Rape and Other Awkward Exceptions

By Cyberquill 10/25/201220 Comments

No doubt, NewsCorps CEO Rupert Murdoch has had a busy few days explaining to the homophonically confused among the outraged that it was Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock from Indiana, not he, who said that rape-induced pregnancies were “something that God intended to happen.”

Presumably, Mr Mourdock was referring to instances of illegitimate rape only, for, as fellow Republican Todd Akin from Missouri had pointed out to us back in August, “if it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down” anyway—a medical news flash that came as a great relief to all the Marjories of the world: no more need for going through the trouble of locking a would-be rapist into the fireplace, at least not for fear of getting knocked up.

Obviously, the two conservative gentlemen’s opposition to abortion extends into spheres where more moderate GOPers will allow for some concessions, such as when it comes to instances of rape or incest, or where the life of the prospective mother might be at risk—the life, mind you, not the health of the prospective mother, since a risk to “health” these days includes bouts of self-reported depression and inherently unverifiable tales of suicidal ideation, which means that the inclusion of any “health of the mother” exception amounts to a de-facto blanket legalization of abortion all the way up to term in all cases; for if, in order to obtain an abortion, all a woman has to do is to do is tell her doctor that being pregnant has triggered fantasies about jumping in front of a freight train (a claim that cannot be disproved), and if making such claims is her only chance of having the procedure done short of attempting the friend-with-a-rusty-clothes-hanger-in-the-basement thing, then that’s precisely what she will say; this, of course, being the reason for the pro-choice camp’s eagerness to have the term “health of the mother” added to any list of legitimate reasons for having abortions in areas where the procedure is otherwise prohibited by law, and the pro-life camp’s eagerness to keep it off any such list, as both camps are fully aware that inserting that little “health of the mother” clause makes for virtually unfettered access to abortion no matter what, period.

Now, individuals that are pro-life generally believe (a) that life and personhood begin at conception, (b) that abortion, therefore, is the premeditated taking of a human life, i.e., an act of murder, (c) that the most helpless, vulnerable, and innocent in society deserve to be protected the most—in fact, that any society ought to be judged by how it treats its most defenseless members, (d) that the unborn are the most helpless, vulnerable, and innocent among us, and (e) that God seeds life and it is not given to man to nip divine creations in the bud.

My aim here is not to debate the validity of these beliefs. What puzzles me, though, is how anyone who sincerely holds them can endorse exceptions to their anti-abortion stance, as many (including many public officials) do—how can they have it both ways?

Let’s take the notion that God creates human life, a religious core tenet. If you believe that, then how could you possibly disagree with Richard Mourdock’s assertion that pregnancies resulting from rape are the will of God just like all others? Because if you do disagree with it, you are essentially saying that God creates some human life but not all human life. To call this an tanglefooted position to defend would be an understatement; it’s like arguing that sometimes God simply isn’t paying attention to what He’s creating, and then He goes, “Oops, I messed up, so now I’ll permit humans to abort what I erroneously created.”

I suppose one could conscript Satan into the mix and claim that children conceived by force are the devil’s spawn and that God played no part their creation. This, of course, would mean there are two kinds of people populating our planet: those commissioned by God, and those commissioned by the Prince of Darkness. (Wouldn’t it be interesting to conduct a scientific study on personality traits among the two groups to find out whether, on balance, the former tend to be nicer and more loving and creative, and the latter more evil and given to violence and destruction?)

So next time an overtly religious politician espouses the divine-origin-of-human-life thesis and then proceeds to list rape as among the valid reasons for terminating a pregnancy, I’d like to hear them elaborate as to whether they believe either (a) that God doesn’t create all human life after all, or (b) that although God does indeed create all human life, man nevertheless ought to reserve the right to overrule the will of God anytime man thinks he knows better than God.

I’d be very curious to see an exceptions-endorsing but otherwise staunchly pro-life candidate hem and haw and stutter his way out of this one.

