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Pro-Life with Exceptions

Representative Tom Akin of Missouri made the national news recently because of his comments about abortion in an interview with a local radio station. He stated, among other things, that he believed abortion is wrong even in cases of rape. He has since been criticized in the media by his opponents, the president, and women’s groups alike. Some of these criticisms are legitimate. No defense can be made for his comment that “legitimate rape” does not lead to pregnancy because “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” These remarks were just plain ignorant and uncaring. They are medically incorrect and imply that a woman who has conceived during rape has not really been raped. Despite this, Rep. Akin’s belief that abortion is wrong even in cases of rape is absolutely correct.

Although correct, he is certainly in the minority. Many people who are opposed to taking the life of an unborn child find Rep. Akin’s beliefs to be extreme. An adult friend once asked me, “What would you do if your daughter was raped and became pregnant? I know what I’d do!” This very good friend is a practicing Catholic who believes in Church teaching, but on this subject, she simply will not agree with the Magisterium. My teenage daughter, a cradle Catholic, is pro-life, “except in the case of rape, incest, or threat to the mother’s life.” She feels that the woman is the priority in these situations—if a victim feels she cannot carry the child, she cannot…she is understandably wounded.

The thought of carrying a child conceived of rape is a thought that every woman would struggle with. Rape is an inexcusable, violent evil and, as a woman, I cannot imagine a greater personal harm. That is why it has long been a struggle to explain Church teaching on the subject in a clear, caring, and correct way to the women in my life and indeed to myself.

It has taken me many years to understand and accept Church teaching, which is clear and decisive: “The human being is to be respected and treated as a person from the moment of conception; and therefore from that same moment his rights as a person must be recognized, among which in the first place is the inviolable right of every innocent human being to life” (Donum Vitae, 78-79).

It is not an easy thing to hear from your Church, the Church that is the representative of Christ on earth, that you should carry a child of rape to term. Christ is merciful and certainly he understands the pain of rape.  Fully human and innocent, he experienced the degradation, pain, and anguish of his Passion at the hands of others also. He, too, felt the isolation that is a result of violent crime when he cried, “My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?” (Mark 15:34)

God is merciful and kind.  He is a loving Father who feels our hurts, struggles, and anger. Surely Christ would understand if a woman feels she cannot continue a pregnancy begotten of violence. But understanding why a woman might consider abortion in the case of rape does not make it right; it is an evil that must not be carried out under any circumstance. The Christ that understands a woman’s heartache is at the very same time the Christ who is the Father of that innocent unborn child—the child of rape is still a child of God. God eternally loves every person, born and unborn, child of love or child of violence, as a vital and essential part of his Creation.

This way of thinking requires a change of perspective. It necessitates that we, without fail, put every person (as a child of God) ahead of ourselves. Every single life, from conception, is not ours but God’s. We cannot be the ones to determine who is of worth and who isn’t—we are not the Creator.

The minute we decide that an unborn baby conceived by rape is expendable, we take away some of the dignity of every human person. In essence we say that God creates things/persons that are unworthy of existence. Your worth, my worth, my teenage daughter’s worth, every child who is ever conceived, their worth as a person is called into question. Abortion is an injury to all of humanity. There can be no middle ground, no exceptions.

The Center for Disease Control estimates that there are 32,000 pregnancies (read children) per year as a result of rape.1 Which of these 32,000 children are worthless and which are not? They are all children of God; it is not our choice. If we, as Catholics, believe in the dignity of the human person as a creation of God, then that simply must apply to every unborn child without exception.

This is not, by any means, to say that having a child conceived by rape is easy. It is not meant to take away one ounce of worth from the mother. It is meant to give worth back where it belongs—to every human person, to the child. For the woman living this nightmare, carrying a child made in such a horrible act of violence requires an amazing strength. She deserves and needs the support of family, friends, and caregivers. Unfortunately, in many cases, she will not receive this support.

It is imperative that the Church, especially the laity, be willing to provide this help in a very real and concrete manner. Rape victims need extensive counseling, patience and so much more. We must be prepared to take these women in, care for them and care for these children where necessary. We must act upon our beliefs.

It is unfortunate that Rep. Akin is ignorant of female biological processes. It is shameful that he questioned the reality of rape for so many women. His remarks, however, are a gift in that they bring to the forefront an issue that so often plagues the minds of good Catholics everywhere. It is important that each of us realize the gravity involved in taking a life, any life. We, as Catholics, as Christians, as “pro-lifers,” do harm when we say things like, “I’m only for abortion in the case of rape, incest, etc.” We cannot expect people to believe that every child has a right to life if we do not believe it ourselves.


