The horrid sentiments expressed by Todd Akin have left a lot of people livid and angry. I am one of them. This culture of blaming a rape victim that lies latent in his words, that if you get pregnant it must have not really been rape, that women have some strange control over pregnancy and thus can at least in part be blamed for pregnancy, is disgusting. It is a culture that propagates the idea of women as the key holders of chastity and encourages marginalization.
As a pro-life person, I also despise what he said because when it comes down to a moral and philosophical debate on the rights of the unborn, all of a sudden this man’s words can and often are attributed to “my side”. I reject that entirely, of course; I suspect Todd Akin and I share as many opinions as I share appendages with a fish, but in our emotionally-charged and partisan world, he has created a rallying cry for even the most superficial of pro-choice arguments.
Sherif Girgis writes in the New York Times about the problems with Todd Akin’s statements:
Second, Akin’s efforts to defend the prolife view had the opposite effect, by feeding the (entirely unfair) narrative that pro-lifers are ignorant of and callous toward women’s true needs. The abortion debate is one between decent people with honest disagreements on the moral status of the unborn, not of women.
But this is a good time to talk about something as pro-lifers. Pro-choice groups will be quick to jump on pro-lifers who allow exceptions in cases of rape: “If you think it is a human being, then isn’t it always wrong to kill a human being?” That is a good question for each of us to ponder. What are the moral underpinnings of a rape exception?
I preface this by saying that I have a very strong non-opinion on the matter. That is, I am convinced that I, and the vast majority of humanity, minus the women who had lived it, have so little observational data that I can’t comprehend the situation at hand. I am female, but I have never even been sexually harassed, much less raped. Consequently, I cannot form a moral opinion that would be suitable for public policy, as either way I go, my argument would be weak.
As has been discussed in countless articles before, one of the most compelling cases for abortion is bodily autonomy. I, however, like the hosts of this site, do not see that as compelling enough. Pregnancy, while duly fraught with hardship and difficulty, is ultimately a temporary condition. The resulting post-born child is a longer time and effort commitment, but we do have a society that offers other options through adoption, so let us look solely at the term of pregnancy.
We know in our society that people die, and are killed, for what is perceived as the “greater net benefit”. This could take the form of a soldier fighting to protect her country, or what we tolerate for carcinogens in our drinking water. The EPA determines Total Maximum Daily Loads of particulates coming out of coal power plants not based on what would be needed to safely protect all human life, but based on what constitutes an “acceptable risk”, which is defined as x number of people getting cancer after ingesting or inhaling x amount of substance. They do this because the overall perceived benefit of economic activity, including the electricity needed to power street lamps at night which reduce car crash casualties, is perceived to be higher than the cost of a certain number of life-terminating cancers.
So when we apply this rationale–that we should strive to ensure there is the greatest net benefit between all parties involved–we can attempt to boil down the question of abortion into some equations:
Life is the most basic requirement we have to interact and exist in this world. A person can live, grow and interact with the world without bodily autonomy (consider conjoined twins). A person cannot have bodily autonomy without life. In the case of financial burden, again, there are hardships (and we should regularly support and fight for causes that reduce those financial burdens) but still, Life trumps. Unless we think the mugger will kill us anyway, or that we have the ability to overcome the mugger, the vast majority of us would be handing over that cash, even if it was the last dime we had.
I believe the trauma induced by rape to likely be one of those horrible things that some might never recover from. In the case of rape, where a woman descends into the depths of depression, and she is unable to overcome the tragedy that befalls her, I personally find it difficult to say that she should not be given all the tools possible to survive that life-ending rut. I do not know if an abortion in this case would do her much good–I do not know that as she is suffering, destroying the child would help her–but since I do not know the situation, I cannot make that call. I am sure there are women who think it would help, feeling that knowing the rapist’s child is in her would lead her into depths from which she could not ever recover. Then I am sure there are women who would feel worse for it: first a victim, then a murderer. I cannot say either way.
This is not to say the child is at fault or suddenly not human. It is to say the woman is also not at fault to strive for the survival of her mind. While I do think abortion in the case of rape is the killing of human life, that a child of a rapist is as much a human before birth as the child of consensual sex, and that abortion should be avoided if possible, I am not willing to say that the holistic life of a fetus is worth more than the holistic life of the mother. I would avoid abortion personally, and I would support efforts to help and encourage women who do not choose abortion. But ultimately Life = Life, and there is no net benefit to be gained by choosing one over the other.
So: I am nebulously in favor of a rape exception. What are your opinions, and what rationale leads you to them?