Moreover, with respect to the “life of the mother” exception frequently approved of by those who argue that life begins at conception, given their belief that the unborn are persons just like the “walking-around” people, what exactly justifies their privileging the life of the mother over the life of her unborn? In an either/or situation where life for one person means death for the other, what’s the rationale behind suggesting that the more innocent, vulnerable, and helpless of the two (i.e., the unborn) be sacrificed? Except for the fact that the unborn don’t vote and that scaring females of reproductive age would be bad politics, what might be an avid pro-lifer’s reasoning behind considering a grown woman’s right to life to be greater than her unborn’s right to life?

And then there’s the common exception for incest, which usually means rape with the added “bonus” of an increased risk of birth defects due to inbreeding. In other words, the unborn conceived through incest are probably the most vulnerable and defenseless segment of society imaginable—yet aborting them is OK? Whatever happened to judging a society by how it treats its most weakest members?

As much as Mr Mourdock’s comment may grate on the sensibilities of those who, at least once in a while, manage to pull their noggins out of the Old Testament and put on their thinking caps, one can’t really denounce the comment yet at the same time adhere to the pro-lifer’s cookie-cutter edifice of beliefs without that edifice beginning to crumble precariously upon reflection—a type of reflection unlikely to be engaged in, let alone publicly, by the average talking-points-spewing politician.

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  • Testazyk

    Interesting!  Sort of like saying I support the death penalty but only in cases where the accused is really guilty.

    • http://blog.cyberquill.com/ Cyberquill

      Or like saying that abortion is murder except in cases of premeditated self-defense against an innocent party.

  • Richard

    The religious might say that that God created all life, or they may say God offers the opportunity to create life. It’s all to do with free will.

    As for human life being sacred, just look about you. It clearly isn’t.

    Observation also suggests that human life begins well after birth.

    The most horrifying part of the bigotry you discuss is the utter failure even to begin to understand the mind of a woman and to consider her freedoms, and that extends to female bigots.

    Add that to your mix, Peter, for moral values do not yield to logic.

    • http://blog.cyberquill.com/ Cyberquill

      Mit 66 Jahren, da fängt das Leben an …

      Considering freedoms is always an exercise in balancing the freedoms of one against those of another, then making a decision as to whose freedoms trump whose under the circumstances. So in fairness, the fact that someone has made his decision doesn’t necessarily mean the freedoms of the losing party weren’t considered. 

      • Richard

        I should have been clearer about freedom. I was not referring to legal freedoms or the freedom one individual grants to another, but to the absolute freedom we, as humans, appear to possess when exercising our faculties.

        • http://blog.cyberquill.com/ Cyberquill

          What do you mean by “faculties”? It seems to me that we, as humans, are perfectly free to exercise all of our faculties even when we’re locked up in a dungeon. 

          • Richard

            Yes, and that is the sense in which I used “freedom”.

            • http://blog.cyberquill.com/ Cyberquill

              So in this sense, a woman could be raped and forced to carry the resulting offspring to term yet retain the absolute freedom to exercise her faculties throughout her ordeal. I must confess that your original point about considering a woman’s freedoms escapes me entirely. 

            • Richard

              There’s a difference between what you are free to do and what you choose to do.

            • http://blog.cyberquill.com/ Cyberquill

              I see. So then one can be pro-choice yet remain opposed to the freedom to act on that choice, for choice merely means the freedom to choose but not the freedom to do.  

  • Richard

    The freedom to act in a given way is a fact. Restraint is a choice. That choice may be expedience, personal gain, selfishness, altruism, taste, moral preference or any conscious suppression of a faculty.

    • http://blog.cyberquill.com/ Cyberquill

      So at what age exactly do one’s faculties kick in such that they are now officially subject to potential suppression by others? 

      • Richard

        I don’t know. Nor does anyone know what God’s intentions are (assuming she exists and in a form which has intentions).

        The fact that many human beings seek to suppress others’ faculties is no reason to suppose that any such hypothetical being intended them to do so simply because she endowed them with the necessary capacity.

        I have indulged in too many suppositions and assumptions. Perhaps that is a faculty I share with others. I must try to restrain it.

