“He’s become a one-man rise in crime.
I’d blame parents except he hasn’t got ’em.”
Vendors on the streets of an Arabian town sing this protest about Aladdin. In Disney’s movie, Aladdin was a street kid, running around with his monkey, Abu, and alienating himself from the locals. They worked in their farms and vineyards to produce fruits and vegetables they sold or traded in the market. Aladdin, on the other hand, snuck around and helped himself to the fruits of their labors. He finishes the verse with his justification for theft.
“Gotta eat to live, gotta steal to eat,
Otherwise we’d get along.”
“One Jump” made for a catchy song, but more interesting is the moral question it asks, “Is it ever right to do wrong?”
If we’re being totally honest we would answer the question differently in Aladdin’s shoes than we would pushing the cart of the street vendor. I would argue to do wrong is never right, and if we allow loopholes we erode the moral ground on which we stand, leaving us unable to identify right and wrong in the first place.
One of my recent articles, “How has your religion affected your position on abortion,” produced some heartfelt comments, many of which presented the same moral dilemma as Aladdin. Even though the stakes are much higher, at the heart of the question I’ll explore here is the same – is it ever right to do wrong?
The primary objection raised when the idea of outlawing abortion is discussed is the woman impregnated through an unwanted act of violence, namely rape or incest. Researching statistics was challenging because very few articles cited their claims and I couldn’t find anything definitive. I’ve seen statistics claiming abortions due to rape or incest make up less than 1% of those that occur, but nothing I found even approached 10% so I feel safe writing more than 90% of the abortions occurring in the U.S. have nothing to do with these proposed exceptions. That being said, when thinking about this issue we have to consider the women who were violently assaulted and find themselves pregnant through no consent of their own.
Before going further, if you are reading this and haven’t seen the first two articles in the series I implore you to read number one and number two. Much of what you are about to read deals with the mind where those first two focus on the heart and they’re vitally important.
Also, this series is not about the law. The law isn’t going to change anybody’s heart, and ultimately this issue must be dealt with there. Abortions happened way before Roe v. Wade and if it were overturned tomorrow they would continue. I absolutely believe the practice should be outlawed, but my greater purpose is that you would 1) never play a part in one happening and 2) do everything in your power to come alongside women and men struggling with that decision and offer support, whether abortion is illegal, legal, or prescribed.
Should Abortion Be Permitted in the case of Rape or Incest?
This question is normally framed in one of two ways: either a staunch believer in abortion will use it to nudge the pro-life person away from a firm absolute, thus creating moral relativity; or a person who might not support abortion in general will ask it out of sympathy for the victimized women. Each of those potential motivations will receive some attention and the answer is layered, so I’ll try to be as clear as possible.
This quote sufficiently illustrates the feelings of the sympathetic objector:
What would the psychological damage to a woman be if they did not have access to terminate what would most certainly be an unwanted pregnancy? What does that tell women in our society? Does it say, “if you get raped, not only do you have to deal with the psychological consequences of the damage inflicted, but you now have to care for yourself and the child created as a result for the next 9 months?”
What if by carrying the child of a sexual assault to term, there was a strong chance that she would die, leaving me a widower and a single parent?
I’ll address the concern for the mother’s safety in a later article, but here the focus is on acts of violence. Rape is a horrible reality. It’s quite possible to most violent, invasive, haunting thing a person could ever endure. Working with women who have gone through this horror is helping me more fully appreciate the depth of their wounds, but it didn’t take long to realize rape is a horrifying, traumatizing event. This is why I completely understand the sympathetic motivations behind this potential exception. However, the sympathetic person has at least four moral and logical inconsistencies with their position.
First, most of the people who hold the sympathetic position are opposed to abortion motivated by convenience, late-term abortions, or partial-birth abortions. If you hold this belief you must ask yourself why you’re opposed to those scenarios? Do you really believe it’s wrong abort a child in his thirty-ninth week of development? If so, why? Is it wrong for a twenty-something to be promiscuous and get regular abortions? If you think so, why? If abortion is wrong, then abortion is wrong. If it’s okay, then it’s okay. You’ll have a very hard time trying to justify your position if you really give it thought.
