The Exception that Proves the Rule

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In the wake of Todd Akin’s stupid (really, I could think of a fancier word but I think that one covers it) remarks about rape and abortion, and then VP-hopeful Paul Ryan’s follow-up distancing himself from Akin and downplaying his own oft-stated convictions regarding abortion in exceptional cases, pregnancy and rape are everywhere in the news this week.  I think I have something to contribute, though, and I would like to solicit contributions from you as well, if you have something to add in the comments.

I understand, I believe, the pro-choice position on abortion, as much as I disagree with it: that a woman should have the right to decide what to do with her own body, including whether to become or to stay pregnant. And I think most pro-choice people understand the pro-life position: that abortion is wrong because the unborn is a person whose right to life cannot be trumped by its mother’s rights.

But I CANNOT understand the reasoning behind allowing exceptions for rape and incest. I challenge anyone reading this who holds those beliefs to explain them below.

Pro-lifers and even many people in the muddy middle on abortion often find themselves frustrated by radical pro-choicers who refuse to allow for any limitations on abortion: waiting periods, parental notification, banning procedures most people find repugnant, like partial-birth abortions. But abortion rights activists realize that they have to argue against these limitations because to admit limitations is also to admit that there is something unsavory about abortion, somethings serious, something that makes people uncomfortable. When President Clinton opined that abortion should be “Safe, legal, and rare,” some were uncomfortable with his language because why should it be rare if there is nothing morally wrong about it?

On the flip side, allowing exceptions for incest and rape does much more damage to a pro-life argument. After all, WHY are we against abortion? Because we believe that the unborn child is a human being from the moment of conception and therefore entitled to the protections that human dignity demands from that moment forward. With that as our premise, how can we offer an exception based on how that human person was conceived?

We can’t, not logically. But most Americans have not been trained to think critically. They are uncomfortable with abortion on some level. They are also uncomfortable with allowing suffering of any kind. They look for compromises and find them in limiting abortions to certain trimesters, and to allowing exceptions in certain circumstances.

But offering exceptions based on mode of conception is sexist, honestly. It’s saying, “Well, you poor innocent woman, you shouldn’t have to be further victimized by carrying this baby because it wasn’t your fault.  But as for the rest of you sluts, you play, you pay.”

8 thoughts on “The Exception that Proves the Rule

  1. Jane

    I’ll join you in the fray.
    I am, as you know, pro choice. To me, that does not mean that abortion should be used as a form of birth control. There are many, many birth control methods available (for now) that are safe, effective and not cost prohibitive. I’d love to see more focus on educating both women and men on how to not need an abortion. But things happen and if that is someone’s choice, it should be in a safe, sterile and legal environment that can be accessed without running the gamut of primarily men shouting obscenities at her. For me, we cannot know what it’s like to really walk in someone else’s shoes, as much as we think we do. No one knows what goes through her mind and all we can assume is that it is the hardest choice she’s ever had to make. As pro-choice as I am, I do not believe in late-term abortion. Once a fetus can live outside of the woman, that becomes for me the point of no return. And I believe if one has crossed that viability line, they’ve crossed it.
    The debate for me goes far beyond abortion itself. It is so disturbing that this is a debate which is primarily championed by men. How many women do you see blithering on about it? Women fought hard to have rights of their own and are still battling equality issues. Augusta National is a good example. The fact that we’ve been able to cast a vote for less than 100 years is another. Although it takes two to tango, the actual burden of reproduction is borne (no pun intended) by a woman. By taking away the ability for her to choose when she wishes to undertake this endeavour, it limits her to, in essence, to being controlled by the hormonal cycles of her body. It affects her physically, emotionally and financially. The government and particularly men in the government shouldn’t be able to decide this. I fear that women won’t wake up in time to let their voices be heard in time to end this madness.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Jane. I know how it LOOKS when men seem to be primarily the ones making the laws and the arguments. I don’t think it’s fair, though, to say that they can’t. There are plenty of things I have had no experience with that I hold strong opinions on–the death penalty, for example. Am I not allowed to advocate against it because I have never been the victim of a violent crime? That’s just one example. I just don’t buy the argument that most pro-life just want to keep women down. The problem is that the people who are in the public square tend to be men still!
      And the fact is that men and women are NOT equal. Equal in dignity, certainly, but not identical. It’s a fact that women are affected by the cycles in our bodies. That’s the way we are made and we should embrace that, not deny it. We need to fight for policies that enable women to succeed WHILE having their babies, not for ones that try to deny these basic biological facts. There is something wrong with a world where a woman feels forced to have an abortion she doesn’t want because she cannot keep her job otherwise. Family leave, bringing babies to work, places to pump milk, affordable health care, good quality child care or policies that enable women to stay home longer with their babies–all things that man other countries have already–these are issues worth fighting for, issues that support women and children.
      I could go on. And maybe I will, in another post. Thank you so much for your thoughts.

