The political world has been abuzz lately over comments made by a candidate for the U.S. Senate in Missouri. When asked about whether pro-lifers would accept a ban on abortion that permitted an exception for rape or incest, the candidate made some ill-conceived remarks that seemed to minimize the horror of rape. This incident has now been used by the forces of the Culture of Death (including their allies in the media) to flog pro-lifers as being radical or anti-woman.
Some clarification and explanation is in order.
The unquestioned goal of the pro-life movement is a conversion of the hearts of individuals, and thus of our culture, so that every innocent life is protected from conception until natural death. This protection will involve changes in the law so that the practice — and even the concept — of abortion would be completely eradicated from our land. Given our presumption that every human life has inestimable value, and that innocent life cannot be taken, we work towards the ultimate goal of enacting laws to prohibit abortion with no exceptions. One vehicle for this would be a Human Life Amendment.
In short, we aim to build a Culture of Life, in which all lives are valued. To get a glimpse of this goal, and how we can get there, I suggest that people read the great statement by the United States Bishops, Living the Gospel of Life.
Unfortunately, our culture is not yet ready to accept the changes in attitude and in law that we are seeking. While there have been shifts in public opinion over the years in favor of the pro-life position, there are still a large number of individuals who either approve of abortion, or who are willing to tolerate it for a perceived “greater good”. We must redouble our efforts to reach out to our brothers and sisters who believe this, to convert their hearts.
One way that we seek to achieve this conversion of heart is by taking incremental steps towards our ultimate goal — in short, building a Culture of Life, brick by brick. This is why we support measures that limit and restrict abortion in various ways, such as parental notification laws, bans on late-term abortions, and such. By supporting these initiatives, we are not accepting the morality of abortion — we are seeking to mitigate the damage, and to use these bills as a vehicle to educate people about abortion, as a way of calling them to conversion. This approach to legislation was specifically approved by Pope John Paul II in his encyclical The Gospel of Life (see paragraph 73).
This is where the “rape exception” comes into play. Pro-lifers hold steadfastly to the fundamental truth that a baby conceived in a rape is an innocent human being whose life may never be directly terminated. We see rape as a horrific act, an inexcusable violation of the dignity of a woman, a depraved crime that should be severely punished by law. We believe that a woman victimized by rape must receive our support as she strives for healing. But we do not accept that the path to healing passes through the abortion clinic. We firmly believe that one cannot heal a victim of violence, by taking the life of another innocent person.
Unfortunately, many people disagree with us — people who either consider themselves pro-life, or who are willing to support some of our goals. These people are potential allies as we try to pass common-sense laws to restrict abortion. We wish to build alliances and coalitions with these potential supporters, not alienate them. So, many pro-lifers in the political and policy arena are willing to tolerate a “rape exception” to a ban on abortion. That is not to say that we consider such an exception as a final goal — but we take what we can get, when we can get it, and press on from there, always moving forwards.
There’s an old adage that “hard cases make bad law”. They also make unsatisfactory compromises, and disappointment. But they sometimes can produce small steps towards our ultimate goal.