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Romney: A Good Mormon on Abortion?

I haven't seen very many articles exploring the consistency of Romney's positions with official LDS positions on controversial matters. Given the scrutiny that the Catholic vice-presidential candidates have received for the conformity or lack of conformity of their positions with church teaching, I find that to be remarkable.So thanks to the Google, I locatedthe official Mormon position on abortion on the LDS website.1. It prohibits elective abortion for personal or social convenience:2. It goes on to say that:

Church leaders have said that some exceptional circumstances may justify an abortion, such as when pregnancy is the result of incest or rape, when the life or health of the mother is judged by competent medical authority to be in serious jeopardy, or when the fetus is known by competent medical authority to have severe defects that will not allow the baby to survive beyond birth. But even these circumstances do not automatically justify an abortion. Those who face such circumstances should consider abortion only after consulting with their local Church leaders and receiving a confirmation through earnest prayer.Note that this is the LDS moral position on abortion; it does not automatically translate into a restrictive legal position. To me, it resonates with Roe v. Wade's language, which framed abortion as a medical decision of a woman together with her doctor.So, in terms of Romney's shifts, it appears that his more moderate position actually accords better with the official teaching of his faith than does the more restrictive position.I am not an expert in LDS teaching--anyone with more expertise care to place this in a bigger context?  

About the Author

Cathleen Kaveny is the Darald and Juliet Libby Professor in the Theology Department and Law School at Boston College.



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It would be so much easier if all the dtCommonweal contributors just all collectively endorsed President Obama. Wow! What an echo chamber in here. I never/rarely read First Things' blog because of that. I had hoped differently for dotCommonweal. Is there not one contributor here who will buck the trend?

Helpful.. it seems like he had some conversation about that when he was pastor (or "bishop" -- I assume that title is only for a time peiod or related toa congregationor district when one functions in a particular role????) He nevertheless has been all over the board and Ann Romney's remarks were particulary unhelpful.The question by Martha Raddatz was not helpful either, I think. Would have preferred the broader question about how your faith informs your life if she wanted to go there.

Mr. Andreass, I'm not sure I understand your point. Why, precisely, is it irrelevant what the LDS church actually teaches on abortion, given the fact that an LDS presidential candidate graces our presence, and there has been significant ambiguity about his actual position on the issue?

My point is obviously broader that your post. And please know I enjoy IMMENSELY your contributions here and have used/"stolen" lots of your ideas and interpretations of things for my homilies and classes. So I mean no disrespect to you whatsoever. However, as someone who is not a contributor (and also hopelessly moderate on political issues) I am just very frustrated with the flow of entries on the blog here with nary a one critical of the President, his campaign or his positions. If you think I should not have posted my comment here, I understand and will respect your decision to take it down. I did not mean to highjack your post here

To Anthony Andreass: Are you suggesting that there could be more to theological and political debate than the left shelling the right, and vice versa? Do you mean that these left/right drag-out fights are pointless and un-winnable by either side? Do you mean to say that such clashes are a relic of a former era called modernism? Are you suggesting that there is a better way? Are these threads, along with the Catholic League, and the two NCRs reminding you of Archbishop Ruggieri and Count Ugolino, torturing each other for all eternity?

Yes, mr. pinter, in some ways, yes. but my larger point, again, is the echo chamber. imagine if there were contributors on dotcommonweal who thoughtfully and generously raised issues with the Obama campaign so as to enter into a friendly dialogue. I read this blog very regularly but maybe I have missed these entries

Look, as far as I am aware, no on on this blog has examined Mormon positions on anything, let alone abortion. In contrast, we have parsed, sliced, diced, and freeze-framed Catholic positions on everything. That's wrong headed. NoCatholic is going to be president this time around--and no vice president's position on abortion will have any effect whatsoever on abortion, or likely anything else.We have the first Mormon candidate for president. So why have we not examined Mormon teaching on key issues of public policy and morality? Is it because we don't think that the teaching body has any authority over its members--that's foolish. Is it because we think that only Catholic opinions count--that's myopic. So I think it's worth exploring Mormon positions on social morality and that's what I intend to do.I don't intend to moderate a thread about how terrible the blog is. If you know something about Mormonism and abortion (I only know what there official position is, and I was quite surprised to read it), speak up.

