“Even in Cases of Rape”:
Anti-choice Arguments Parading as Competent Ones
One of the most divisive issues of the twentieth century, abortion has been regulated in the United States since the 1860s. Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case everyone credits with overturning these regulations, guarantees women unrestricted access to an abortion within the first trimester of her pregnancy and in all cases where her life or health is at risk. That has not stopped many states from passing laws restricting access to abortion. After “to protect the life of the mother,” the most common exception to such law reads “except in cases of rape or incest.” Many people condemned Sarah Palin for her belief that abortion should be illegal “even in cases of rape.” Indeed, many states’ abortion restrictions can only pass when rape exceptions are added. Such arguments are dangerous to women, however, because they focus not on protecting the supposed life of the fetus—the only “pro-life” argument that has any viability—but on punishing women for having sex. By claiming that rape victims have a greater right to abortion than other women do, people reinforce the notion that women who have sex know the risks involved and should therefore accept the consequences.
Becoming an exception
Before examining the ramifications of such exceptions, one must think about what the exception is saying in the first place: women can only get abortions if they have been raped. What exactly does that mean from a legal standpoint? Does a woman simply have to claim that she was raped? If that is the case, anyone seeking an abortion would just have to claim that they were raped. However, doing so would not only make the exception pointless to begin with but would also make it even more difficult for women who have been raped to be taken seriously than it already is.
The only other option, however, would be to make a woman prove that she was raped. Does someone have to go jail to allow the woman to have an abortion? What happens if she is unable to prove that she was raped as opposed to merely having sex? Does that mean that she cannot get an abortion? And even if she can prove that she was raped, even if she does win the case, so many months will have passed by that point that she will either already have given birth or be too far along to get an abortion anyway.
Why such exceptions are dangerous
Even if the rape exception made sense, though, it would still contradict the entire pro-choice movement. The argument for the rape exception is that the victims did not choose to have sex; therefore, they should not be forced to deal with the consequences. That argument implies, however, that the women who do choose to have sex should be forced to deal with the consequences. The regulation, then, becomes more of a way of punishing women for having sex than it does a way of ensuring fetuses the right to live.
The abortion debate should really come down to one question: when does personhood begin? If it begins, as many supposedly pro-lifers say, at conception, then abortion should always be illegal. If it begins, as Roe v. Wade says, at viability, then abortion should only be illegal in the late-second and third trimesters. If it begins at birth, then abortion should always be legal.
Which moment one deems most important—conception, viability, or birth—is a question for a different essay. The point here is that no matter where you draw the line, it does not (or at least should not) move depending on the circumstances surrounding the conception. If personhood begins at conception, then abortion is murder whether the woman wanted to have sex or not. If personhood does not begin at conception, then the woman should be able to have an abortion whether she wanted to have sex or not.
People are often condemned as being extremists if they feel that a woman who was raped should be forced to carry the pregnancy to term. Such people are viewed as cold-hearted and merciless. In reality, though, these are the only people whose arguments make any sense. These are the people who truly feel that abortion is murder and that murder is wrong. Regardless of whether or not one agrees with them, one must at the very least respect that they are honestly doing what they believe is right: protecting the life of an innocent baby.
The people who believe that abortion should only be allowed in cases of rape are the ones with the extremist views. These are the people who believe that any woman stupid enough to have sex should be forced to deal with the consequences. These people are clearly not concerned with the life of the embryo; their sole concern is making sure that the woman accepts responsibility for the decision she made to have sex. Presumably, such people believe that sex should only be used for reproductive purposes—a rather extreme belief in this day and age.
Being raped is undoubtedly a terrible experience that no woman—or man, for that matter—should ever have to live through. That does not mean, though, that a child conceived by such means is any more or less real than one conceived by two consenting individuals. Therefore, whether a woman was raped should have no bearing in deciding whether or not she is allowed to have an abortion. Either every woman should be able to have an abortion, or no woman should. Until we stop thinking of “except in cases of rape” as an acceptable compromise, we are just making this world a more and more dangerous place for women to live.