In the battle over Abortion, one of the most common kinds of artillery is also the most eviscerating. The issue is over rape-pregnancies. This ammunition is powerful in arguments on abortion since it multiplies two emotionally charged settings together: abortion and rape. And it’s admittedly hard, even for many avowed “pro-lifers,” to tell a rape-pregnant Mother that she should not go through with an abortion.
The anti-abortion or pro-life camp can be charged, therefore, with being callous towards women’s suffering, insensitive to the real problem of rape, and even participants in a broader “rape culture.” Responses to this line of attack have been mixed. Consider representative Todd Akin’s term “legitimate rape” (see here and here). Understood in context, he most likely meant something like, “Cases which are trully non-consensual sex and not something else like a false accusation or a legal technicality.” But by saying “legitimate rape.” He was bound to be labeled as a sociopath, sicko, or idiot as if he was saying that rape is sometimes justified or good. Hence follows Hal Herzog’s rebuttal,
“[Akin’s] first mistake was linguistic.
The term “legitimate rape” is an oxymoron.
‘Legitimate rape’ does not exist. End of story.”
It should be obvious that no one is supporting rape, advocating for it, or seeking to legitimize rape. Neither abortion-opponents nor abortion rights advocates want that. At least two key questions remain then:
1) Does rape have some reduced chance of pregnancy? (as Representative Akin seemed to think)
2) Does rape justify abortion?
Concerning the first question, there seem to be some mixed reports. Some suggest that rape cases have a significant or even heightened chance of pregnancy (also see here and here). Others suggest that the trauma of rape still tends to inhibit chances of pregnancy. This facet of the debate is tough to mediate because, for example, statutory rape, rape pregnancy that miscarries, rape cases of infertile women, falsely accused rape cases, and cases where the coercive force was not till late in the intercourse could all count as statistical equals–all are reported as rape. Rape reporting is not always consistent or clear either. Moreover, there is no objective way to psychologically quantify and compare trauma between rape cases. All cases of actual rape are tragic and are liable to leave lifelong scars on many levels.
Some experts concede that rape cases are comparable to consensual intercourse in their chances of causing pregnancy. Let’s suppose, for the sake of argument that this is true. Little is lost here, for the pro-lifer, since question one has little bearing on question 2. Even if rape-pregnancies were common they still might not justify abortion. Furthermore, we may suppose (at least) for the sake of argument, that only about 5% of rape victims report subsequent pregnancy, and further that those are an even smaller percentage of the total number of pregnancies. That means rape cases are a small fraction of the total number of pregnancies. If someone supports abortion-on-demand because of rape-pregnancies, then they might need to consider how that aligns them with much country’s laws prior to Roe vs. Wade (1973), when “abortion on demand” was still illegal. Rape and medically dangerous cases were customary exemptions, considered too callous and troublesome to prosecute. If rape cases are just a fraction of the pregnancies in America it seems “abortion-on-demand” is not a specific and careful enough answer to the problem, for it allows many millions of abortions for the sake of <1,000 or so rape pregnancies.
Nevertheless, that aside can be left aside for a moment. These small numbers might factor into policy concerns, and legislation, but they don’t speak specifically to individual rape victims. Many pro-lifers would gladly embrace anti-abortion legislation that prohibits “on-demand” status with the exception of rape and medically dangerous pregnancies, not because they think such cases of abortion are “good” or “justified” but because they consider it a moral gain to allow several hundred or a thousand abortions so as to prohibit millions of other abortions.
Let us suppose then, for the sake of argument, that rape cases result in pregnancy about as often as with consensual sex. The gross number of rape-pregnancies might be far less than consensual pregnancies, since rape is itself less common, but that factor does not necessarily make any individual abortions good or evil.
Where does that leave the pro-lifer?
Moving on to Question 2: Does rape justify abortion? The core of the pro-life argument remains unchanged; it has typically been about the human rights of the fetus. The child-in-utero has a right to life just as any other human being has a right to life. Strictly speaking, rape is a tragic tangent to the issue since abortion doesn’t “cure” rape. It doesn’t unrape any victims. It doesn’t capture and prosecute the rapist. It doesn’t necessarily fix any physical or emotional scars for the victim. It certainly addresses a great burden of responsibility to a woman who may not be ready to face 9 months of pregnancy or subsequent motherhood; and the rape itself has violated her bodily autonomy and her sexual selectivity or even sexual sanctity.
But what problems does abortion fix for the rape-victim?
It would seem that child-birth is an added pain on top of the pain of rape. Enduring pregnancy, or motherhood, would serve as a constant reminder of the rape. Even the child’s appearance can bear some semblance to the rapist, adding additional insult to injury.
Yet the crux of the pro-life argument remains intact. All of these justifications fail to show that the fetus lacks a right to life. The child is not guilty of rape, and so it does not deserve capital punishment. The child did not “consent” or “coerce her” but was itself brought into this scene without any choice in the matter. The child and the mother are both victims. The “evidence” proposed in defense of abortion might work towards adoption, or might show how rape is terrible and should be heavily prosecuted and stridently opposed, but it fails to justify abortion.
Abortion adds capital insult to injury. Abortion punishes two victims, killing the child, and adding new trauma to the mother. Abortion absolves the rapist of an additional duty, to pay child support (that is, legal pay restitution on top of his criminal punishment). And by taking a life, abortion forever ends any chance of salvaging the redemptive and beautiful life that was forged in wickedness. Nothing can fully redeem rape and justice should be served. No one is saying rape is good or instrumentally excused. No, none of that. Rape is always evil, but where it does happen it’s force can and should be muffled (at least somewhat) by a society that is determined to defy selfish destructive behavior with selfless love, virtue, and in this case, new life.
The rape victim can never undo that horrible experience of rape; she still has to find ways to cope. She could resort to unhealthy means like drugs, alcohol, broken relationships, bitterness, depression, etc. It’s not clear at all that abortion is “trauma free” or psychologically normal, easy, or comfortable for women. Even pro-choicers usually admit that abortion is regrettable even if it is (in their eyes) sometimes necessary. The rape victim however does not have to resort to abortion or to destructive coping mechanisms. She can instead grieve a healthy grief, mourn what was lost, seek out cushions of hope and understanding through the support of loved ones, through counseling, through faith, all the while admitting that rape is never okay, never good, and it’s a real tragedy. She has the tough task of drawing beauty from the ashes, to make evil into art. In that almost superhuman task, there are few expressions of redemptive beauty more amazing and powerful than the life of a child. Childbirth itself has been an archetypal example of “worthwhile” pain as it serves in bringing new human life into the public world.
If you are a victim of rape, if you are pregnant, please let me encourage you not to treat that baby with the scorn that the rapist deserves. What happened to you is terrible and should never have happened. Please do not punish that child for the sins of its father. If you absolutely cannot go through with keeping the baby, please consider adoption, so no one else has to die for evil that was done to you.