It’s no secret that Mormons don’t like Donald Trump. So I was surprised a few weeks ago when, among my conservative Mormon friends, one of the most common public reactions to the third debate was a doubling down on far-right anti-abortion stances. In response to Clinton’s insistence that a ban on late-term abortion needed to include exceptions for the life and health of the mother, friends shared articles claiming that no abortion is ever necessary to save a pregnant woman’s life and gave testimonials about surviving a premature birth at 24 weeks.
Mormons tend to identify as pro-life, especially conservative Mormons, so why did this reaction surprise me? For starters, the argument that abortion is never necessary to save a woman’s life is so extreme that it’s difficult to understand how any educated person could be taken in. I think the idea people have is that a C-section is always going to be an option, but if someone’s life is at risk, they may not be stable enough for a C-section. They may not even be stable enough to make it to 24 weeks. For instance, I have a friend who knew someone who became pregnant after being diagnosed with cancer. She couldn’t receive chemotherapy without terminating her pregnancy. Due to how far the cancer had progressed, she knew that she would die long before the baby could even potentially be born. But she felt so strongly that abortion was wrong that she chose to die. It was a heartbreaking choice, but at least it was her own. Imagine if the government had made that decision for her?
But seeing this far-right anti-abortion response from my friends didn’t just surprise me for those reasons. Honestly, it surprised me because a stance that doesn’t even allow exceptions for the health of the mother is more extreme than the stance taken by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Church’s official stance allows exceptions for the life and health of the mother. In fact, other conservative Christians often consider Mormons bad pro-life allies for that very reason: we tend to take a moderate position that matches the gist of what Hillary Clinton said about late-term abortions in the third debate.
Seeing these reactions from people I know and care about left me wondering: do conservative Mormons know their Church’s stance and disagree, or do they not know the stance in the first place? For instance, I’ve heard many Mormon friends rattle off three exceptions where they consider abortion morally justifiable, usually explaining “I agree with the church”: incest, rape, and a risk to the mother’s life. They’re always surprised when I point out that the Church’s stance also mentions a serious risk to the mother’s health, or that it also mentions the likelihood that a baby is not going to survive past birth. The very type of scenario Hillary Clinton was describing.
“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.”
And this is why political abortion stances should be complex, for even the most conservative of Mormons: health can be subjective, and most of us feel strongly that we need to have a real say in our own health decisions. Don’t like the government requiring your kid to get vaccines on a set schedule? Then imagine how it would feel to have your doctor tell you your baby is going to be born with a condition that will prevent them from living more than a few (painful) hours past birth and that delivering this baby will put your health – or even your life – at serious risk… only to find out that your state has banned a late-term abortion, regardless of risks to your life?
If the government is going to step in and limit the health decisions we make that directly impact our body – even if it’s a decision that also impacts a body that’s forming inside of us – then the government’s limitation had better leave a door open for doctors to save a woman’s life when she faces a heart-breaking reality.