Except In The Case Of Rape: Rethinking Pro-life Exceptions

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Many people who consider themselves pro-life concerning abortion will make an exception in the case of rape. We are told, and many are convinced, one must make this exception to be a caring person. 

Rape is horrible violence against women. Rapists should be punished and the victim protected and helped, but when a child is conceived through rape, there is no longer only one innocent victim; there are now two.

It is no surprise the pro-choice community denies preborn children conceived in rape their unalienable right to life; they deny all preborn children their unalienable right to life. I’m writing, here, for the Christian who wishes to uphold the sanctity of all human life and wants to be merciful to women who have become pregnant due to rape. I hope you will see that it’s not an either/or position.

When we make an exception to the right to life, we devalue not only the lives of those people we are exempting, but the lives of the women carrying them, the lives of our neighbors, our children, and even our own lives. Either all human beings are created equal with the unalienable right to life or no human being is; if we can make one exception, we can make every exception.

Ava Krizevcan states in her article, The Problem with the Anti-Choice Movement’s ‘Rape Exception,’

If you excuse abortion in cases of rape, you acknowledge that there are circumstances in which a woman has every right to end a pregnancy. Who are you to define those circumstances?

She has a valid point. The pro-choice position is that all human life has value except those human lives who don’t: pre-born children. This position isn’t based on scientific facts concerning the pre-born child but is often based on the circumstances and feelings surrounding the pregnancy.

When the pro-life community makes an exception in the sanctity of all human life, we are in essence adopting the pro-choice position. 

The pro-life argument isn’t that abortion is wrong because women who willingly choose to have sex should take responsibility for their actions. If that were the argument then maybe a rape exception would make sense. But, as Scott Klusendorf and The Life Training Institute have drilled home so well, the argument is that abortion is wrong because pre-born babies are human beings with inherent value and dignity from the first moment of conception, and it is wrong to intentionally take the life of innocent human beings. 

Are babies conceived in rape different from other babies?

If we want the moral right to intentionally kill pre-born babies conceived in rape, we need to prove these pre-born babies are not human beings with inherent value and dignity.

Is our humanity granted us by the circumstances through which we come to be? If a person is conceived in poverty, are they less human than a person conceived in affluence? If a person is conceived to a single, teenage girl, are they less human than a person conceived to a happily married couple? If a person is conceived through a man who is a criminal, is that person less human than a person conceived through a law-abiding man?

Of course not.

A male human being and a female human being create new human beings, even if the male and female are poor, even if the female is a single teenager, and even if the male is a criminal. The circumstances of conception do not change the reality of what is conceived. Human beings are only ever human beings from the moment of conception.

Pre-born babies conceived in rape are no less human beings than pre-born babies conceived in other circumstances, and as human beings, the lives of pre-born babies conceived in rape are sacred with inherent value and dignity. 

Genesis 1:1 states, In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Foundational to the sanctity of all human life is the belief that there is a God who created the universe and everything in it (John 1:3).

As we read through the Genesis account of creation, we see God moving through creation day by day until He gets to man. When God makes man and woman, He makes them different from anything else He has made. He makes man and woman in His image, (Genesis 1:27), or the Imago Dei.  

The sanctity of human life has nothing to do with ethnicity, I.Q., gender, age, health, abilities, or the circumstances of conception but is anchored in God Himself.

Pre-born children conceived in rape are human beings, and all human beings are created in God’s image with inherent value and dignity. 

I think well-meaning people who are generally pro-life support the killing of pre-born children conceived in rape because they think it is merciful towards the women who have experienced the violence of rape. We need to wrestle with that a bit.

Common arguments used to push abortion in the case of rape.

1. The pre-born child conceived in rape is the rapist’s baby.

A person conceived in rape is an individual human being no less so than any other human being with their own DNA, blood type, and heartbeat.

When we say the child in the womb is the rapist’s baby, we are dehumanizing that child and making him or her the mere property of the rapist, but pre-born children are not property because people are not property.

God has entrusted the raising and nurturing of children to parents, but that does not mean parents own their children like they own their car. No one will protest if you refuse to change the oil in the engine of your car, but refusing to feed, clothe, and care for your child is a different story.

All people belong to God from the moment of conception. We cannot do whatever we want in regards to how we treat our children, our neighbors, or even strangers.

Society recognizes human beings as different from property. You cannot legally sell or buy a human being, abuse a human being, or oppress a human being. We recognize this as being morally wrong and have laws to protect the innocent and convict the guilty.

Since pre-born children, no matter how they are conceived, are human beings in the beginning stages of life, growth, and development, this recognition should be extended to them. Property is disposable. Human beings are sacred. 

2. Pre-born children conceived in rape are guilty of their fathers’ crimes.

The child conceived in rape is as innocent of any wrongdoing as the woman. Society seems to impute the sins of the father onto the innocent pre-born child and then sentence him or her to the ultimate punishment: death.

In states where it is illegal to kill the rapist by capital punishment, it is often legal to kill the pre-born child through abortion. Even among those who for religious reasons believe capital punishment for criminals is immoral, there is often an allowance for the killing of the innocent child conceived through rape.

Rape is a violent act committed against an innocent person; abortion is a violent act committed against an innocent person. Violence added to violence only equals more violence.

We mustn’t conflate the rape with the pregnancy. They are two separate things. And we mustn’t conflate the pre-born child with the rapist. They are two separate people.