The second moral dilemma you face is found in the assumption supporting your exception. You believe rape or incest is wrong, therefore the woman qualifies as a victim and should be free from the responsibilities associated with a pregnancy. Most people believe rape is wrong because it’s an act of violence against an innocent individual and we reject that concept as individuals and as a society. We might tolerate one of our troops, for example, killing an armed, trained member of an opposing force, but we would reject his killing of a common citizen due to this idea of “innocence.”
If that accurately describes your belief, how then to you justify the act of violence perpetuated on the innocent child in the womb? Bear in mind, this exception is not qualified only to include the “morning after pill” that would abort a child in her first forty-eight hours of life. This exception is expressed as an unconditional out, meaning a child could be aborted right until the point of delivery. We will explore the question of when life begins in a later article, but like I said, this exception is unconditional so someone who holds it must be willing to accept the idea of taking the life of an eight pound, four ounce, fully developed, blue-eyed little boy two hours before he would be delivered naturally. Do you believe that’s acceptable? If you do believe there are no conditions on the rape and incest exception then you have no moral foundation to support your rejection of rape or incest, which leaves you spinning in an irreconcilable moral circle. Either rape is wrong because it’s a violent attack against an innocent person therefore abortion is as well, or abortion is acceptable rendering rape acceptable too. If the sympathetic person wants to re-frame their objection with added conditions they are free to do so, but then they still must reconcile the first moral paradox.
The third challenge for the sympathetic person is with a statute of limitations. If the justification pertains to the psychological, financial emotional, etc consequences of the unintended pregnancy then when do those criteria cease to apply? If the woman is financially stable when the child is conceived and she elects to keep the baby, but then loses her job when the little boy is two, is she then free to “abort” her toddler? If not, why? If she decided to keep the baby but when the boy reaches the end of puberty he reminds her of her attacker, is she free to “abort” her teenage son? If you are a truly sympathetic person you likely find these scenarios ridiculous, but they must be considered because you are basing your justification for abortion on the psychological consequences associated with the rape, and those don’t quickly go away. If it is morally acceptable to abort a child because of psychological consequences, at what point are those rights revoked, and who gets to decide? If you do believe there is a reasonable statute of limitations, how do you justify it? You likely find yourself moving away from the psychological hardships on the mother and back to some sort of qualification on the child which undercuts your initial argument rendering it immaterial. This has to be answered.
Fourth, and finally, if you find a way to maintain the psychological consequence position, to who else do those freedoms apply? For example, I worked with a young girl who found herself pregnant as a result of consensual sex with her then boyfriend. But when forced to deal with the coming child she realized the child’s father was bad news and she wanted him out of her life. Is she granted the same psychological consequence exemption? What if a couple have a child together and ten years down the road the father becomes profoundly abusive. The man goes to jail and the now-single mother is constantly reminded of her traumatizing abuse when she sees their child, does the exemption apply to her?
I assume you keep thinking or saying, “but the child in your scenarios is alive.” You’re exactly right, but your argument isn’t based on the viability of the child; your argument is based on the psychological consequences shouldered by the mother, which puts all these scenarios in play, plus a myriad of others.
Ultimately the issue gets back to the child conceived and Aladdin’s moral dilemma – “is it ever right to do wrong?” And that brings us to the unconditional abortion advocate.
This person believes abortion is totally acceptable at any time, for any reason. The laws of our country generally work under this premiss, with some conditions in some states for dates of viability. When they present the rape or incest exception they are attempting to erode an absolute moral claim with emotional waters. If they can succeed in getting a person to come off an absolute position based on the humanity of the child and move them to a place of conditional qualifications they haven’t created a form of compromise, they have persuaded a complete 180. As I tried to illustrate before, there really is no middle position. And for this person abortion isn’t really the issue at all. The issue with this person is about the inherent value of any human being. This person believes there are cognitive, size, age, location, or burden oriented qualifiers that determine if a person has a right to live. They believe it’s appropriate to euthanize the elderly or the disabled. They support the abortions of children diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome, and when they find in-utero tests to detect Autism, Cerebral Palsy, low IQ, or any other undesirable quality they will advocate for the abortions of those children as well. Look no further than Peter Singer to see a man who lives intellectually and morally consistently within this worldview. There is very little I could say to help this person see the wrong in abortion because they simply do not believe in inherent human dignity. By the way, if you are a proponent of unconditional abortion but do not agree with Singer’s positions you have to ask yourself why. If you think Singer is off base morally, how to you justify your position?