Loud and clear, Professor Kaveny. I am sorry that I dared to raise another point on your entry. Let no man or woman stand in the way of what you intend to do

maybe in the eschaton?

Yes--this lack has bugged me.On one hand, Romney's religion has been put at the forefront of things, but pretty much just on the basis of the question of how voters will respond to a Mormon running for president, where what being a Mormon might mean is of less interest than what voters think being a Mormon means. Now, that's obviously a critical question, but since it doesn't actually address what the deeper significance of how being Mormon will inform Romney qua being president, it's almost as if Romney's actual beliefs have bee bracketed. To that extent, he's actually kind of like Obama, where personal religiosity is overlooked in favor of the question of how Obama is positioned with respect to any variety of familiar religious groups or issues. There are probably a lot of reasons for why it's played out like this: people are ignorant of Mormon ideas and positions, Romney has not been forthcoming about his faith, people are well used to Romney being fluid in the stances he takes on issues, etc. The thing is, unlike--dare I say it--Obama, Romney's religion clearly has been integral to his life--so the lacunae in coverage is stranger. I wonder if that isn't why there have been so many arguments to and fro over how well Ryan's positions jive with Catholicism (reading this blog and others like it, one might get the sense that Obama was running against Ryan). It's as if Romney's being "other" almost makes him a de facto "none" in terms of religion, so Ryan gets more attention simply because people are more familiar with the script the polemics will follow.

Over at SLATE MAGAZINE online, William Saletan has examined Mitt Romney's shifts on abortion in detail. However, I do not recall seeing Saletan discuss the official Mormon position regarding abortion. So I am happy to see Cathleen Kaveny explore this topic here.

Valuable contribution. For many fortnights, we have heard from numerous sources "the" Catholic view -- official and sensus of various fidelium -- including mandatory and optional applications to specific intrinsic evils and prudential judgments. Room for discussion evidently remains. Given what Saletan (Thanks, Thomas F.) refers to as the "the malleability at Romneys core", better public information about him and Mormon teaching might have limited predictive value if Romney were to be elected. Nevertheless, it's important to try as Cathleen does. Another topic on which it would be interesting to hear about Mormon teachings and Romney would be just war and its complicated modern offshoots, considered beyond the hotspots of today's headlines.

It might be useful to understand that there are two major (and several minor) sub-sects of Mormonism. Romney belongs to the mainline one, and the some Web sites that outline their teaching on abortion note that Mormons are on the "liberal" end of the pro-life position because they do hold it morally neutral in some cases. Moreover, because Mormons see family size and birth control as a very personal matter between husband and wife, they may be much more tolerant of laws that allow abortion than others who consider themselves pro-choice. I think that explains Romney's formerly "pro-choice" stance.I think he's adapted his views to better reflect the GOP platform.

Those who face such circumstances should consider abortion only after consulting with their local Church leaders and receiving a confirmation through earnest prayer.Not that I know anything about it, but this remark from the policy changes my ideas about Romney. It is not that he lacks a core conviction, but that he believes all convictions are subject to confirmation in prayer. Yes he rejects abortion, and so is pro life, but more fundamentally he is pro-choice, as choice is governed by one's relationship with the only absolute, God.This attitude is different from what we expect. We have a more hierarchical view, with absolute principles at the base of our opinions. Romney may have a more contingent concept on holding an opinion.So, contra earlier comments, I see this as a profoundly pro Romney post, seeking to grapple with how he makes decisions and takes a stand on an issue. Insight, not criticism, is what is sought.

