The Catholic Thing
Reflections on Rape and Abortion Print E-mail
By Austin Ruse   
Friday, 24 August 2012

Rape and abortion are much in the news these days. Sad to say, an otherwise good politician incompetently waded into a politically explosive area and lit a match.

A rape is often the most physically and emotionally devastating event in a victim’s life. She may be overcome with guilt, sadness, and depression. Rape victims speak of feeling dirty. One may never even seem to belittle this horrific crime.

And this is why the case against the rape exception is among the hardest for pro-lifers to articulate and for others to understand. It happens to be the position of most mainstream pro-life groups and, indeed, the teaching of the Catholic Church that killing an innocent child can never be justified, even if that life began as a result of rape.

The logic is unassailable. An unborn child is a unique human being who, by nature, is the bearer of certain rights. These rights, chief among them the right to life, may never be abrogated, not even in furtherance of another good, attempting to ease the terrible pain of a rape victim. An unborn child cannot be punished for the crimes of a biological father.

Quite honestly, many people think this sounds simply nuts and, for some, it makes pro-lifers seem rather heartless. As Feminists for Life President Serrin Foster makes so clear, the victim of rape deserves all the love and help we can muster. And we should seek swift and just punishment for her attacker.

But some will argue: “if you force a woman to carry her rapist’s child, it will be there every day for nine months reminding her of the most traumatic moment in her life.” There is truth to that. If you make the baby a co-conspirator in the crime, then her daily presence will be a daily assault. Actually, research shows that this is the emotional reality for many young women with unplanned and unwanted pregnancies, not just rape. She sees the baby as a threat to her very life.

But some rape victims who find themselves pregnant may come to another understanding of the baby. There is gripping testimony from women who did indeed fear seeing their attacker in the face of their child, only to find that what they saw instead was the face of a sweet baby. 

Children conceived in rape can be the most compelling witnesses of that unanswerable truth: that every human child is a gift from God. And we have prominent examples: Attorney and much sought after speaker Rebecca Keissling and activist Ryan Bomberger come to mind.

         Lisa Askew and son Callum

Savvy public advocates always try to fight on their own ground and not on the ground of their opponents. This is why the partial-birth-abortion fight was so successful in changing the abortion debate in America. It was fought on the ground of pro-lifers. It was idiotic for abortion advocates to fight on ground that made them look so profoundly bad. But they could not help themselves. No less a figure than Frances Kissling, then head of Catholics for a Free Choice, said that defending partial-birth abortions cost her movement many “moderately pro-choice Catholics.”

Our opponents on the life issues like to fight on their own ground, too. They want to make it about the hard cases – but most especially rape. Any person who talks with friends, family, or strangers almost immediately gets drawn into the same thing that Congressman Todd Akin got drawn into last weekend. Making abortion available for rape victims is the pro-choice argument par excellence. It places us in the position of having to defend what seems indefensible.

One fairly easy parry to this thrust is – for the sake of argument – simply to give in. “OK, fine, you can have all the hard cases. You can have abortion for rape, incest, and the life of the mother. That amounts to less than 2 percent of all abortion cases, or about 20,000 per year.”

This angle of defense shows that the hard cases, while admittedly hard, are darned few in the larger abortion regime. Many Americans think the hard cases are the majority. Making the real case clear puts the pro-abortion advocates back on having to defend the other 1,180,000 abortions that are done for other reasons.

Keep in mind that most Americans believe that most abortions should be illegal. The vast majority of abortions are done on healthy mothers with healthy babies.

But here’s the thing. Unless you work on this issue full time either as a professional or a volunteer, these arguments don’t come easy or quick. And in the heat of conversation almost anyone is capable of making mistakes.

This is especially true for politicians who have dozens of issues running through their brains at any one time, and need to be prepared to answer for all of them at a moment’s notice. This makes abortion-for-rape a complicated minefield.

The pro-life movement largely allows politicians to hold the exceptions and still be called pro-life. George Bush allowed for the hard case exceptions and the pro-life movement considers him the most pro-life president in our history.

