Originally published March 11, 2017.
In honor of International Women’s Day this past week I want to respond to an article published in Teen Vogue‘s February issue. “What to Get a Friend Post-Abortion” horrified me for many reasons. But beyond facing the possible reality that enough teenage girls are getting abortions to make this article relevant, I was most horrified by the subtextual lies this article propagates in the name of “girl power.” Autumn Lindsey spoke out powerfully against this article when it was first published; you can watch her video here. I add my voice to the many cries of outrage in order to offer a specifically LDS reflection on abortion, the sanctity of the human body, and the source of true girl power. But first let me air my grievances and expose the lies.
The Teen Vogue article exists as a result of several assumptions made on the part of the author and editors. First, that enough teenage girls in America are having abortions to necessitate an article dedicated to helping their friends help them. Second, that teenage girls are having recreational sex since the gifts suggested in the article are not sensitive or appropriate for girls/women who are obtaining abortions as a result of rape or other sexual violence. Third, the article assumes its readers are pro-choice and that pro-choice is the only option; this preference suggests Teen Vogue also promotes the “women can and should do whatever they want with their bodies” viewpoint. All of these assumptions mask an implied approval of recreational sex. Considering these assumptions in addition to its stated effort to make abortion less scary (and more socially acceptable), Teen Vogue actually appears to be promoting recreational sex among teens. If abortion is “no big deal” and an easy solution to unwanted pregnancy, why not gratify curiosity or indulge your hormones or submit to peer pressure and engage in sexual activity whenever you want? These are the choices Teen Vogue believes young women are making (should be making?) in a pro-choice environment.
The gift recommendations in this article also concerned me tremendously. In its abortion gift-giving guide, the Teen Vogue article highlights (among others) two gifts with designs centered on a woman’s body. At the heart of their design is a destructive message for teenage girls. The F-U-terus pin and angry uterus warming pad caricature a woman’s reproductive organs as angry and worthy of hate. Their designs suggest that girls should hate their bodies, specifically their uterus. Hidden in that message is the lie that somehow their bodies have betrayed them: betrayed them by getting pregnant, betrayed them by cramping and being in pain following an abortion. The idea that the body should be hated or treated as an independent actor is evil. There is no other description more apt for the subtle attempt to convince teenage girls that they should hate their bodies, that pregnancy itself is bad, or that the girl herself is not accountable for a choice she has made. And herein occurs the death of true girl power: AGENCY. The lie that a girl’s body has somehow betrayed her by getting pregnant is actually trying to mask the reality that she made a choice. Consequences always follow choices. Latter-day Saints believe strongly in the importance of agency and standing accountable for your choices (i.e. living with the consequences). We also believe firmly in the sanctity of the human body which presents compelling arguments for choosing abstinence. I invite you to learn about LDS teachings on the body and agency and consider how they could help you live a fulfilling and happy life.
The Sanctity of the Human Body
Latter-day Saints believe that the human body is a gift from God, designed in His image and endowed with divine potential. Modern-day prophets teach that a physical body is essential to participate in saving ordinances such as baptism and to learn the lessons of mortality required for entrance into God’s kingdom.
God has organized His divine project of bringing “to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39, PoGP) within the framework of the family: “the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children…. Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity.” (“The Family: A Proclamation to the World“). Parents are responsible for teaching children God’s law, helping them navigate earth life, and preparing them to replicate the same process in their own future families. God has provided commandments and modern day prophets to help humankind (God’s family) obtain the blessings of eternal life. God has decreed that each person who has lived, lives, and ever will live on this earth will be eventually be judged based on their actions and choices during mortality (earth life). The mortal body is our key to preparation for eternal life which is why God cares so much what we do with and to our bodies and the bodies of His other children.
This is why the LDS Church has strict policies regarding abortion. True to the Faith, a mini-encyclopedia of Church doctrine, states unequivocally, “Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints must not submit to, perform, encourage, pay for, or arrange for an abortion” (“Abortion,” 4-5). When God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, which have shaped Judeo-Christian values for thousands of years, He included the prohibition, “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13, OT). Abortion is the act of killing an unborn baby. Pro-choice proponents try to hide this reality behind the guise of the “right to choose whatever you want to do with your body,” much like the Teen Vogue article which treats abortion flippantly at best. Abortion is a serious matter. Even exceptional circumstances “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 … do not automatically justify an abortion” (True to the Faith, “Abortion,” 4-5). Church members are asked to counsel with their local priesthood leaders and only make a decision after careful study and prayer.
