Rachel Parcell doesn’t like to get too political on her Instagram page. This week, though, she made an exception.
Sitting casually dressed on her couch, the fashion influencer, who boasts more than 2 million Instagram followers and her own clothing line, opened up on Wednesday about an issue she couldn’t ignore: her feelings on abortion. In her Instagram stories, Parcell told her followers she identified with the descriptor “pro-choice and anti-abortion.”
“The older I get, the thoughts on the issue have changed a lot,” she said.
Parcell made the comments in response to widespread social media activism following the leak of a Supreme Court draft opinion this week that showed the court was prepared to overturn the landmark abortion legalization case Roe v. Wade. Her candor is noteworthy not just because of her huge following, but because of her status as one of the most prominent bloggers who’s a member of the Church of Latter-day Saints, commonly known as Mormons.
She is not alone. Other Mormon influencers, who as a group are some of the most followed, analyzed, and discussed creators in the social media space, have been speaking out all week about the Supreme Court news, and many are standing up for a pregnant person’s right to choose. This has been surprising to some of their followers, many of whom are examining their own assumptions about what Mormon women believe and what stereotypes they may have placed on the “Mormon Mommy Mafia.”
Take Gabrielle Blair, a Mormon mother of six who has been blogging since 2006 at her website, Design Mom. Since launching her blog, Blair has become known as one of the OG parenting bloggers and turned her online success into a New York Times bestselling book, Design Mom: How to Live With Kids: A Room-by-Room Guide, published in 2015.
Blair has also been an outspoken advocate for women’s rights for years. Following the Supreme Court leak, Blair reposted a Twitter thread she wrote in September 2018 about the fallacies in arguments against abortion on Instagram. It has been liked more than 110,000 times.
Blair writes that as a member of the church and a mother, she feels she has a unique perspective on how misguided the anti-abortion movement can be. She argues that while most anti-abortion arguments, religious or otherwise, put all of the responsibility for unwanted pregnancies onto the pregnant person, while the other person who causes that pregnancy should also be shouldering the blame.
“If you want to stop abortions, you need to prevent the ‘disease’ - meaning, unwanted pregnancies,” she writes. “And the only way to do that, is by focusing on men, because: MEN CAUSE 100% OF UNWANTED PREGNANCIES. Or. IRRESPONSIBLE EJACULATIONS BY MEN CAUSE 100% OF UNWANTED PREGNANCIES.”
Blair’s viral thread has been shared widely among religious women, but also by many who don’t share her faith. Her post has also prompted other practicing Christians or Latter-day Saints to articulate their feelings. Mega-influencer Amber Fillerup Clark, who has written extensively on her blog about the evolution of her faith after emerging in the early 2010s as one of the most prominent young Mormon mom influencers, urged her 1.3 million followers to “read the entire thread,” interspersed with photos of her very pregnant belly.
Parcell began her series of Instagram stories on abortion by sharing Blair’s post and followed up with her own thoughts. She noted that she is active in a very religious community that she holds dear, but that her life experiences have taught her the issue is not black and white. She said she has seen friends who “have had abortions for health reasons” and whose husbands “are not willing” to wear a condom for birth control. She said that anyone who is against abortion yet leaves the responsibility for pregnancy “up to the woman” needs to be holding the men in their lives accountable and ensuring that all women have access to birth control. Any other argument, she said, is “hollow.”
“I take pride in the fact that we as women can make our own choices,” she said.
Much has been written over the years about the prevalence of Mormon women in the blogging and influencing space, from looking into why so many of the bloggers who broke out in the early 2010s belonged to the church to speculating that their popularity has something to do with modern women’s secret yearning to return to a more patriarchal society.
A decade after their first rise to prominence, there are many more influencers and bloggers, Latter-day Saints or otherwise, and parenting influencers come in all different stripes, from evangelical Christians to coastal liberals and queer couples. Still, the fascination with Mormon influencers continues. For instance, during the 2020 presidential election, many readers speculated that these women were Trump supporters or anti-vaxxers. Some of these influencers have been reluctant to wade into current events, frustrating some of their followers.
But while many followers may have been surprised that Parcell and Clark have added their voices to the abortion debate, maybe they shouldn’t be. Meg Conley, a journalist who was raised in the Church of Latter-day Saints, told me that while the church is not pro-abortion, it is not against abortion in all circumstances, allowing for it in cases like rape, incest, or to protect the life of the pregnant person. Additionally, she said she believes more Mormon women, in general, have started identifying as pro–reproductive rights over the past decade. Thus, it isn’t surprising to her that Mormon influencers also have been thinking about these issues.
“There's been so much more open discussion about how their bodies work, the economics of motherhood, and greater engagement in social justice issues, generally,” she said.
She added that she believes that prominent Mormon influencers are having a quantifiable impact on the dialogue surrounding abortion in Latter-day Saints circles.
“One change I am seeing, and I think you can really thank Gabby Blair of Design Mom for it, is so many more Mormon women talking about birth control as the responsibility of both people in a relationship,” she said. “That feels like a huge shift to me. And that shift really opens up an, if not new, then at least newly public Mormon dialogue when it comes to abortion.”
In the comments on one of Parcell’s posts, many followers praised her for speaking out, noting that she will likely face backlash for touching on such a contentious issue in such a public way.
“Thank you for using your platform to empower women,” one woman wrote. “You didn’t take the easy route, but I firmly believe that you took the best route.”
“Incredibly proud of you for your stories today….Kudos, I know that was not easy,” said another.
Conley believes Parcell ultimately will “see a net gain” for standing up for her beliefs.
“As things get more and more dire politically, people are going to be looking for community,” she said.
Conley also noted that Mormon influencers do have a certain level of privilege in speaking out that your average woman in the church may not have.
“Huge Mormon influencers are simply not going to pay the same social cost for ‘coming out’ as pro-choice as the average Mormon woman,” she said. “Abortions outside of the church guidelines are very taboo. I applaud Mormon influencers for their activism. But it's the Mormon mom next door who puts up a pro-choice FB post or says she's pro-choice while at church that really feels courageous to me.” ●