Looking for arguments supporting exceptions to abortion bans
March 27, 2017 10:31 AM   Subscribe

It seems that there is a large proportion of Americans who support abortion only when certain circumstances caused the pregnancy. I'm trying to find any piece that actually argues for this. (Potential CW: sexual violence)

Roughly 75% of Americans support abortion in cases of rape and incest. The support for abortion in general hovers slightly below 50%. So there are plenty of people who think that abortion is only justifiable in cases of rape or incest. In fact, decrying this belief (in addition to having no idea how the human reproductive system works) has helped bring down multiple politicians.

I cannot figure out an actual logical argument for this view. I suspect that it's based on a view of it not being the woman's fault in these cases, making opposition to abortion a punitive view. I'm just hoping to find someone, somewhere who actually has tried to lay out this view, as the logical inconsistencies that I perceive are bugging me.

When I've run google searches, I've found plenty of anti-abortion sites coherently arguing that rape exceptions should not be allowed under their views of life and pregnancy. While I disagree with them, I can at least appreciate the intellectual honesty.

So, beyond politicians saying dumb shit about how rape can create a beautiful thing and then getting lambasted for it, are there any actual arguments out there that promote a rape/incest only (and life of the mother, but that one can be reconciled logically) exceptions to abortion?

I'd really appreciate sources, but barring that, if you know someone who has argued this position, what has been the logical reconciliation between "life begins at conception" and "abortion is ok in cases of rape"?
posted by Hactar to Society & Culture (16 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Judith Jarvis Thompson argue about the right not to be killed "unjustly" (point number 4). I am not sure if she goes into enough detail for you.
posted by saucysault at 10:50 AM on March 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

Even the most strident anti-abortionist doesn't believe that one is never, under any circumstances, justified in taking any life. E.g., they believe that police can use deadly force, that war can be morally justifiable. They may say life is sacred in order to imply that it can never be taken, but they don't really mean it. So since they don't see bodily autonomy as trumping in this situation, the question is, what is adequate to justify the taking of a perceived life? That 25% probably believes (to the extent that they're not just being punitive, which is a significant extent) that the experience of bearing your rapist/incest-committer's child would be so horrific that it does justify taking that life.

But most of these folks aren't close moral reasoners, really. It's ill-informed intuition, all the way down.
posted by praemunire at 11:00 AM on March 27, 2017 [4 favorites]

The Salvation Army's position statement on abortion:
In addition, rape and incest are brutal acts of dominance violating women physically and emotionally. This situation represents a special case for the consideration of termination as the violation may be compounded by the continuation of the pregnancy.


Rape, forced prostitution, and other forms of sexual violence occur in time of war not only as the choice of individual soldiers but also as a military tactic to humiliate and demoralize the enemy. The documented incidents number in the multiple thousands. Those who become pregnant as a result bear the burden of being continuing reminders of the military impotence of their whole community.
posted by mama casserole at 11:20 AM on March 27, 2017 [4 favorites]

They view pregnancy as a punishment for being a slut. Every person I've argued with about exceptions has eventually admitted that. You won't find articles from any respectable source with that argument for the same reason you don't find articles on why brown people deserve to be murdered by cops. People will believe things that won't say.

(I may have actually changed someone's mind about abortion by asking if it should be legal to force someone to donate an organ if they were responsible for the damage of that organ in another person. Seems punishing women for having a uterus is less intriguing when those rules can be applied to your own person...)
posted by Dynex at 11:44 AM on March 27, 2017 [19 favorites]

I agree with Dynex. Some people believe that pregnancy and childbirth are just a potential consequence of having sex that all sexually active women need to accept. If you didn't consent then it's not your fault, but you did, well, you basically agreed to getting knocked up.
posted by vanitas at 12:02 PM on March 27, 2017 [6 favorites]

People often won't say (or even really be able to articulate to themselves) what they really feel. That was why there was the kerfuffle when Trump said it out loud. A female representative of the pro-life movement hastened to say the movement did not seek to punish women who have abortions; but Trump didn't make that up. It's obviously part of the platform; he just didn't have enough of a filter, or hadn't been briefed, enough to use the obfuscating language. It just boils down to the notion that if you made your bed you need to lie in it.
posted by fingersandtoes at 12:11 PM on March 27, 2017 [3 favorites]

I think it's partly an attempt at compromise in the same way that animal right activists will work to improve the conditions of farmed animals because they know they aren't going to convince everyone to go vegan. If you truly believe that animals should be treated with respect to their rights, a slightly bigger cage for laying hens isn't logical, but sometimes it's the best you can reasonably hope for. In the case of abortion, the expected outcome is to greatly reduce the number of abortions even if you can't eliminate abortion altogether.
posted by FencingGal at 12:12 PM on March 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

I think some of it is the idea that if you consent to sex, you are consenting to pregnancy: you have evaluated the person and they are someone who is at least reasonable genetic material for a child.

In cases of rape or incest, the idea I've heard is that you may be bringing a monstrous baby to term, who should never have seen the light of day - "bad seed", if you will - and no woman should be forced to carry a monster within her and be responsible for it.
posted by corb at 12:36 PM on March 27, 2017

They view pregnancy as a punishment for being a slut.