Abortion not only violates the sixth commandment but it also robs God’s spirit children of the opportunity to live on earth and achieve their divine potential. We have a distinct responsibility to defend and care for human life at every stage of that process, especially in its initial stages of development when it cannot defend or care for itself. I don’t think we really understand just how precious human life is or just how much responsibility God has placed on us to care for His children.
Another law God has provided for the proper care and use of our bodies is the Law of Chastity. Because God cares so much about us and wants us to fulfill our purpose on earth (of returning to Him), His laws warn of spiritual and temporal (physical/earthly) dangers that could prevent us from being worthy of God’s kingdom. The Law of Chastity teaches us to keep our bodies sacred, to only share them within legal and lawful marriage and then only with our legal spouse. Margaret D. Nadauld, a woman leader in the LDS Church assigned to care for the 12-18 year old young women of the Church worldwide, taught in October 2000:
“[W]omen understand their stewardship over their bodies and treat them with dignity. They care for their bodies as they would a holy temple, for they understand the Lord’s teaching: “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16). Women who love God would never abuse or deface a temple with graffiti. Nor would they throw open the doors of that holy, dedicated edifice and invite the world to look on. How even more sacred is the body, for it was not made by man. It was formed by God. We are the stewards, the keepers of the cleanliness and purity with which it came from heaven.” (“The Joy of Womanhood.”)
God’s laws help us understand how to care for and respect our bodies and the bodies of others. We are meant to cherish our bodies, to keep them physically and spiritually clean and pure. When we choose not to follow God’s laws natural consequences follow. God does not punish us–He provides laws, He invites us to live them, He warns us of consequences for choosing not to follow the law, He tells us about the blessings available for those who keep the law. This is one of the lessons God intends for us to learn on earth, to use our agency wisely and to be accountable for any consequences, whether good or bad.
Agency: The Source of True Girl Power
Agency is the ability to choose between good or evil. Agency is our defining characteristic as eternal beings made up of an intelligence and a physical body (see my post on Identity). Individual agency existed before birth; God cannot take away a person’s agency nor will He try to. The great test of earth life is whether we will choose “liberty and eternal life, through the great mediator of all men, OR captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil” (2 Nephi 2:27, BoM; emphasis added). Men and women are equally endowed with agency. So often in society we judge people along gendered lines. But while individuals (regardless of gender) vary greatly in their relative intelligence, hobbies, interests, convictions, abilities, etc., every person on earth has agency. It cannot be quantified. Some people don’t know how to use their agency and some people suffer from conditions that impair their agency, but I feel strongly that agency is a tremendous equalizer. This is why I believe it is the source of true “girl power.” It is the only human attribute that does not discriminate between gender, race, color or creed. It is an equalizing ability and power. Embracing your agency–your ability to make decisions, to choose between options, and being accountable for those choices–is the beginning of girl power.
A young girl, a teenager, a woman who recognizes and embraces her ability to CHOOSE is powerful beyond imagination. She can shape her destiny by the choices she makes on a daily basis. Regardless of whether she lives in an open or in a restrictive society, her agency allows her to choose her attitude, her thoughts, her actions within her individual situation. She is master of at least her mind and hopefully more. I recognize with sadness that women throughout the world have varying degrees of personal freedom: some live in strict cultures, some are abused, some are refugees, some are limited by disease, some are even enslaved. But I strongly believe that no matter your situation, you can still exercise your agency. This is why it is powerful. And for those girls, teenagers, and women who have tremendous personal freedom in their societies, it is time to recognize the ways you can turn your agency, your personal power, into girl power.
Embracing agency means that we can assert our right to choose by choosing to respect our bodies. Consider the chain of events that take place in a pro-choice environment, resulting in teenage girls having abortions following recreational sex. Pro-choice touts the right of women to choose whatever they want to do with their bodies. This means that women assert the right have access to clinics and to choose abortion whenever they want. But this also implies that women get to choose to engage in recreational sex or have multiple partners. This subtextual message seeks to normalize practices and behaviors that God prohibits in scripture and through his modern prophets. God has provided specific warnings for men and women about the dangers of engaging in these practices and behaviors. What pro-choice proponents don’t tell you is that you also choose the consequences when you make such choices, whether disease, heartache, loss of self-respect, guilt, regret, and more. Pro-choice doesn’t tell you that you still need to live with the consequences, or even what those consequences will be (see “Quotes from Post-Abortive Women“). In the end, the pro-choice argument betrays you into believing that any choice is okay, that happiness comes from simply choosing whatever you want or feel like in the moment. Once you start suffering the consequences you will realize just how much the pro-choice argument has truly betrayed you. Having control over your body isn’t just having access to abortion, it’s actually taking responsibility for yourself, learning self-discipline, choosing NOT to participate in or indulge in or consume whatever thing is popular right now. Self-discipline is certainly difficult but you will be freer, you will have more choices, more options available to you on life’s path when you choose to control your body, not let it control you.