Katheen Kaveny, thanks for dealing with our troll up there. As a priest in the Intermountain West, I have spent most of my life studying Mormonism. I have written on the subject and am working on the revision of a book that has been a best-seller for thirty years. That established, I can say that Mormons tend to follow prevailing law on the subject of abortion. They are against it, but, as the Mormon statement said up there, they find reasons to justify an abortion if the person involved has had a prayerful discussion with church authorities which, I assume, means the bishop of the local ward. Although the fact that the article above used the word "authorities," it might mean that the bishop will kick the discussion to a higher level. If that happens, it is kept very secret. But anyway, while Mormons oppose abortion, they are not nearly as black and white on the subject as Catcholics.

Woops! I misread the statement and should have paid attention to the post by Jim McK. "Those who face suce circumstances should consider abortion only after consulting with their local Church leaders.... By using the word "leader", this means a consultation with the bishop of the person's ward (very small parish) who is somebody chosen out of the ranks to lead the ward for a certain period of time. Usually, he has not received any formal theological, spiritual, or psychological training. The man is a well meaning amateur. Mormons respect his authority because he receives guidance from the Spirit. If the word "authorities" had been used, it would have meant leaders higher up the ladder. Local church leaders would also include the stake presidents, who are next up the chain.

One of the reasons the LDS Church is less black and white on the issue of abortion is because it has not taken an official stand on the moment at which life begins - at least at which something like "ensoulment" begins. Brigham Young took the position that it was when the infant took its own first independent breath, I belief. A Mormon scholar, Donna Lee Bown, who is a comparative political scientist with specialties in the middle east has written an article comparing Islam and Mormonism on the issue of abortion. It has a good synopsis of the official LDS positions. It can be downloaded at

Thanks, Cathleen, for doing some research about what my Church teaches before speaking. Our Church does allow abortion in some circumstances, which I think is different than the Catholic Church, which forbids it in all cases. However, our Church doesn't think it is a decision to be made only by the woman and her doctor--we want women who are contemplating abortion to discuss it with their bishop and get confirmation in prayer before proceeding.

It is interesting that the pro-life advocates who are upset with Romney because of his position on abortion are critical of him for taking a position consistent with his own religious beliefs. Those who consider the only acceptable pro-life position to be based on the idea that human personhood begins at conception, rendering any abortion the equivalent of murder, apparently wouldif they couldpass laws to criminalize abortions that Mormons, Jews, and members of other religions would not object to. Consequently, if Catholic pro-lifers and others who insist personhood begins at conception were successful in banning all abortions, they would be condemning Mormon and Jewish women with life-threatening pregnancies to possibly die rather than follow their own religious beliefs.

Thoms J. --This is a bit off topic, but when you say "get confirmation in prayer", what does that mean? What sort of praying do Mormons do? Do you have special methods or what? (Catholics do different sorts of praying.)

So, in terms of Romneys shifts (sic), it appears that his more moderate position actually accords better with the official teaching of his faith than does the more restrictive position.I am surprised a pro-life Catholic would use these descriptors. It seems to me a pro-life Catholic would instead say In terms of Romneys shift, it appears his more pro-choice position actually accords better with the official teaching of his faith than does the more pro-life position.It also seems to me a pro-life Catholic would be pleased that, within the Mormon faiths gradations on the abortion issue, Romney would now be leaning more toward the pro-life position. Instead, it seems as if its being brought up here as a point against him.I guess things are not always as they seem.

Mark Proska,Whether you are a pro-life Catholic or not, being against all abortions including those to save the life of the mother is an extreme position in American politics. I think it is arrogant to define "pro-life" to mean "opposed to abortion in all cases, including abortions to save the life of the mother."

"But anyway, while Mormons oppose abortion, they are not nearly as black and white on the subject as Catcholics."As SOME Catholics.

David NickolIm afraid I have no idea how your comment is responsive to mine, assuming it was meant to be responsive.

