Anyone who is been in the pro-life movement for a while has been confronted with the argument “Shouldn’t abortion be legal in cases where the woman has been raped?”
Even though, according to Planned Parenthood’s own statistics, less than 1% of all abortions are performed on women who were raped or were victims of incest, pro-choice activists insist that abortion must be legal for these women, even if it leads to thousands of women a year having abortions for other reasons.
In fact, Roe v. Wade was based on the rape argument– Norma McCorvey, the plaintiff Jane Roe, claimed that she had been gang-raped and needed an abortion. Years later, she admitted that the rape story was false and was made up in order to garner sympathy for the pro-choice cause.
Pro-choicers have been very successful in convincing the general public that rape victims need abortions. Implied is the belief that women who are pregnant by rape cannot possibly want their children, that they could never be happy giving birth, and that it is completely unnatural for a woman to want to have a rapist’s baby.
When pro-choice activists argue that abortion must be legal in cases of rape, there is always one thing missing from their rhetoric – the voices of women who were raped and kept their babies. These are the people whom the pro-life and pro-choice movements should be listening to. These are the people who are intimately acquainted with the emotional trauma of rape and the horror of a pregnancy resulting from rape. And what they’re saying may surprise you.
Kathleen DeZeeuw, the mother of a child conceived in rape, spoke out against pro-choicers who were making the argument that abortion must be legal in cases of rape:
I, having lived through rape, and also having raised a child ‘conceived in rape’, feel personally assaulted and insulted every time I hear that abortion should be legal because of rape and incest. I feel that we’re being used to further the abortion issue, even though we’ve not been asked to tell our side of the story. (1)
How should people respond to a woman who has been raped and is considering abortion? DeZeeuw says:
As I stated before, a woman is most vulnerable at a time such as this, and doesn’t need to be pounced on by yet another act of violence. She needs someone to truly listen to her, care for her, and give her time to heal. (2)
DeZeeuw claims that many times, rape victims are pressured into having abortions by those around them. People are often very uncomfortable around a rape victim. They don’t know how to deal with her trauma, they don’t know how to comfort her, and many times they wish the problem would just go away, that she would “get over” it. These feelings are exacerbated when the rape victim is pregnant. When they say that a rape victim is constantly reminded of the assault by her pregnancy, they are actually saying that they themselves are constantly reminded of the assault by seeing her pregnant. While it is true that being pregnant after rape is very traumatic, rape victims who have kept their children often say that they wish the people around them had been more supportive.
Statistics about rape victims and abortion are surprising to many people. There have been two studies done about pregnant rape victims. In each study, 70% of the women chose to keep their babies. This defies the stereotype that all raped women want abortions. According to the two doctors who conducted one study, Sandra Kathleen Mahkorn, M.D. and William V. Dolan, M.D.:
[This study indicates] that pregnancy need not impede the victim’s resolution of the trauma; rather, with loving support, nonjudgemental attitudes, and empathic communication, healthy emotional and psychological responses are possible despite the added burden or pregnancy. (3)
The second study, conducted in 2000, revealed that 78% of the 30% of women who had abortions after their rapes felt that they’d made the wrong decision and said that “abortion is not the answer for women who were raped.” In contrast, not a single one of the 70% who had their children regretted it. Some of these women had given up their babies for adoption, and some of them had kept their babies – but the unifying factor among all of them was that none of them regretted giving birth.
The statistics seem counterintuitive and almost impossible to believe. But they are true. Women who have their babies often have a better psychological outcome than women who do not. One woman who had an abortion after her rape spoke at a pro-life rally in Mississippi. Here is an excerpt from her testimony:
I was raped a month before I turned 18. And because of that rape I was so fearful and so shameful that I chose abortion, out of fear. My rape was nothing compared to what I did to my child. What my rapist did to me does not compare to what I chose to do to my baby. My rapist didn’t kill me, I’m standing here alive right now. I have three beautiful children at home and a husband who loves me. But I chose to kill my child out of the shame, out of guilt, out of fear because of what a man did to me. Rape is no excuse for abortion. I want to say that. … I’m tired, as a person who was raped and a person who had an abortion, I’m telling you right now, I’m tired of using rape as an excuse. … For years I lived in depression, contemplated suicide, attempted suicide, I spend years drinking to numb the pain, to numb the horrific nightmares, was later diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder, not just because of the rape but because of the abortion. We have got to speak up, it’s not just about the babies, it’s about the moms like me who think they’re making a good decision but they’re not.
