When I originally wrote the piece “Confronting the Myth of LGBT and LDS Dems” for the LDS Dems blog, I quoted a comment that I felt summed up the two core reasons many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints feel there is an impasse between being an active, faithful member of the Church, and in supporting the Democratic party or, more broadly, progressive ideals. Again, here is the quote:
“The [Democratic] party supports gay marriage and abortion on demand. The LDS church supports neither. These are not small or trivial things. Things like education, the environment, immigration, and helping the poor, are small things. As long as the [Democratic] party supports views contrary to the [Church’s] and these huge issues you can’t be a good Mormon and a good [D]emocrat.”
As I said before, this is a simple, if not erroneously condensed, explanation of the two big issues many of us may have come across time and time again. Nevertheless, I feel like it’s important to discuss how a member of the Church can support a party or ideology that supports abortion rights.
The Church’s position on abortion is clear: “Human life is a sacred gift from God. Elective abortion for personal or social convenience is contrary to the will and the commandments of God. Church members who submit to, perform, encourage, pay for, or arrange for such abortions may lose their membership in the Church.” However, the Church indicates there are instances where, after much, thought, consideration, consultation and prayer, abortion may be permissible, namely when the pregnancy puts the health and life of the mother at risk, when the pregnancy is the result of a rape or incest, or if it is determined that the child will have severe defects that will not allow the baby to live beyond birth. On these issues, Elder Russell M. Nelson went into great explanatory detail in 2006. Additionally, it should be noted that the Church does not equate abortion with murder. Again, from Elder Nelson, “So far as is known, the Lord does not regard this transgression as murder. And ‘as far as has been revealed, a person may repent and be forgiven for the sin of abortion.’” As a husband, father, and active member of the Church, I would feel remiss if I didn’t indicate that I agree with these positions.
Regardless of how an individual or group feels about abortion, however, laws to curb the practice will not necessarily prevent abortions. Per Democrats.com, “Legally, laws prohibiting abortion have never stopped abortion, either in the U.S. or abroad. Instead, they foster underground abortions which are unsafe and even life-threatening, thus harming women and their families. They also send doctors, lay abortion providers, and even women to jail at great cost to society.”
The Democratic Party is a big-tent party that unites members from various backgrounds with numerous ideals. As such, it’s not uncommon to find Party members who identify as pro-life, like Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. So how is it that members of the Church, like Senator Reid, can actively participate in the Church and support progressive policies?
Overall, the Democratic Party has a better handle on other issues that help prevent unwanted pregnancies, including, as outlined in the Party’s 2012 platform, the recognition “that health care and education help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and thereby also reduce the need for abortions.”
Back in 2012, the Utah State Legislature considered HB363, a bill that would allow school districts to drop sex education entirely, or require them to teach abstinence-only education. Abstinence-only education was also a policy of the Bush administration; however, a 2007 national study authorized by Congress found that abstinence-only sex education does not prevent teenagers from engaging in sexual activity, nor does it increase or decrease the possibility that they will use protection should they be sexually active.
Democrats for Life of America, a pro-life wing of the Democratic Party, said that “abortion is not the only issue with pro-life implications”. Democrats generally support more inclusive sex education, and access to contraceptives and birth control methods that help prevent unwanted pregnancies. Recall that the Affordable Care Act famously faced legal challenges over the issue of contraception coverage.
In 2011, on the anniversary of Roe v Wade, President Obama said:
“Today marks the 38th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that protects women’s health and reproductive freedom, and affirms a fundamental principle: that government should not intrude on private family matters. I am committed to protecting this constitutional right. I also remain committed to policies, initiatives, and programs that help prevent unintended pregnancies, support pregnant women and mothers, encourage healthy relationships, and promote adoption.” (Emphasis mine.)
This echoes what then-Senator Obama said at the Saddleback Presidential Candidate Forum in 2008:
"What I can do is say, are there ways that we can work together to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies, so that we actually are reducing the sense that women are seeking out abortions. And as an example of that, one of the things that I've talked about is how do we provide the resources that allow women to make the choice to keep a child. Have we given them the health care that they need? Have we given them the support services that they need? Have we given them the options of adoption that are necessary? That can make a genuine difference."
Members of the Church can support the Democratic Party and progressive causes for this very reason: their concerns and beliefs go beyond the single issue of abortion. Additionally, while the Democratic Party and progressive groups in general do support the right to abortion, they also support reducing abortions through policies, initiatives and programs that help prevent unwanted pregnancies, better sex education, and access to contraceptives. Additionally, we also strongly support and promote adoption. These programs and policies in action do more to prevent abortion than abstinence-only sex education, limiting access to contraception, and making abortion illegal.