A Bishop's Political Judgement

Recently an over-zealous LDS bishop wrote an op-ed piece which sparked some debate in the Mormon progressive community. Given the man’s position and the use of political questions as a litmus test for temple worthiness, a discussion has emerged around the separation of politics and LDS Church doctrine. Instead of writing an unproductive response to the bishop calling into question conservative platforms that are blatantly anti-Christian, I am instead addressing one of the article’s attacks; Democrat’s pro-choice position. As a proud progressive, I also feel the discussion should center on facts, data, and historical significance, and not arrogantly challenging people’s religious worthiness due to disagreement.  In defense of Democrat’s pro-choice position, here are some points to consider:

1. The abortion rate has declined faster under Democrat Presidents than Republican Presidents. Currently under the Obama Administration abortion has declined 14% (19.7 to 17 per 1000 women). Under President Clinton’s administration the abortion rate fell almost 20% (25 to 20.5). Abortion Rates in the USThis is partly due to the abortion rate having a strong tie to the economy. Somewhat unknown and undiscussed, 25-30% of abortions are among married couples. When finances are tight, children become a liability. With the U.S. economy making significant progress under both Clinton and Obama, the abortion rate responded accordingly.

2. Access to healthcare drives down the abortion rate. When Governor Romney passed the Massachusetts healthcare bill a positive correlation was discovered. Harvard published a study which concluded that greater accessibility to doctors resulted in higher efficacy of birth control. The state-wide abortion rate fell 6% in the years following Romney’s expansive healthcare legislation. With 10 million additional Americans now covered under Obamacare and an additional 10 million by 2016, the impact to the abortion rate should be easy to measure.

3. Republicans use abortion as a campaign tool, but do not introduce legislation. When Republicans had control of the White House, Senate, House, most Governorships, and the Supreme Court from 2002-2006 the only legislation passed was a late term abortion ban carrying strong bipartisan support. Republicans also tried to pass a federal traditional marriage amendment which couldn't even garner universal support from their own party members. Republicans currently have full control of the House and yet no additional abortion legislation has been brought to the floor. Such inaction begs the question how Republicans actually prioritize this issue.

4. Roe vs. Wade has not been challenged by Republicans. The argument has been made that resolving abortion rests with the courts. Since the passage of Roe vs Wade, very little judicial activism has transpired even though the Court has sustained a majority of conservative judges. If Republicans can push Obamacare to the High Court within two years, why haven’t they pushed abortion challenges through the system.

5. The only abortion legislation signed by President Obama RESTRICTED abortion. Known as the Stupak compromise, a Michigan Democrat worked with President Obama to ensure Affordable Care Act funding would not be used for abortions. Upon passage of the law, President Obama followed through by signing an executive order which banned any public funding to be used for abortion. Even Ronald Reagan, Republican’s conservative icon, signed California’s "Therapeutic Abortion Act" making access to abortion possible for millions of women.

6. Republicans ignore the consequences of banning abortion. Even with a lawful ban, individuals with means will always be able to find doctors who will perform the procedure. A disproportionate number of lower income mothers and fathers will not have such resources, and responsibility for their children will be abandoned. The burden will then be transferred to the state, which will require resources and funding. Given the recent push of Republicans to cut food stamps, half of which benefit children, it’s not unreasonable to assume the party will punt the consequences. Adoption as a universal solution is also unrealistic given demographics, cost, and demand.

I am sure this outspoken Bishop feels he has the right to express his opinion on such complicated matters, and I agree. However, by stereotyping Democrats in his congregation he crosses a very fine line as a leader of our faith and a perceived spokesperson for the church. Instead of ridiculing what he feels is a conflicting position; he might be better served to look at the broader picture. Through their support of expanding healthcare, education, and economic reform, Democrats have proven more effective reducing the rate of abortions. Democrats also have a track record of supporting resources to care for unwanted children, which will be a significant issue if Roe v. Wade is ever overturned. Waiving the moral flag is good for political theater, but if this bishop really cared about reducing abortions, he might consider voting Democrat.


For those of you who are regular readers of this blog, you know our organization’s stated purpose is, “To foster data-based discussion around current issues while driving awareness for the progressive Mormon community…In essence, our content should not only educate fellow members of the LDS community, but appeal to persons of all political persuasions across our readership. Our articles bring a different point of view by re-framing the issues and driving constructive debate.”

We take quite literally the Church’s stated mission “to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, not to elect politicians.” We also take solace that the church has publically declared “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is neutral in matters of party politics. This applies in all of the many nations in which it is established.”  The Bishop’s handbook, one of the Church’s governing documents, provides specific direction in political matters:

(1) "While affirming the right of expression on political and social issues, the Church is neutral regarding political parties, political platforms, and candidates for political office. The Church does not endorse any political party or candidate. Nor does it advise members how to vote."

(2) "Only the First Presidency can speak for the Church or commit the Church to support or oppose specific legislation or to seek to intervene in judicial matters. Otherwise, stake presidents and other local leaders should not organize members to participate in political matters or attempt to influence how they participate."

(3) "Church leaders and members should also avoid statements or conduct that might be interpreted as Church endorsement of any political party, platform, policy, or candidate."

Also, the Church’s official position on abortion is the following, “The Church has not favored or opposed legislative proposals or public demonstrations concerning abortion."

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