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Rape, Incest, Fetal Abnormality

By Olivia Gans and Mary Spaulding Balch, J.D.

Not surprisingly, when asked to suggest the question they would least like to be asked, average pro-lifers usually say it is about the "hard cases," including questions posed about rape, incest, and the presence of severe fetal abnormality that seem to many people to be almost unanswerable.

While we do not deny that these difficult cases arouse powerful emotional responses, there are answers. The following are some helpful hints, the kind that will ease your mind and keep you from backing away when these questions are thrown at you.

First of all it is critical to remember that the vast majority of abortions do not happen as a result of any of these reasons. In fact, according to a study in Family Planning Perspectives (published by the Alan Guttmacher Institute, which is the research arm of Planned Parenthood), less than 6% of all abortions done in the United States are done for all of these reasons combined. However, this infrequency has never prevented pro-abortion proponents from using these examples as scare tactics to reinforce a false perception that there is a need for abortion in desperate cases.

The hard cases are always brought up because they carry so much emotional weight with the general public, who don't know the facts about abortion in the United States. Moreover, because many people are quite afraid of how they would respond themselves to any of these circumstances, it is easy for abortion proponents to prey on those anxieties.

So what is the pro-life speaker's job? It is to address those fears sympathetically, rationally, and factually. Taken separately there are solid reasons why abortion should not be resorted to in these cases. Taken collectively this small minority of cases proves the adage that hard cases make bad law.

Certain realities need to be restated in any response. Once again it is vital to remind the audience that the circumstances of the baby's conception change nothing about the baby herself or abortion's inherent brutality. The baby's development is no different. The methods used to end that life remain just as violent.

Yet it is not unusual when the hard cases are discussed for a kind of mental gymnastics to take place in the minds of people who have otherwise accepted the pro-life arguments but seem to believe that everything is somehow different in the hard cases.

Look, first, at the arguments in favor of abortion when the baby will have a severe fetal abnormality. Any answer has to tear aside the veil of prejudice that drives the notion that it is somehow kinder to kill a person with a disability or a disease before she is born than to let her "live in that condition."

The pro-lifer's job is to bring sanity to the situation by firmly rejecting the "quality of life" argument, the very dangerous idea that there are some lives not worthy of living. This response reminds our listeners that every life is unique, every life is valuable. By establishing this baseline, you can show them that aborting a child because of possible abnormality is nothing less than blatant and deadly discrimination against people with disabilities.

Shockingly, the types of disabilities included by pro-abortionists in the list of purportedly "good reasons" for an abortion range from the truly severe to relatively minor; the list of the latter grows lengthier every year. Abortion is becoming a search-and-destroy method for eliminating less-than-"perfect" people. Rather than pursuing medical solutions to some of these difficulties, there is a regular use of techniques, like amniocentesis, to identify problems in the unborn so that an abortion can be performed more expediently. In light of this reality the pro-life response must insist that we don't cure disease by killing the patient.

The next two hard cases are typically asked together, so we will answer them in a similar fashion. When it comes to pregnancies that result from rape and/or incest, real violence has been done to women. Pro-lifers must fully appreciate the fear that swirls around any discussion of rape and incest.

Your answer must begin in compassion; a woman has been violated, often violently. If pro-lifers care deeply about the lives of women facing any difficult pregnancy - - and we do - - obviously we care no less in the case of rape or incest.

Simply stated, rape is an act of violence against an innocent woman. When someone has been through an ordeal of this magnitude she deserves to be treated with the deepest compassion, enormous support, and special care.

But while society is finally recognizing that rape is an act of violence against an innocent victim, it still fails to recognize that abortion is also an act of violence against another innocent victim.

If the woman does become pregnant, a rare but possible occurrence, she may be made to feel twice as tainted when society is not prepared to cope with the circumstances of this child's conception. Counselors and abortion providers encourage abortion as the perfect "solution."

Irrationally, society expects her to kill her unborn child, not for something the child has done, but for the crime of his/her father. Once again the mother is pitted against her child.

Subjecting her to an abortion only compounds the initial violence of the rape. Only in this second tragedy, the woman becomes the aggressor against her own child.

Although research in this area is limited, at least two studies done with women who've become pregnant following a rape have clearly shown that women who aborted their children feel twice victimized and angry about the abortion (Mahkom, "Pregnancy and Sexual Assault," Psychological Aspects of Abortion, University Publishers of America [1979], pp. 53-72).

Women in one study who carried their babies to term, although frightened at first, felt they had done the more positive thing by giving their children life; they felt they had turned something awful into something good (Mahkom and Dolan, "Sexual Assault and Pregnancy," New Perspectives on Human Abortion, University Publishers of America [1981], pp. 182-199). A women who tries to face any sort of crisis pregnancy alone is at risk. Whatever the circumstances of her life, each woman deserves support and proper care throughout her pregnancy and beyond it to prevent more harm being done either emotionally or physically. Help like that is found at the over 3,000 pro-life mother-helping centers across the country. That is the true measure of compassion for mother and child.

All of the responses to these various arguments have to take into account that most of the time they stem from some kind of fear on the part of the questioner. People are unfamiliar with or afraid of how they would cope with a disability so they rush to reject the lives of babies with disabilities. Understandably, there is concern about the violence of rape or incest, but at best that fear leads to a misplaced sense of chivalry, at worst a coldhearted rejection of both victims of the crime.

While hard cases can make bad law, they can also offer the greatest challenge to create the kind of life-affirming society we want to live in.

*This article originally appeared in July 8, 1998 NRL News

Printed with permission from National Right to Life (www.nrlc.org ).

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