It has always struck me that one of the biggest problems for the mainstream pro-life movement is their position when it comes to abortion after rape. It seems difficult for them to find a position on the issue consistent with the values they claim to espouse. Here is why.
In the last post I mentioned two big arguments of the pro-life movement: The supremacy of the right to life over other rights (like dignity and autonomy), and the (at least partial) responsibility of the woman for her pregnancy. The scenario where a woman is raped creates a tension between these arguments.
The mainstream position seems to be that rape is an exception to the general rule that abortion is always wrong. Why is this? It is true that an unwanted pregnancy can feel much worse if caused by rape. The feeling of violation can be extended throughout the pregnancy, and the woman might be torn between giving the child up for adoption (which can be a heart-breaking experience in itself) and keeping the child around, a constant reminder of the terrible act. So the consequences for the mother are likely to be worse.
But looking at the situation honestly, has the sole fact that the consequences are worse ever motivated the mainstream pro-life movement to make exceptions? A young teenage girl can be terrified of what is happening, completely unable to cope emotionally, and this tends not to change the judgement that 'abortion is murder'. Only if the woman's life is in danger will an exception otherwise be made, and that is an extension of the idea of the right to life. So if not the extent of the consequences, then what motivates the exception in the case of rape?
Well, it is the second principle above, that normally the mother gives up some of her rights by dint of being responsible for the pregnancy. Here of course there is no responsibility so the principle is applied to give an exception. The major problem for pro-lifers is that adopting this contradicts the idea that the right to life trumps all other rights. If this were truly taken seriously, it would not matter that the pregnancy was no fault of the mother. In order for this to matter, the fault of the mother must be the deciding factor above the life of the child. Acknowledging that the rights of the mother have some part to play means accepting that the whole thing must be considered on a case by case basis, and not purely on the basis that there is a child who must not be killed.
So what is the alternative? Some go further than the above and argue that abortion is wrong even in cases of rape. It avoids the above problem of compromising the life of the baby for the sake of the mother. However, it appears an incredibly uncompassionate response. It also jettisons the principle of the fault of the woman by not needing any fault on her part to require her to carry the baby. It means that even an unarguable victim is forced to undergo the further consequences of an unwanted pregnancy without fault, rather than being given the chance to prevent these consequences. I do not believe it to be too emotive to suggest that in a way this compounds the rape - enforcing a violation of bodily sanctity on one who is completely blameless.
To summarise: To make an exception for abortion after rape compromises on the absolute supremacy of the right to life, and to make no exception compromises on the requirement for fault on the mother's part. So, if this is true does this mean the pro-life ideal is inherently flawed? Not necessarily. It just means that to achieve consistency, only one of these principles can be maintained.
If the supremacy of the right to life is maintained, then no exception is made for rape. The woman is denied a means to end the violation of her person started by the rapist. I consisder this horrible, but at least it is consistent.
If the fault of the woman is considered paramount, an exception can be made for rape. However, with the absolute supremacy of the sanctity of life removed, a balancing exercise must take place. If other rights can override it, then why not in some cases without rape? Could the distress and suffering incurred not outweigh the right to life even without rape involved? Insisting that rape is still the only exception begs the question of 'why?'. Why, if the right to life can be displaced? Logical consistency requires weighing up other situations to see if they too could justify abortion.
While this balancing exercise can be difficult, it can be a consistent position. However, it requires leaving behind the absolutist approach to abortion and adopting one of relativism, anathema to the mainstream pro-life movement. It also begs the question of who is to judge. The courts? The doctors?
Might it not be better leaving it up to individual conscience after all?