Richard Mourdock and the Illogic of the Rape Exception

Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock is in trouble. When talking about his opposition to abortion and whether he believes that there should be an exception in the case of rape, he had this to say:

“I know there are some who disagree, and I respect their point of view, but I believe that life begins at conception,” the tea party-backed Mourdock said. “The only exception I have, to have an abortion, is in that case of the life of the mother.

“I’ve struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God,” Mourdock said, appearing to choke back tears. “And even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”

There have been hysterics from the usual quarters, and Mitt Romney has even had to distance himself from the remarks. Pro-life candidate for governor, Mike Pence, even called on Mourdock to apologize.

Apologize for what?

Mourdock’s phrasing was awkward in that it he could be interpreted as saying that the rape itself was God’s will. Clearly Mourdock is referring to the pregnancy. Therefore what Mourdock is relating here is the true pro-life position. It’s nowhere near as bad as Todd Akin’s legitimate rape comments, and therefore those trying to make hay out of these comments are simply being disingenuous.

I was irked by something that Drew M at Ace of Spades said on this topic. Even though Drew thinks the backlash is unwarranted, he had this to say about Mourdock’s position:

I think Mourdock’s position is appalling (not his thoughts on God’s unknowable plans but the idea a rape victim should be forced to carry the pregnancy to term)

Normally I agree with Drew, but how can one find Mourdock’s position appalling, especially if one is otherwise generally pro-life? I can understand why people take the pro-life with exceptions position, and I would definitely accept a political compromise that prohibited abortion in all cases except rape, incest and where the life of the mother is at risk (though I think the practical application of such a law would be fraught with difficulties, but that’s for another discussion). And while I certainly don’t want to distance myself from people who are with me 99% of the way on an issue that is of the utmost importance, the pro-life with exceptions stance is logically untenable.

If you are pro-life it is because you presumably believe that life begins at conception. So if you advocate for the prohibition of abortion while simultaneously allowing exceptions, are you saying that the lives of those conceived via rape are somehow not fully human? Does the means of conception somehow instill greater value in certain forms of human life than others? If you are pro-life “except for rape,” what you’re basically saying is that abortion is murder and unacceptable, but murdering a child conceived in rape is somehow permissible. Well why should the method of conception matter?

In truth I understand why people are reluctant to commit to a 100 percent pro-life position. It is uncomfortable arguing that a woman who has experienced a brutal crime should then be forced to keep her child – a child that is a result of no choice of her own, and which could compound the trauma of what she has gone through. But by doing so, you are allowing sentiment to override reason.

The “with exceptions” pro lifers concern me because I wonder if they have fully thought through their positions. It is why polls that show a majority of Americans now turning towards a pro-life position are not necessarily cause for rejoicing quite yet. Again, I do not want to look a gift horse in the mouth, so to speak, and in no way would I want to turn these people away from the pro-life movement completely. Yet I think the instant revulsion to the sentiments expressed by Mourdock on the part of even some pro-lifers is worrisome.

31 Responses to Richard Mourdock and the Illogic of the Rape Exception

  • “And even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”

    This statement is so fraught with theological difficulties and potential misinterpretations that, were this Pope Benedict himself, I would hesitate to recommend that he make it absent an audience of theologians.

  • Judging from his response to the controversy Mourdock is a class act:

  • Paul. I agree with your concern and position.
    What is the victim of rape doing if she inflicts her pain on another victim, her fetus. Healing never starts at the onset of violence to another. You are right to be concerned about the exception mentality. Drews position on this is appalling. The rape victim now has two huge wounds to heal. The violence she was subject to and the violence she inflicted upon another. In no way does two wrongs make it right. Time heals and rape victims that have given their babies a chance at life through adoption are victims no longer. They have deepened their faith in God, not cursed God for their misfortune. Rachaels Vineyard has some resources to back up my claims.

  • Donald,

    I agree. I rarely decide not to vote for a candidate based on theological ineptitude.

    –Jonathan

  • What I find hilarious about this is that the very same people who are in hysterics that a candidate proposes not inflicting a death penalty on a child conceived in rape, is that these very same people would likely oppose inflicting a death sentence upon the rapist.

  • “I rarely decide not to vote for a candidate based on theological ineptitude.”

    Agreed, especially when we encounter the deep fathoms of predestination and divine foreknowledge!

  • Yes! And not to mention (except that I will, just now) active versus passive will, potentially blaming God for evil, and all sorts of fun things.

    Donald, have you ever read Tsunami and Theodicy (http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/2008/05/tsunami-and-theodicy) or Doors of the Sea (http://www.amazon.com/Doors-Sea-Where-Was-Tsunami/dp/0802866867)?

