The Hypocrisy of the Rape and Incest Exception

We should not let rape and incest leave babies’ lives unprotected.

No problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking.” – Voltaire

It’s extremely disheartening to see Republicans in the House of Representatives drop the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protect Act Resources bill on the same day as hundreds of thousands converged on Washington D.C. to march for the right to life. The bill would ban all abortions after 20 weeks—after which point extreme pain can be felt by the unborn child as his or her limbs are crushed, and torn apart.

Rep. Renee Ellmers seems to have been the leader of a coalition of female legislators who, according to CNN, were “arguing provisions dealing with rape are too harsh, and could threaten the party’s efforts to reach out to women and young people.”

Several parts of that last sentence disturb me. First, watering down a moral principle so as not to alienate a particular demographic is grotesque. The argument follows that any moral or political principle upon which one stands—and allegedly believes in—can, and should be altered, or watered down in order to gather the largest number of voters. If that’s the case, there is no right or wrong way to go about solving our problems, there is simply political expedience. This expedience only serves one purpose: the accumulation, and retention of power. If one principle is malleable, then they all must be malleable.

But what’s even more grating to me about this situation is the lack of consistency among those who allegedly support life. We hear it every day: I’m anti-abortion, except in cases of rape or incest. Sean Hannity even referred to conception from rape as “evil seed.” But how can one call themselves pro-life, yet make exceptions for rape, and incest? It’s ideologically, and morally inconsistent.

Ask someone who supports exceptions for rape, and incest why they make those exceptions, and you will generally be treated to a variation of what is essentially the same response: “It’s just too much to put a woman through/infants born of incest are more likely to have birth defects.” But I question why either of those are valid responses. Is an infant conceived out of rape, or incest of less worth than an infant conceived traditionally? Is it intrinsically less valuable by virtue of the circumstances by which it came to be? No. It has as much value as any other infant. So why are we allowed to kill some infants, but not others?

I’m sure it’s extremely difficult to carry a child that reminds a woman of her victimization, but will aborting that child erase the rape from her memory? Will abortion make her feel better about what occurred? Will it give her some comfort that would not be attained by giving up the child for adoption? Rape is a brutal crime, and one that deeply scars its victims–no one is arguing otherwise–but we cannot execute a child for the vile actions of its father. Abortion will not change what happened in any meaningful way. Sometimes, life gives us incredible challenges, but it is up to us to make the right move, even if it comes with incredible pain.

According to CNS News, Speaking on Capitol Hill last year, attorney Rebecca Kiessling, herself conceived from rape, said rape exceptions delegitimize lives like hers, and they “‘serve to demonize, stigmatize, marginalize, and discriminate against’ those like her who were conceived in rape, telling them that ‘yours is not a life worth saving‘…”

There are many children with disabilities that live happy, and fulfilling lives. That is not in dispute. If a child is conceived by incest, and because of that, happens to have some physical defect, or mental disability, who are we to say that their imperfection makes them terminable? If it is imperfection, or disability that makes an infant conceived out of incest terminable, then any infant prenatally diagnosed with a disability, such as Down’s syndrome, can be terminated as well.

Life is valuable, regardless of its origin, and to say otherwise while claiming to be pro-life is dishonest. Renee Ellmers is not pro-life, she is pro-some life. Renee Ellmers, and those like her, who proudly claim the mantle of life, but don’t think for more than a second about what it means to make illegitimate exceptions, are hypocrites.