What about Rape and Incest?

Several “problem cases” typically arise when considering the ethics of abortion. Key among these is rape and incest. Should not abortion be legal if the woman was raped or the victim of incest?

Grieving Woman

Good question. In cases of rape one key pro-life point is missing: She did not consent to sex, so if she gets pregnant it is not from her own willful action. She is not getting her “just deserts” as if she was soliciting a man for sexual liasons out of wedlock, or just bucking the responsibility of parenting because she or her husband refuse to have this child. Besides rape cases, there is a similar challenge posed by cases of incest. In the event of pregnancies from incest, we are dealing with a serious social, legal, and ethical taboo typically associated with molestation, pedophilia, and again with rape. In cases where the person is a minor there is statutory rape. If any of these sordid situations result in pregnancy, surely the pro-choice position is vindicated. Right?

Well, not necessarily. The nature of the sexual encounter–whether it was rape or incest–does not change the nature of the child-in-utero. Nor does the mother’s desires, wanting or not wanting her child, determine the nature of that child-in-utero. If it’s unethical to kill human beings, then that child-in-utero is still protected because it is a biological human being.

Reminders of Rape
But this teaching seems a little hard, a little cold. Pro-lifers should not forget what they are saying here. They are telling the woman that if she gets pregnant from rape then she is ethically responsible for keeping that child at least till birth when it can be given up for adoption. That’s 9 months of pregnancy: morning sickness, bloating, hormonal imbalances, altered eating habits, aching joints, back pain, distended belly, weight gain, mood changes, psychological stress, and any number of other ailments. That pregnancy is a constant reminder of that rape every time the pangs of motherhood draw her memories back to it. The pro-lifer as asking a lot.

Injustice Isn’t The Answer
Rape and incest are horrible injustices, and terrible evils. But the cure for injustice and evil is not MORE injustice and evil. Two wrongs don’t make a right. Multiplying evils never reduces evil. These injustices are cured with the self-sacrificing behavior of people who refuse to harm an innocent human being no matter what evil was done to them.

Abortion Displaces Guilt
The pro-choice position also wrongly displaces guilt. Does the child-in-utero deserve to be killed because of the actions of his or her father? Of course not. That child doesn’t deserve to be killed at all; it’s morally and legally innocent. It’s unjust to punish one human being for the guilt of another. Now if one person volunteered to die to protect another person, such as a soldier on a deadly mission to protect other soldiers, or a parent dying to protect the child, that makes sense and can be heroic. But it’s the opposite of heroism to kill an innocent human being without his or her consent or knowledge because of another man’s guilt.

Abortion Destroys Evidence
On a pragmatical level, abortion creates other problems too. It destroys evidence that might otherwise help bring the rapist to justice. Her pregnancy is evidence that she has had relations. That forces the conversations where people ask her to divulge the father’s identity. She cannot as easily hide from the situation even if the rapist wants her silent. In this way, pregnancy can help expose the rapist’s identity (most rapists are people the victims knew beforehand). Moreover, women often fail to get the full rape kit completed, nor do they get a usable DNA sample of the rapist. But what is a man’s offspring if not, at least, a DNA sample of his or her parents. Many times the rape victim does not want to go to court, does not want to face the shame, embarassment, sadness, fear involved in a jury trial, so she does not press charges. But what if 2 years later she changes her mind? That child is living breathing evidence that can help make the case against the rapist. If she aborted her child, however, then that’s one less line of evidence to help bring about justice. In this way, abortion neatly disposes of evidence, assists the victim in staying silent and effectively helps rapists get away scot free. It offers a short-term burst of compassion (for the pregnant rape victim) that empowers those women to escape some of the trauma involved in bringing rapists to justice but the cost is always a dead baby plus the potential for helping a rapist avoid prosecution or conviction. She can just abort the child, try to move on, and forget about it as much as possible. Whether he rapes other women later, that’s not  her concern.

No Easy Options
Victims of rape and incest don’t have any “easy” options when it comes to pregnancy. Every question they face about the incident, about the birthing process, about the father’s identity, all of that hits like a hammer, with clanging reverberations of her trauma. The pro-life prescription here is brutally difficult. Often rapists threaten the victim with their life; but if she follows through on the pregnancy she’ll be pressed to reveal his identity and put her life at risk. No one wants rapists to get away with it, and people may want to find and arrest rapists, but people might not speak so casually when their life is at stake.

Often the mothers have anxiety, stress, depression, and psychological fallout that’s piqued with any reminder of the event. Pro-lifers press her to invite a limitless series of “reminders” through pregnancy, birth, and (perhaps) motherhood. If the mother keeps the baby, she carries the weight and responsibility of pregnancy and motherhood, or at least the process of adoption. Pro-lifers are pressing her to endure that physical hardship, even if that pregnancy would ruin her life-plans at work, at school, or at home.

On top of all these challenges, it is clear that the pregnant rape victim may never feel “normal” or “safe” again. But the question remains, “why add to her trauma the added trauma of a felt sense of murder?” It is no light matter on the human conscience to militate against maternal instincts, to take the most sacred relation of care and tenderness with another human being and instead destroy that tiny defenseless child-in-utero. It should be in the safest place in the world, but that’s become the most dangerous place in the world. Natural law theorists can take this emotional and intuitive line of argument to suggest that it feels so wrong for a mother to kill her child-in-utero because it is wrong to kill her child in utero.

Concessions for Rape and Incest
Admittedly, the legal and political outlook for pro-lifers should probably allow for some concessions in the foreseeable future if there is to be any repeal of abortion-on-demand in any serious sense. The pro-life position already faces an uphill battle legally and politically. It is highly unlikely that a blanket repeal of Roe v Wade (1973) and Doe v Bolton (1973) will happen any time soon. And even if they did, many States already had provisions in place before 1973 allowing for abortion in cases of rape and incest. Perhaps it’s disingenuous for pro-choicers to argue for the Roe and Doe standards on the basis of rape, incest, fetal deformity, and mortally dangerous pregnancies since those exceptional cases constitute less than 5% of abortions and were already allowed in most states before the 1973 rulings. But it remains the case, that these situations defy the pro-life “script” of consensual and otherwise normal sexual relations where mothers are expected to care for their children-in-utero at least till birth. Many pro-life arguments just don’t fit cases of incest and rape very neatly.

Practically speaking, pro-lifers may have to admit concessions for rape and incest within their lobbying efforts. Pro-lifers can still object to abortion in these cases, but they allow for these concessions recognizing that efforts to abolish abortion are already too precarious to endure the added weight of rape and incest cases. If their goal is to abolish abortion, it would still be real progress to advance pro-life legislation which address only “abortions of convenience” (i.e., allowing exceptions for rape and incest). That concession seems practically necessary for the pro-life agenda, even if pro-lifers overwhelmingly oppose abortion in cases of rape and incest.

In conclusion, cases of rape and incest do not justify abortion, but there are no easy answers in those cases. All the choices are tough, require great courage, demanding a strong supportive social network, a lot of grace, a lot of patience and understanding, and a dogged commitment to honoring the lives of both the mother and her child.

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About intelligentchristianfaith

Married man. Teacher. Theologian. Philosopher. Workout nut. Prefer cats to dogs. Coffee buff. Transplant to Texas. Carolina Panthers fan. Perpetually pursuing the world's best burger.
This entry was posted in Abortion Cases, Abortion Laws, Ethics of Abortion, History of Abortion, Philosophy of Abortion, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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