    The book grew out of the article. Both are worth reading.

    –Jonathan

  • My objection to Mourdock and Akin has nothing to do with their position on abortion. All I say is that when you know for a certainty that you will get a question on something controversial, you think carefully how to express your position clearly and accurately or go the other route and dodge it. if you can’t manage that then you ensure that you have a compliant media that will cover up every gaffe, misstatement and tortured phrase. Unfortunately, both candidates by their laziness have vindicated the Establishment Repubs big time and helped the Leftists.

  • Donald, have you ever read Tsunami and Theodicy (http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/2008/05/tsunami-and-theodicy) or Doors of the Sea (http://www.amazon.com/Doors-Sea-Where-Was-Tsunami/dp/0802866867)?

    Yes as to Tsunami and Theodicy and no as to Doors of the Sea.

  • About the only honorable thing to do here is get right back in the faces of these people and declare that what is truly appalling is that an innocent child ought to be gruesomely butchered and thrown in the garbage because its father is a rapist.

    Yes, all people, men and women, should be “forced” not to murder innocent human beings, regardless of the circumstances in which they come into this world. They don’t have to raise them, but they cannot be permitted to kill them.

    If we can’t say this clearly and forcefully, then we are not pro-life, but frauds and impostors.

  • If Mourdock had simply ended his remarks with “I came to realize that life is a gift from God,” he would have made his point without giving the other side quite so much ammunition.

  • To those who believe in the rape exception, I would ask three questions:

    1) If abortion is the deliberate taking of a human life, how does the horrible circumstance, which rape is, to put it lightly, make the unborn child any less human or any less innocent?

    2) How does an abortion to bring any healing to the terrible violence of the rape? IN fact, post abortion syndrome (which is a fact, not just anti-abortion speculation) is likely to compounfd the trauma.

    3) Although the rape victim is indeed a victim, what right does that give her to make other victims?

    I have found that the rape, incest, life of the mother exceptions are often thrown out as dicersionary debating tactics to avoid dealing with the fundamental issue of abortion.

    I think this is where solid pro-life Catholic politicians like Paul Ryan get put in a bad position having to carry the water for people like Romney on this issue.

  • I was unaware of this story, but have recently met a ‘child of rape’. Perhaps Mourdock (and others) should use it, or other stories like it. I’m sure there are plently of children of rape, now grown, who can attest to the courage of mothers, and the value of their lives. http://rantingcatholicmom.blogspot.com

  • Ever since John Chancellor asked Michael Dukakis the famous “Kitty Dukakis is raped and murdreed” question that gave G. H. W. Bush the 1988 election, I have imagined what I would answer to any such ambush. I imagine Wolfie Blitzer or some such intellectual asking, “Your daughter is raped. Would you seek an abortion?” To which my answer would be “And put murder on top of rape? How much do you want the poor child to endure, Mr. Blitzer?”

    This is the essence of a practiced response, and anybody running for Senate, or any other office, from a non-Liberal standpoint had getter have principled and practiced responses to any question in any field. Who’s running his campaign? The Carmel Dad’s Club? I could do better.

  • His response was heartfelt and sincere. If they continue to bring it up I would change the reply to something like, “Look, clearly we both think rape is heinous and demands justice, we can differ as to whether we think it demands someone pay blood, but even if I were to cede that spilling more blood would be just, I cannot agree with you that it should be an innocent person’s blood.”

  • Of course Mourdock’s response was heartfelt and sincere. It was also poorly worded in a politically damaging way as evidenced by RL’s and other’s proposed rewrites. And Mourdock won’t be given the chance to change the reply because the Dems and media will endlessly replay his first comment for the next 2 weeks. At least Akin had the better sense to get his brain spasm at the start of the campaign rather than at the end. And BTW Elaine Krewer’s phrase is all the answer he needed to give. One can only hope voters have matured to the point that sincerity trumps amateurishness.

  • I agree with Donald R McClarey that “predestination and divine foreknowledge” raise very deep and subtle questions.

    That said, If we believe, with Aristotle and all the Scholastics that God is the First Cause and Prime Mover, then even the rape is the result of His (permissive) will. As Bañez says “God, respecting the nature of things, moves necessary agents to necessary, and free agents to free, activity – including sin, except that God is the originator only of its physical entity, not of its formal malice.” For “every act and every movement of the thoroughly contingent secondary causes or creatures must emanate from the First Cause, and that by the application of their potentiality to the act.”