Remembering my two goals, that you would: 1) never play a part in one happening and 2) do everything in your power to come along side women and men struggling with that decision and offer support, whether abortion is illegal, legal, or prescribed; allow me to address the second of those two ideas.
Normally this scenario is presented with only two potential outcomes: abortion or parenting. What’s forgotten is the beautiful possibility of adoption. It’s not an easy thing for any mother or father to go through regardless of the circumstances, but it’s often a wonderful resolution to an otherwise arduous situation. There are even adoptive parents out there who will cover the medical expenses for the birth-mother of their adoptive child. The victim still has to go through the process of pregnancy, but at the end of the nine months they place a priceless gift into the waiting arms of eager parents. There are plenty of organizations out there who can help women through the adoption process. I’m not suggesting adoption is easy, but if there is a compromise between the parenting and abortion positions, adoption is that compromise.
If a victim decides to parent, there are some interesting legal and policy related issues to consider. It was recently pointed out that many states grant parental rights to a rapist. I’ve not looked into the motivations or nuances of these laws, but at first glance they appear appalling. But the answer isn’t to abort the child; the answer is to get our brilliant legal people to correct these laws. As an aside, this illustrates one of the fundamental flaws of this entire position – abortion punishes one of the two innocent people involved with the rape, fundamentally missing the heart of the problem. If I were writing laws, there would be financial responsibilities applied to the rapist. They would have to pay inflated child support to an escrow account somewhere so they never have uninvited direct contact with the victim but still support the child. I’d garnish their wages from the word go. I have no problem with big corporations compensating hardened criminals, in the form of payments to one of these escrow type funds, to build widgets or whatever it is they do. Whether the child was placed for adoption or not, the rapist would pay in and the mother or the adoptive parents could have free access to the funds. I would also eliminate all funding for agencies that provide abortions, namely Planned Parenthood. The millions upon millions of dollars paid to that group would be redistributed to centers that assist single mothers, adoption agencies, general assistance for families who parent children conceived through rape, etc. The point is, when we consider the real problem there are creative ways we can come up with to support these women. Abortion fails to address the pain associated with the rape and it holds the wrong person accountable for the crime.
If victims of violence hold a soft spot in your heart I would encourage you to get involved. Victims of rape carry a lifetime of heartache and struggle constantly with the act of violence committed against them. They are forever haunted by something they had no control over. Please don’t be one who would encourage one of these fragile women to compound their burden by advocating an abortion. It may seem to be an easy out, but abortions carry heavy psychological consequences of their own. Unfortunately, abortion advocates want to dismiss these consequences, and go so far as to demean women who suffer from them, but even Psychology Today acknowledges their existence.
In closing, taking an innocent life is wrong. It doesn’t matter what potential justification someone might suggest, we cannot embrace the idea that it’s acceptable to take innocent lives. When we condemn rape we’re affirming our deep-seated understanding of the wrong in harming the innocent, and instead of advocating for the harm to another innocent person we should be finding creative ways to truly help these women instead of steering them toward further hurt. Aladdin was wrong, and hard as it may be to admit, condoning abortion based on subjective criteria, even one as traumatic as rape, is as well.
- If you’re interested in the story of an actual rape victim who chose adoption, you might appreciate Lee Ezell.
- If you enjoy fiction, you might appreciate Francine Rivers’ novel, The Atonement Child. She writes about this issue with sensitivity and grace in a powerfully compelling story.
- If you would like to better understand women who have been abused, I would recommend On The Threshold of Hope by Diane Mandt Langberg Phd.
- This is a heartfelt response from a rape survivor dealing with this issue.