Support the Café

Search our Site

Rape can make you pregnant (and why some want to say otherwise)

Rape can make you pregnant (and why some want to say otherwise)

Dr. Aaron E. Carroll, in an op-ed to CNN, begins with the scientific basics: Rep. Todd Akin is simply wrong with his idea that women do not get pregnant from rape:

Every sexual encounter does not lead to pregnancy, but every sexual encounter leads to the possibility of pregnancy. Period.

What is surprisingly helpful is Carroll’s thoughts as to why someone would espouse a position that is so clearly untrue:

So why would someone say such a thing? While it’s hard to get into the mind of another individual, we can guess. This line of reasoning isn’t new. It’s been used for the most part to delegitimize the idea that exceptions to abortion prohibitions should exist for rape. After all, if you really believe that abortion is the taking of a human life, then it’s hard to suggest that there is any rationalization for it at all. While ethically consistent, this belief is rare in the United States. Even among those who oppose abortion, most people support exceptions for rape and incest.

It’s hard for a politician who firmly opposes abortion to square this. Such a person wants the support of a majority of people but doesn’t want to compromise principles. One option, then, is to find a way to make the occurrence of the problem nonexistent. If pregnancy from rape doesn’t happen, then we don’t need exceptions in the law.

The problem, of course, is that such pregnancies do occur. More than 31,000 of them happen in America every year. Pretending they don’t by listening to a few anecdotes won’t make them go away.

This is what happens when reality gets in the way of our moral convictions. Life is tricky. It’s nuanced and complicated and often fraught with contradictions. Contrary to what you read, most people don’t have black and white views of abortion. Few believe that it should be prohibited when it might save the life of a mother. Few believe that it should be allowed a week before a fetus is full-term. In other words, relatively few people believe abortion should never be legal, and few believe it should always be legal.

This places abortion in the gray zone. That doesn’t work well for elections. It also doesn’t make for clean philosophical discussions. It certainly doesn’t make for good sound bites.

Perhaps Carroll’s points can lead us towards some non-soundbyte conversations about the ethics around abortion (without mangling facts). What are the parameters that most people agree on? What role does sex education and birth control play? What (if anything) should be legislated as reasonable restrictions concerning abortion while honoring the autonomy of the individual woman who must remain in control of her own body?


Café Comments?

Our comment policy requires that you use your real first and last names and provide an email address (your email will not be published). Comments that use non-PG rated language, include personal attacks, that are not provable as fact or that we deem in any way to be counter to our mission of fostering respectful dialogue will not be posted.

Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

What? If a woman is made in the image of God she… has God’s authority to snuff out the life of a human soul?

Then one believes that NO ONE is BETTER qualified to evaluate the putative “human soul” of an embryo/fetus, than the woman in whom that embryo/fetus is located. Popes, Patriarchs, Preachers, Politicians…ex-boyfriends…back off!

JC Fisher

Bill Dilworth

I also point out that there’s a difference between “human life” and “a human life.” Zygotes are undeniably examples of human life – but so are any living cells with human DNA: liver cells, brain cells, tumor cells. The question of when an individual human life begins is something else.

Bill Dilworth

JC, I think you’re wrong about the Old Testament. I don’t remember quickening making an appearance there. What I do seem to remember is concern about “the breath of life” – an idea still valued in Jewish thought, which generally doesn’t recognize personhood before birth.

Personally, I think we ought to reassess the now devalued concept of quickening. Until the 19th century abortions before quickening were not a moral or legal problem in the US or Britain; even after abortion began to be restricted, women were loath to abandon it as the limit between permissible and impermissible abortions.

The problem with quickening is that it’s highly subjective, and depends on the woman noticing it. But just as we now view death as the cessation of brain function, perhaps it makes sense to view the beginning of a human life as the point where the CNS starts to function as a system.

I don’t think that embryos and zygotes are people, but I think that at some point before birth the fetus is a person. That said, I’m also in favor of keeping abortion legal.


Ann: thank you for your post. Allow me to respond.

According to the Un. Of Washington website for Women’s Health:

The reasons for women who choose to terminate pregnancy are:

1. She is not ready to be a parent.

2. She cannot afford a baby.

3. She doesn’t want to be a single parent.

4. She doesn’t want anyone to know she has had sex or is pregnant.

5. She has all the children she wants.

6. She or the fetus has health problems

7. She was a victim of rape or incest.

To me, that sounds mostly like birth-control. I don’t know how else to characterize it. This does not pass any judgment on the legitimacy of termination as birth control, but it is a form of birth control.

Under the topic, “Does my partner or parent need to know?” they say “No, they do not need to know. However, *most women come to the clinic with their partners*. More than half of teenagers talk with at least one parent before getting an abortion.”

To me, this sounds like most men do care, not the opposite. According to a CBS/Times poll as far back as 2009, “There are no major differences between mens’ and womens’ stands on the issue. 40% of men believe abortion should be generally available, and 37% of women think it should be. 20% of men think it should not be permitted, and slightly more women, 24%, agree.”

It appears as many men support abortion rights as do women.

This makes no judgment about whether or not it should be legal, or safe, or available, et al. It also does not address whether 50% of our society should be eliminated from decisions relative to the kind of medicine we should support by virtue of their gender. But the notion that most men do not care is not supported by the Un. Of Washington’s Women’s Health website or the CBS/Times poll. Thanks! I’ll get off my soapbox now!

Kevin McGrane

John B. Chilton

Thank you, Ann, the link to Aaron’s blog. I read him often mostly because he challenges my more conservative views on health care reform.

Lan, if it was unclear, Aaron is not the kind of man you are describing. (I couldn’t tell if you were making that equation or not.)

I’m disappointed that the comment thread is mostly from men — we are talking about a woman’s right to choose. That said, there’s no reason to exclude men from the conversation even though many men think they can dictate to women what their rights are.

I do wonder, too, if there are women who are reluctant to express views that don’t conform a liberal view of abortion. Polls shows there are many such women and not just of the hard right variety — one’s who have a nuanced view.

Support the Café
Past Posts

The Episcopal Café seeks to be an independent voice, reporting and reflecting on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican tradition.  The Café is not a platform of advocacy, but it does aim to tell the story of the church from the perspective of Progressive Christianity.  Our collective sympathy, as the Café, lies with the project of widening the circle of inclusion within the church and empowering all the baptized for the role to which they have been called as followers of Christ.

The opinions expressed at the Café are those of individual contributors, and, unless otherwise noted, should not be interpreted as official statements of a parish, diocese or other organization. The art and articles that appear here remain the property of their creators.

All Content  © 2017 Episcopal Café