David Nickol (10/20 1:43pm) -- The precise point you make happened to be addressed with concern at a local synagogue on Friday in a tutorial on abortion. The rabbi described the serious intrusion on Jewish believers if current efforts to impose the view of Catholic pro-lifers and others who claim personhood begins at conception were to prevail in US laws. (A Catholic veteran of decades of weekly pro-life activity had been invited to attend. She returned unswayed in her dedication but notably more aware of the potential impact on neighbors from some Catholic pro-life religious/political/legislative proposals.) Abp. Lori in his recent comprehensive homily on life and liberty under attack from secularism spoke eloquently of the right to liberty, invoking God, the First Amendment, and even a carefully selected quote from Thomas Jefferson. He seemed not to recognize the rights of each individual to both freedom _from_ religion and freedom of religion, which underly the point you make about Jews, Mormons, and others.

Roman Catholic anti-abortion zealots are religious fanatics. As a result, it is not surprising that they do not consider "the rights of each individual to both freedom from religion and freedom of religion," as Jack Barry @1:27 pm points out. Moreover their religious zealotry is bolstered by ridiculous claims regarding the so-called "natural law" as understood in Roman Catholic tradition of thought.

Thomas That you decided to place freedom from religion ahead of freedom of religion is interesting. In any case, from the standpoint of Catholicism, a Mormon is probably not that much more incorrect than a Methodist or a Presbyterian. As someone already pointed out, neither presidential candidate is Catholic. Frankly I think it will be a long, long time before we have another Catholic president.

Ken -- I put it first because the U.S. Constitution is written that way. See the First Amendment.

Ken, The CDF ruled a few years ago that Mormon baptism, despite using the proper formula, is not comparable to Christian baptism, because they mean something different by Father, Son and Holy Spirit. So Mormons ARE more incorrect than Methodists and Presbyterians.

For reference, the First Amendment is written this way:"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."No need to thank me Jack - I am glad to help!:-)

Jim, Maybe we should be asking if the Mormon church is more incorrect than the Trinity United Church of Christ, which of course Pastor Jeremiah Wright has made so famous recently.

Regarding your comment David (to Mark); "Whether you are a pro-life Catholic or not . . ."For your reference; there is no such thing as a Catholic who is not pro-life. To put it another way; a person cannot be Catholic without being pro-life.

Thanks, Ken -- Your earlier interest was apparently in sequence, not content. Reading the exact words of the First Amendment of the US Constitution which you quote shows that, the way it is written, the Establishment Clause (freedom from ) comes first, followed by the Exercise Clause (freedom to ). The Founding Fathers chose that after much debate. A short summary of other ways it might have been written, considered in the summer of 1789, is at One piece of insight on why the very first of the freedoms identified was meant to protect us individual citizens from imposition of religion is available at Wikipedia -- "Thomas Jefferson and religion", with many references identified. Note especially section "7 Anti-clericalism, ". It helps explain why so few, carefully limited mentions of Jefferson are noticeable in a public debate over U.S. freedom of religion this year.

Ken,Sounds like a great idea. From a Catholic perspective, as expressed by the CDF, Jeremiah Wright's congregation is made up of Christians, while Mormon congregations are not.Hmm. I guess that mean Obama is a Christian, Romney is not. From an official Catholic perspective, of course. Interesting.

Jack - the Establishment Clause is not "freedom from" religion, thats not the way it is written; you are paraphrasing. There is nothing wrong with paraphrasing, as long as you note it, and as long as one is not trying via paraphrase to change the meaning of the original. The establishment clause simply means the USA will not have a State religion, like England and the European nations did in those days (some still do).In any case, I do not see why you and so many, are so interested in, so keen on, being freed from religion in the first place. People who do not believe in religion, do not believe in nothing - everyone believes in something. Nobody can just wander around the world for their whole life without some sort of a creed.Like Lincoln said (paraphrasing) "If you don't believe in something, you will fall for anything"

Hi KenI think you are splitting hairs. Forbidding the establishment of a religion is precisely the same thing as freedom from religion. And paraphrasing simply means saying the same thing, using different words. The King James Bible and the Catholic Bible both paraphrase the original Hebrew and Greek, to make the original wording more understandable to contemporary readers.Larry Weisenthal/Huntington Beach CA

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