Saturday, August 25, 2012

Abortion and rape

A piece in Reason magazine points out:

[A]lthough Romney was "always personally opposed to abortion," he was "effectively pro-choice" when he ran for governor of Massachusetts, promising he would not seek to restrict abortion rights. Later he had a "change of heart," but even today he believes, consistent with his Mormon faith, that "abortion should be permitted in cases of rape, incest, or when the mother’s life is threatened."

While that last exception can be justified on grounds of self-defense (albeit against a nonculpable "aggressor"), the other two cannot, and Romney has never clarified why rape or incest justifies taking an innocent life. Likewise the Mormon church, which cites the biblical injunction against murder in condemning abortion but nevertheless does not take as hard a line as the Roman Catholic Church.

"For many people," Romney said in a 2007 presidential debate, abortion "is considered an act of murder." Evidently he is not one of those people.
I agree that it doesn't seem to make sense for those who are opposed to abortion rights to support a rape exception. If abortion is infanticide, why does that fact no longer matter when there has been a rape? After all, no one supports infanticide of a baby (who has been born) when the conception resulted from rape!

The apparent discrepancy would seem to be resolved if you assume that what really motivates pro-lifers is disapproval of promiscuity and hedonism.

I question whether anyone is genuinely, whole-heartedly in favor of criminalizing abortion in the sense that they would like to see vigorous prosecutions of anyone who performs or receives an abortion, or aids someone else in doing so (e.g., paying for someone else to get an abortion). The consequences would be wildly unacceptable.

Stating one's opposition to a legal right to abortion can be a way of saying there's something about modern culture that one finds objectionable; it isn't a realistic policy solution. The fact that abortion remains generally legal actually works to the opponents' political benefit. As Nietzsche said (in Human, All Too Human, #531), "Whoever lives for the sake of combating an enemy has an interest in the enemy's staying alive."


Ann Althouse said...

If you believe the unborn entity is a human being from the point of conception, that wouldn't mean that you could never kill it, since we do find it lawful under some circumstances to kill fully born human beings. (In war, in self-defense, etc.)

We would move on to a new analysis in which we would look at the interests on both sides and define, as a matter of statutory law, when the killing will be a crime.

There's no reason why the abortion procedure would simply have to be plugged into existing homicide laws. Write new homicide laws appropriate to the specific situation.

Constitutional law doesn't require homicide laws to be of a particular breadth. The self-defense defense used to be broader. Make a broader "self-defense" exception that's particular to rape and shows mercy to the rape and incest victims.

Why not?

There could be an Equal Protection challenge, and we might need to analyze whether "unborn" is a suspect classification.

Anonymous said...

If a man kidnaps you and tells you that you have a rare blood type and his son needs it to survive, and thus he is hooking you up to his son for the next nine months, while the man's son is innocent, there is an argument that you need not remain hooked to him. While he has a right to life, he may not have one that trumps your own freedom/integrity. In a similar vein, if a child is placed into an unconsenting woman by force of rape, that child is innocent, but it still is not clear that the mother's body may be used, against her will, to support him. Now, you may feel that in the kidnap case, you do have an obligation to stay connected to the child, in which case this argument fails. If you don't believe you must, though, the argument has force. This is one of the principled reasons given for a rape exception. It was famously articulated by philosopher Judith Thompson at MIT.

Balfegor said...

incest victims.

If incest victims are victims, then it strikes me that's just a species of rape, for which the argument is made above.

I think abortion in cases of incest reaches back to something older in our civilisation -- the idea that incest is an abomination.