Is abortion justifiable in cases of rape or incest?

Question by zee: Is abortion justifiable in cases of rape or incest?

Best answer:

Answer by Nursing Student Ed
Rape, Incest and Abortion:
Searching Beyond the Myths

David C. Reardon, Ph.D.

“How can you deny an abortion to a twelve-year-old girl who is the victim of incest?” complains an indignant supporter of abortion. “And how can you call yourself a loving Christian if you would force a victim of violent rape to give birth to a rapist’s child?”
Every pro-lifer has heard these same challenges in one form or another. They are the emotionally charged questions designed to prove either 1) that pro-lifers are insensitive “fetus lovers,” 2) or ethically inconsistent, allowing abortion for some circumstances but not others.

Unfortunately, most pro-lifers have difficulty answering these challenges because the issue of sexual assault pregnancies is so widely misunderstood. Typically, both sides of the debate accept the presumption that women with sexual assault pregnancies would want an abortion and that the abortion would in some way help them to recover from the assault. Thus, the pro-lifer is left in the uncomfortable position of arguing that the sanctity of life is more important than the needs of the sexual assault victim with whom everyone should rightly sympathize.

But in fact, the welfare of the mother and child are never at odds, even in sexual assault cases. Both the mother and child are helped by preserving life, not by perpetuating violence.

The reason most people reach the wrong conclusion about abortion in cases of rape and incest is that the actual experiences of sexual assault victims who became pregnant are routinely left out of the debate. Most people, including sexual assault victims who have never been pregnant, are therefore forming opinions based on prejudices and fears which are disconnected from reality.

For example, it is commonly assumed that rape victims who become pregnant would naturally want abortions. But in the only major study of pregnant rape victims ever done, Dr. Sandra Mahkorn found that 75 to 85 percent chose against abortion.1 This evidence alone should cause people to pause and reflect on the presumption that abortion is wanted or even best for sexual assault victims.

Several reasons are given for not aborting. First, approximately 70 percent of all women believe abortion is immoral, even though many also feel it should be a legal choice for others. Approximately the same percentage of pregnant rape victims believe abortion would be just another act of violence perpetrated against their bodies and their children.

Second, some believe that their child’s life may have some intrinsic meaning or purpose which they do not yet understand. This child was brought into their lives by a horrible, repulsive act. But perhaps God, or fate, will use the child for some greater purpose. Good can come from evil.

Third, victims of assault often become introspective. Their sense of the value of life and respect for others is heightened. They have been victimized, and the thought that they in turn might victimize their own innocent child through abortion is repulsive.

Fourth, at least at a subconscious level, the victim may sense that if she can get through the pregnancy, she will have conquered the rape. By giving birth, she can reclaim some of her lost self-esteem. Giving birth, especially when conception was not desired, is a totally selfless act, a generous act, a display of courage, strength and honor. It is proof that she is better than the rapist. While he was selfish, she can be generous. While he was destroying, she can be nurturing.

If giving birth builds self respect, what about abortion? This is a question which most people fail to even consider. Instead, most people assume that an abortion will at least help a rape victim put the assault behind her and go on with her life. But in jumping to this conclusion, the public is adopting an unrealistic view of abortion.

Abortion is not some magical surgery which turns back time to make a woman “un-pregnant.” Instead, it is a real life event which is always very stressful and often traumatic. Once we accept that abortion is itself an event with ramifications on a woman’s life, then we must carefully look at the special circumstances of the pregnant rape victim. Will an abortion truly console her, or will it only cause further injury to her already bruised psyche?

In answering this question, it is helpful to begin by noting that many women report that their abortions felt like a degrading and brutal form of medical rape.2 This association between abortion and rape is not hard to understand.

Abortion involves a painful examination of a woman’s sexual organs by a masked stranger who is invading her body. Once she is on the operating table, she loses control over her body. If she protests and asks for the abortionist to stop, she will likely be ignored or told: “It’s too late to change your mind. This is what you wanted. We have to finish now.” And while she lies there tense and helpless, the life hidden within her is literally sucked out of her womb. The difference? In a sexual rape, a woman is robbed of her purity; in this medical rape she is robbed of her maternity.

This experiential association between abortion and sexual assault is very strong for many women. It is especially strong for women who have a prior history of sexual assault, whether or not she is presently pregnant as the result of an assault.3 This is just one reason why women with a history of sexual assault are likely to experience greater distress during and after an abortion than other women.

