Arguing For The Rape Exception
[This post is the first in a point-counterpoint debate. See the argument against the rape exception here.]
According to Gallup, 59% of self-described pro-lifers believe abortion should be legal in cases of rape. This is a higher percentage than I expected. Anecdotally, it seems most pro-lifers I interact with believe there should be no rape exception. I’m glad to see that’s not the case, and that most pro-lifers share my view that restrictive abortion laws should have a rape exception.
In order to understand the following post, it would be helpful to first read this.
I consider bodily integrity the strongest pro-choice argument. Our society does not accept an infringement on bodily integrity in most circumstances, including when another person’s life is in danger. We don’t, for example, require all citizens to be organ donors, despite patients dying while waiting for transplants. I sometimes feel my fellow pro-lifers too easily dismiss this very serious consideration when discussing abortion.
Because of issues of consent and responsibility, I do not find the bodily integrity argument sufficient to justify most elective abortions. However, in cases of rape, issues of consent and responsibility do not apply. A rape victim does not consent to risking conception, and she does not cause the fetus’s dependent state. If abortion were illegal even in cases of rape, women in these situations truly would lose their bodily autonomy.
Rape cases are properly analogous to Thomson’s violinist: if you are kidnapped and your circulatory system is connected to a very sick man, you should have the right to disconnect. This does not mean the violinist is not human. This does not mean the violinist is not a person. This does not mean the violinist is of less moral worth than other people. It means the responsibility for another’s life shouldn’t be forced upon you in a situation you had no control over, especially when it requires giving of your own body.
It is important here to make a distinction between what ought to be legal and what is moral. The Court recognized this moral/legal distinction in the case of Shimp v. McFall. The Court described Shimp’s refusal to donate life-saving bone marrow as “morally indefensible,” but still ruled that Shimp cannot be compelled to donate. Morally, I would hope you’d stay connected to the violinist for the nine months of his recuperation. Morally, I hope a woman who has been raped will still choose life. Legally, though, these heroic actions should not be mandatory.
How does the violation of the woman's bodily integrity by the rapist justify the subsequent violation of the baby's bodily integrity by the woman?
You're right, she should have thought about the consequences of getting pregnant before she was raped.
Anon, if I could "like" this comment I would.
One could argue a form of self defense. One would argue that a woman would have the right of extreme force against a mad rapist, who in a sense doesn't know what they are doing and innocent.
Its unfortunate that to protect herself that it would come to that, maybe the mad person is temporarily insane, yet we woudlnt tell a woman put up with the rape until he is finished.
& even if you argue pregnancy isn't violent but passive occupation of the womans body, it still invloves health and existential risks plus nowhere else in society do we say some other party has a right to use your body or that you must automatically override your bodily autonomy to save another life.
Thanks for this post. I agree. As someone with libertarian leanings, I think it's absolutely essential to recognize the bodily integrity of women even as we argue for the human rights of children in the womb. I also find it a bit problematic, at least from my point of view, that pro-lifers sometimes make arguments that seem to flow solely out of a collectivist mindset: it is the duty of the woman to give her body, all children should be cared for "by society," and so forth. There are limitations, in my view, to how much these ideas are correct. (Of course, none of this is to say that people with progressive ideals or collectivist leanings shouldn't be part of the pro-life movement.)
Valtarov, I think you're missing the main point that in fact the baby also violates the woman's bodily integrity. This is a compelling point *only* in the case of rape, because in other cases the woman took part in causing the baby to come into being, and thereby become dependent on her. However, innocent as a child conceived in rape may be, this doesn't necessarily mean a woman ought to be forced into accepting risks to her own body in order to support that child through pregnancy.
You should get in on the facebook version of this (spl on facebook), I'm the only one agreeing with the post at the moment.
There is a flaw in the analogy of a woman forced in to pregnancy through rape and being forced in to organ donorship. The flaw is this, in the case of the organ donor, there is permanently something missing in the organ donor that will not "return to normal" while in the pregnancy, once the baby is delivered, it can be adopted in to a loving home and will not have to remain with the woman. The dignity and emotional stability stolen by rape does not return with the performing of an abortion. There is not "I was never raped" pill, only a pill that will remove a life caused by a forceful act. I'm not arguing that the victim of rape is not indeed a very case, but that abortion will not bring about healing. I believe an exception to the proposed illegality of abortion would be possible in life-threatening cases (of the mother), but let us not get confused here. Abortion in the case of rape does not mean that the woman's life is in danger (because of the pregnancy).
