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What Do Rape Victims Say About Their Pregnancies?

ectopic pregnancy, woman in doctor's office

This article contains vivid descriptions of physical abuse of women and miscarriage.

“Abortion is needed in cases where women are pregnant from rape.”  Of all the justifications I have heard for abortion, that, by far, is the most common. It’s resurfaced again in the conversation in light of Alabama’s recent decision to ban abortions without this common exception.

Remembering my review of the book “A More Beautiful Question,” I’d like to address this claim with a series of questions. What is this support for abortion based on?  Is it based on rape victims who have gotten pregnant and parented their children?  Or is it based on rape victims who have either never gotten pregnant or who have had abortions? Is it possible to be pregnant from a much-hated sexual assault yet be grateful for the resulting child?

Listen to Real Stories, Not Conjecture

Consider the stories of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight. These women were kidnapped (at the ages of 16, 14, and 21, respectively) and subjected to daily rapes and other horrifying torture by Ariel Castro. They survived more a decade of inhuman abuse in his home in Cleveland, Ohio. Amanda became pregnant by Castro three years into her captivity. What was her reaction?

In the spring of 2006, Amanda learned from the news that her mother had died from a massive heart attack. Soon after, she discovered she was pregnant and wrote in her autobiography, “I think my mom sent this baby.  It’s her way of giving me an angel.  Someone to help pull me through, give me a reason to fight.”

Indeed, in the book “Hope: A Memoir of Survival in Cleveland” that she penned with fellow survivor DeJesus, they wrote about Amanda’s child conceived in rape: “We are inspired every day by Jocelyn Berry, who was born on a Christmas morning in the house on Seymour Avenue. She made a dark place brighter, and in many ways helped save us.”

Amanda also wrote of her daughter Jocelyn:

I used to worry that if I had the baby it would remind me of him [Castro] for the rest of my life. But I don’t anymore. This is my baby. I’m so close now. I am still pretty small, maybe a hundred and fifteen pounds, less than when I arrived here, but my stomach looks huge to me. I already feel more like ‘we’ than ‘I.’ Whenever I’m sadder or more depressed than usual, or when he does something especially mean and my hope starts slipping away, I rub my belly and talk to my baby.

After giving birth in the torture chamber, she wrote:

I crawl into bed with my new baby. As he fastens the chain around my ankle, I think about my daughter being born into this prison, and who her father is. But I try to focus on happier thoughts: She seems healthy and she’s beautiful. I am going to protect her, and the rest we will figure out as we go.

Does the Jury’s Decision Shed Light on Issues of Life?

The experience of fellow survivor Knight was very different. She became pregnant five times by Castro and he beat her each time, successfully killing her pre-born children. In fact, Castro was charged with four counts of aggravated murder for this.

The jury’s decision on these charges leads to important questions: Is killing wrong based on who does the killing or based on who is killed? If it was wrong for Castro to kill the children conceived in rape, wouldn’t it be wrong for anyone to kill the children conceived in rape? Is the human right to life grounded in being human, or grounded in the circumstances under which a human was conceived?

In her autobiography “Finding Me: A Decade of Darkness, a Life Reclaimed,” Michelle writes that when Castro attacked her with a barbell because she was pregnant, she screamed, “Stop it!  Please don’t kill my baby!”

On another occasion, after he kicked her in the stomach to kill another child she had conceived by him, she wrote: “I stood up and stared into the toilet. I reached down and scooped my baby out of the water. I stood there and sobbed … Death would have felt better than seeing my own child destroyed. I looked down at the fetus in my hands. ‘I’m so sorry this happened to you,’ I wailed. ‘I am so sorry.  You deserved better than this!’”

Or consider the story of Jaycee Dugard. She was kidnapped in California at 11 years old and held for 18 years by Phillip and Nancy Garrido. Also subjected to rapes and other unspeakable torture, she gave birth to her first child at 14 and a second at 17. In the book “A Stolen Life: A Memoir,” she writes of her daughters conceived in rape: “I had my girls to give me strength,” and “I am thankful for my daughters.” Of her first pregnancy, she said, “The connection I feel for this baby inside of me every time I feel it move is an incredible feeling.”

