Not too long ago I was talking with a friend about abortion. She held to a different view than I do and eventually she raised what I call the rape exception. It’s often phrased along these lines: “What about the woman who is attacked and raped? In the process of her rape she is made pregnant by her attacker. Should this woman now be forced to carry that baby to term, give birth and raise him? Wouldn’t that only serve as a reminder of that horrible event, adding to the already unimaginable trauma suffered?”
This is in fact almost exactly how she phrased it. Discussions about abortion are hard but as the issue is increasingly becoming a focus of the cultural conversation it's important that we are able to engage in that conversation and stand up for life. Even when the emotions run high.
At the onset let's be clear; rape is a heinous crime. I can’t imagine the pain and anguish it must cause. I think we can all agree, rape is evil. And to think of the victim of rape becoming pregnant due to the malevolent actions of another breaks my heart. Going further, I think we have to outright acknowledge that the objection raises a true and valid point; by choosing to bring that baby full-term, give birth and then raise him the mother will very likely experience painful memories when she looks at her child. We need to acknowledge these things because this is a very real scenario and as such is deserving of a thoughtful, sympathetic, and compassionate response.
Also to consider is, unlike other aspects of the abortion debate, the “in the case of rape” scenario involves a situation in which the woman has been made pregnant as a result of involuntary action. This means she did not willingly engage in the activity that resulted in her getting pregnant. As a result the pregnancy is quite literally forced upon her. It could be argued that because the pregnancy isn’t the result of consensual intercourse the mother is not responsible for that baby and she is not obligated to care for him.
But shouldn’t compassion also be extended to the unborn child as well? Regardless of how that human life came into existence he is still just that, an innocent human life. And don’t all humans have the right to life, regardless of size, level of development, environment and degree of dependency? I think so. And does the means by which the baby was conceived validate the taking of that innocent baby’s life? I don’t think it does.
Even in the case of rape the woman is still the baby’s mother and she’s the only one who is even capable of sustaining that life. What’s more, what purpose would aborting that baby serve? It wouldn’t undo that horrifying experience already endured by the mother. In fact, and contrary to what many believe having an abortion may only intensify the trauma experienced by the woman. Also, often times children produced through this wicked crime are valued by the victim and the feelings of compassion we might have for that victim being forced to see in her child her attacker are sometimes misguided and not always accurate. Often times when a woman makes the difficult decision of allowing her child to continue living we see the mother experience a great sense of love, joy and happiness. The mother, by raising her child also often feels redeemed. Instead of ending one life and inflicting harm on another innocent person we would do better to focus our efforts on offering support for both mother and child through the filling of their emotional and material needs and in the process we would be doing what’s right by affording the basic right extended to us all, a chance to live. (For more on this see: David C. Reardon, Jule Makimaa, and Am Sobie, eds., Victims and Victors (Springfield, IL: Acorn Books, 2000))
I’d like to offer what is at the heart of this issue by asking a question presented to me by Scott Klusendorf: Given we both agree that the child may provoke unpleasant memories, how do you think a civil society should treat innocent human beings that remind us of a painful event? Implicit in this question is another, what is the unborn?
Modern embryology tells us that the unborn are unique human individual beings. As such should they not also be afforded the same opportunity we have all been afforded, and that’s the opportunity to live? Of course they should, regardless of how they were conceived.
I now lend myself to the wisdom of history’s giants:
“You measure the degree of civilization of a society by how it treats its weakest members.” – Winston Churchill
“A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” – Mohatma Gandhi
“…the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy and the handicapped. ” – Hubert H. Humphrey
“The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children.” – Dietrich Bonheoffer
"I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me." – Jesus Christ
If by chance this article has fallen under your eyes and you are struggling with this issue, either having been the victim of sexual abuse and/or becoming pregnant unexpectedly in needing guidance please reach out for help. You can call 1-855-771-HELP (4357) or visit the Ventura County Pregnancy Center.