In defense of legal abortion, pro-choice advocates often appeal to the circumstance of rape. Surely, they argue, a woman who has been raped has the right to an abortion.
This issue needs to be approached carefully, for we certainly do not want to give anyone the impression that we are minimizing the evil of rape. However, the pro-choice argument is not really about rape at all. As I will attempt to demonstrate, the circumstance of rape is irrelevant to the abortion debate.
Several years ago, I heard a radio talk show featuring callers who first learned of their pregnancy after going into labor. (As unbelievable as it may seem, this actually happens on some rare occasions. Both ABC News and BBC News have published articles describing this phenomenon.) During the radio program, the host asked one of the callers what her partner’s response had been after the surprise birth. The woman explained that the father of the child was not in her life. She had been raped.
Now does this woman, unable to have an abortion, still possess the right to kill her child? While the notion of legalized infanticide is not without support, I believe that the majority of pro-choice Americans would answer no. But then the inevitable question arises. If the circumstance of rape renders abortion morally acceptable, why does it not render infanticide morally acceptable? The pro-choice advocate must respond by asserting that there is a profound moral difference between killing a fetus and killing an infant. But if this is the case, then the abortion argument is settled, and there is no need to appeal to the circumstance of rape. In other words, whether you are pro-choice or pro-life, the circumstance of rape is irrelevant.
So how should we respond when pro-choice advocates appeal to rape? With two simple questions:
1) When does the rape exception end?
If a woman was raped, does she have the right to kill the child in the second trimester? Does she have the right to kill the child in the third trimester? Does she have the right to a partial-birth abortion? What about an “after-birth abortion“? Force them to give you a specific stage in the development of the child at which the rape exception is no longer applicable.
Simply ask them to defend the answer they have given to the first question. Why is it unacceptable to kill the child after that particular point, but acceptable to kill the child before that point? This will force them to address the central question underlying the abortion debate: which human beings have value?