by Richard M. Doerflinger
Some call abortion the “third rail” of American public debate, endangering anyone who touches it. Commenting on the abortion in cases of rape in a uniquely high-voltage risk.
The act of rape is so abominable, and the trauma of the victim so clearly cries out for our sympathy, that discussing the issue calmly almost seems a disservice. But some news coverage of this topic, entangled with various political agendas, has been anything but calm. The public debate would benefit from some facts.
The first fact, affirmed by the U.S. bishops’ ethical directives for Catholic health care, is that any woman subjected to sexual assault needs our compassionate and understanding care, including psychological and spiritual as well as medical support. The church, especially, should be a place of help and healing for a woman in this plight, as for all victims of violence.
Second, any child conceived in rape is, like his or her mother, an innocent victim. That child, too, has a right to life, and destroying the child does not punish the rapist or end the woman’s trauma. There is a remarkable lack of evidence that women who abort their child in these dire circumstances fare better psychologically than women who carry to term. Delivering the child, for parenting or adoption placement, does require courage as well as strong support from family, friends and society. Here, too, the church and its charitable ministries can play an important role.
Last year, a group of women who have conceived from rape released a petition, urging lawmakers who support abortion to stop claiming to speak for them. The women who underwent abortions said: “For many, the abortion caused physical and emotional trauma equal to or exceeding the trauma of the sexual assault that our abortions were supposed to ‘cure.’”
Third, the question has arisen whether pregnancy and abortion after rape are “rare.” In a 2005 survey by the Guttmacher Institute, Planned Parenthood’s former research arm, one percent of women having abortions cited rape as a reason — and surprisingly, only half of those women said the rape was “the most important reason” for aborting. In 2006, the pro-abortion Center for American Progress com- plained that since Congress passed the Hyde amendment — limiting federal funds for abortion to cases of rape, incest, and danger to the mother’s life — the number of federally funded abortions had dropped from 300,000 a year to “virtually none.”
A single rape is one too many. But if rape is numerically a small part of the abortion picture, and such abortions are already allowed and even funded under federal laws, why does it receive so much attention? One answer is that abortion advocates see it as a weak link in the pro-life position. They want Americans to focus on it to the exclusion of other issues — including the other 99 percent of abortions, which these advocates support and most Americans oppose.
But that’s politics, not reality, and it’s a cynical misuse of women who have suffered deeply from acts of sexual violence. Or as the women mentioned earlier say: “Just as we were once used, without our consent, to gratify the sexual desires of others, so we continue to be used, without our consent, to gratify the political goals of others.” Women who have been through this nightmare, as well as their children, deserve better.