Let me start out by saying this is an unpleasant topic. It saddens me to think of all of the legitimate reasons women might choose to end a pregnancy. However, because of the current political climate and the lack of real analysis happening within the Church, I feel compelled to write this in order to provoke thought among my fellow members.
Most Mormons consider themselves to be Pro-Life. This is probably due to the Church’s very clear stance on abortion; it is permitted in cases of rape or incest or when the mother’s life or health is threatened. Naturally, being otherwise against abortion, we want to prevent it in other cases. Hence, the vast majority of Pro-Life Mormons.
If this was a rule that could easily be enforced without causing women who have been abused any additional pain or stress, I might agree that more strict Pro-Life laws were a good idea. However, this is not the case. In fact, determining whether any of those three criteria might apply in a certain scenario is more likely to cause contention than not.
Let’s take the medical scenario first. Who is to decide whether the mother’s life is threatened? Hopefully her doctor is making that call and not the government or an insurance company. What if her doctor is particularly pro-life or pro-choice? Could the woman seek out a second opinion, or a third? What percent chance of death should be considered enough of a threat to allow an abortion? You can be sure that no matter how the law was written to enforce a policy, some women wanting abortions would die from this, and some with little risk of death would be able to get a legal abortion despite the rules.
In the case of incest, what are you going to require from a young woman who has been abused by someone who should have been protecting her to do to prove that it was incest? The earliest a paternity test can be performed is at about 9 weeks. Even at that point, there are risks of causing miscarriage. Would such tests be outlawed for the risk to the fetus? How long would she have to carry the baby in order to prove the charge? What if the test comes back inconclusive? Or even worse, what if the girl has no family members to support her charge, and she is afraid to charge her father with a crime? No crime filed, no abortion?
As for rape, who gets to decide what constitutes rape? Surely we wouldn’t leave this up to a group of men who have publicly stated their opposition to any abortion in any form. There are a number of states where husbands are allowed to essentially rape their wives under full legal protection. Non-consensual sex is not rape if the people are married. Do we really want to force mothers to bear children into a home where domestic violence is already rampant? What about date rape? Rape under the influence? Does the rapist have to be convicted before the abortion is granted? What if it takes 7 months for the trial to even get to court?
This is all ugly, messy stuff. I don’t believe government is capable of legislating reasonable rules, let alone of regulating or enforcing them. When you add in the challenges of local authorities and corruption, you begin to see how hopeless a clean distinction is.
Particularly painfully, there are the women whose beloved children die before they see their faces. Those mothers, too, are affected by these well-meaning laws. Mothers with miscarriages today are read to from scripts designed to produce guilt in those seeking an abortion, when they should be receiving counsel and comfort. Some have even been taken to court in states with “Personhood” laws, so that the courts can legally determine whether or not the miscarriage was of natural causes. These offenses would only increase with stricter laws.
Our church believes strongly in the principle of agency. There is no freedom more important than the freedom to make your own choices. Some would argue that we can choose to break the law, so restricting abortion rights does not diminish agency. I would suggest that if it is possible make an ethical choice and still break the law, the agency of those who choose to obey the law is diminished, as is the law itself.
Hopefully, we pro-agency Mormons will grow in numbers as the ramifications of legislating this kind of morality becomes more apparent.