It’s the one question every pro-life advocate dreads being asked.
Spend time talking about abortion and sooner or later you are going to get asked about how you would respond to the case of a pregnancy which resulted from a woman being sexually assaulted.
During a recent pro-life event at a nearby university, I had a conversation about abortion with a student who told me she was pro-choice on the issue of abortion, but she was interested in hearing what the pro-life view on the issue was.
The discussion was cordial, but then the student(who we’ll call “Sally”) raised the following question:
“What do you think about a 12 year old who has been raped? Surely you think it’s wrong to force her to give birth when she is pregnant through no fault of her own. Don’t you?”
It’s worth pausing here to make an observation. Very often, pro-lifers will make one of two mistakes. When faced with the question of pregnancy from sexual assault, some pro-lifers immediately jump to statistics, citing how pregnancy resulting from rape is relatively rare without actually taking time to address the underlying concerns of the person who raised the question. Or, in some cases, pro-lifers will foolishly downplay or even ignore the question being raised in order to launch into a lecture on how children conceived in rape are valuable human beings and how there shouldn’t be any exceptions when it comes to abortion.
This might satisfy an online audience and garner likes and shares on social media. It will also communicate to your critic and anyone listening in that they were right in viewing you as a heartless individual who lacks empathy towards women who have been victims of violence.
When the question of sexual assault is raised, the first thing you must do, regardless if abortion is being discussed, is to show empathy towards people who have suffered from sexual assault. This is the human thing to do. We can’t always know the life stories of the people we encounter unless they tell us, and oftentimes they have a very personal reason for asking us why we would oppose abortion even in the case of rape.
There is a second danger for pro-lifers: We can overcompensate. During the above mentioned conversation with “Sally”, a pro-life student who was also part of the discussion launched into a lengthy explanation of how disgusted he was by sexual assault and the mistreatment of women.
And he kept going for several minutes, completely forgetting the question “Sally” had brought up, leading her to grow visibly frustrated by not having her question answered. This is also a mistake. It is absolutely key we show empathy and genuine compassion for people who are victims of violence; however, very rarely do people ask us about pregnancy from sexual assault because they doubt we think rape is evil; it’s reasonable to believe every person with a functioning moral conscience is bothered by it. Rather, they want to know specifically why we are opposed to abortion in the case of pregnancy from sexual assault, if we are so bothered by sexual violence as we say we are. We owe it to people to be able to explain our views on the matter.
As Scott Klusendorf notes, there are two types of individuals who raise the issue of pregnancy from sexual assault: Learners, and Crusaders. They must be answered differently.
The Learner is someone who genuinely wants to know what pro-lifers think should be done with situations of pregnancy from sexual assault. She may get why pro-lifers are opposed to abortion, but for her, this specific issue is a hang-up for them. To this, I am sympathetic. Discussing pregnancy from sexual assault is never easy, and the issue needs to be discussed gently. We never know the experiences of those whom we talk with.
“Sally” is a good example of a Learner. She genuinely wanted to know why a pro-life person could be so seemingly heartless as to oppose abortion even in the situation where a child has been assaulted.
When I answered “Sally”, the first step I took was to establish common ground. I started out by saying “That is an important question you just brought up. I think we both agree that in the case of pregnancy from rape, the woman we are discussing has suffered great evil. And I think we can agree she deserves to be treated with dignity and be listened to, and deserves justice for the crime against her, regardless of whether or not she happens to be pregnant. Is it fair to assume we agree on that?”
“Sally” nodded a yes, so I followed up with another question: “Given we agree on this, I want to ask you a question, and I’d like for you to think very carefully before you answer. How do you think we should treat the innocent human beings who will remind us of evil that has been done to us? (I paused for a moment here) Do you think it is okay to purposely kill them in order to help ourselves recover from the evil actions done to us?”
“Sally” was thoughtful, but still wanted to press the issue, so I raised another question with her: “Let’s assume for just a moment there are three individuals in this scenario. The woman, the baby, and the rapist who took advantage of her. How should we treat them? Let’s start with the rapist. Is it okay to kill him?”
“Sally” responded with an enthusiastic “Yes! He absolutely should be killed for his crime.”
I responded, “Fair enough. Now how about the baby? Isn’t it interesting, you seem to think the baby should face the exact same fate as the rapist in the scenario?”
