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Prolife Except in the Case of Rape?

By Randy Alcorn

A Once-and-For-All Argument Against Abortion? Note: Very Graphic Images

"What about a woman who is pregnant due to rape or incest?" This is one of three hard cases often cited as "exceptions" that make abortion an appropriate alternative. (The other two are when the life of the mother is threatened or the child has a serious handicap or deformity.)

1. Pregnancy due to rape is extremely rare, and with proper treatment can be prevented.
Studies conducted by Planned Parenthood's Guttmacher Institute indicate that two consenting and fertile adults have only a 3 percent chance of pregnancy from an act of intercourse. They also indicate there are factors involved in a rape which further reduce these chances for rape victims [1]. The Guttmacher Institute says 14,000 [2] abortions per year are due to rape or incest, which amounts to just over 1 percent of all abortions [3]. Other studies show that pregnancies due to rape are much rarer than is generally thought, perhaps as few as one in a thousand cases [4]. Furthermore, since conception doesn't occur immediately after intercourse, pregnancy can be prevented in the great majority of rape cases by medical treatment that removes the semen before an ovum can be fertilized [5].

So where does the misconception come from that many pregnancies are due to rape? Fearful young women will sometimes attribute their pregnancies to rape, since doing so gains sympathy and avoids condemnation. The young woman called "Roe" in the famous Roe v. Wade case-who elicited sympathy in the court and media because she claimed to be a rape victim-years later admitted she had lied and had not been raped at all [6].

Prochoice advocates often divert attention from the vast majority of abortions by focusing on rape because of its inherent (and well-deserved) sympathy factor. Their frequent references to rape during discussions of the abortion issue leaves the false impression that pregnancy due to rape is common. The intent is to get people to structure laws in light of rare cases rather than common ones.

2. Rape is never the fault of the child; the guilty party, not an innocent party, should be punished.
In those rare cases when a pregnancy is the result of rape, we must be careful who gets the blame. What is hard about this hard case is not whether an innocent child deserves to die for what his father did. What is hard is that an innocent woman has to take on childbearing and possibly mothering-if she decides to keep the child rather than choose adoption-for which she was not willing or ready. This is a very hard situation, calling for family, friends, and church to do all they can to support her. But the fact remains that none of this is the fault of the child.

Why should Person A be killed because Person B raped Person A's mother? If your father committed a crime, should you go to jail for it? If you found out today that your biological father had raped your mother, would you feel you no longer had a right to live?

Biblical law put it this way: "The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father" (Ezekiel 18:20). And, "Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin" (Deuteronomy 24:16). Civilized people do not put children to death for what their fathers have done. Yet aborting a child conceived by rape is doing that exact thing. He is as innocent of the crime as his mother. Neither she nor he deserves to die.

Rape is so horrible that we easily transfer our horror to the wrong object. We must not impose the ugliness of rape or incest upon either the innocent woman or the innocent child. The woman is not "spoiled goods"-she is not goods at all but a precious human being with value and dignity that not even the vilest act can take from her. Likewise, the child is not a cancer to be removed but a living human being. By all means, let's punish the rapist. (I favor stricter punishment of the rapist than do the prochoice advocates I know.) But let's not punish the wrong person by inflicting upon the innocent child our rage against the rapist.

3. The violence of abortion parallels the violence of rape.
One woman says, "When a woman exercises her right to control her own body in total disregard of the body of another human being, it is called abortion. When a man acts out the same philosophy, it is called rape." [7]

There is a close parallel between the violent attack on an innocent woman that happens in a rape, and the violent attack on an innocent child that happens in an abortion. Both are done in response to a subjective and misguided sense of need, and both are done at the expense of an innocent person. The woman may not hate her child the way the rapist may hate his victim, but this is no consolation to the child. Regardless of the motives or disposition of his mother, he is just as brutally killed.

The violence of abortion is no solution to the violence of rape. The killing of the innocent by abortion is no solution to the hurting of the innocent by rape.

4. Abortion does not bring healing to a rape victim.
Imposing capital punishment on the innocent child of a sex offender does nothing bad to the rapist and nothing good for the woman. Creating a second victim doesn't undo the damage to the first.

In February 2000 presidential candidate Alan Keyes addressed 120 middle school students in Detroit. A thirteen-year-old girl asked if he would make an exception for rape in his position on abortion. He spoke of the pain of rape, then said, "But I don't believe it is right to take that pain and actually make it worse. And to the burden of that rape down through the years, if that abortion takes place, do you know what I'm adding if I let you have an abortion? I'm adding the burden of that abortion. And at some point, the truth of God that is written on your heart comes back to you. And you're wounded by that truth." [8]

One feminist group says, "Some women have reported suffering from the trauma of abortion long after the rape trauma has faded." [9] It is hard to imagine a worse therapy for a woman who has been raped than to add the guilt and turmoil of having her child killed. Even if we convince ourselves and her that it isn't a real child or even her child, some day she will realize it was. Those who advised abortion will not be there then to help carry her pain and guilt.

I have a dear friend who was raped and became pregnant as a result. Because of her circumstances it wasn't best for her to raise the child, but she gave birth, and the baby was adopted into a wonderful Christian family. She periodically has contact with them and her child.

