Russell and Duenes

What About in Cases of Rape or Incest?

with 6 comments

Michael Stokes Paulsen is University Chair and Professor of Law at the University of St. Thomas, in Minneapolis, and co-director of its Pro-Life Advocacy Center (PLACE), and I only wish I had been turned on to him sooner. His is a winsome and compassionate voice in support of both mothers and their babies, and my hope is that I can contribute somehow in this space toward giving him a wider audience. (You can find many of his columns at www.thepublicdiscourse.com). In his recent piece – The Right to Life and the Irrelevancy of Rape – he gets to the the ultimate questions that should be asked “in cases of rape,” without downplaying the horror of rape in any way.

Paulsen begins by noting that the question: “What about rape?” is “[p]robably the best weapon in the rhetorical arsenal of those who call themselves ‘pro-choice’ on abortion.” It’s a rhetorically powerful question, says Paulsen, because it tends to put the pro-life proponent immediately on his or her heels, having to answer to the charge: “Would pro-lifers really torment a woman, already victimized by sexual violence or exploitation of the most horrible kind, by requiring her to carry a resulting pregnancy to term and give birth to the child?” Confronted with the question in this way, “most [pro-lifers] will give ground almost immediately, not wanting to appear unreasonable.”

Yet Paulsen argues persuasively that giving ground is exactly the wrong tact to take, and that the “rape question” can actually prove very fruitful in advancing the pro-life position. Paulsen holds that “defenders of the right to life should agree to answer the what-about-rape question, straightforwardly and without equivocation, but only if the questioner will first answer one (or two) questions himself.” (emphasis his). The first question the pro-lifer should be permitted to ask is this: “Suppose, following a rape, the victim became pregnant and had the baby. But then, a year or two later—or three or four years later—the mother comes to despise the child because the child’s very life and presence reminds her, horribly, daily, painfully, of the awful experience of the rape. Should we permit the woman to terminate the life of the two-year-old or four-year-old child?” To this question, Paulsen assumes the likely “pro-choice” answer would be “no—combined with a protest to the question, that it is unfair, or presents an entirely different situation from abortion.”

Paulsen’s second hypothetical question then follows naturally from the answer to the first: “Exactly why  [ought not] a four-year-old’s life, resulting from rape, . . . be terminated, if his or her life greatly distresses the mother, or, if the objection has been raised, exactly why [is]the situation of abortion . . . thought to be so decisively different?” Paulsen responds: “The pro-choice advocate’s answer, almost unavoidably, must be that a born child is different, because the child is now clearly an independent, living human being.” Yet it is precisely in giving this answer that the pro-choice proponent has shown that rape is not the central issue with respect to abortion, even for the pro-choicer. The central issue now is that the child has been born, and because he or she has been born and has become an independent, living child, then the fact that the child was conceived by rape cannot justify taking the child’s life. As Paulsen says, “[I]t is birth as opposed to pregnancy—not the fact of rape—that makes the difference?  How is this any different from the pro-choice advocate’s general argument for abortion rights? Rape might be an especially sympathetic case, and therefore rhetorically effective, but if the living human embryo or fetus really were an independent human life—like a born child—the fact that he or she was conceived as a result of rape or incest wouldn’t be a reason that we would credit for allowing the mother to kill the child, would it? If the answer is no, then it is not rape that makes the moral difference; it is the issue of the moral status of the living human embryo or fetus—isn’t that right?”

Thus, Paulsen’s strategy puts the pro-life proponent back on sure footing, where he or she really has been all along, by getting down to the real issue about all abortion. He writes: “Rape is tragic, awful, horrible, gut-wrenching—an unspeakable crime of great emotional harm—but rape is essentially irrelevant to the morality of abortion. The issue is the human status, or lack thereof, of the unborn child—whether he or she has a right to live, or may instead be killed for reasons society deems sufficient good cause or simply leaves to the mother’s unrestricted choice.”

Paulsen also argues that the “rape question” on abortion can fruitfully lead into discussions surrounding the question: “Is it your view that whether or not abortion should be permitted should depend on the reasons for which the pregnant woman desires abortion?” The answers to this question may raise further important issues, such as sex-selective abortions, abortions in order to spite someone, or merely abortions in order to complete college studies.

