As someone who has spent the last three and a half years involved in various ways in the pro-life movement, I hear the phrase “except in cases of rape or incest” a lot. It’s kind of a buffering clause, an apologetic little qualifier that people – especially politicians – like to throw out to soften their big mean “anti-choice” message.
The most oft-quoted figure, from a study by Planned Parenthood's own Guttmacher Institute, states that only around 1% of aborted babies are the product of rape or incest. Yet I know a few people who are pretty firmly pro-life, but still waver on the rape/incest issue. They shouldn’t. We should be pro-life without exception, and we should declare this firmly and without apology.
I will explain why this is so using a scene from a film.
The movie Rob Roy (1995) starred Liam Neeson as the title character, Robert MacGregor, a real-life legendary Scot who lived in the 1700s, and Jessica Lange as his devoted wife Mary. A nobleman called Cunningham, believing MacGregor owed him money, paid a visit to his home while MacGregor was away and burned it down, but not before raping Mary.
Mary decided not to tell her husband, because she knew he would challenge Cunningham to a duel, and no one ever survived a duel with Cunningham.
Later, MacGregor found out himself that his wife had been raped, and when he confronted Mary about it, she told him, “There is more. I am with child, and I do not know who the father is.”
Sobbing, she told him, “I couldn’t kill it, husband.”
And he replied, “It’s not the child that needs killing.”
The filmmakers may not have intended to make the argument against abortion in cases of rape and incest, but they did, quite succinctly, through the fictional dialogue of an 18th century Scottish commoner. Having a rugged, simple man utter this bit of wisdom highlights how plainly commonsensical it is; even someone with the most rough-and-ready plebeian take on morality and logic can reason that if anyone deserves to be hurt or killed as a result of a rape, it’s the rapist, not the innocent, defenseless product of his crime.
Rape is a heinous act of violence committed against an innocent person. So is abortion.
Organizations like Planned Parenthood use this rape/incest clause to their advantage. The truth is, as long as people believe abortion is "okay" only in some cases, it is going to keep being okay in any case at all. Adding the “except in cases of rape or incest” phrase to a pro-life message reinforces the mistaken idea that abortion is somehow therapeutic to a woman who has been harmed, and that is not only false, but is a slippery slope to elective abortion on demand. If it can be argued that abortion “helps” a woman in a state of psychological trauma due to rape or incest, it can be argued that she is “helped” by having an abortion in any number of traumatic circumstances.
Proponents of the rape/incest exception argue that the woman who carries her rapist’s child to term (even if releasing for adoption) suffers great psychological trauma. Assuming this is correct for the sake of argument, it is still true that abortion causes great psychological trauma as well. The difference is, one option kills an innocent person and the other doesn’t.
There is no procedure that can erase the pain of rape. A woman does not skip out of the clinic after aborting her rapist’s baby, cleansed of all pain and ready to go shoe-shopping, nor does an abortion catalyze a profound healing process. Quite the opposite: the woman has been violated twice, first by a criminal who gets off hurting women, and second by a greedy “doctor” willing to kill her child for money.
The same goes for incest: it is a grave wrong that should not occur, but if it does, and if a child is the result, the child does not deserve killing, nor does killing it erase the crime or ameliorate the effects.
As Patricia Heaton of Feminists for Life of America said, “A woman experiencing an unplanned pregnancy deserves to experience unplanned joy.” This should apply even to the victims of rape and incest. A child is not guilty of its father’s sins, and even the child of a rapist deserves a life lying before her full of joyous possibility. Whether she is parented by her birth mother or released to a loving family through adoption, her fate needn’t be determined by her tragic origin.
As pro-life citizens, we fight for the right to life of every unborn child, no matter the circumstances in which he or she was conceived, and we are committed to the care of mothers as strongly as we are to their children. Women who have been raped or abused – just like all women in crisis pregnancies – deserve care and honesty, and that means not the deadly greed of an abortion clinic, but the kind of support only the pro-life community gives women and their children, through churches, crisis pregnancy centers, other non-profits and individuals. These women need special help to heal and make positive decisions for themselves and their babies. They do not need to be violated again by the abortionist’s grisly tools. Killing is not healing.