The abortion issue is often difficult to discuss in public because so much emotion is involved. Even Pro-Lifers may dissent on some technicalities of the issues. Many people who care deeply for the unborn accept that abortion is permissible in the cases of rape, incest, a disabled child, or to preserve the life of the mother (“the exceptions”). While no more than 7% of all abortions in the United States are performed for one of these exceptions 1, we must examine these cases seriously. Justifying these exceptions may seem easy, but Texas Right to Life remains resolute in rejecting abortion as a permissible option in any circumstance.
As always, we must be compassionate and non-judgmental, since, with over 46 million abortions since 1973, abortion has touched a great many lives. No matter the circumstances of conception; there should never be embarrassment about bringing a child into the world. The value of a person is not determined by the circumstances of his or her conception.
There is no doubt that pregnancy resulting from rape represents an extremely traumatic experience for the woman involved. Psychological support from family, friends, and the victim's community is of paramount importance at this time. The act of rape is an act of violence and aggression. This is also true of the act of abortion. Despite the common misconception that aborting the fetus will alleviate the trauma of rape, often quite the opposite is true. Abortion in rape cases frequently compounds the psychological duress experienced by the victim.
A study done at the University of British Columbia's Department of Psychiatry, as reported in the March 3, 1978, issue of Psychiatric News, demonstrated that abortion often exacerbates a woman's psychological stress. That study concluded in part: “Whatever may be the case at the conscious level, at a much deeper level abortion is regarded by many women as infanticide.”
Many individuals believe that pregnancy resulting from rape is a common occurrence. However, there are many sound medical reasons and statistical data that refute this presumption. A 1988 study conducted by The Alan Guttmacher Institute concluded that, of 1,900 U.S. women surveyed who had undergone abortions, only 1% listed rape or incest as their reason for choosing abortion.
Vicki Seitzer in Volume 32 of the Journal of the American Medical Women's Association stated:
Perhaps more of a gross exaggeration than a myth is the mistaken and unfortunate belief that pregnancy is a frequent complication of sexual assault. This is emphatically not the case, and there are several medically sound reasons for it. Honesty requires us to say that it is unjust that a woman carry to term a child conceived through rape, but that it is a far greater injustice to kill the child. This is a rare situation in which injustice cannot be avoided; the best thing that can be done is to reduce it. The first injustice lasts for nine months of a life that can be relieved, both psychologically and financially. The second injustice ends a life, and there is no remedy for that.
In addition to the fact that they are unenforceable and easily abused, laws that permit abortion in this small number of cases make bad public policy. By validating a principle of justice to legislate around difficult circumstances, a precedent for other cases is established as well. The American judicial system is based upon punishing the criminal not the victim. In a country where rapists are not sentenced to death for their crimes, the innocent child resulting from those crimes should not be either.
Former President Reagan attested to widespread abuse of the rape exception in his home state of California while he was governor. That exception became a legal loophole leading to abortion on demand due to overly broad interpretations of the law. Likewise, in England, the 1967 Abortion Act was passed to allow abortion for 'exceptional' cases. The outcome has been abortion on demand.
Pregnancies resulting from incestuous relationships are also very traumatic for the victims. In many instances, the male offender begins to abuse the girl when she is very young and continues to do so until she runs away, marries, exposes the crime to authorities, or gets pregnant. Abortion in incest cases does nothing to treat the underlying problem, but instead simply hides it. In an incestuous relationship, the male involved is often the primary advocate of abortion because the abortion conveniently destroys “evidence” that such a relationship exists. The child involved often desires to maintain the pregnancy as a means of exposing, hindering or stopping the relationship.
Consider the example of Edith Young, a 12-year-old incest victim, who writes 25 years after the abortion of her child:
Throughout the years I have been depressed, suicidal, furious, outraged, lonely, and have felt a sense of loss…The abortion which was to 'be in my best interest' just has not been. As far as I can tell, it only 'saved their reputations,' 'solved their problems,' and 'allowed their lives to go merrily on.'…My daughter, how I miss her so. I miss her regardless of the reason for her conception.2
Incest represents a family situation where extensive external help is needed. After the abortion, the girl will most likely be returned to the exact same abusive environment where she will again be subjected to further violation. Advocates of abortion in cases of incest may believe that taking away the most obvious indication of the incestuous relationship will help the victim, but this will not stop the act itself. The only thing that abortion in incest cases will accomplish is the destruction of an innocent human life.
Understandably, parents and family members can be dismayed to learn that a child will not be “the perfect child”. However, aborting a child with a disability or illness is the height of prejudice. We certainly cannot cure illness by killing the patient. The family who learns of their child's disability will need great support and medical information – not the loss of their most fragile member.
The value of human life cannot be measured by one's abilities or lack thereof. As human beings, we have unalienable rights despite any physical, mental or emotional disabilities we may have. Denying another's humanity on the basis of some concept of productivity or “perfection” is a very dangerous proposition. The door is then open to other forms of “mercy killing.”
Life of the Mother
Possibly the most difficult question is whether an abortion is acceptable to prevent the death of the mother. This “exception” seems to ask which is more important – the life of the mother or the life of the unborn baby. With current medical technology, rarely is the abortion of the unborn child necessary to save the mother's life. Although many doctors or health care professionals may suggest or even pressure parents to do so, such drastic action against the child is rarely a medical necessity. In fact, performing an abortion on a woman who is already in dire health circumstances is likely more dangerous than delivering the baby by C-section. Both delivering the baby and aborting the baby require surgery, but in only one of these options do both mother and baby live. The life of an innocent person should never be intentionally taken, and every effort must be made to preserve and protect the lives of both patients.
- An Overview of Abortion in the United States, Alan Guttmacher Institute, 2005.
- Aborted Women: Silent No More. David C. Reardon (1987), pp. 212-218.