Persuading People that Rape Does not Justify Abortion

Fr. Frank Pavone
National Director, Priests for Life

"Well what about rape? Are you saying that woman can't have an abortion?"

Normally, the primary concern of this question, normally, is not Do you think abortion is OK in this instance?, despite the fact that this is how the question may be expressed. The concern which is uppermost for the questioner is, Don't you care about this woman? Won't you have compassion and help her?

When we answer the question, therefore, let's start by addressing this point head on. Before we even mention abortion, we should stress that we agree totally that the woman who has been raped has undergone a terrible trauma, which we can hardly begin to understand, and that her well-being is very much our concern. Stress this point strongly, and go further by saying that we in the pro-life movement are ready to reach out to such women, giving them counsel, healing, and compassion.

This approach, of course, differs in that it does not start where most people would start in answering this challenge: namely, with the rights of the child. It starts with concern for the woman, which is where the questioner is.

Then, having agreed that the woman has been victimized and needs our help, you can frame the question of abortion in this manner: Will an abortion help her? By asking this, you are now questioning what is normally an unspoken, unchallenged assumption, namely, that the abortion is somehow a solution to the rape, and somehow helps alleviate the pain and trauma of the woman.

Having questioned this assumption, therefore, bring in the evidence that not only does the abortion not alleviate the trauma of the rape, but it brings a trauma of its own. Countless women suffer for years and decades after abortion. I know of women who have been raped and then had abortions, and are in counseling not for the rape but for the abortion! In rape, the trauma is "Someone hurt me." In abortion, the trauma is "I hurt and killed someone else: my child." That brings even more grief.

We therefore help the questioner to see that our reason for denying the rape victim an abortion is not based on insensitivity but rather on compassion, that is, the same basis on which the questioner is challenging us to allow the abortion.

The next step of the process is to show that our compassion actually is more inclusive than that of those who would allow abortion. Having established that we care about the rape victim, we then ask the powerful question, Why can't we love them both? Why can't we extend to the child the same practical compassion which we both agree belongs to the woman? Why can't we expand the boundaries of those we welcome and care for? Why should helping and loving one (the mom) mean destroying the other (the child)? In reality, you cannot help one without helping the other and you cannot hurt one without hurting the other.