Forty-four years ago, the Supreme Court of the United States legalized abortion in America. In parallels reminiscent of the Dred Scott decision, the Supreme Court’s position was that the unborn human’s right to life was of less value than a woman’s freedom to choose whether to kill her unborn child. Some may protest the way that I’ve written that last sentence, but this is essentially the meaning communicated in allowing abortion as the law of the land. Dred Scott was not seen as a citizen worthy of protection under the law in the 1800s. Similarly, unborn infants are not seen as citizens worthy of protection under the current law. The most popular- and some would say most difficult circumstance to consider- is whether a woman that has been raped is justified in having an abortion. Before an analysis of whether the rape of a woman justifies abortion, we should set the stage a bit.
Let’s recognize the obvious. First, abortion is an emotional issue for those on both sides of the discussion. On the one side, people feel as if pro-lifers are telling them what they can do with their bodies. On the other, people argue that it is the body of the unborn baby that is of more concern to them, and that abortion is not so much about what a woman does with her body as it is with the body of the child inside her. Of course, the stakes are extremely high with lives literally hanging in the balance when discussing this issue.
Both sides also agree on some things and these must be brought to the forefront. It is important to identify common ground in order to begin the discussion. This also can serve as a foundation from which both sides can work and refer back to in order to try to gain mutual understanding and greater clarity as to what the proper position to take should be. Although many things can be mentioned, let me focus on two.
First, both sides agree that we legislate morality. In other words, we all try to get laws passed that reflect our position about what we find to be morally good. Despite what some that lack the education say, both the pro-abortionist (or pro-choicer[i]) and the pro-lifer are trying to get their moral views enshrined in law. This is the purpose of law. If you think rape or murder is morally bad, you pass laws against them. This is not to say that there are no bad laws, but even bad laws are passed because they are supposed to be grounded in someone’s moral view as to what is perceived to be morally right (however mistaken they are).
Second, both sides agree that human life begins at conception. It makes no sense to say you were a sperm, and it makes no sense to say you were an egg. However, when the two are put together an individual is made containing all the genetic information that person possesses her entire life. The person also has all the biological characteristics indicating life. As the person’s growth, metabolism, and movement continue, you can observe various changes of the baby in the mother’s womb. The person’s DNA, blood type, and various other parts make them uniquely identifiable as a different entity from the mother. This is why we don’t say that a woman has a penis when the technician giving the ultrasound detects that the baby is a boy. Thus, there is no question that there is a different individual that we are discussing as the primary subject that is affected from abortion. The abortionist may try to sterilize the term in advertising their service as ‘pregnancy termination’, but make no mistake that the subject of ‘termination’ is being killed. Everyone also recognizes that the woman that has to endure having the child killed in her womb also suffers in many ways (having increased chances of cancer, depression, etc.).
What about allowing abortion in cases of rape? I once had a student challenge me with this question and here was how our discussion proceeded:
Student: What if my sister was raped- would you force her to have the baby?
Me: Let me ask you a question.
Me: Suppose your dad raped someone today. Would we be justified in killing you?
Me: Why not?
Student: Because it was my dad that raped someone. I didn’t do anything wrong.
Me: This is great. You’ve recognized that because you’ve done nothing wrong you shouldn’t be punished for what your dad did. You should also see that the unborn baby is also innocent in the fictional case regarding your sister. Another thing you’ve ignored is that your sister already has the baby. The only question left now is what to do with the baby already inside her.
So, from my conversation with my student we can glean a couple of things. First, we don’t think it is justice to punish a child for something their parent did. Abortion punishes a child for something their parent did. Therefore, abortion is unjust EVEN in the case of rape. Second, we can all recognize that the unborn child that is the result of a rape is still in her mother’s womb and can be protected. It is not a question as to whether the woman ‘has’ the baby. From conception a woman has a baby until it leaves the womb. The real question is whether we should protect the baby or not. Before looking at this consider a slightly different question.
Should the law require the labor of someone’s body on behalf of another person? In other words, is the law justified in demanding that we do certain things for other people even if we don’t want to do them? I think that if you understand how much of family law operates this way you’ll have the answer. Our law both expects and requires some people in society to do this very thing. Fathers that abandon their families are often required (against their will many times) to pay child-support. The law requires that the fruit of one’s labor be shared with offspring for the child’s well-being.
Consider another example that is relatively uncontroversial. If a mother, father, or both neglected their offspring, say a three year old boy, and that boy died due to neglect, the state would find those responsible guilty of murder. How much more would it be the case if the parent or parents actively killed that three year old boy by chopping his body into little parts? In these cases, there is an unspoken assumption that 1) children have a right to be protected and also 2) children have a right to the bodies and labor of their parents. This would certainly include the minimum things that the child requires- like providing basic things to keep the child alive.
Armed with these principles, turn back to the example of a child conceived due to rape. Inasmuch as the law requires parents to care for children after they are born, and that we recognize in our laws that children have a right to the body of their parents, the unborn also have that right. Thus, even the innocent unborn child conceived as a result of a terrible act has a right to her mother’s body. The mother may certainly pass the responsibility to another person by offering the child up for adoption. But, inasmuch as we would never allow the mother to kill that child if she decides she no longer wants the child burdening her body, so too we should never allow an abortion if she makes this decision while the child is in the womb.
The Planned Parenthood website encourages the mindset that “every child a wanted child.” This mentality has an anchor in our society that we must remove through straight facts and clear reasoning. Every human being from the moment of conception is a valuable human being- regardless of whether they are wanted or not.
[i] I prefer to use the term pro-abortionist as opposed to pro-choicer as it seems more accurate. One can ask the one insistent on calling themselves ‘pro-choice’ what choice they want to have. They may say to do whatever they want with their own body. We all recognize that the law doesn’t allow us to do ANYTHING we want with our body as we are often restricted when we want to use our body to harm another. Thus, the pro-choicer would agree that raping someone with your body is not something that should be done. However, what they do want the choice to do is to have an abortion. Thus, the ‘pro-choice’ label is given to try to soften the act that they are really behind- which is abortion. I will call it what it is and if the term is deemed ugly it doesn’t begin to compare to the various forms that are abortion.