If we’re going to be consistent pro-lifers, we must help rape victims understand that keeping the baby may not destroy their lives, but rather may be the very thing that makes them joyful and meaningful.

Lisa Askew, now in her twenties, told the Sun newspaper that she was raped when she was 16. She kept the baby, but rejected him and could not be left alone with him. Then something happened. Love took over: “I know he has his father's eyes and hair but when I look at him, all I see is my beautiful son. It never ceases to amaze me that something so precious and wonderful came from something so terrible. Hes my beautiful boy and I wouldnt change him for the world.”

Austin Ruse is the President of the New York and Washington, D.C.-based Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), a research institute that focuses exclusively on international social policy. The opinions expressed here are Mr. Ruse’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of C-FAM.
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (16)Add Comment
written by Howard Kainz, August 23, 2012
It is important to distinguish the moral and religious from the legal considerations with regard to abortion. For example, if a legislator had the deciding vote for passing a law prohibiting abortion except in the "hard cases," would it make sense for him cast the defeating vote because of his moral/religious objections to all abortions?
written by Jack,CT, August 24, 2012
Thanks Mr Ruse a great perspective.
written by Michael Paterson-Seymour, August 24, 2012
One may legitimately support legislation that curtails abortion, without thereby approving of exceptions that are necessary to secure its passage.

Political reality may mean that an incremental approach is the only avenue open to legislators. This involves no abandonment of principle, especially, if the politician in question makes clear his own commitment to the toal elimination of abortion
written by Micha Elyi, August 24, 2012
There's an argument used by pro-aborts that goes something like this:

   Premise: There's a miniscule chance a woman will be raped and then become with child.

   Conclusion: Abortions on demand for everyone!

The kerfluffle over Rep. Akin's remarks are having an effect unanticipated by the pro-aborts and their Democrat party insiders. Many, many people are starting to look at that argument with a clear head and finally seeing that it never made any sense.

Add to that that the once-feared social stigma of being a victim of rape is, if it happens to females, almost nonexistent.

The force of the similarly-structured Girl In Trouble argument is also nearly gone. With the widespread acceptance - even social and government support for - unwed motherhood, the claim that a pregnancy will ruin her chances for a good education blah blah blah is rather weak. And it's weaker when an ever-growing number of colleges and universities (even Catholic ones!) have on-campus day care facilities - never mind the high schools!
written by rtjl, August 24, 2012
Similar to making the argument you propose is to simply ask the questions, "Suppose I were to agree that abortion is justified and acceptable when it comes to the hard cases, would that be acceptable to you? Would you then agree that it is not acceptable otherwise" The answer to both of these questions, for most pro-abortionists, would be "no" - demonstrating that the argument was never really about the hard cases at all.
..., Low-rated comment [Show]
written by Dan, August 24, 2012
The problem is the rape, not the pro-life position. Abortion does not undo the emotional devastation of rape. Once a woman has been raped, the damage is done. Many, many women who have aborted children conceived in rape suffer substantial additional emotional trauma as a result of the abortion -- it is not uncommon for them to say that the abortion was worse than the rape. The situation is a very difficult one that calls on a woman to be heroine and to overcome violence with love. Those who do often find that it is the most noble and enriching act of their lives.
written by DS, August 24, 2012
I disagree with the notion that this is somehow a complicated issue for politicians to tackle. In fact, that is what got Rep. Akin into trouble: he danced around the issue and then compounded it because of utter ignorance about how a woman's body functions.

This type of hesitation is what gets politicans into trouble. Say what you mean and mean what you say. In the end, I believe that the American electorate respects candor, and can see through all the hysteria in the media that responds to supposedly controversial positions.

What if Rep. Akin had said this, instead of spouting his 'shut down theory of legitimate rape': "I believe the God-given right to life is inviolabe, and that abortion for rape victims should be outlawed because of the fetus' right to life. I also believe that a rape victim who bears a child can experience the joy and love of motherhood that far outweigh the trauma of both the rape and an abortion."

