As the election comes to a close, there is no doubt that economic concerns are at the forefront of voters’ minds. For most of the race, social issues did not see the light of day. However, Indiana Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock recently made political headlines with controversial statements about rape and abortion. However, when properly understood, Mourdock’s main point is consistent and defensible. In a debate, Mourdock affirmed his pro-life position, explaining that he believes the only time abortion is justified is to save the life of the mother. While this statement is controversial enough in itself, Mourdock continued by stating that “life is a gift from God, and I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.” Mourdock clarified himself following the debate: “God creates life. That was my point. God does not want rape, and by no means was I suggesting that He does. Rape is a horrible thing.” Still, this did not prevent him from being immediately attacked by critics for implying that God intends rape.
Mourdock’s opponent, Joe Donnelly, claimed that “what Mr. Mourdock said is shocking, and it is stunning that he would be so disrespectful to survivors of rape.” However, understood properly, Mourdock meant no disrespect to rape victims. Indeed, a number of Indiana women who were born when their mothers were raped have recently come out in support of Mourdock’s statements, according to Tom LoBianco of the Associated Press.
The core point Mourdock was trying to make was that abortion is morally wrong in all cases except to save the life of the mother. Given the assumption that abortion is at least generally wrong, that is a consistent position to hold.
Traditional pro-choice vs. pro-life positions pit a woman’s right to choose whether to carry or abort a fetus against the fetus’s right to life. The pro-life position admits that carrying the child to term is a physical and psychological strain on the mother, but argues that it cannot outweigh the significance of an entire life. The fundamental equation remains the same if the pregnancy is a result of rape. Although the trauma to a mother who goes through with a rape-induced pregnancy is far greater than a mother who has accidentally conceived, it still does not equal the magnitude of a single human life.
No matter what your perspective, it is clear that rape-induced pregnancies are incredibly horrific for the mother. On the one hand, carrying the child has severe psychological implications that go far beyond physical aspects . According to Andrew Solomon of The New Yorker, “one rape survivor, in testimony before the Louisiana Senate Committee on Health and Welfare, described her son as ‘a living, breathing torture mechanism that replayed in my mind over and over the rape.’”
On the other hand, Solomon also recognizes that “there can be no question that, for some women, an abortion would be far more traumatic than having a rape-conceived child.”
Simply put, there are no good, easy or clean options. Rape is traumatic in any instance, and a pregnancy resulting from rape is even more so. Still, the damage has already been done. The question is: does the fact that one severe wrong has been done justify committing another?
Since the trauma to the mother, as incredible as it may be, still does not counterbalance the moral magnitude of an entire life, the only time that abortion would be morally acceptable is when it is counterbalanced by the mother’s life. At that point, it is one life against another, and no one would be able to fault the mother’s choice.
Admittedly, this is a terribly difficult and painful issue. Yes, it would be difficult to look a rape-victim in the face and tell her that she had no choice but to carry the unwanted child of her rapist, but it would be just as difficult to look a child of a rape victim and tell them that their mother should have been able to abort them. If it is given that abortion is morally objectionable under at least some circumstances, the moral and logical inconsistency of making exceptions for cases of rape is inescapable.
Nelsen is a senior majoring in political science. Comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.