You can see a video of the entire testimony here.
Another woman who was raped and had her baby speaks out:
We are so under represented in the media…..but we might have to fight back with brutal honesty to show up the lies. I was raped, suppressed it and a growing belly for 7 months, had a baby girl, and placed her for adoption. If you hear anyone use the stupid line again, “well what if you were raped, then why should you have to carry to term a baby?” Pleas [sic] refer them to me! I’m sick of them persuading people on stuff they don’t even bother asking a real woman that has been through it …Why do they assume automatically women can’t handle it? Two wrongs don’t make a right. I am so mad at the abortion industry, I can’t explain it. It’s just that they would made it so easy for me to walk in the door and kill my daughter that first day I found out I was pregnant (without telling my parents or anyone first) luckily I didn’t thanks to God taking over. My opinion on everything changed full over after just a few days of letting the fact that this is a little life, sink in. But they made it so easy for me to kill my daughter, and since she means the world to me today, this grudge isn’t going to ever go away[.] … (5)
Another woman was grateful that her rape occurred before Roe versus Wade and she did not have the option of abortion:
Never, in the years after her birth, did I ever regret giving life to my daughter. However, there have been many times when I have looked back grateful that no state legislature had provided an easy, instant answer of a free abortion for me. I’m grateful because, at that time, I might have bought into the lie that an abortion would fix all my problems. But fortunately that temptation wasn’t there. (6)
Another woman who was raped and had her baby, identified as Sharon, says:
There is no doubt in my mind that abortion should be discouraged. Abortion is a terrible way of dealing with a pregnancy resulting from rape, although I suppose it is a way for people to ignore the victim and her needs. (7)
Rape counselor Joan Kemp agrees:
After sexual assault there is, for varying lengths of time, a natural revulsion toward anything associated with the rape. That may include the location, or characteristics of the rapist such as clothing, race, mustache, etc. It is normal for this feeling to attach to the unborn child conceived in rape. However, these feelings normally fade with time. When this does not happen spontaneously, counseling with someone qualified to treat rape victims is highly effective. Rape victims I have worked with were quite aware and distressed by the inappropriateness of these feelings. They would not, for instance, have welcomed anyone telling them that men of their attacker’s race are natural criminals. Nor do women welcome being told that their children conceived in rape are unworthy of life, genetically prone to crime, and bound to feel unwanted and bitter. A person in crisis is seeking positive solutions, not a counsel of despair. (8)
Lee Ezell, author of the book The Missing Piece (Servant Publishing) was raped and became pregnant. She describes meeting her daughter, whom she gave up for adoption:
We met for the first time just a month after our first phone conversation. There are no words to describe my exact feelings as Julie walked into my hotel room.
Here was the child whose memory I’d hidden in my heart for so many years, the child who has given me my first grandchildren[.] …
She embraced me. We cried. Bob [her husband] said with all the love in the world in his voice: “Thank you for not aborting Julie. What would my life be like without her?”
Finding my daughter has enriched my life beyond measure. The couple, who adopted her, Eileen and Harold Anderson, are beautiful people.
Julie, Eileen and I have been speaking to various groups about what happened to us. I guess our message is that just as bad things can happen to good people, so can something beautiful come from a wicked act. Julie is living proof of it. (9)
A woman who was raped and had a child wrote a letter to the editor:
Consider my beautiful daughter, Jessica. She is eight months old, has no teeth but a full head of hair and seems to be developing a fondness for Apple juice. She is loved by me, her grandparents, her uncle and her two sisters more than words can say.
She is also a child conceived during a rape.
