Friday, November 23, 2007

Thinking about Romney and abortion

I’m a bit of a political junky, so I have been following presidential primary politics for a while now. With my Mormon background, it’s hard not to pay just a little extra attention to what the talking heads have to say about Romney. Recently on hearing yet again about Romney’s flip flop on abortion, I started thinking about the Mormon position on abortion (or at least the position as I knew it back in the eighties). Mormons are definitely anti-abortion, but not in quite the way most conservative Christians are. I think the wobbly nature of Romney’s discourse on abortion may well have roots in the Mormon position.

The Mormon position allows for abortion in the case of rape and grave danger to the health of the mother. For conservative Christians abortion is murder of an innocent child. The child dies without baptism, without faith. Thus the abortion means the loss of both the mother, who murders, and the child, who dies without the benefits of Christ’s saving grace.

I suspect the ambiguity of the Mormon position--with its allowance for justified abortion--begins in the Mormon notion of the soul. For Mormons, the soul is eternal. It has a life before its mortal existence, comes to earth to take a body, and lives on after mortal death. For traditional Christians, the soul begins with life. So the child aborted in the womb has only that brief existence. For Mormons an eternal soul enters an earthly body. When is not exactly clear. But no tragedy for the aborted child in the Mormon version of the story. If the child’s soul has not yet entered the body, then that soul will be allotted another body. If the child’s soul has entered, then that child has obtained its necessary body and will be exalted in the highest Mormon heaven with all of the innocent children who die before eight, the age of accountability and baptism.

In other words, the abortion is no tragedy for the child in the Mormon version of the story. It forecloses little in the eternal view of what matters. In the traditional Christian version, it is a tragedy, in many versions foreclosing salvation for that child. In the Mormon story, it is the woman who suffers and is judged, not the child. She is the one who must justify her decision before her God. Abortion is a terrible event, but the official position of her church signals a measured and merciful view to the horror and pain women may face.

So on this matter I am inclined to allow Romney’s wavering views on the extent of a woman’s right to choose--he is finding his way along a spectrum that is part of the larger conversation about abortion among Mormons. The dominant note in that conversation is definitely pro-life--most Mormons in the twenty-first century are proud conservatives. But the Mormon God through his church’s leaders has allowed for a terrible choice.

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