Jaycee also wrote, “How do you get through things you don’t want to do? You just do. I did it because that was the only thing I could do. I would do it all again. The most precious thing in the world came out of it … my daughters.”

Are Children Sources of Hope or Cruel Reminders?

Some might point out that because these women were still held captive while enduring rapes and pregnancies, that new life was a comfort and light in an environment of darkness and suffering, but for rape victims who are no longer enduring victimization, a child is an unnecessary reminder.

In response, consider my friend Lianna. She was kidnapped and raped at age 12 and found out she was pregnant after being released from the torture. When a doctor offered her an abortion, she asked whether it would help her forget the rape and ease her pain and suffering. She explains her thought process when he replied no: “If abortion wasn’t going to heal anything, I didn’t see the point.”

She carried through with the pregnancy and chose to parent her daughter, for whom she is so grateful. In fact, Lianna was so traumatized by the sexual assault that she considered suicide but didn’t kill herself because she didn’t want to kill her child. In effect, then, the child conceived in rape became her motivation to continue living, and she credits her daughter for saving her life.

There is no denying that not everyone will react the same way. Consider the Rwandan genocide where mass rapes occurred—one estimate being over 200,000 women raped and approximately 20,000 pregnancies as a result. One survivor, Jacqueline, was gang-raped and became pregnant with her daughter Angel as a result. Although she was initially so traumatized by the assault (as well as the murder of her husband and children) that she tried to poison herself and Angel when her daughter was a baby, she eventually entered counseling and “started to love her” and now feels Angel came from God.

The Horror of Hurting Innocents

With the right support and help, it is possible to distinguish the innocence of a child from the guilt of a father. After all, what does the test of time show us about the presence of children conceived in rape?

Another question to consider is this: Will abortion un-rape a rape victim? The answer to this is obvious. When I once remarked that whether a victim of rape gets pregnant or not, that the assault itself is a trauma that an abortion won’t take away, a child-molestation victim said in response, “Yeah, 10 years and counting.”

What is more difficult to come to terms with: Being an innocent who is hurt, or hurting an innocent?

My friend Nicole Cooley got pregnant from rape and had an abortion. Nicole said, “For me, having an abortion was like being raped again, only worse—because this time I had consented to the assault.”

Or consider Penny Ann Beernsten: In 1985 she was raped while running along Lake Michigan. Unfortunately, she incorrectly identified an innocent man, Steven Avery, as her attacker. He was imprisoned for 18 years until the actual rapist, Gregory Allen, was identified using DNA-testing technology. Penny wrote:

The day I learned of the exoneration was worse than the day I was assaulted. I really fought back when my attacker grabbed me. I scratched him, I kicked him. I did not go gently. After the DNA results came back, I just felt powerless. I can’t un-ring this bell. I can’t give Steve back the years that he’s lost.

While both these women went through horrifying traumas no human should ever have to endure, they acknowledged a worse pain when they realized their decisions hurt other people. Of course, there is no denying the impact their traumas had on their judgment, and the failure of those around them, who were more emotionally removed from the situations, to better guide them, but the point still stands that it is often more difficult to come to terms with hurting an innocent than in being an innocent who is hurt.

Since the child conceived from rape will ultimately need to come out of the rape victim’s body one way or another, which is better, to remove the child dead or alive?

In a survey done of 192 women who got pregnant from sexual assault, almost 80 percent of the women who had abortions reported that abortion had been the wrong solution, and of the women who gave birth to their children, none of them expressed regret and none said they wish they had aborted.

The documentary “Allowed to Live: A Look at the Hard Cases” shares powerful stories of people who regret abortions after rape, people who are grateful they carried their children to term, and people who are thankful their moms protected their lives.

This brings to mind my friend Ryan Bomberger. Ryan’s birth mom was raped and he was conceived. As it says in his biography: “He was adopted at 6 weeks of age and grew up in a loving, multi-racial Christian family of 15. With siblings of varying ethnicities, he grew up with a great appreciation for diversity. Ten of the thirteen children were adopted in this remarkable family. His life defies the myth of the ‘unwanted’ child as he was adopted, loved and has flourished.”

This article has been reprinted with permission. It was originally posted here.