    And, of course, they held that “In this premotion or predetermination is also found the medium of the Divine knowledge by which God’s omniscience foresees infallibly all the future acts, whether absolute or conditional, of intelligent creatures… For just as certainly as God in His predetermined decrees knows His own will, so certainly does He know all the necessarily included determinations of the free will of creatures, be they of absolute or conditional futurity.”

  • I agree that Mourdock’s original statement wasn’t perfect, but I think people are being a tad harsh. It was nowhere near being the sort of cringeworthy gaffe that have sunk other candidates. His meaning was fairly obvious to anyone who doesn’t have an agenda. Certainly candidates for political office need to be especially careful with their language and word choice, but even the best candidates are not going to be machinely efficient robots who make every utterance with precision. I think what he says barely rates a 2 on the gaffe-o-meter.

  • The Democrats nationally are desperate, and well they might be, and therefore they are engaging in the usual ploy of those facing defeat at the polls: busily attempting to build mountains out of molehills.

  • As usual, this site shows how anti-woman it really is. It’s not about love for unborn life, but callousness towards women who suffer brutal sexual crimes. Not too long ago, this site was gloating over the P*ssy Riot members who are now being sent to Soviet-era labor camps. Now, they show heartlessness towards rape victims. There was an article not too long ago in a Catholic magazine that said that consensual s*d*my was somehow WORSE than rape&incest. It’s this dismissive, self-righteous attitude towards women who are victims of horrific crimes that makes pro-lifers look idiotic and shows them incapable of dealing with REAL pain&REAL victims. This is just business as usual- callousness&disregard for real suffering, in the name of love and life.

  • “As usual, this site shows how anti-woman it really is.”

    More than half of all the humans slain in abortion Susan are female. If that isn’t anti-woman what is? The idea that the other innocent victim in a rape, the child conceived as a result, must die for the father’s crime demonstrates how far from any concept of justice the pro-abort mentality you embrace is.

  • I’d like to see Romney distance himself from this: http://youtu.be/jXQL9WLKXMo

  • I will simply note that nowhere does Susan actually make an argument as to why abortion should be permitted in these cases. Rather, she simply emotes and rants about anti-female attitudes (while conveniently disregarding the female commenters on this thread who oppose abortion in these circumstances). Further, her only attempt to bring facts into her rant was a off the mark, as she also conveniently ignores the fact that a majority of the bloggers here actually opposed the actions of the Russian government. Of course that’s a non sequiter anyway, meaning that the entire comment left by Susan is basically full of fail.

  • If I were a politician asked this question I would answer, “The value of your life does not come from the manner of your conception. If you are conceived in a loving marriage that does not mean your life is more valuble than someone else conceived in a one night stand, an adulterous affair, or, God forbid, violent rape. Rape victims need love and healing, not more violence through abortion.”

    Susa, I don’t hate women or rape victims. I don’t think you help a woman heal from rape by adding the added injury (physical, emotional, and spiritual) of abortion.

  • I find few things more annoying, even exasperating, as people – especially pro-life people- saying “they believe life begins at conception.” There is no belief involved but the scientific fact that human life does begin at conception. We need to stop using the ill-suited vocabulary “believe” which fits with the real argument. We believe that human life is sacred, valuable and etc. at all stages.

  • “More than half of all the humans slain in abortion Susan are female. If that isn’t anti-woman what is? ”

    As former abrtionist (who performed late term abortions) truned pro-life advocate Anthony Levantino says “Women’s rights my butt, what about the 750,000 little girls who get ground up in suction machines every year? “

  • Poor Susan. Anti-woman are we?
    Margret Sanger is your enemy Susan, not the people opposed to Sangers eugenics practices.
    How many more lives need be extinguished before the pro-woman camp has their shift in paradigm?
    Hope it happens soon for all of our sake.

  • Susan, the ‘child of rape’ I met is actually helping his mother to resolve nd forgive. He’s doing it now, he’s 44, she’s in her 60′s. I can’t imagine anything less anti-woman than the gentle gratitude he is showing her. I can’t imagine anything more profoundly pro-woman than overcoming the victimization of rape to bring a single good life into the world. I’m not canonizing this mother and son. I simply find their virtuous choices to be heroic. How is that anto-woman. Nothing in this article, Mourdock’s words, or the comments here are anything but pro-woman, and pro-child.

  • His error was in a single word. God “permits” a bad outcome. I don’t ever believe he “intends” it. Furthermore man allows it by sinning and thereby distorting God’s otherwise perfect plan. We’ve been distorting that plan ever since Cain.
    Wonder what the Dems would say about that, or even the Republicans.

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