Michelle Sheehan Tholen lives in Bayou Vista, LA with her husband and two daughters.  She is a full-time student at the Catholic Distance University where she is studying for her Masters in Theology.
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  • Laura Kay

    This article really resonated with me and my struggles regarding my pro-life belief. I, too, thought abortion could possibly be excusable to a rape victim. I have been fortunate to have never experienced the trauma a rape brings, but I imagine the lingering, daily suffering the victim must endure. However, you outlined an alternative to abortion that I have never heard in a full pro-life discussion before: real victim assistance! I think the services you listed could help a woman carry this child to term and understand that this innocent baby is only a symbol of trauma if she perceives it that way. Adoption is always an option for women as well. The right kind of treatment and support can help the victim heal by making the child a positive and safe journey for her or another couple to raise. Thank you for helping me realize the hole in my beliefs on this issue!

    • John

      Laura, you sound like you have been BRAIN-WASHED!
      Rape is a VIOLENT, CRIMINAL ACTION FORCED ON A WOMAN BY A MALE CRIMINAL AGAINST HER WILL. PERIOD. THERE IS no DEFENDING A VIOLENT CRIMINAL WHO HAS ACCOSTED A WOMAN AGAINST HER WILL. PERIOD. THE ROMAN CHURCH DOES not HAVE A CIVIL/CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT TO DEMAND THAT WOMEN WHO HAVE BEEN VIOLENTLY ATTACKED(RAPED) AGAINST THEIR WILL must BEAR THE RAPIST’S FETUS. ..
      IN FACT, WHAT THE ROMAN CHURCH is SHOWING IS ITS INHERENT MISOGYNIST HATRED FOR WOMEN TO BEGIN WITH…. and/or ITS CONTINUING SUPPORT FOR CLERICS WHO HAVE RAPED INNOCENT CHILDREN… AS WELL AS SUPPORTING MALE CRIMINALS WHO BELIEVE THAT RAPE IS ‘PERMISSIBLE’….
      JUST when WILL FEMALES WHO HAVE BEEN BRAINWASHED demand LEGAL REDRESS FOR CRIMINAL ACTIONS COMMITTED AGAINST THEM………………………! DUH!

      • Laura Kay

        I am a woman with my own opinion on a WOMAN’S right to make an informed choice on abortion. Just as you, John, are a MAN with your own opinion. I respect your opinion bc it’s yours, not mine. But I will say, for you to assume that I condone a priest raping a young child bc of my opinion on abortion alternatives, is ludicrous and ignorant. Maybe you need to listen to what women (others & myself) are saying we believe bc WE as WOMEN are the ones who would have to make this excruciating decision after something as traumatic as a violent rape.
        Laura Leftwich
        Advertising Executive
        KWBJ-Allen’s TV Cable
        985-714-3115

  • Susan Draftz

    I think you should find out what Todd Akin really said before being so uncharitable about his comments.

  • John

    UNFORTUNATELY FOR THOSE WHO SUPPORT FORCING A WOMAN WHO HAS BEEN THE VICTIM OF A VIOLENT CRIMINAL ACTION CAUSED BY MALES, THE FEMALE DOES NOT HAVE TO HAVE THE RAPISTS(‘S) BASTARD. AMERICAN WOMEN HAVE THE RIGHT TO TERMINATE AN UNWANTED PREGNANCY AND. SEEK PROSECUTION AGAINST THE RAPIST(S) IN A COURT OF LAW.
    THANK YOU, FOR THE FIRST AMENDMENT TO THE US CONSTITUTION WHICH GUARANTEES THE FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND/OR FREEDOM from RELIGION– BLUNTLY STATED– THE ROMAN CHURCH DOES not HAVE A CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT TO FORCE ITS MISOGYNIST, FEMALE HATING RELIGION DOWN THE THROATS OF AMERICAN WOMEN!
    HAS THE WRITER OF THIS ARTICLE ever ATTENDED A RELIGIOUS SERVICE LED BY, SAY, AN ORDAINED woman MINISTER (PHD, HARVARD/STANFORD) AT A UNITARIAN-UNIVERSALIST SERVICE?
    THE OBVIOUS ANSWER IS, MORE THAN LIKELY, no! THAT IS, BECAUSE THE ROMAN CHURCH HAS DECLARED ‘WAR ON FEMALES’ AND SEEKS TO DESTROY AMERICAN WOMENS CONTROL OVER THEIR OWN BODIES– INCLUDING THE RIGHT TO TERMINATE UNWANTED PREGNANCIES!