It has not been an easy road, and I would say nothing to minimize her pain. The hardest part is not being able to raise her child, not hearing the footsteps in her home. Yet there is a bittersweet joy-the joy of knowing God brought this beautiful little girl into the world through her, and brought an immense happiness to this family.

When I look at my friend, I find great comfort in knowing how she has brought joy to our Father in heaven, who has been pleased by her decisions and has brought character and beauty and life out of her suffering. Hers is not the suffering that comes with regret over having done the wrong thing to an innocent child. It is a suffering accompanied by the hand of God who comforts and sustains her, and brings present waves of joy and contentment that are a foretaste of the fullness of joy in the heaven to come. But even now, the wonder she knows when she sees this delightful child overshadows the suffering she has gone through.

5. A child is a child regardless of the circumstances of his conception.
On a television program about abortion, I heard a man argue, "Anything of this nature has no rights because it's the product of rape." But how is the nature of this preborn child different from that of any other preborn child? Are some children more worthy of living because their fathers were better people? And why is it that prochoice advocates are always saying the unborn child is really the mother's, not the father's, until she is raped-then suddenly the child is viewed as the father's, not the mother's?

A child conceived by rape is as precious as a child conceived by love, because a child is a child. The point is not how he was conceived but that he was conceived. He is not a despicable "product of rape" but a unique and wonderful creation of God.

Women often think that a child conceived by such a vile act will be a constant reminder of their pain. On the contrary, the innocence of the child often has a healing effect. But in any case, the woman is free to give up the child for adoption, which may be the best alternative. Aborting the child is an attempt to deny what happened, and denial is never good therapy. One woman told me, "A baby is the only beautiful thing that can come out of a rape." Having and holding an innocent child can do much more good for a victimized woman than the knowledge that an innocent child died in an attempt to deny or reduce her trauma.

6. What about already-born people who are "products of rape"?
What if you found that your spouse or adopted child was fathered by a rapist? Would it change your view of their worth? Would you love them any less? If not, why should we view the innocent unborn child any differently?

After I shared similar thoughts in a lecture, a dear woman in her mid-twenties came up to me in tears. I'll never forget what she said: "Thank you. I've never heard anyone say that a child conceived by rape deserved to live. My mother was raped when she was twelve years old. She gave birth to me and gave me up for adoption to a wonderful family. I'll probably never meet her, but every day I thank God for her and her parents. If they hadn't let me live, I wouldn't be here to have my own husband and children, and my own life. I'm just so thankful to be alive."

Singer Ethel Waters was conceived after her twelve-year-old mother was raped. Waters touched millions through her life and music. Many other people, perhaps some of our dearest friends whose stories we'll never know, are what some disdainfully call "the product of rape."

All that is true of children conceived in rape is true of those conceived in incest. Incest is a horrible crime. Offenders should be punished, and young girls should be carefully protected from further abuse. Decisive personal and legal intervention should be taken to remove a girl from the presence of a relative who has sexually abused her. The abuser-not the girl or her child-is the problem. Intervention, protection, and ongoing personal help for the girl-not the death of an innocent child-is the solution. Despite popular beliefs, fetal deformity is rare in such cases. Even if the child has handicaps, however, he still deserves to live.


No adverse circumstance for one human being changes the nature and worth of another human being. The hard cases are also sometimes called the exceptional cases. But the fundamental question remains, "Is there any exception to the fact that a preborn child is a human being?" The scriptural evidence, scientific and common-sense evidence conclusively demonstrate that the answer to this question is no. What is exceptional is the difficult situation of the mother, not the nature of the child.

Compassion for the mother is extremely important, but is never served through destroying an innocent child. One person must not be killed under the guise of compassion for another. An alternative must be sought that is compassionate to both mother and child. Furthermore, true compassion to the mother considers her psychological well-being, which is not served by abortion. Instead of encouraging her to kill her child, we should do something that requires much more compassion and sacrifice. We should offer tangible support and sacrificial help.

In cases of rape and incest, family and friends need to offer compassionate support and help find counseling that can assist in personal healing. Society needs to protect the innocent by stiffer sentences and enforced restraining orders on sex offenders. Exposing the woman to further abuse is absolutely unjustifiable. So is making an unborn child the scapegoat for a crime he or she did not commit.

This article is adapted from ProLife Answers to ProChoice Arguments(Multnomah Publishers, updated and revised 2000) by Randy Alcorn.

1 Jean Staker Garton, Who Broke the Baby? (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1979), 76.

2 "Who Has Abortions?" The Alan Guttmacher Institute; www.agi-usa.org/pubs/fb_induced_abortion.html.

3 "Abortion: Facts at a Glance," Planned Parenthood Federation of America, n.d., 1.

4 Willke, Abortion Questions, 146-50.

5 John F. Hillabrand, "Dealing with a Rape Case," Heartbeat, March 1975, 250.

6 Sue Reily, "Life Uneasy for Woman at Center of Abortion Ruling," The Oregonian, 9 May 1989, A2.

7 Garton, Who Broke the Baby? 77.

8 "Alan Keyes Continues His Campaign, Hammers on Abortion," The Prolife Infonet http://www.prolifeinfo.org/, 27 February 2000.

9 Feminists for Life Debate Handbook, 14.

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