“Sally” sat quiet for just a moment, then like a lightbulb had turned on, her face lit up, and she responded “You know what, I never thought about it that way! I guess it depends on whether or not we are talking about a human being in the womb.” I told “Sally” she was absolutely correct, the entire issue boils down to how we answer a single question, “What are the unborn?”
Of course, if abortion is not the intentional killing of an innocent human being, then it makes no sense to restrict it in the “hard cases” or in any other case. However, if the unborn are members of the human family, then we are justified in questioning the moral legitimacy of killing them. Could we really be serving the legitimate interests of a woman by killing an innocent human being on her behalf, an action she could come to regret later in life?
A third question came to mind, albeit one I never got the chance to ask “Sally”. However, it can also be helpful in framing the moral issue at the heart of the matter for a Learner who is still struggling to grasp the moral logic of the issue: “Suppose we could help a rape victim recover mentally from the evil that has been done to her by deliberately killing an innocent person on their behalf. Should we do it? Suppose a man named Bill who has victimized several women flees the country so he won’t be caught and charged by the authorities. However, he has a twin brother named Tom who still lives in the same city, who is completely innocent. We can help these women recover from the evil done to them by arresting Tom, charging him with aggravated rape, and executing him publicly, even though he is completely innocent of the crimes we are accusing him of. The victims will find healing after his death and be able to move on with their lives.
Are we justified in doing this? If we’re not justified in deliberately killing an innocent human being if it would benefit a rape victim, and if abortion is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being, it would follow that even abortion in this scenario would not be justified.
We still have a significant moral obligation to help women(and men) who have experienced sexual violence, but it does not follow from this we may purposely kill in order to helo them. Other options need to be pursued.
This may satisfy a Learner, though they may still have questions they want to discuss.
The Crusader is different. Chances are, he may not care. Instead, he’s just trying to frame pro-lifers as sadistic, cruel hearted individuals who don’t care about(or may even hate) women. His goal is not honest engagement; instead, he’s looking for an excuse to avoid having to listen to criticism of his pro-choice views, and focusing on the moral character of pro-life advocates is how he will do it.
This became very clear several months ago, when Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau decided to get into a conversation with a pro-life college student, one of his challenges for the student(to the near orgasmic glee of pro-choice activists) was to raise the rape issue. This clearly was not from a genuine-hearted concern for the well-being of rape victims; Prime Minister Trudeau, along with the supporters who applauded him for his soundbite answers, is very outspoken in his support for abortion. Rather, it was to shut down the discussion by making the student look like a moral monster.
Here’s how to respond. When a Crusader comes up to me(and they often tend to be very smug in their demeanor) and demands to know why I oppose abortion in the case of rape, I ask a question first: “Tell me, if a bill was set to be passed which restricted all abortions except in the case of rape, would you support it?”
The answer is almost always an enthusiastic “No! Abortion is a fundamental woman’s right!”
Pro-lifers should gently, but firmly, follow-up with another question: “Then why did you bring it up? If your position is that abortion is a fundamental right for any reason, why don’t you explain why you believe that, instead of hiding behind the rape scenario?”
One more point on the matter. Pro-lifers should be willing to confront the boorish behavior of the Crusader. The Crusader is feigning compassion for rape victims in order to justify doing whatever he wants without criticism. Very often for Crusaders, there is a sexual lifestyle lurking behind their vocal support for abortion. For them, abortion exists to sustain their selfish desires, and they are using the wickedness perpetrated against rape victims in order to protect this lifestyle. This is callous and downright misogynistic behavior, and it must be confronted.
A recent case in Canada helps illustrate this. Pro-life college student Talia Battista, at Toronto Metropolitan University in Ontario Province, herself a survivor of sexual and intimate partner violence, was kicked out of a survivors advocacy group for victims of sexual assault and dating violence. The reason? Because she was an outspoken pro-life advocate, her views were not considered welcome by the organizers of the group. Very often, supporters of abortion are only using victims of sexual assault in order to bolster their own position, without expressing genuine compassion or concern.
Pro-life advocates should be willing to challenge this callous behavior with a careful, yet up-front question: “Tell me, do you think it is fair to rape victims for their experiences to be used to justify doing whatever we want? That sounds like the exact opposite of compassion.”
Again, this sort of question should only be used when it comes to Crusaders who are just trying to beat pro-lifers into silence. With Learners, we must take the time to work through the moral logic of the issue while showing genuine empathy and concern.
Pro-lifers don’t need to feel like they are stuck between caring for the unborn, and caring for those who have experienced evil. We have every obligation in the world to do both.
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