What's so hard about that?
written by Sue, August 24, 2012
To paraphrase Flannery O'Connor: if rape abortions are okay, then the hell with it, all abortions are okay. We have given away the intellectual argument once we give in to rape-incest exceptions. What if we said certain concentration camp gasings were okay, like for children or the weak? The neocons seem to want everyone (especially "prolifers") to be contaminated with the conviction that you can be "a little bit" pro-abort. (No coincidence that the Repub candidate shares those pesky exceptions?)

On the other hand, the leftists seem to be setting Akin up as another Joseph McCarthy. "Legitimate Rape! Have you no sense of decency!!!" when the phrase was clearly used to mean "legitimate claim of rape", which Tawana Brawley and the Duke Lacrosse accusers unfortunately established the need for. So at any rate, if the sexual left can project their own problems onto Akin, just as the political left did onto McCarthy, they can then demonize *anyone* who holds a pure prolife stance, just like McCarthyism is used as a club to keep anti-Communists in line.

Would that the neocons (and I'm including National Review fans and Buckley acolytes) would had have stood by McCarthy. For one thing, Frank Marshall Davis would have been marginalized as a Communist (he slipped by Congress after McCarthy was put down), and we wouldn't now have the Obama problem. More broadly, the sexual and political revolution that followed McCarthy might have been aborted if the scaredy-cat pseudo-conservatives hadn't shown that they were capable of running for cover whenever someone said "Boo! McCarthy!"

We were tested then, and found flaccid. What about now? Stay with Akin, who stuck his neck out. I'm going to up the ante and say we should refuse to call *anyone* prolife if they hold rape-incest exceptions. Abolish abortion, now!
written by Richard A, August 24, 2012
Because, Grump, contraception as a solution to high infant mortality rates means that you've decided that no one in areas of high infant mortality should ever get pregnant. Becuase the infant mortality rate would be the same, if there were any infants at all.

How about, instead, providing those societies with clean drinking water and adequate nutrition and rudimentary medical care? Infant mortality rates would decline precipitously, and non-infants would be healthier as well.
written by Walter, August 24, 2012
So George Bush is better because he would allow fewer abortions than Barack Obama? Sounds like a Hitler v. Stalin argument to me.
written by Jacob R, August 24, 2012
"The logic is unassailable."

You said everything there is to say there.

A country which murders millions of children to avoid fifty women feeling more traumatized than they will no matter what is evil to the core. Every Catholic in this country is a bad Catholic for not fighting a guerrilla war against the most evil murderous nation in human history, the United States.

Since we're always forced to explain and pro-baby murder people never have to defend anything, for once, can they explain something for me?

How, scientifically, does abortion trauma heal rape trauma?
written by nitnot, August 24, 2012
It's not the baby's fault that her father is a criminal. Prosecute the criminal to the fullest extent of the law. Absolutely. But for what other crime do we execute the criminal's child? Nine months is a significant length of time, but it pales to the forever of death. It's not the baby's fault.
written by Louise, August 24, 2012
@Dan: "The situation is a very difficult one that calls on a woman to be heroine and to overcome violence with love."

Despite the typo I have to say that this is the most beautiful statement about the situation that I have ever read...thanks Dan!

In every situation we try to accomplish the most good that can be accomplished. That usually means steps to the goal. However, I agree that our language should never confuse the issue or give ground. I think i heard Ryan say that Romney's position was a good step in the right direction...perfect example of this point. Doesn't concede the issue of abortion in case of rape but doesn't try to inflame either. steps to the goal.
written by TeaPot562, August 25, 2012
In trying to enact legislation, one looks for a possible consensus among a majority of the legislators. If we cannot pass the "perfect" law, we should not sacrifice the possible on the altar of the ideal.
written by michele, August 26, 2012
For people who support abortion for rape victims the assumption can be made that they were conceived consensually. I am not in the position to know what happened during my conception or how I was conceived. I think we all like to assume that we were conceived out of some sort of loving union yet one can only assume that this is not always the case. If conception occurs outside our notions of how conception should socially occur does that make the fruit of that union something less than human?

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