Abortion and rape: Responding with facts and compassion

By Sarah Quale — What about abortion in cases of rape and incest? It’s an emotional question that’s often used to stump pro-lifers and force us to concede that, in some cases, abortion might actually be the right thing to do. But we need to ask ourselves: Is abortion really the compassionate solution we’re led to believe it is? What do the victims of sexual assault say? Are we listening to them? Are we protecting them? And finally, what can we do as individuals to advocate for them?

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Abortion as a “social good”

Those who insist that abortion remains legal often cite the “hard cases,” like rape and incest, in defending their position. While they admit these cases are rare—approximately 99.7% of abortions in America are NOT being obtained for reasons of sexual assault—they maintain that women must be allowed to access abortion in the most heart-wrenching situations.

Abortion is promoted, and often expected, for women and girls who become pregnant from sexual assault. Even the vast majority in the pro-life movement have resigned to, or are unsure how to counter, the notion that a woman should never be “forced to carry her rapist’s child,” “made to live everyday with a reminder of the attack,” or “forced to bring an evil seed into the world.”

While general support for legal abortion remains consistently high (61% say abortion should be legal in all or most cases), Americans’ support for abortion is especially notable when it comes to reason and gestational age. This is where rape and incest arguments have made their greatest gains. According to Gallup polling, almost 8 out of 10 Americans say it is acceptable to kill children conceived in rape and incest in the first trimester. Just over half say it is acceptable in the third trimester.

In other words, moral relativism guides Americans’ views of abortion, and even more strongly when it comes to sexual assault.

It seems we should ask a very important demographic—the victims of sexual assault—what guides their views.

What the victims think

Back in 1979, in the only major study of pregnant rape victims ever done, Dr. Sandra Mahkorn, MPH, MS, found that 75–85% of victims did not abort their children. Here’s what the study revealed:

  • Pregnant rape victims in the study felt that abortion would be just another act of violence perpetrated against their bodies and their children’s bodies.
  • They reported a belief that their child’s life may have some intrinsic meaning or purpose which they do not yet understand. The child was brought into their lives by a horrible, repulsive act, but perhaps God, or fate, will use the child for some greater purpose.
  • After their own victimization, the thought of victimizing their innocent child through abortion was repulsive to them.
  • Victims reported a sense that getting through the pregnancy meant conquering the rape. While the perpetrator was selfish, she can be generous. While he was destructive, she can be nurturing.

In a smaller Elliot Institute study published in 2000, outcomes reflected similar viewpoints:

  • Nearly 80 percent of the women who aborted their children after rape reported that abortion was the wrong solution, that it only increased their trauma.
  • None of the women who gave birth to a child conceived in rape expressed regret or wished they had aborted instead.

How can we argue against the voices of the victims?

What the victims are alerting us to

The Elliot Institute study also revealed some disturbing information:

  • 43% of rape victims who aborted their children reported being pressured or strongly directed by family members or healthcare professionals.
  • In almost every case where a minor victim had an abortion, the girl’s parents or the perpetrator made arrangements for the abortion.
  • In several cases, the abortion was carried out against the victim’s expressed wishes, and in a few cases, without her being aware that she was pregnant or that an abortion was taking place.

The abortion industry has a track record of pressuring sexual assault victims to abort and covering for rapists and traffickers who bring their victims to abortion facilities. Several years ago, a Live Action undercover investigation revealed that multiple Planned Parenthood facilities were willing to guide traffickers in how to use abortion and other services to “manage” underage girls. In another investigation, Live Action exposed eight Planned Parenthood facilities in six different states that were willing to cover up sexual abuse of minors who would be brought in for abortions and birth control.

According to a 2014 study from the Annals of Health Law, “the prevalence of forced abortions is an especially disturbing trend in sex trafficking.” Survivors who participated in the study said they had significant contact with clinical treatment facilities, most commonly Planned Parenthood, while being trafficked. They also reported that traffickers often chose Planned Parenthood to provide services because “they didn’t ask any questions.” Survivors shared that they often didn’t choose the abortions they had while being trafficked. One survivor reported 17 abortions, most of which were forced.

Why isn’t more being done to protect victims and their children?

How our pro-life laws impact the victims

Almost none of our pro-life laws provide equal protection for sexual assault victims and their children. Instead, our laws allow exceptions, creating a specific, stated “right” to abortion in cases of rape and incest. All abortion exceptions undermine and contradict the very premise that the child in the womb is a person who deserves equal protection under the law, regardless of conception, mental or physical ability, medical prognosis, wantedness, or any other biological or social characteristic.

Children conceived in rape and incest deserve equal protection, just like any other child, and must not be put to death for the crimes of their fathers. Women and girls who experience the horrific violations of sexual assault and trafficking deserve healing and protection, not more violence, more trauma, and more violation.

When we explicitly permit exceptions for rape and incest in our laws, we aid and abet injustice.

So what can we do as individuals to advocate for them?

What we can tell them amidst their trauma

It is important to educate ourselves on this subject and prepare to have conversations with others who support abortion in cases of rape and incest.

Few people are hearing the victims in the larger conversation. We can give them a voice.

We can also demand that our representatives protect all children equally in pro-life bills they advance in our state legislatures. Exceptions are an issue of courage, not legal necessity.

Jennifer Christie, a mother from rape, provides further insight for us to consider as we learn how to stand with sexual assault victims and their children.

“Every time someone hears of a woman conceiving a child in rape, the response is usually horror, disgust, or pity. Yet I’ve read hundreds of accounts from the women themselves and their responses are not at all horrified or disgusted. There are some common sentiments that are expressed again and again. The baby felt like a light in the darkness. The baby was the good within so much bad. There was something to look forward to.”

“Women who have just experienced violence and violation are not healed by further acts of violence and violation. Nothing about that makes sense. I’ve met countless women who abort after rape and live with that guilt and regret. I’ve never known anyone who was sorry she had her child.”

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Sarah Quale is president of Personhood Alliance Education, founder of Educe® online learning, and author of the Foundations online pro-life curriculum. She is an award-winning curriculum and instructional designer who has worked for over 20 years in corporate, academic, and ministerial environments.

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