Second, research shows that after any abortion, it is common for women to experience guilt, depression, feelings of being “dirty,” resentment of men, and lowered self-esteem. What is most significant is that these feelings are identical to what women typically feel after rape. Abortion, then, only adds to and accentuates the traumatic feelings associated with sexual assault. Rather than easing the psychological burdens of the sexual assault victim, abortion adds to them.

This was the experience of Jackie Bakker, who reports: “I soon discovered that the aftermath of my abortion continued a long time after the memory of my rape had faded. I felt empty and horrible. Nobody told me about the pain I would feel deep within causing nightmares and deep depressions. They had all told me that after the abortion I could continue my life as if nothing had happened.”

Those encouraging abortion often do so because they are uncomfortable dealing with rape victims, or perhaps out of prejudice against victims whom they see as being “guilty for letting it happen.” Wiping out the pregnancy is a way of hiding the problem. It is a “quick and easy” way to avoid dealing with the woman’s true emotional, social and financial needs.

According to Kathleen DeZeeuw, “I, having lived through rape, and also having raised a child ‘conceived in rape,’ feel personally assaulted and insulted every time I hear that abortion should be legal because of rape and incest. I feel that we’re being used by pro-abortionists to further the abortion issue, even though we’ve not been asked to tell our side.”

The case against abortion of incest pregnancies is even stronger. Studies show that incest victims rarely ever voluntarily agree to an abortion.4 Instead of viewing the pregnancy as unwanted, the incest victim is more likely to see the pregnancy as a way out of the incestuous relationship because the birth of her child will expose the sexual activity. She is also likely to see in her pregnancy the hope of bearing a child with whom she can establish a true loving relationship, one far different than the exploitive relationship in which she has been trapped.

But while the incest victim may treasure her pregnancy because it offers her hope of release, and the hope of finding a nurturing love, her pregnancy is a threat to the exploiter. It is also a threat to the pathological secrecy which may envelop other members of the family who are afraid to acknowledge that the abuse is occurring. Because of this dual threat, the victim may be coerced into an unwanted abortion by both the abuser and other family members.

For example, Edith Young, a 12-year-old victim of incest impregnated by her stepfather, writes twenty-five years after the abortion of her child: “Throughout the years I have been depressed, suicidal, furious, outraged, lonely, and have felt a sense of loss… The abortion which was to ‘be in my best interest’ just has not been. As far as I can tell, it only ‘saved their reputations,’ ‘solved their problems,’ and ‘allowed their lives to go merrily on.’… My daughter, how I miss her so. I miss her regardless of the reason for her conception.”

Abortion providers who ignore this evidence, and neglect to interview minors presented for abortion for signs of coercion or incest, are actually contributing to the young girl’s victimization. They are not only robbing the victim of her child, they are concealing a crime, abetting a perpetrator, and handing the victim back to her abuser so that the exploitation can continue.

Finally, we must recognize that the children conceived through sexual assault also have a voice which deserves to be heard. Julie Makimaa, conceived by an act of rape, works diligently against the perception that abortion is acceptable or even necessary in cases of sexual assault. While sympathetic to the suffering her mother endured at the hands of her attacker, Julie is also rightfully proud of her mother’s courage and generosity. Regarding her own view of her origin, Julie proclaims: “It doesn’t matter how I began. What matters is who I will become.”

That’s a slogan we can all live with.

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One thought on “Is abortion justifiable in cases of rape or incest?”

  1. I have thought about this quite a bit over the years. The wide spread of opinions is incredible, matched only by the passion of the activists on all sides. This is an issue that few people are even able to have a civilized discussion about. Complicating it further is that there are few that hold a black-and-white view of the issue. The majority of people in the US see abortion as a giant grey area with varying degrees of abortion considered acceptable. Very few people hold the position of unlimited abortion access or no abortion under any circumstances. Below is the process I went through to come up with my position on the matter.

    First, I asked myself the question at what point does a human being obtain “personhood” and as such gain all the legal and moral protections that status entitles them to? There are some who say that the point of personhood is 28 days AFTER birth, at which point you still should be allowed to abort. In fact, there is a professor of ethics at Princeton University that actively advocates this position. This is the position that spurred “Born Alive” legislation that says if a woman has an abortion and the baby survives, that doctors cannot withhold care and let the baby die on the operating table. Others say up to the point of birth. These folks, such as Barak Obama, would hold that this type of infanticide as well as partial birth abortion is a reasonable procedure. Or perhaps just before while the mother is in labor. Or 6 months of gestation or 3 months or three weeks. I wrestled with this for a long time.

