The decision of how many children to have and when to have them is a private matter for the husband and wife.”

Or, put another way:

“In our Heavenly Father’s plan, Mormon members are taught that we each have our free agency, and that in matters concerning: when to have children, how many to have, and all other questions regarding such, it is between the marriage partners and God.

Mormons have never been told to have ‘several children’ or to ‘never use birth control’. As was mentioned, those questions are between the father, mother and God.”

On abortion specifically, the LDS statement is:

“The Church opposes abortion and counsels its members not to submit to or perform an abortion except in the rare cases where, in the opinion of competent medical counsel, the life or good health of the mother is seriously endangered or where the pregnancy was caused by rape and produces serious emotional trauma in the mother. Even then it should be done only after counseling with the local presiding priesthood authority and after receiving divine confirmation through prayer.”

And as Mormon author Joanna Brooks describes the position on contraception,

“From what I’ve read, heard, and experienced, Mormon talk about birth control emphasizes prayerful deliberation, moral agency, consideration for women’s perspectives on family size, and the importance of marital intimacy for reasons beyond procreation.”

Emphases in the above quotations are mine, highlighting where the right to decide is ultimately preserved when it comes to family planning, including matters of contraception and abortion.  Brent Corrigan at The Salt Lake City Tribune notes that the LDS Church “is more compassionate and contradicts the [GOP] platform,” because abortion, contraception, family planning and all that those things entail, are matters of conscience and prayerful discernment between marriage partners, their chosen counsel, and God.

So why isn’t anyone asking Romney about this as a matter of his religion?  Why do Paul Ryan and his Catholic bishops get all the attention and power when it comes to this party and its Mormon nominee?

I’m sure we know the answer to these questions.  Paul Ryan and the bishops are being used to secure and satisfy the right-wing evangelical Christian base of the party.  Those folks who don’t think that Romney is Christian anyway.  They have the positions that conservatives want right now.

Several media outlets have covered Romney’s path to opposing choice.  I haven’t seen any of them characterize it as a path away from the teachings of his religion.  Because that is what it is.  Does it matter?  For the sake of being elected in Massachusetts, Romney articulated a position in support of choice certainly and authentically informed by the position of his church.  Now, for the sake of being elected president as the nominee of this Republican party, he is taking anti-choice positions that will threaten women’s access to a full range of health services and medical care.

I think this is more interesting than the “etch-a-sketch” meme that follows Romney around.  It speaks to the religious principles that inform the nominee, and lets us see when he is willing to abandon them.

Does anyone care?

Or, as Corrigan put it, “Who knew Mormons were, technically, pro-choice?”

(I think Mitt knows.)

 

{nota bene:  the pictures are from a trip to Salt Lake City this summer, the first one is of me literally looking inside (a model replica of) the Mormon Temple in the North South Visitors Center}

 

 

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About Caryn Riswold

Caryn D. Riswold is a feminist theologian in the Lutheran tradition. She is Professor of Religion and also teaches Gender and Women’s Studies at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois, where she has worked for over a decade teaching undergraduates to think critically and creatively about religion. She earned her Ph.D. and Th.M. from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, holds a master’s degree from the Claremont School of Theology, and received her B.A. from Augustana College in her childhood hometown of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.


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