Friday, 24 August 2012

Abortion in the case of rape

There has been a lot of noise about abortion and rape recently, generating, as so often, far more heat than light.

In this post I set out to discuss why, from a pro-life and/or Catholic point of view, there can be no question of abortion being the right response to a pregnancy resulting from rape.

As ever, these are the thoughts of an interested layman, not a trained moral theologian and I therefore welcome discussion and correction should I get anything wrong.

First and foremost, it is important to be quite clear that rape is a terrible crime. In Catholic thinking, it is also a sacrilege, the profanation of something sacred (namely human sex).  It is a very grave evil, and victims of rape deserve support, compassion and love.

However, that does not mean that a woman who has been raped has the automatic right to do whatever she wants to make herself feel better.

She does not have the right, for example, to have the rapist kidnapped, incarcerated privately, castrated and killed, or beaten by hired thugs every day for the rest of his life, even though that might make her feel a lot better, and even though there may be many who believe that a rapist deserves nothing less.

Why she does not have that right is because the rapist also has rights, merely by being a human being; albeit one who has committed a terrible and evil crime.  Moreover, society also has interests here: for example, to see justice administered openly, fairly and proportionately, with due legal process.

When we come to the case of a woman pregnant as a result of rape, the stakes are higher.  On the one hand, we can naturally sympathise with the woman’s distress and the terrible predicament in which she finds herself, bearing the child of a man who raped her.

On the other hand, we have to recognise that there are still limits to what she may or may not do in that predicament.

To discover the right response we need to consider all the parties and what is due to them in accordance with charity and justice.

That of course includes the woman, but also the child conceived by the rape; it also includes the medics who will be involved in the pregnancy, and it involves wider society, as we all have an interest in justice and compassion; it also includes, as I implied earlier, the rapist.

Of course, the moment we include the child conceived by the rape in the list of those who need to be taken into account, we exclude the possibility of abortion being a legitimate solution.  If we do anything less, we are not pro-life in any meaningful way.

But Ben, surely you are not saying a raped woman should be forced to give birth!

That is just rhetoric.  The woman is not forced to give birth by legislation prohibiting abortion; it is the natural consequence of a rape resulting in pregnancy, and indeed is one of the reasons rape is such a heinous crime.  No force is used; all that is done is that a morally illegitimate solution (which would be gravely unjust to the unborn child) is made illegal.

In terms of rhetoric, one could as accurately say that allowing for abortion would be forcing the medical staff to carry out the killing of the unborn child.  One can do that with language, but one needs to look a little further beyond the emotional rhetoric.

So who is owed what?

The woman is owed compassion, practical and emotional support, and justice.

The child is owed justice, in particular the protection of the law and appropriate arrangements for upbringing should the woman choose not to keep him or her; also protection of identity from being the ‘child of a rapist’ on the principle that children should not be made to suffer for the crimes of their father.

The medics are owed the opportunity to practice their true vocation: to nurture health; and should be safeguarded from temptations or pressures to violate the right to life of the unborn child.

The rapist is owed justice: punishment for the crime committed and rehabilitation to avoid re-offending if possible.

Society at large is owed the rule of law: and law that is in accordance with the basic goods of human life.  

What all that means, of course, is that if we are to consider ourselves pro-life, we must: fight all abortion, including the hard cases such as rape; and work to ensure that there is a genuine alternative for women who face such terrible situations (rape or others) that drive them to consider abortion; and work to educate others to understand the inherent issues of justice and compassion that underlie our case.

Finally there is the practical point: if legislation restricts or outlaws abortion except in the case of rape, the rape statistics would go through the roof.  It would simply be a loophole that would leave the unborn as vulnerable as ever; and would also perpetuate a culture in which inadequate genuine support is offered to women pregnant after rape.  It would also weaken the fight against rape, as everyone would know, in their heart of hearts, that many reported rapes were now  simply attempts to get around restrictions on abortion.

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