I was raped in 1992. I did my civic duty and reported the rape. I worked with the assistant district attorney to prosecute my assailant. He was eventually pronounced “not guilty” because date rape is difficult to prove.
When I discovered I was pregnant from the assault, I was horrified. I debated long and hard over what choice I should make.
Common sense would dictate that an abortion was the answer, right? Wrong. No matter how hideous my child’s conception had been (and rape is a degrading, demoralizing act that alters one’s whole life), I knew that there was a life growing inside me. I chose to accept this child is being my baby – not the rapist’s. My friends and family supported me 100%, but the choice was mine to make and I know I made the right one.
All children are gifts from God. It makes no difference how they are conceived.
I feared I would see my rapist’s face every time I looked at my child – but I don’t. I see a beautiful, happy, little girl who wasn’t planned and wasn’t the result of an act of love – but nonetheless is loved very, very much. (10)
The woman who gave this testimony is not the only person who fell in love with a child conceived by rape. Rebekah Berg, who was raped and chose to give life to her son, told the following story in Courageous, the new book by Kristin Hawkins which profiles pro-life young pro-life activists from around the country.
My son is the product of rape, and he is the exception to the rule, as they say. Multitudes of women in my situation have had abortions, giving different reasons for their choice. But that child is still a child, no matter how he or she was conceived. I certainly did not choose to be raped and definitely did not choose to become pregnant. No more did my child ask to be conceived. I had no right to take his life because of the horrible situation that happened to me.
The thought that he would bear the same genes of my rapist was one of the questions that continue to linger at my soul during my pregnancy. Was I going to birth another rapist? Was I doing more harm than good with giving him life? My own son’s gentle spirit and thoughtfulness of others confirms that there is not a “rapist gene.” When I look into my son’s eyes, I only have love and have only loved him since he was laid on my chest after birthing him. (11)
None of these women who chose to have their children after rape would say that their decision was easy. The trauma of being raped can haunt the victim for the rest of her life. But adding abortion to that trauma often exacerbates the situation.
These women, and thousands of others, have discovered that giving birth to their babies allowed them to rise above the rape, to commit a truly selfless act, and to heal. It is most of all important for rape victims to have the support of those around them, whether they are pregnant or not. In cases where they are pregnant, we should not give them “the counsel of despair.” Rather, we should encourage them to make a choice that both they and their baby can live with. We should remember that when we oppose abortion in the case of rape victims, we are not just saving babies – we’re helping women as well.
- David C. Reardon, Julie Makimaa, and Amy Sobie. “Victims and Victors: Speaking Out About Their Pregnancies, Abortions, and Children Resulting From Sexual Assault” Springfield, IL: Acorn Books 2000) p 46
- Sandra Kathleen Mahkorn, M.D. and William V. Dolan, M.D. “Sexual Assault and Pregnancy” in Thomas Hulgers, Dennis Horan and David Mall, “New Perspectives on Human Abortion” (Frederick, MD: University Publications of America, 1981) 194
- David C. Reardon, et al. “Victims and Victors: Speaking Out About Their Pregnancies, Abortions, and Children Resulting From Sexual Assault”
- Message to Pro-Life Blogs February 8, 2009 http://www.prolifeblogs.com/articles/archives/2009/02/abortion_after.php
- David C. Reardon, et al. “Victims and Victors: Speaking Out About Their Pregnancies, Abortions, and Children Resulting From Sexual Assault” 94
- David C. Reardon, et al. “Victims and Victors: Speaking Out About Their Pregnancies, Abortions, and Children Resulting From Sexual Assault” 89
- Joan Kemp “Abortion: The Second Rape” SisterLife, Winter 1990 Feminists for Life of America, 811 E. 47th St. Kansas City, MO 64100
- Lee Ezell “I Was Raped” Lovematters.com advertising supplement, Vol. 18, 2009
- Tamara L Roleff. Abortion: Opposing Viewpoints (San Diego, Greenhaven Press, 1997) 137-138
- Kristin Hawkins. Courageous: Students Abolishing Abortion in This Lifetime (Students for Life of America, 2012) 16