Lisa is the founder of the blog www.feministmormonhousewives.org. She recently blogged about how as a Mormon, she found herself embracing the term feminist and pro-life. She outlines her reasons for why.
When I was in my early teens I found out my neighbors had a dark secret.
They were Democrats. Obviously, my first question to their daughter (who is a few years older than me, and whom I greatly admired because she is both kind and beautiful) was . . . “So you believe in abortions? Don’t you care about the babies!”
She responded “it isn’t that simple”, gave me a look that made me feel shame deep in my bones, and went to talk to someone less ignorant and self-righteous. Go figure.
(And as Karma would have it, I get this response [though often worded more delicately] on a pretty regular basis. And really it isn’t something I feel I can respond to in a sound bite. )
Shortly after this dark discovery, when I asked my mother about the Jones’ being (whisper) “Democrats”, and how could they! She told me this story:
When she was pregnant with her third child she really felt that she could feel the spirits of her children, each of them somehow felt distinctly different. She could sense them as people far before they entered the world.
And she was agonizing over the issue of abortion (though she didn’t tell me why, more on that later), wondering what would happen to all those spirits whose lives were cut short, wondering about the women who took that step, could they ever be forgiven? She said it was just eating away at her peace of mind, and so she prayed and prayed. And she received a very strong answer, “Be still and know that I am God”.
She didn’t feel like she knew any more, but she was filled with peace that God was a God of Justice, and a God of Mercy, and that the babies would be okay, it wasn’t her place to judge the mothers.
And from that story I think I built a kind of rough gist of a (personal) Mormon doctrine of abortion, basically, that pre-mortal souls would get another chance to come to Earth. Now my mom still labels herself as strongly Pro-Life, and so did I back then, in fact, it was abortion that was one of my big sticking points as I made my awkward transition from a conservative orthodox to a liberal heterodox kinda gal. As I was deciding if I should label myself a feminist or not . . . abortion really was the issue that weighed on me more than any other.
I was starting to understand how important it is for women to have control over our own bodies. I felt great pain and sympathy for women who found themselves in impossible situations and chose abortion. I’d read about the horrible pre-Roe days when hospitals had whole wards for botched abortions where women died in droves. I knew all that, but I just couldn’t get over the babies! The poor innocent babies.
I never could convince myself that I could just switch sides, call it a fetus, forget about the moral ambiguity of the whole situation. I never could find again the comfortable moral certainty of willful ignorance. It took me a really long time to realize that I didn’t have to.
One of my first steps along that path was rooted in the Church’s own public stance on abortion, namely where it states in the handbook that in the case of rape and incest, abortion is considered a viable alternative. Surely abortion could not be “murder” if there are instances when the Church itself says it is a viable (if probably regrettable) alternative. Because the church would never (I hope) say that a mother could murder her two-year-old child, not even if the child had been conceived during rape or incest. It seemed clear to me that there was, there had to be, a material difference between abortion and killing a living child.
And then there was the huge nine-month gray area of pregnancy itself. I had had a hard time believing (in the black and white mindset) that every time a sperm and an egg meet up, that fertilized egg is morally equivalent to a fully formed infant. Just for starters, six cells in a petri dish doesn’t look like a baby. If I ran into a burning building and had to pick between saving six-cells-in-a-petri-dish or a baby, I’d pick the baby, every time. And even if given the ideal environment to grow into a baby, over half of fertilized eggs simply never could become a baby, too many mistakes in the chromosomes.
But neither can I say I think a fertilized egg, or a zygote, or a fetus, is a meaningless glob of cells. At the very least it is potential life, and something deep in my bones says that is sacred and special and not to be dealt with lightly. Plus there are all those cute little ultrasound pictures with tiny toes and itty bitty penises and precious thumb sucking.
And it seems to me that most logical people, regardless of their specific beliefs about the sacredness of human life, or the point at which “potential human life” becomes “a person” with legal and moral rights of her own, that while there is no magic line that everyone can agree upon when that transition occurs, most of us will still agree that there is a huge moral difference between three weeks and thirty weeks.
And there just is no easy answer, not anywhere, to these dilemmas. So since the ambiguous morality of the whole situation didn’t seem to help me at all, how does one label such jumble of contradictory feelings? I guess I’ve taken a more pragmatic approach.
In the end, I knew I had to label myself as a feminist, because I just cared too much about women’s issues to be all wishy-washy with the title. I know that some people have bought into the backlash of the 80s and 90s with all the negative man-hating/wanna-be-a-man connotations of the word, but I have some of the same problem with labeling myself Mormon, lots of baggage with that label as well.
And in the end, I decided to accept the label Pro-choice as well. Not because I love abortions, I find them deeply disturbing in fact, but only because I can’t think of any practical advantages to making abortion illegal. I don’t want to return to the bad-ol’-days of hospital wards filled with dying girls. And in strictly practical terms, making abortions illegal does very little to reduce the number of abortions, all it does is make them more dangerous to procure. So it seems to me more logical to focus on things that actually do reduce abortions . . . sex education, easy access to birth control, and financial/physical security for mothers. All, issues deeply important to the feminist cause.
It was not long ago that I found out the reason my mother was agonizing over the issue of abortion when she was pregnant with her third child, after all, it was the 1950s, and my mother was a financially secure, happily married Mormon woman, it wasn’t like she was in a situation where it made a huge difference in her own life.
But . . . it turns out it was personal, deeply personal. My mother’s mother had found herself in rather desperate straights, a young mother with two small children, divorced from jerk, and pregnant, far away from family in the middle of the Great Depression. She was a deeply devout Mormon woman, but she had an abortion. An illegal abortion. She went on to remarry, and have two more children (my mother and my dear aunt) and live a happy but tragically short life.
My mother was only 13 years old when her mother died. Mom never had a chance to talk to her about that choice, or to know her own mother as an adult. And when my mother faced having her own third child in radically different circumstances, she was heart sick that she would not see her mother again in the next life, that a sin so great would keep them apart. And when she went to the Lord, desperate to be reassured that she would still have that connection to the mother she lost so young, the answer was crystal clear, “Be still and know that I am God.”
What has been your experience in thinking about the morality/legality of abortion? What are ways that you can or are in involved in efforts to prevent abortions from taking place and serving women in need?