In the final minutes of a recent debate, Indiana GOP senate candidate Richard Mourdock was asked whether or not he supported abortion in the cases of rape and incest. Mourdock answered, “I believe that life begins at conception … The only exception I have, to have an abortion, is in that case of the life of the mother. I’ve struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God. And even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”
After the debate, there was a media frenzy declaring that Mourdock thought rape was a gift from God. At a press conference following the controversial answer, he explained:
"I think that God can see beauty in every life. Certainly, I did not intend to suggest that God wants rape, that God pushes people to rape, that God wants to support or condone evil in any way ... I would be less than faithful if I said anything other than life is precious, I believe it's a gift from God."
Does anybody really think that Mourdock believes God approves of rape? Mourdock expressed his belief that the value of a life is not determined by the circumstances of their conception. This position is difficult for many to agree with, but by chasing after an obvious mischaracterization of his comments, we miss the real debate.
For a pro-lifer, there are two moral standards to support laws against abortions: 1) People should not be allowed to murder other people and 2) The preborn child should be considered a human person and should be protected as a human person. Mourdock’s statements add in another moral dilemma: because of the circumstances surrounding the conception, specifically rape and/or incest, is the preborn child no longer human and therefore not to be protected as a human?
The difficulty of this question is that at the core of this issue, a woman was violated. Is it violating her again to deny her the choice to end the life that resulted from that attack? Melissa Harris-Perry from MSNBC effectively articulated her thoughts related to the aftermath of surviving a sexual assault:
“When we survive sexual assault, we are the gift. When we survive, when we go on to love, to work, to speak out, to have fun, to laugh, to dance, to cry, to live, when we do that, we defeat our attackers. For a moment, they strip us of our choices. As we heal, we take our choices back. We are the gift to ourselves, our families, our communities, and our nation when we survive.”
Rape is the most brutal of weapons used against women to terrorize and demean. But in the cases where rape results in a pregnancy, should we end the life of the child based on the trauma experienced by the mother? Even in the cases where rapists are convicted, they do not receive the death penalty. Why would we impose a harsher sentence on the most innocent person in the situation? Will having an abortion remove the trauma of the rape or just add another trauma – one in which instead of being a victim, a woman has to choose to inflict harm on another human – her own child.
I recently submitted an article on the adoption by my niece and her husband of their son Carson Wayne Piatt. Would the value of this little life be any less if his mother had been the victim of rape rather than merely financial, emotional and physical difficulties? What about those children who were conceived through rape but were not aborted? When you actually meet these children or hear their stories, the conflict on whether we should have the right to end their lives is unavoidable.
M. L. Stedman, in her novel The Light Between Oceans, expresses this outlandish idea that a woman could actually love a child conceived through rape: “Once a child gets into your heart, there’s no right or wrong about it. She’d known women give birth to children fathered by husbands they detested, or worse, men who’d forced themselves on them. And the woman had loved the child fiercely, all the while hating the brute who’d sired it. There’s no defending yourself from love for a baby ... ”
If a child has value, does it matter how they were conceived? If one of the fundamental responsibilities of a government is to protect the lives of the people it governs, should we allow unrestricted abortion? If you believe in biblical principles, how can you ignore the following instruction: “Give justice to the weak and fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” Psalm 82:3-4
Who could be considered more weak and needy than an unborn child?
The Republican party has been very clear that a Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose abortion in instances of rape. We should stop demonizing the child (and those like Mourdock who consider those children deserving of protection) and considering them solely an extension of the rapist father; we must recognize that these children are also an extension of the mother. We need to stop invalidating the women who would choose to parent. We should be encouraging those who do become pregnant as a consequence of rape to consider the value of the child and the additional trauma they may face if choosing to abort instead of parenting or adopting.
While this debate continues, is there anything that opposing opinions can agree upon? There is a consensus that states need to immediately enact laws abolishing the parental rights of the rapist. As pointed out in a PolicyMic article by Amy Sterling Casil, “more than 30 states allow rapists to continue to torture their victims by suing for custody and visitation.” The legal system is still too lenient on those convicted and not enough protection is given to the victim. Instead of punishing the innocent people in this scenario, let’s shift our focus to punish the one person in these scenarios who we can all agree actually deserves it.