*This is the sixth installment in a series of posts on pro-life apologetics based on the “When They Say, You Say” talks developed by Olivia Gans Turner and Mary Spaulding Balch. While reading in order is not strictly necessary, you may find it helpful. Post 1. Post 2. Post 3. Post 4. Post 5.
Rape. Incest. Fetal Abnormality. These constitute what we call “the hard cases,” because they are incredibly personal and emotionally charged. Many people are afraid to talk about them, but you shouldn’t be. Discussing the hard cases requires compassion, sensitivity, and reason, just like everything we’ve talked about so far.
Abortion advocates often bring up the hard cases because they know they carry emotional weight and tend to shake up their pro-life peers. Even those who are otherwise pro-life hesitate when it comes to abortion in the case of rape and incest.
When you look at the statistics, though, you’ll notice that the vast majority of abortions aren’t for the hard cases at all; in fact, rape and incest account for less than 1% of all abortions. In total, rape, incest, life of the mother, and fetal abnormality are the reasons given for only 7% of abortions. It is very important not to downplay the tragedy behind these statistics. You should bring this up to illustrate that there is not an overwhelming need for abortion in these circumstances, but be careful: you cannot reduce the suffering of rape victims to a small statistic in the abortion debate.
So what do we say about abortion in the case of rape? First, remember that rape is a disgusting, violent crime. Whatever you do, start by acknowledging the woman’s pain; she is the innocent victim of a terrible ordeal, and she needs your love, compassion, and support, not your judgment. Pro-lifers are (falsely) accused of caring more about the baby than the mother, and you want to avoid that. However, when rape results in pregnancy, a second innocent victim is at stake.
Too often, when a woman conceives after rape, counselors encourage her to abort her baby. On the surface, this seems like a reasonable solution since she was forced into her situation. Upon closer analysis, however, this line of reasoning falls apart. Regardless of how he was conceived, the baby is still a unique, innocent human life. Abortion is a death sentence, but it punishes the child for the crime of his father. We forget that the child has two parents—he is also his mother’s, and when we pressure her to abort, we turn her into the aggressor against her own child. Rape victims are already traumatized, and women who have abortions often suffer emotionally, physically, and psychologically for the rest of their lives. When a woman is pressured into abortion after being raped, then, she often feels like she has been victimized twice.
In the case of incest, which almost always involves the abuse of a minor by an older relative or family friend, abortion not only takes an innocent life and further traumatizes the mother, it also shields the criminal. He pays for his victim’s abortion and resumes his abuse, unbeknownst to those who would protect her. In this way, abortion allows the cycle of abuse to continue, and, again, only adds to the mother’s pain.
But won’t carrying her child to term only distress the mother further? We often hear that women who are pregnant after rape will relive their rape every day. However, studies have shown that women who continue their pregnancies after rape actually heal better than those who abort. Rather than trying to cover up her experience as something shameful, she is able to cope with it in an open, healthy manner. Like grieving, recovering from a rape is a process that takes time. Women reported that although they were afraid at first, in the end they felt that giving life to their child was a special way of redeeming their horrible experience. Instead of compounding the violence of the rape with an abortion, they brought something good and beautiful to the world.
Just as a child conceived in rape has the same dignity, value, and right to life as a “planned” child, so does a baby diagnosed with fetal abnormalities. It’s never easy for parents to hear that their very much wanted baby might have a lifelong disability or perhaps not survive outside the womb, but this does not make abortion the acceptable solution.
We should never judge the worth of a life based upon an arbitrary standard of “quality.” All lives are unique and valuable, and to say otherwise is to establish a dangerous precedent that opens the door to euthanasia. If we say that babies in the womb should be aborted due to disabilities, what’s to prevent us from extending that principle to those outside the womb with disabilities? Modern technology has made it much easier to accurately diagnose problems before birth, but sadly our medical professionals often use this as a means of advocating the abortion of these “less than perfect” children instead of using it as an opportunity to better equip themselves to care for those children’s medical needs.
Even when parents receive a fatal prenatal diagnosis, we know that it’s better for them to continue their pregnancies, just like those pregnant through rape. Many times, parents are excited about their baby and have already picked out names and planned for their future with their baby when they receive the diagnosis. They’re already grieving the life of their baby…before their baby has died. Abortion, rather than acknowledging that baby as a valued family member, turns him into a problem that must be destroyed. In contrast, those with experience at perinatal hospices know that treating the baby as a valuable human being, regardless of how long he lives, brings much greater peace and healing to his family. Families are able to celebrate their newest member’s brief life and are allowed to grieve naturally. Their baby isn’t treated as a problem, but as a blessing.
These cases are all difficult and entail much suffering, but abortion only adds to that suffering. Sympathy, compassion, and love are needed when we talk about them, but so are facts. No matter how a baby is conceived and no matter what disabilities he may have, he is still a unique human life, as fully worthy of our protection and love as his parents.