The admittedly long period in which support for the child is put on the victim of rape against their consent is different because of its temporary nature. I think the best way to combat rape is not to make exceptions in abortion for rape victims (this will likely lead to a lot of false rape charges) but to make clearly known to the public that rape is not just "rough sex" it is an emotionally destructive violation of dignity and a very real chance at forced pregnancy. I don't claim that the reduction in rape is a legitimate reason to force pregnancy, but that it is a side effect of an already morally indefensible exception for the very difficult case of rape.
If I thought the death penalty was moral at all, I would reserve it for the rapists.
How about blood donation? Patients need blood transfusions all the time, and it can be difficult to obtain, particularly for people with rare blood types. We still don't require citizens to donate blood.
The post says nothing about the rape exception undoing rapes or combating rape in general. It simply says the rape exception should exist because of a woman's right to bodily autonomy.
Using forced organ donation isn't a perfect analogy but aims at the underlying principle of forcing someone to use their body or body parts against their will to save alife.
BTW no pregnancy is risk for both both health and life.
As I've argued before unless people who are against excpetions for rape are prepared to give up their bodily autonomy to save lives through forced organ donations or even provide care you can hardly ask rape victims just to do it.
Nor is the fact that its already happening relevant because the underlying principle is still there -whether they are currently attached to you or waiting in the next room- by overriding bodily autonomy we can save a life.
#edit Risk free
a good rebuttal to the violinist argument~
Your case is not convincing for several reasons.
First, the entire case is dependent on the following assertion: "…if you are kidnapped and your circulatory system is connected to a very sick man, you should have the right to disconnect." Unfortunately, you gave your reader no evidence or logic to support that assertion.
Second, even if your reader does agree with you that citizens should have a right to disconnect in such a scenario, that single example does not establish the propriety of an absolute right to bodily autonomy. A proposition cannot be proven by giving examples of situations in which the proposition holds.
Third, even if a reader does agree that an absolute right to bodily integrity should exist, your argumentation did not establish that such a right implies that government should not suppress the incidence of abortion in the case of rape. In the other post you defined the right to bodily as "the idea that no person has the right to use another person’s body against their will." Enacting policies to protect the unborn in cases of rape would not necessarily violate that idea because policies would merely act to reduce the incidence of abortion in cases of rape, not establish a right of the fetus.
Fourth, even if your reader assumes a more limited right to bodily integrity, you have not established that it would apply to abortion in the case of rape. There are many differences between the the violinist analogy and abortion in the cases of rape. For example, abortion rarely requires nine months of confinement to a bed. Rebecca Kiessling lists other differences.
The court case you cited in the other post was equally unpersuasive. You presented no evidence to convince your reader that all of our laws should be bound by a decision of a county court in Pennsylvania or of the opinion of the judge in the case.
Your car crash analogy was also not compelling for some of the same reasons. Furthermore, even with your legal assumption, an existing law does not restrict the content of future laws. Moreover, the analogy is potentially poor for a number of reasons. For example, the victim of a car crash (or someone responsible for that person) will always share some culpability for their condition by being on the road; an unborn child will never share culpability for a pregnancy.
Your post is more a description of how you frame the issue than a case for your position.
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These aren’t philosophy papers and one does expect some familiarity with the subject so with bodily autonomy and the widely accepted moral and legal principle- that you don’t force another full moral being to use their body or body parts against their will- doesn’t need to be spelt out to that degree. That also goes for moral responsibility and how that doesn’t apply to rape victims.
Next sure there is no reason in principle this couldn’t change but if you want to change give some reasons why as a society we should overturn such a fundamental moral and legal precept. The post raises the general principles if you have something of substance to say, say it.
>Enacting policies to protect the unborn in cases of rape would not necessarily violate that idea because policies would merely act to reduce the incidence of abortion in cases of rape, not establish a right of the fetus.
Really? Taking away the bodily autonomy right of just one woman would in fact invalidate moral equality for her and women in general , giving them less rights and conversely giving the rape foetus more rights than everyone else. Post partum people don’t have that right to force another moral party to use their body to save their life, so why should the rape foetus?
Regarding innocent aggressors there are wider philosophical arguments regarding low impact or passive harms so one not need invoke life and death situations.
& while that one court case was one judgment it is entirely consistent with established legal and moral principles & as was recently pointed out to me nowhere currently under the law is there any case for bodily compensation from the offender to the innocent party.
Lastly life is a risk and -all things being equal- people aren’t held responsible for things that they do in a day to day manner for obvious reasons. Otherwise one would be is some way culpable for many harms by just by living a normal existence. Even if in some sense the rape foetus is more ‘innocent’ than someone who drives safely to work but is hit by a drunk driver your objection is nonsensical esp in light that philosophically one can indeed have innocent aggressors.
