Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Abortion Exceptions: What about Rape?

I had the privilege of speaking on the issue of abortion at Life Bible Fellowship Church this past Sunday. Speaking about abortion is daunting for several reasons, and one of those reasons is that it seems impossible to address all the different questions and concerns people have.
You can click here to watch the message in its entirety: http://vimeo.com/52027093
After the message I had several people ask me about whether or not there should be an exception in cases of rape. I got to talk to them individually, but I thought it would be good to write a post in order to cover the question more thoroughly. I am going to address the matter by responding three statements that I believe often reflect arguments in favor of such an "exception clause."

If a woman becomes pregnant as a result of rape, then it is not her fault that she is pregnant. She should not be punished for what someone else did.
It is certainly true that a woman who gets pregnant as a result of rape does not bear any guilt for anything. She has suffered a horrific wrong, an act of violence. I know of no pro-life person who would in any way minimize the horror of rape. But this argument makes a false assumption.
The false assumption in this statement is that the pro-life argument is, "If you are pregnant, then you got yourself into this situation. Therefore you need to take responsibility instead of taking the easy way out." If that was the pro-life argument, then it would make sense to say, "But if you are pregnant through no willful action of your own, then you shouldn't need to suffer the consequences of pregnancy."
But this is not the pro-life argument. The pro-life argument is that the unborn is a person. A person conceived in rape is not any less of a person than a person conceived in a loving sexual act between a husband and a wife.
This past Saturday night I got to attend the banquet for Assure Pregnancy Clinic. The speaker was a woman named Rebecca Kiessling. She shared her powerful story that night. She was adopted, and when she tracked down her birth mother, she discovered that she was conceived by rape. Rebecca powerfully talked about the emotional difficulty of dealing with this information. But when it comes to the abortion issue, and the exception clause, she commented, "The supreme court has ruled that the man who did this to my birth mother does not deserve the death penalty. Did I then deserve the death penalty because of what he did?"
Just as is true with abortion in general, we have an easier time talking about it when we don't put a face to the subject. Could we really stand in front of Rebecca, or others conceived in rape, and say to them, "Because of how your mother conceived you, I would support her right to abort you"? I know that I can't do this.
A life is a life no matter how that life comes about.

If a woman gives birth as a result of rape, the child would be painful reminder of a horrific thing that happened to her.
Once again, I believe that this statement could be true. If the mother keeps the child, the child may be a reminder of that painful and horrible act of violence against her. But I don't believe that it follows that the right or best choice is abortion.
First of all, there is the wonderful choice of adoption. Rebecca Kiessling's mother chose to put her up for adoption. If the real problem here is that the child's presence will bring a painful reminder of the violence of rape, then there are many, many couples who would love to take the child into their family. If the real issue is that the mother would not be able to bring herself to look into the eyes of the child of not be pained, the child could be placed in a family who would love him or her.
Second of all, there are many people who remind us of painful things that have happened to us. A friend who informs a woman that her husband has died in a car accident may forever remind that woman of her grief over her husband. A doctor who delivers the news that a child has died may forever remind the parents of the horror of that child dying. In 2001 one of my best friends was killed by a reckless driver. I am facebook friends who his college roommate. When I interact with him, or see his updates, I think of my friend Matt, and I am pained at his death.
But the friend, the doctor, and the college roommate bear no guilt. Their proximity to the tragedy simply makes them a person who reminds us of pain that we suffered (perhaps at the hands of someone else). In the same way, the child bears no guilt for the "father" in this case. The fact that the child may bring a painful reminder of violence and violation is not a reason to abort the child. This is an act of injustice, punishing the child for the sins of the "father."
Third of all, I believe that in many cases the child would be a source of joy rather than of grief. There are many situation in which tragedy takes place, but we celebrate something beautiful that comes from that tragedy. We severely underestimate the redemptive power of God when we conclude that nothing good could come from bearing and loving a child who was conceived in rape. God, who brings good out of evil, salvation out of desperation, and life out of death, can always bring good out of bad circumstances. This doesn't mean that I think the mother MUST keep the child instead of choosing the route of adoption, but I think we make a lot of faulty assumptions when we conclude that the mother's relationship with the child would necessarily be irrevocably tarnished.

If pro-life people would flex, and allow for some exceptions, the movement could make some headway.
Right now Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are running on a pro-life platform with the exceptions of rape and incest and the life of the mother. Is this platform the way to go, simply in order to build consensus and move closer to the overturn of Roe v. Wade?
Scott Klusendorf writes and speaks about abortion, advocating for the protection of unborn children. In his book The Case for Life he writes about how he handles questions about cases of rape. He concludes that it does very little good to allow for the exception in moving toward middle ground. He says,
"Here's why. The abortion-choice position he defends is not that abortions should be legal only when a woman is raped but that abortion is a fundamental right she can exercise for any reason she wants during all nine months of the pregnancy. Instead of defending this position with facts and arguments, he disguises it with an emotional appeal to rape. But this will not make his case. The argument from rape, if successful at all, would only justify abortion in cases of sexual assault, not for any reason the woman deems fit. In fact, arguing for abortion-on-demand from the hard case of rape is like trying to argue for the elimination of all traffic laws because a person might have to break one rushing a loved one to the hospital. Proving an exception does not prove a rule.
"To expose his smoke screen, I ask a question, 'Okay, I'm going to grant for the sake of discussion that we keep abortion legal in cases of rape. Will you join me in supporting legal restrictions on abortions done for socioeconomic reasons that, as studies on your side of the issue show, make up the overwhelming percentage of abortions?'
"The answer is almost always no, to which I reply, 'Then why did you bring up rape except to mislead us into thinking that you support abortion only in hard cases?'"
As Klusendorf points out, talk about the rape exception is often (but not always) a smoke screen. 1% of abortions are in situations of rape or incest. This does not downplay the horror of rape in these cases, but it does show that pregnancy by rape is by no stretch of the imagination the main reason for abortion, or even one of the main reasons.
All of this said, is the Romney/Ryan position better than the Obama/Biden position? I can't imagine how I could say anything but Yes. Less abortions are better because that means less unborn children dying. At the same time, I think we would feel conflicted if, in an effort to free slaves in the 1800s, someone argued, "We can't get the pro-slavery people to come around on this one. So let's make a slavery exception for those whose skin is especially dark." Would this be better than the previous situation? It would in the sense that more oppressed people would be set free. But it is a hard position to justify. It certainly is not a position that anyone would want to defend today.
But would I vote for such a law if it was on the ballot? I think that I would. I would not vote for it if we were starting from a position of abortion being illegal. But if we moved from abortion on demand to abortion only in special cases, this would save lives. And I would have a hard time not voting for something that would save lives.

No pro-life person is excusing or minimizing the horror of rape. But the horror of rape should not lead us to excuse ending the life of an innocent unborn child. If those of us who are pro-life are going to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, this should include unborn children who are conceived in rape. They are no less human and no less valuable than any child, grandchild, niece, or nephew in our lives today.


  1. Your first statement can be spoken of the unborn as well. The unborn is not at fault for being conceived therefore should not be punished for the actions of the father. -Nick Wright