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.