Hillary Clinton just talked about abortion rights at a Catholic college
…and you, a Mormon woman, should care.
Picture, if you will, a small liberal arts college on the top of a New Hampshire hill. It is every bit as darling as such a college should be: ivy turning from deep green to brilliant red on the side of elaborately built red brick buildings, the blue sky with puffy white clouds, the air crisp and sweet.
Here and there in the audience are a few befrocked priests, indistinguishable from other men in the crowd until you look at their feet and realize, It’s a man wearing a dress, which you quickly update to priest even though you suspect that in New Hampshire, anything is possible. Live free or die, indeed.
Hillary Clinton, fifteen days before the election and ahead by at least five points depending on which poll you believe, is speaking about abortion rights.
“If you believe that women should be treated with dignity and respect, and that women should be trusted to make their own decisions about their health care,” she says, “then you have to vote. All of these issues are on the ballot this November.” The crowd cheers. No one–not one of the priests, not one of the students hanging out of upper-story windows to hear and see her better, not the press photographer whose tie boasts row upon row of tiny gray elephants–boos or curses her.
So why, dear Mormon reader, should you care? The heart of Mormonism is thousands of miles from this windy northeastern campus. There are probably few, if any, LDS families in the crowd. If you are like most of us, you have already decided who will get your vote on November 8th; if you’re lucky enough to live in one of the states that allows early voting or voting by mail, you have already made your selection. Abortion rights are the furthest thing from your mind, and your initial reaction to the phrase “abortion rights” is an impression of blood, selfishness, life snuffed out before it had a chance to live. You are feeling uncomfortable.
There are two reasons you should care, and care greatly. First, and most important, is something that we as bloggers and the internet as a whole have been discussing a lot over the past few days. Thanks to another candidate’s overblown, needlessly graphic, and typically ill-informed depiction of abortion in the last debate, many women who have undergone the tragedy of “missed” miscarriages, stillbirth, or learning that their child’s life would be too short and too painful to bear have come forward to tell their stories. These are the extremes, the 1 percent of abortions which are performed after 24 weeks of pregnancy, the stories that no one wants to hear, the ironic few cases of desperately wanted and joyfully anticipated pregnancies turned into living nightmares. If you’ve read the stories, you are appalled; you have likely cried over them. We have cried over them too, have remembered the losses we’ve experienced, have been struck by the sheer humanity and overwhelming feeling of them. And we’ve said to each other, No one should have to go through that. No one should have to feel like a murderer on top of an already inconceivable tragedy. The parents should be able to make their decisions by themselves, advised by their doctors and God and their own religious leaders. The alternative is simply unthinkable.
We should care because we are decent people. We believe in love, and forgiveness, and in a savior who steps in to bear our burdens when our frail human bodies would collapse under their weight. We should care because we would never put someone else through the agony we’ve read about this week. We should care because we are Mormon, and our doctrine not only allows for the permanent banishment of our sins but also mandates that we respect each person’s agency. We should care because among Christians, our views on the subject are liberal and kind: of course no girl or woman should have to carry a pregnancy to term if it was the result of a rape or incest; of course we should be able to make our own decisions about a pregnancy that if continued would harm the mother or cause the child to suffer needlessly.
The second reason you should care about this singular New Hampshire moment is that it was without rancor. Certainly there were many people in that audience who disagreed with Secretary Clinton about a woman’s right to an abortion–this was a Catholic college, and Catholic colleges and universities have been at the head of a hotly-debated religious freedom claim that would exempt them from having to cover contraception in their insurance plans, workaround or no workaround. (The Supreme Court sent the issue back to lower courts in a May ruling.) Saint Anselm College covers contraceptives for its employees, but as a campus spokeswoman told the New Hampshire Union Leader back in 2012, “We comply with the law, but it’s not because we like it.”
Can you imagine, in your wildest dreams, such a scene playing out in the context of one of our Church-owned or Church-affiliated (I’m looking at you, Southern Virginia University) schools? It’s nearly impossible. The Church’s current rhetoric on religious freedom–i.e., that any religiously-affiliated organization should be completely free to decide its policies without government oversight–would never allow for the possibility that a political candidate even utter the words on its property. And yet, there is nothing in our doctrine that prohibits the use of contraceptives (though there have been plenty of instances of the Church failing to cover their use through its various insurance plans).
We should care about this day, about Hillary Clinton’s declaration, and about the fact that it was voiced on a religious campus, because it is one of the places where our public lives and our religious lives overlap, not only in subject (goodness knows we have enough of those!) but also in ideal: at our religious core and in our sense of national justice (and especially so in the United States), God grants us and we claim the right to listen to a range of ideas and to decide for ourselves which we will follow.
Overwhelmingly, it is the deeply moral women of America who are deciding this election–women who refuse to stomach the callous misogyny so evident in other parts of this campaign, women who are tired of hearing men skip over women’s concerns in their policies and their rhetoric, mothers who worry not just about their own children but also everyone else’s, women who are quite certain we’d never have an abortion but who empathize with the women who need one. We are showing up: intelligent, educated women who follow politics and are truly scared that the male politicians who obsess over our bodies and reproductive systems don’t trust us with decisions about anything that truly matters. We’re here, some of us because we’ve always wanted to be here, others reluctantly, because we recognize that having a female president matters on a level that we can’t even express. We know the authority of men leading our religious meetings and acting as keynote speakers in even our women’s meetings; we know that a woman leader represents us in a concrete way and that women leaders matter.
We care. And we vote.