Abortion: Do the Exceptions Prove...or Swallow the Rule?

Abortion – the perennial hot potato of political discourse – is once again front and center, particularly as several states have recently passed legislation significantly restricting the practice.  Missouri, for instance, just passed its version of a “heartbeat bill” last week.  Given that this is an issue I’m passionate about, I’ve had many thoughts (and no shortage of words) on the topic, largely in defense of the measure.


Inevitably, when abortion is debated, those who are in the pro-choice camp raise the “rape and incest” exceptions. Momentary aside…I’ve been wondering lately, what percentage of incest cases don’t involve rape? I’ve not gone looking for the statistics — wait, I just did. I find the Guttmacher Institute an invaluable resource when searching for abortion statistics. Anyway, they don’t seem to break down incest into its own category in terms of incidence. It’s almost always “rape and/or incest.” I’ve seen figures citing either/or reason ranging from 1% to 3% of all abortions. So, whenever discussing these potential exceptions, we’re discussing a statistically small percentage of abortions. Which isn’t to say they don’t matter. Just to put it in perspective.

A few years back, someone challenged me on Twitter about the position that rape oughtn’t be an exception to laws restricting abortions. I wrote the following in response to that challenge:

Alright then, to the question: “But you can’t expect a woman to be raped and forced to go through with her pregnancy.”  (Or, I suppose, to make it a proper question, “How can you expect a woman who’s raped to go through with her pregnancy?”)  The answer is easy if one simply dismisses the notion of the life within her as life — or life that holds sufficient value to warrant consideration:  “You can’t.”  I’ve read all the arguments — even made them myself in days gone by.  How much more compelling a case for terminating a pregnancy can one make than pointing out that a victim of rape should be spared even an ounce of further trauma, if possible?


But what if one doesn’t simply dismiss that notion? What if one believes that all life holds value?  Even life in its infancy?  (Heck, some might even argue that that is precisely when it holds the most value — innocent, full of potential.)  If one holds that belief — that all life has value — then the question becomes what — if anything — trumps that?  What of mine justifies my taking that from you?  The only thing I can come back with is my own life — and even then, not always.  (For instance, if I could save my daughter’s life by sacrificing mine, then I would. In a heartbeat.)  But if we’re considering the notion of you threatening my life (or the life of another), then most would agree, I would be justified in taking yours.

Beyond that, I can think of no justification for taking your life away from you.  Because I do believe that all life holds value, and I do believe that unborn child is a life.  Which is how I can expect a woman who’s raped to go through with her pregnancy. As much as I abhor what was done to her, I abhor the taking of the innocent life which resulted even more.  

In sum, it comes down to the value one assigns to life, and when.  For those who assign little to it, or who only assign value to it after birth, or even viability, terminating it prior will seem justified — even preferred, in the case of rape.  For those who assign much to it, beginning with conception, or perhaps implantation, terminating it will never seem justified unless it is to save the life of the mother.


I’d say, “and never the ‘twain shall meet,” but folks seem to fall a number of different places along that line.  I’m not naive enough to think I’ll persuade many to my way of thinking.  Then again, I was once over on the other side of things, and yet, here I am.  So, perhaps it is a fool’s errand…to think that by saying these things, I might actually reach a mind or touch a heart.  But I won’t regret trying.

One thing I’ve often wondered, though, if true compromise were on the table — if those who fall in the “pro-choice” camp were assured that abortion would remain a legal option in cases of rape, incest, and life of the mother — how many of them would agree to it?

Having since posed that question to several in the pro-choice camp, I’ve thus far not received any takers on that proposition. So, I’m forced to wonder, are these exceptions intended to prove the rule? Or swallow it whole?



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