As states ban abortion after the baby’s heartbeat can be detected, or even outright in the case of Alabama, there has been a lot of talk about exceptions. There is broad consensus on the tragic situation where the pregnancy endangers the mother’s life and the baby can’t be saved.
The other exceptions in most of these laws are for rape and incest. Even many otherwise pro-life people favor an exemption to allow abortion if the mother was a victim of rape or incest. Maybe it’s a political concession, maybe it’s an area where principles and feelings don’t quite mesh. Either way, it’s wrong.
It disturbs me because of my own experience. I was raped in February 2007 by someone I knew from a young adult group at my church. I went to the hospital, reported it to the police, and charges were filed. At the hospital, a volunteer counselor from the local rape crisis center met me and walked me through the ordeal of filing a police report and being examined by a sexual assault nurse. I can’t describe how intrusive and humiliating it was.
I continued to receive help and counseling from the crisis center. As I prepared for the next stage of the legal process, I found out that I was pregnant, and abortion was presented to me as the only and obvious choice for someone in my situation. That was condescending, offensive, and dehumanizing to me and my child.
When I found out I was pregnant, I went for an emergency counseling appointment because I was completely overwhelmed. I was shocked, horrified, shaking, unsure of how I could do this, vacillating between wanting to keep the baby I barely knew was there and being concerned I would hate him if he were a boy and looked like my rapist. In other words, I was a mess, and I needed to talk to someone.
My counselor’s reaction was not to ask how I was feeling, what I was thinking, or what I wanted to do, but to tell me that since I’d been raped, Medicaid would cover “the procedure” at the Planned Parenthood in town and I could get in right away since the crisis center worked with them. How convenient.
I got even more upset at that point. I told her I didn’t need an immediate abortion; I needed help processing the fact I was pregnant by my rapist. That help was not forthcoming from the rape crisis center. I was already so conflicted about being pregnant by a violent act, and here was the solution being proposed: let’s stick metal instruments into your already violated body and rip that kid right out. That’ll fix it.
Subjecting myself to a surgical procedure to end that life would have been physically painful, emotionally destructive, and gravely wrong. It wouldn’t have changed the fact that that life existed. It certainly wouldn’t wipe away the rape.
The rapist was not a father in any sense except for the biological. The baby was my child. Mine alone. It took me a couple of weeks to get to that point, but that’s where I came down. I couldn’t blame my baby for how he or she came to be. I couldn’t think of him as “rapist’s son,” or her as “that evil man’s daughter.” Whoever he or she would be, their father’s sins and crimes were not his or hers. My child was innocent.
I will never know if I would’ve chosen to parent or give my baby up for adoption. After being on the stand all day at the preliminary hearing in the rape case, I began to bleed. I knew what was happening, but I went in for a blood test and my hormone levels had dropped to nothing. I miscarried my baby at home. I saw the tiny body. It was painful, traumatic, and terribly sad. Anyone who has had a miscarriage knows what I mean.
I started hemorrhaging and had to go to the hospital. My trip to the emergency room made a bad situation worse. I had a friend drive me because I was in such bad shape. She held my hand during the heartbreaking ultrasound and talked to me during the interminable waiting. Then, the obstetrics resident informed me, “Your body has done such a good job cleaning itself out, it spared you the trouble of getting rid of it later.”
That’s a direct quote I will never forget. The miscarriage spared me the trouble of an abortion? Unbelievable. If I hadn’t been getting an infusion of platelets, I might have jumped off my bed and slapped that smug doctor. As it was, I used some extremely impolite language to inform him that his assumptions about me and the value I placed on the life of my child were incorrect.
My crisis counselor and ER doctor made the common assumption: if a woman finds herself pregnant by rape, obviously she will abort. I see it online in comments, I hear it on talk radio, I read it in columns. “Yes, it’s a life, but I could never force my daughter to carry a rapist’s baby.” Or, “A blanket ban isn’t politically feasible, an incremental approach is better; exceptions must be made.”
Rape is an act of violence. It violates the body, the heart, and the soul of the victim. Abortion is more violence. It also violates the body, heart, and soul of the victims, mother and child. How can anyone make the case that violation is the solution to violation?
Allowing the killing of babies who result from rape is not healing. Yet the constant drumbeat is that if a woman gets pregnant by a rapist, it is too traumatic for her to carry that child, the child is a stain on humanity (or worse), and the solution to the horror of finding out she is pregnant is abortion.
It’s not helpful or compassionate to rape survivors who get pregnant to push abortion as the solution. The few of us who end up pregnant need help, not even more trauma. Yes, carrying a baby conceived in rape is very hard. For the time I did, my emotions swung wildly. But the solution to coping with difficult emotions is not killing an innocent.
If you have been raped, and you are pregnant, or you fear you might be, there is help out there for you, during your pregnancy and after you give birth. We are not alone. We are strong enough. Our children are not somehow lesser. And those who think that if the baby is “erased” by abortion the rape is erased as well are wrong. We do not need abortion to “fix” us.
The children conceived in rape are no less human and no less innocent victims of the crime than their mothers. Women who are victims of rape retain our dignity and moral agency. Every single human being has infinite value and inherent rights, which must be acknowledged and protected by the government as well as public opinion.
The right to life is the most fundamental, and there must be no exceptions.