  2. I don’t know if every pro-life advocate believes that women who find themselves pregnant outside of rape is a slut, but I do get your point.
    What I’ve never been able to wrap my head around is why religious pro-life advocates feel the need to make laws about my body, my uterus or my fetus. The separation of church and state forbids that.

    1. Thank you so much for commenting, Jodi. We could get into a debate about what separation of church and state reaclly means, or what the framers’ intent was, and all that. But I’d rather not. Instead, I’d like to propose that abortion is a human rights issue, NOT a religious issue, at bottom. Sure, those of us who are religious tend to frame it that way, since that’s the lens through which we see the world. I see many political issues in a religious way–my faith informs my opinions on health care and poverty, for example. But one does not have to believe in God to believe that homicide is wrong, and we have laws that prohibit it. Have you ever heard of such groups as Atheists for Life and Secular Pro-life? They are out there. I can see why pro-choice advocates would disagree with pro-lifer’s desire to legally ban abortion, but I don’t get why you wouldn’t UNDERSTAND it. If I really really believe that unborn babies are persons from conception onward, what does it matter whose fetuses they are? It doesn’t matter any more than it would matter whose BORN child it was if that person was trying to harm it. How could I not believe I need to try to stop that, if I can? Does that make any sense (I mean, as an argument–I understand if you can’t wrap your head around my feeling that strongly about it in the first place!).
      Anyway, thanks again for reading and commenting. I really do believe that we can all learn from each other if we take the time to listen.

  3. I have a heart condition that is non life threatening UNLESS I get pregnant. Then, it’s life threatening. A surgery in the future to repair my severely leaking heart valve should happen in the next couple of years (that’s another story). In the meantime, I’ve relied on faith and tested my own faith becoming pregnant 4 times, delivering 4 babies and each time worsening my condition. The last delivery there were some complications with my blood pressure, but I pulled through. My cardiologist strongly recommends against me getting pregnant again and we’re not planning to –but if by a small small chance I did, I know that I would not be able to go through with an abortion. I (personally–me, me me) would HAVE the baby–at risk to myself. Because, like you, I do believe that life begins at conception. And I don’t think I (mer personally) could make that choice, but that’s just ME.
    BUT, here’s where the question becomes tricky in a way–what if I DID get pregnant again, and having the option to NOT continue to pregnancy or continue, let’s just say that I DID continue–and for argument’s sake let’s just say that the doctor’s were right and I had heart failure during delivery and I died giving birth. My husband would be left with 4 small children, and an infant. We have NO family near us. There would be no way he could afford childcare and aftercare and summer daycare for all 5 children with me dead. And then what would he do? It would be suffering for everyone. Lots of suffering with a dead mother, and dramatically changed lives for everyone. It would require lots of faith to take that risk. Even just thinking about it, writing this here, makes me doubt my own belief of what I would do.
    I agree with you that life is to endure suffering, but I can TOTALLY and completely understand how a woman in my position would/or may want to have an abortion. And I would pass no judgement on her.
    Sp, I guess my personal view is: I feel like we can hold our own spiritual beliefs about it, but it should never be up to our government to decide for us. I just really believe the woman should have the legal right to choose.

    1. Caroline, thank you for sharing your personal story and for your thoughtful comments. You are very brave and I know you think it has been worth it! The only thing I would add is that in your situation, which is clearly life-threatening and would be certified as a doctor as such, there is no law yet proposed that would prohibit abortion. I have never heard of any politician who proposed a law that did not include a “mother’s life” exception.

  4. Pingback: October Is Respect Life Month | Life in Every Limb

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