I agree with this for sure, but I'd also take it a little further and say that the goal of preventing abortion is to stifle women's (really, all AFAB people, but we're talking about the view of extreme sexists here, like they're gonna acknowledge trans* and nonbinary people exist!) rights as political citizens and human beings. The goal of an anti-contraception, pro-life policy is to weaken women's bodies through pregnancy (again, we're talking extreme sexists, so they're not going to ever associate pregnancy with strength) and force them into full-time caretaker roles where they spend all of their time as mothers and are not able to exert political or economic power. This promotes a reliance on a "family structure" that is extremely sexist and holds the husband and father in a dominant role. Through physical, economic, and political strength, he guides the decisions in the household and protects the woman who is physically weakened by pregnancy and emotionally naive and susceptible.

Pregnancy in the case of rape and incest subverts the family structure, so it's deviant, and not part of the traditional, sexist marriage structure and doesn't need to be protected in order to uphold that structure. What I'd add, is that the extremely conservative view of non-incestuous rape is that it's always committed by force and by a stranger to the rape survivor; think "attacker hiding in the bushes". In these scenarios, a conservative, sexist viewpoint would hold the woman as the weak victim who must be protected by society (through abortion, if necessary) because she cannot protect herself.
posted by capricorn at 12:45 PM on March 27, 2017 [3 favorites]

Oh, right also there are a lot of people who would tell you the answer is "because that is the word of God". Evangelical religion has been used (abused!) in the United States to teach unquestioning obedience and extreme literalism to politically oppressed people. How convenient...
posted by capricorn at 12:57 PM on March 27, 2017

what has been the logical reconciliation between "life begins at conception" and "abortion is ok in cases of rape"?

There is none. Either the person is uninformed or they're being disingenuous. You can find out which by asking some followup questions like:
-when does conception occur?
-what is the role of implantation in the gestation process?
-do women have an affirmative obligation to increase the chances of implantation?
-can women take actions to decrease the chances of implantation?
-how common is spontaneous abortion (i.e. miscarriage) in the first trimester?
-should first trimester miscarriages be investigated and, if so, how and by whom? second trimester? third?
-what is your definition of "rape" and "incest"?
-how would a jurisdiction determine that a "rape" or "incest" incident occurred?
-is there a gestational limit for the rape/incest exception? first trimester? second? anytime?
-if so, what is the justification for that limit?

People say it because they think it sounds compassionate. Forced birth arguments always fail upon closer inspection (assuming one cares about the rights of women).
posted by melissasaurus at 1:05 PM on March 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

I've seen two other lines of reasoning that I don't see here.

The first is a frequently voiced idea that giving women access to abortion whenever they want it will lead them to abuse the 'privilege.' I really don't want to link to anything, but if you search for 'abortion leads to promiscuity' or 'abortion leads to infidelity,' you start to see this train of thought. It is the idea that women can't be trusted with their own sexuality and that, if they knew that they could just get an abortion whenever they wanted, they would run amok and all of society would breakdown. The argument is also used against contraception.

The other is the idea that if abortion was available on demand, men could have all the sex they want and then, if she got pregnant, insist that she have an abortion. If she chooses not to have an abortion, he can abdicate responsibility for the child because 'it was her choice.' In this mindset, access to abortion gives women less power, rather than more. There's a whole body of work around anti-abortion feminism, which says that basically, women don't want to have abortions but other people pressure them into it. I find this idea very interesting because it is connected to the idea that feminism can hurt vulnerable women by lessening the social norms around male responsibility for providing. In the same way, the existence of abortion is thought to lessen the social norm around paternal responsibility.

Exceptions for rape, incest, and the life of the mother don't fall into these categories so they don't carry the same social dangers.
posted by oryelle at 6:39 PM on March 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

From the exceptionally on-point article linked by cowboy_sally, after a thorough discussion of the reason the pro-life author makes a rape exception and, perhaps more importantly, the many possibly supposed "justifications" the author doesn't subscribe to, there is this in the conclusion:

Actually I think abortion in cases of rape is immoral, because it takes the life of an innocent human being. I think the moral choice is to carry the pregnancy and give life to a child who had no choice in how she was conceived. Likewise, I think it would be moral to stay plugged into Thomson’s violinist [refers to this], and it would be moral for all of us to go donate blood, bone marrow, and our extra kidneys to save other lives. That doesn’t mean I think those actions should be legal requirements.

People ask if I could look in the eyes of those conceived in rape and tell them they deserved to die. No, I couldn’t. Because I don’t think they deserve to die. And I don’t think I have to pretend to think they deserve to die to support the rape exception.

Should we legally require people to donate their extra kidneys? No? So can you look into the eyes of someone dying in need of a kidney, and tell her she deserves to die? Man, I hope not. That’d be cruel and senseless. It also probably has nothing to do with your opposition to forced kidney donation.

The same idea applies to the rape exception. Please don’t assume that because I think this should be legal, I think it’s a good choice. Those are different issues.

I wish I could've read it before I posted above, because it sums up my feelings so much better than I did.
posted by MoTLD at 9:40 PM on March 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

[Just a quick reminder: Let's please stick to sources with actual (at least somewhat logical or reasoned) arguments for the rape/incest exception, rather than making this a general discussion about abortion or our feelings about it. Thanks.]
posted by taz (staff) at 11:31 PM on March 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

cowboy_sally, that site is exactly what I was looking for. I'm not about to change my views, but it does show me at least one way that this could be logically argued, which is more ways than I saw before. (Even if I think they're splitting hairs in a "no, it's not about punishing women for having sex we swear!" way.)
posted by Hactar at 2:22 PM on March 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

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