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?