3. Abortion helps women who have been raped heal.

Abortion cannot prevent rape, stop rape, or fix rape. Abortion cannot reverse a pregnancy conceived in rape. Abortion can only end a pregnancy by killing the innocent child, thereby, giving the rapist two innocent victims.

David C. Reardon, Ph.D. does an excellent job handling the issue of abortion in the case of rape in the article Rape, Incest, and Abortion: Searching Beyond the Myths. Here, he sites the only major study of pregnancy due to rape where Dr. Sandra Mahkorn found that 75 to 85 percent of pregnant rape victims choose to carry to term. Reardon lists the major reasons women gave for not choosing abortion:

First, approximately 70 percent of all women believe abortion is immoral, even though many also feel it should be a legal choice for others. Approximately the same percentage of pregnant rape victims believe abortion would be just another act of violence perpetrated against their bodies and their children.

Second, some believe that their child’s life may have some intrinsic meaning or purpose which they do not yet understand. This child was brought into their lives by a horrible, repulsive act. But perhaps God, or fate, will use the child for some greater purpose. Good can come from evil.

Third, victims of assault often become introspective. Their sense of the value of life and respect for others is heightened. They have been victimized, and the thought that they in turn might victimize their own innocent child through abortion is repulsive.

Fourth, at least at a subconscious level, the victim may sense that if she can get through the pregnancy, she will have conquered the rape. By giving birth, she can reclaim some of her lost self-esteem. Giving birth, especially when conception was not desired, is a totally selfless act, a generous act, a display of courage, strength and honor. It is proof that she is better than the rapist. While he was selfish, she can be generous. While he was destroying, she can be nurturing.

Although research is limited, in a survey done by the Elliot Institute, many women who chose abortion after rape expressed they felt immense pressure to do so and testified that the abortion was traumatic and left them victimized and hurting to an even greater degree. If nothing else, this information should prevent us from assuming abortion as the desired option for women pregnant after sexual assault.

4. Abortion protects rape victims.

If abortion protects anyone, it protects the rapists.  Abortion is a valuable tool in covering up the crime being committed behind closed doors. I know of women who were raped by a family member or through trafficking and forced or coerced to have abortions.

Abortion did not protect them. Abortion protected their abusers and allowed the abuse to continue. The women I know of expressed feelings of loss over the babies forcibly taken from them by abortion.

Instead of abandoning women to the violence of abortion when they have already experienced the horrific violence of rape, we can do the deeper and more loving work of walking alongside them on the path of healing, standing with them in their pursuit of justice, and physically caring for them and the innocent pre-born children they carry while offering genuine support, help, and honest choices. 

5. A woman shouldn’t have to carry a pregnancy when she didn’t consent to sex. 

I agree that no woman should ever have sex forced on her. That is absolutely and unequivocally true. Forced sex and forced sexual acts should always be condemned and rapists and abusers should be held accountable and face justice. 

Rape takes all choice away from a woman. Abortion doesn’t give a woman her choice back. Whether a woman carries to term or has an abortion, neither decision is really about her having a choice. She didn’t choose any of it. The weight of that injustice needs to fall directly onto the rapist. When a pregnancy occurs after a rape, though, the questions we are wrestling with aren’t about rape or about a woman’s choice but about the treatment of the pre-born child. 

Not every woman will feel capable of raising a child conceived in rape. That is a legitimate concern and one that must be acknowledged and supported. There are many people willing and waiting to adopt a baby and there are organizations able to walk her through that decision and give her emotional support afterward.

Doctors can carefully monitor a woman throughout her pregnancy. If at any point the woman’s life is in immediate danger, doctors have always had the right to do what is necessary to save the life of the mother even if it puts the life of the baby at risk. That is very different from intentionally killing the pre-born child as an answer to rape. 

A better way

If the pro-life community can make an exception in the sanctity of all human life for those conceived in rape, why can’t the pro-choice community make their own exceptions? And who are pro-lifers to say their exception is moral and pro-choicers’ exceptions aren’t? These are fair questions.

In making a rape exception, we’ve undermined the entire pro-life argument and allowed the value of human life to become subjective. We are playing the choice game acting as if we are gods deciding who lives and dies. Such a game is akin to Russian roulette with a fully loaded chamber. There are no winners.

Abortion in the case of rape pits an innocent victim against an innocent victim with violence as the only answer. The fact that the violence of rape is often used to protect the violence of abortion on demand and without apology is tragic.

Our efforts should be to protect all innocent human beings from the perpetrators of violence. We must strive to protect the innocent woman from the rapist and the innocent child from the abortionist. We must remember we are all created in the image of God regardless of our circumstances. Pre-born babies are human beings without exception. The conversations we have regarding pregnancy after rape need to take that truth into consideration.

If 75 to 85 percent of women who become pregnant after rape carry to term, there is a percentage who do not. While some women will feel they made the right decision, there will be those who regret their abortion. They may feel they were pressured or coerced.

If you are experiencing regret after an abortion, there is hope and healing and people who care about you very much and would love to help. If you’d like to speak with someone and learn more about healing after abortion, you can contact your local pro-life pregnancy center or find help at Support After Abortion  and Optionline.org.


3 thoughts on “Except In The Case Of Rape: Rethinking Pro-life Exceptions

  1. Excellent points! I’ve never agreed that women who are raped should have abortions. I just never had a way to express why. Thank you for providing these points.


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