  • Nepenthe

     Don’t they also believe that a child should not be conceived out of wedlock? And that it is better to “spill your seed on the belly of a whore than on the ground?” 
    And they believe that if a man is a sick and twisted *&%$ and takes it then the woman has to go around looking at his face on some kid for the rest of her life!!
    A woman is just as much a part of the baby making equation as the man, and she SHOULD HAVE A SAY WHETHER OR NOT SHE GIVES BIRTH.  If they want to protect the fetus’s right to life, then perhaps they should remove it and put it someplace safe, sort of like a pre-birth adoption. Oh that’s right, you can’t do that. Because the mother is a part of the equation….kind of a HUGE ONE.

    • http://blog.cyberquill.com/ Cyberquill

      Medical technology, though, keeps moving the point of fetal viability outside the womb ever further back, which renders it rather difficult to posit viability as the threshold at which human life begins and hence abortion becomes murder. 

      Typically, we recoil at the thought of destroying a human being. Thus, in order to OK abortion, we must convince ourselves that what is being destroyed doesn’t amount to human life. So then the trick is to determine at what point human life actually begins, and that’s an exercise in arbitrariness generally driven by collateral considerations, such as the notion that a woman has a right over her own body and THEREFORE human life begins no sooner than birth. 

      It follows that the principle of erring on the side of caution dictates that life begins at conception, which instantly raises the question as to the justification for elevating a woman’s personal preferences over a human beings right to life. The way to avoid this question, of course, is to simply ordain that human life does not begin at conception but at some later point, yet to explain why it begins at that later point becomes no less of a headache than attempting to explain why killing a human is fine as long as it helps remove a burden off someone’s shoulders. 

      Bottom line, it’s a complicated subject, and both camps raise valid points. 

      Of course, if the pro-life position comes supplemented with the entire suite of OT chauvinism, it indicates a mental and emotional disorder rather than a genuine concern for life. 

      • Nepenthe

         Yes, the points are indeed valid if the true  moral question is when does life start. Life starts when the ovum and sperm meet. In this regard, the morning after pill is murder and so is any birth control, because it prevents life from taking place.  However, when looked at from a different perspective, a woman should have the right to not be a potentially unlimited incubator for infants that are forced upon her. Abortion was legalized in the first place to prevent women from using “back alley” abortion clinics and to make it safer.  Even when it was illegal, if a woman was raped, or there was some other impropriety, say incest, there were ways of dealing with this. Removing abortion rights would only be setting healthcare standards back.
        Having said this, I am not saying that I believe we should hand out abortions like candy and they are without deep emotional consequences and are something to be taken lightly. They are not.

        • http://blog.cyberquill.com/ Cyberquill

          If I were in charge, I probably would hand out abortions like candy, at least early-term ones, for such a tiny clump of cells doesn’t yet strike me as a person endowed with rights at all. However, I confess it’s pretty difficult to to explain why not and if not, at what point exactly those human rights set in such that they trump it’s mother’s druthers. 

  • Richard

    The sanctity of potential and new life is a legal, anthropological and social conundrum as well as a political, religious and moral one.

     In England, there are four offences: abortion, child destruction, infanticide and murder.  Infanticide relates to a psychological predisposition for a mother to kill a newborn. There is, too, a long and interesting history of the practice : 

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infanticide#Christianity

    English Law regards infanticide as of lesser moral turpitude and deserving of a measure of leniency. 

    Child destruction is a statutory offence to fill a loophole. If a foetus was destroyed during delivery it was neither abortion nor infanticide. There are exceptions for doctors attending the birth.

    If ever an issue required quiet rational consideration it is this one. Emotional frenzy and self-righteous moral condemnation have no place; much less political posturing at election time.

    • http://blog.cyberquill.com/ Cyberquill

      Sure, but quiet rational consideration doesn’t seem to ease the conundrum either. 

      • Richard

        Granted. Yet rational thought is the only hope of quelling the ill effects of primitive emotion, whether of accuser or accused.

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