What wonderful choices are available to you young women? I will echo the many voices which celebrate the accomplishments and contributions of women to the human race. Women have played and continue to play important roles in society, the arts, sciences, and government. Women write, research, educate, understand, communicate, heal, love, serve, train, discover, compute, create. They are strong, they are compassionate, they live and by them others live. Motherhood is essential to God’s plan for His children and women have the special responsibility to be mothers. It is ennobling and it is a sacred duty. Teen Vogue would have teenage girls believe that pregnancy is bad. To create life within the bounds God has established is to become a co-creator with God. It is a crowning achievement and one of the many good things women contribute to the world.
Consider the amount of good Teen Vogue could do by instructing teenage girls on how to be truly compassionate. A very different kind of article comes to my mind in which friends are empowered to help a victim of rape or incest and who has made the difficult decision to obtain an abortion. Or perhaps an older married friend and her husband have just received the terrible news that their unborn baby will not survive past birth or that carrying the pregnancy full-term would result in the mother’s death. Such an article would respect the suffering of teenagers and women who grapple with the heart-wrenching decision to terminate a human life. While I hope my teenage daughters won’t have to deal with such weighty issues, as a mother I would be grateful for ideas from actual professionals consulted by the magazine for how we (mothers and daughters together) could care for our friends, show compassion, and lift the burdens of others. This would be true girl power in action.
Margaret D. Nadauld invited women to consider the good they can do in the world:
“The world has enough women who are tough; we need women who are tender. There are enough women who are coarse; we need women who are kind. There are enough women who are rude; we need women who are refined. We have enough women of fame and fortune; we need more women of faith. We have enough greed; we need more goodness. We have enough vanity; we need more virtue. We have enough popularity; we need more purity.” (“The Joy of Womanhood,” General Conference [October 2000].)
One of my heroes is Eliza R. Snow, a nineteenth-century Mormon woman who exemplifies girl power. She taught, “the greatest good we can do to ourselves and each other is to refine and cultivate ourselves in everything that is good and ennobling…” (qtd. in Julie B. Beck, “And Upon the Handmaids in Those Days will I Pour Out My Spirit,” General Conference [April 2010]). True “girl power” lies in developing your divine attributes and using your agency for GOOD.
Young girls, teenagers, and women, consider the ways in which you can use your agency to live a virtuous life and serve your families and communities. Honor your body by choosing to protect it from drugs and alcohol, by choosing carefully how you dress and adorn it, by keeping it sacred. Your body, as a gift from God, is your responsibility to care for in both spiritual and temporal ways. God cares about what you put in, put on, and do with your body. He provides direction in scripture and through living prophets to help you keep your body clean and pure.
Show your body respect and honor God by choosing only to share it within the bonds of marriage. When you choose abstinence you choose freedom from disease, freedom from unnecessary and long-lasting heartache, freedom from guilt and regret. You also choose freedom to finish school, freedom to study abroad or complete an internship, freedom to gain a higher education, freedom to marry a good man who honors your womanhood and treats you as an intelligent individual (not an object), freedom to raise a family with a committed partner, freedom to have a career, and more. Don’t let anyone, not even Teen Vogue, convince you that breaking God’s commandments will make you powerful or happy. It is simply not true. Use your agency to keep God’s commandments, to serve your fellow human, to do GOOD in the world. You will find true happiness (and real girl power) through good use of your agency.
Further reading (listed alphabetically):
Cook, Quentin L., “A Banquet of Consequences: The Cumulative Result of All Choices,” BYU Speeches (7 February 2017).
Gibb, Sara Lee, “Our Mortal Body–A Sacred Gift,” BYU Speeches (27 June 1989).
Hinckley, Gordon B., “The Body is Sacred,” New Era (November 2006).
Hinckley, Gordon B., “The Light within You,” General Conference (April 1995).
Mormon Newsroom, “The Dignity of Human Life”, Commentary (2 March 2017).
Nelson, Russell M., “Abortion: An Assault on the Defenseless,” Ensign (October 2008).
Nelson, Russell M., “The Magnificence of Man,” General Conference (October 1987).
Tanner, Susan W., “The Sanctity of the Body,” General Conference (October 2005).