You and the author have every right to express your opinion that bodily integrity is a "widely accepted moral and legal principle," but simply saying so is highly unlikely to persuade anyone.
"Taking away the bodily autonomy right of just one woman would in fact invalidate moral equality for her and women in general , giving them less rights and conversely giving the rape foetus more rights than everyone else."
You are not properly interpreting those comments of mine. I was asserting that laws that protect unborn babies conceived in rape do not undermine bodily integrity — at least given the author's definition.
"…[P]eople aren’t held responsible for things that they do in a day to day manner for obvious reasons."
I think you need to re-think this assertion. People are held responsible for their day-to-day decisions all the time.
While granted under British law no one -even ourselves- owns their body, there is legislation as to what can be done with it. & while a legal expert may give a legal basis for this, there are different philosophical accounts as to the freedoms and harms that can be granted or imposed on another moral entity with full moral rights.
Nonetheless the end result is the fact we cannot under-law use another persons body or organ -that is would need to be separated- against their will. If you are so certain that this is in fact incorrect and mere opinion, please enlighten us with your counter examples.
"I was asserting that laws that protect unborn babies conceived in rape do not undermine bodily integrity"
Well yes and no. Granted one could argue that it is similar to the right to life, in that giving a victim the right to use lethal force against an offender that threatens their life doesn't undermine the right to life in general.
But for rape this is indeed contested and the no rape exception supporters would have to justify why in this situation one moral agent is forced to not only risk their life, but also allow the use of their body against their will, when this isn't afforded to any moral agent with full moral rights.
It isn't even a case of not being able to kill innocent offenders as the law allows this and well as many philosophical accounts.
Lastly I'll clarify "…[P]eople aren’t held responsible for things that they do in a day to day manner for obvious reasons." when through not fault of their own -Caeteris paribus- they or another party that is there because of them, is harmed by another party who is at fault.
You want to tell me that if I drive in a safe manner with a passenger and he is killed by a drunk driver; that I'm morally responsible for his death?
"…allow the use of their body against their will, when this isn't afforded to any moral agent with full moral rights."
The law, at least in Minnesota, does not allow rapists to use any woman's body against her will. Rape is against the law. I do not propose to legalize rape.
"You want to tell me that if I drive in a safe manner with a passenger and he is killed by a drunk driver; that I'm morally responsible for his death?"
No, but I never made any such claim or anything like it. A better analogy would be that I supported laws banning drinking and driving or that I favored laws requiring that people pull to the side of the road to clear the way so that an ambulance can take the victim to the hospital.
"It means the responsibility for another’s life shouldn’t be forced upon you in a situation you had no control over, especially when it requires giving of your own body."
The problem with this statement is that it fails to recognize that the unborn child who is killed in an abortion also had no control over the situation. By allowing that child to be killed, we would be denying that child the right to bodily autonomy. Thus, the right to live must take precedence over the right to bodily integrity. The right to bodily integrity is simply meaningless without the right to live.
"People are held responsible for their day-to-day decisions all the time." Yes when they are at fault. But not when they aren't.
Society and certain philosophical accounts do allow lethal force against innocent offenders. What is contested here is that some think the burden of pregnancy is sufficient grounds to invoke this sort of reasoning while others don't. If the supporters of such a stance were prepared to give up their own bodily autonomy to save a life maybe it would have more traction.
This idea that we only focus on negative rights and not positive has never sat well with me. It's like saying one cannot drown a infant in a bath but I'm not obligated to stop it from drowning.
"'People are held responsible for their day-to-day decisions all the time.' Yes when they are at fault. But not when they aren't."
People are always at fault for their decisions.
"If the supporters of such a stance were prepared to give up their own bodily autonomy to save a life maybe it would have more traction."
I am not aware of any advocate of laws that would protect the unborn in cases of rape that favor exempting themselves from those requirements. In fact, many such advocates have given birth to children conceived in rape when the law did not compel them to do so — not the least of whom was my own birth mother.
Exactly. Once against people have forgotten about the "bodily integrity" of the baby. I believe that the bodily integrity argument is yet another distraction from what we are talking about.
A bit late but anon has it wrong people aren't held accountable for or actions or decision.
Next regarding a rape victim the point was if you are going to override someone else's bodily autonomy to save a life be sure to apply the same rule to yourself.
& to the last post I'm not forgetting the bodily integrity of the rape fetus or the non rape fetus