We do well to ponder Paulsen’s further thoughts on these secondary issues raised by the “rape question,” but you’ll have to read his whole piece in order to do so. His article is important because it ultimately brings the discussion back to the only relevant question: What is the unborn? If the unborn is in fact a full human being, created in the image of God, with the same inherent worth and dignity of any adult human being, then surely we are not justified in taking that child’s life, no matter how he or she was conceived. Further, we are not doing the mother who was raped any favor’s by justifying her choice of abortion in such a case, because by terminating the pregnancy, we are compounding one horrific problem with another. If our goal is to bring emotional and spiritual freedom to mothers who have been so heinously violated, we ought to consider whether getting rid of the child will actually produce such freedom, or whether it will more likely produce a sense of guilt and bondage on top of the trauma of the rape.

For raising these issues, I commend Professor Paulsen, and hope you will commend and recommend him as well.

-D

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Written by Michael Duenes

September 24, 2012 at 5:57 pm

6 Responses

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  1. Interesting article. While I am pro-life even in the case of rape/incest, I’m not sure this argument would hold up well for someone who is pro-choice. The difference between a 4 year old and a baby in the womb is that if the mother despises the 4 year old then she can give her to someone to take care of at the moment she despises the child. The child is not attached to her body and her trauma related to interacting with the child can be immediately removed. I think the other questions he asks like “Is it your view that whether or not abortion should be permitted should depend on the reasons for which the pregnant woman desires abortion?” is a good way to move on from the rape/incest question and move on to the real issue which is unfortunately that many pro-choice people don’t believe a baby in the womb should have the same moral standing as a infant. I’m not sure how to address that question.

    MF

    September 25, 2012 at 5:20 pm

    • Your point is well-made, MF, but I think it still leaves Paulsen’s point in tact. In other words, you have argued that she could give the born child up for adoption because the child is no longer inside of her, dependent on her body in the same way. Thus, she shows again that the real issue is, as Paulsen says, “that the child has been born, and because he or she has been born and has become an independent, living child, then the fact that the child was conceived by rape cannot justify taking the child’s life.” Thus, it is not the rape that is relevant; rather, it is the “born” status of the child. The pro-choicer is making the distinction based on born vs. not-born, not HOW the child was conceived.

      -D

      russell and duenes

      September 25, 2012 at 6:03 pm

  2. What of the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which states that an unborn child can be deemed a “victim” of violent crime at any stage of development? I understand that pro-choicers have somehow made logical peace with this law that has glaring inconsistencies with their point of view, but I don’t see how. I unfortunately lack the understanding of the legal wording they use in their defense. I was hoping you could shed some light on this? It makes my head spin.

    Carle Minin

    September 26, 2012 at 10:58 am

    • C – I do not know a whole lot about the Act, and from my cursory exposure to it, it appears that it only applies under certain federal crimes. I just glanced over the text of the statute, and there’s a lot in there. Yes, it could make one’s head spin, and I have not read enough about it to shed much light on it. But you are correct, it is a glaring inconsistency. The most interesting part of the Act is the provision it makes for abortion. In other words, it expressly states that it will be a crime to kill the unborn “homo sapiens” UNLESS it’s the mother, and/ or her appointed abortionist, who does the killing. Thus, as I’ve argued before, with abortion, we have this logic: If the mother wants the child and someone else kills him or her, it’s manslaughter or murder (see the Lacy Peterson case). But if the mother does not want the child and has the child killed, no problem.

      -D

      russell and duenes

      September 26, 2012 at 9:21 pm

  3. Thank you for your thoughts. I simply don’t understand how this (il)logic can prevail, except that it be a supernatural blinding and hardening of the heart. I have only recently seen this 33 minute piece by Ray Comfort, but I found it to be a powerful tool to communicate with the “enlightened” culture of young pro-choicers. http://www.180movie.com

    Carle Minin

    October 1, 2012 at 10:56 am

    • C – I’ve seen that video, too, and I think it’s about the best one out there. You’re right, changing hearts and minds through the power of Christ and the gospel is the only hope of our turning away from the slaughter. If you want to read more deeply about the issues, I highly recommend Scott Klusendorf’s book, “The Case for Life.” It’s one of the best out there.

      -D

      russell and duenes

      October 1, 2012 at 5:33 pm


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