    Then I looked at the issue a different way. Does human life have an imputed value or an intrinsic one? If we say that it is imputed, meaning the value is derived from something else, some outside criteria, then any one of the above positions would be equally valid. We as a society would decide what criteria to select. My problem with this is what criteria do you use? On what basis is a baby at 6 weeks more valuable than a baby at 5 weeks? Is a baby that has not yet developed a heart still a baby? This hit really hard on my wife and I when we lost one of our children. Lynne had a miscarriage a few years ago. When people with strong pro-choice sentiments gave us their condolences, they referred to the fetus as a child, even though she (we named her Grace, even though we do not know for sure if she was a she or a he. It made it easier to explain to the other children what happened and easier for Lynne and I to grieve our loss) was at the same gestational point, 9 weeks, that they believed abortion was merely removing some unwanted tissue of the mother. So, the criteria used is whether or not a child is wanted? If that is so, then why? The characteristics of an object of any sort are not contingent on another persons belief for perception.

    By similar logic, if the value of human life is imputed, it can also be taken away, depending on what some person or group of persons believe that life is worth. So if you happen to be mentally retarded or black or Jewish, it would be perfectly reasonable for you to be killed off for the good of the community if they believe it. I have a friend who is paralyzed from the neck down and constantly in pain. There are some in the world who would look at her and say that she has no quality of life or that the money and effort to support her would be better used on others. They would have her die due to her handicap. But knowing her the way I do I find the notion that she is without a quality of life to be ridiculous on its face. She is a writer, a painter, a social worker, and heads up an international charity. I’d call that a pretty good quality of life. So would her husband who married her years after her accident put her in the wheelchair. Thus, the imputed value logic is shown to me to be completely arbitrary. Following any of the “prior to this point it is not human but at this one on it is” positions is likewise arbitrary and is not able to answer the question of personhood.

    But consider the proposition that human life has an intrinsic value. That it is valuable simply because it is human life and no other reason. No measure or quantification of the value of it, it is and that is enough. It is sort of like gold. Gold is valuable because it is gold, not because we as a society stood up one day and said, “we are going to make gold valuable”. Gold has an intrinsic value as opposed to an imputed value, such as paper currency. Paper currency is worthless in and of itself. It has value only because we say it has a certain value.

    This position then would support a clear line between human life and not human life. With this position, you are a human at the point that you have a unique genetic code. In other words, at conception. Prior to that, there was no “you”. The male and female reproductive components in and of themselves are not a unique genetic code, but merely parts of the donors. It is only when they combine to create new life do “you” begin to be a person.

    The notion of intrinsic value also carries forward throughout life. My mother-in-law was on dialysis for several months before diabetes finally took her life. There are many who would have said that she should just die and not burden the rest of us. If those persons held the position that human life has imputed value, I can understand. I however, believe that human life is intrinsically valuable and worth preserving and protecting for as long as possible. Thus, we should protect life at the beginning and at the end and at all points in between. That is why we continued to get her to dialysis until the day she finally passed away.

    So, we come full circle back to the question of abortion. Should it be outlawed? My answer, since I believe in the intrinsic value of human life, is that for the most part it should. Why only “for the most part”? Because there are times when you have to weigh the life of two humans and pick one to live and one to die. My sister-in-law faced such a problem once. She got pregnant from her husband and it turned out to be a tubal pregnancy. Had the child been allowed to grow inside of her, it would have killed her before the baby would have been able to survive on its own. Thus, in weighing these two lives, one would have to conclude that the baby would have to die in order to save the mother’s life. What about cases of rape or incest? I have 5 daughters (yes, that was no typo) and the thought of one of them being raped is always lurking in the back of my mind. Statistically speaking, at least one of them will be before they graduate from college. If one of them should get pregnant as a result, the hard decision would be to let that child live. Pregnancy is not the extremely dangerous event of the past. Rarely do people die from giving birth. Many more die as a result of complications after an abortion. But the bottom line is that the child is innocent of any crime, so why punish it? It is a human being of intrinsic value. I’m not saying it is an easy choice and I can certainly sympathize with those who have had to make it. Perhaps they even made the wrong choice. But, God is a loving and forgiving God, who can even forgive the taking of a human life. Which is what abortion is.

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