Poll: Many Americans call themselves “pro-choice” but want increased abortion restrictions

I’m a few months late to this poll—which was conducted from December 12 through 16 of last year—but better late than never. There are a few reasons that this particular poll is worth discussing.

First, it was conducted by Marist College, which has an A grade from FiveThirtyEight (indicating low bias).

Second, it asked about abortion in specific scenarios, rather than asking if abortion should be “legal in most circumstances” or “illegal in most circumstances.” My problem with the “most circumstances” language commonly used in other polls is that it invites an availability heuristic problem. The availability heuristic leads people to assume that events which receive significant media/public attention—and therefore come to mind readily—must be common. The classic example is plane crashes, which are quite rare, but are always the top story when they do happen; this causes people to fear flying more than driving, when the latter is actually more dangerous, just less newsworthy.

In the abortion debate, abortion in “hard cases” like rape and incest—and, on the other end, elective partial-birth abortions—are talked about in wild disproportion to how often they actually occur. If there’s such a thing as a typical abortion, it is a first-trimester abortion done for purely socioeconomic reasons. What does the average survey-taker imagine “most circumstances” to be? Who knows. Asking about abortions in each trimester and isolating the “hard cases” is more illuminating.

Third and finally, Marist identified which of its survey-takers were religious (“practicing”) and not religious (“non-practicing”) and kindly broke down the data for each.

So what did they find?

When merely asked if they were “pro-life” or “pro-choice,” the results were stark. Among practicing adults, it was 58% pro-life and 37% pro-choice. But among non-practicing adults it was 28% pro-life and 66% pro-choice. In other words, a non-religious American is a whopping thirty percentage points less likely than a believer to identify themselves as pro-life.

But the more detailed questions showed that, in fact, support for abortion among the non-religious is not nearly that high (click to enlarge):

Only 21% of non-practicing Americans take the abortion-on-demand position held by Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and the like. 15% oppose third-trimester abortions, and 25% oppose both third- and second-trimester abortions. Banning abortions after the first trimester would require the reversal of Roe v. Wade. A ban on second-trimester abortions is murkier, but would arguably require the reversal of Roe‘s companion case, Doe v. Bolton.

26% of non-practicing Americans believe abortion should be limited to cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother, and 13% oppose abortion with no exception for rape and incest. In short, 39% of non-practicing Americans oppose the vast majority of abortions, and another 25% stand in stark opposition to the pro-choice establishment by advocating a ban after the first trimester. And yet only 28% will say that they are pro-life!

Moving to the next row of data, it’s clear that people are calling themselves “pro-choice” for reasons other than actual support for abortion. Adding together those who want a ban after the first trimester and those who want abortion in “hard cases” only, a majority (54%) of self-described pro-choicers want abortion to be more restricted than it is now!

This is why we do what we do. Non-religious Americans come to pro-life conclusions, but don’t adopt the pro-life label because they assume the pro-life movement is just a religious thing, or because they fear social ostracism from secular pro-choicers. They think they’re alone, because—availability heuristic again—pro-life atheism isn’t talked about in their networks of friends. If this sounds like you, Secular Pro-Life is ready to accept you with open arms!

There’s quite a bit more to explore in the poll, including breakdowns by sex and race. (Spoiler alert: you’re more likely to support abortion on demand if you’re male and white. Duh.) But since the religion angle is kind of our thing, we’ll end here.

Poll: Many Americans call themselves “pro-choice” but want increased abortion restrictions

I’m a few months late to this poll—which was conducted from December 12 through 16 of last year—but better late than never. There are a few reasons that this particular poll is worth discussing.

First, it was conducted by Marist College, which has an A grade from FiveThirtyEight (indicating low bias).

Second, it asked about abortion in specific scenarios, rather than asking if abortion should be “legal in most circumstances” or “illegal in most circumstances.” My problem with the “most circumstances” language commonly used in other polls is that it invites an availability heuristic problem. The availability heuristic leads people to assume that events which receive significant media/public attention—and therefore come to mind readily—must be common. The classic example is plane crashes, which are quite rare, but are always the top story when they do happen; this causes people to fear flying more than driving, when the latter is actually more dangerous, just less newsworthy.

In the abortion debate, abortion in “hard cases” like rape and incest—and, on the other end, elective partial-birth abortions—are talked about in wild disproportion to how often they actually occur. If there’s such a thing as a typical abortion, it is a first-trimester abortion done for purely socioeconomic reasons. What does the average survey-taker imagine “most circumstances” to be? Who knows. Asking about abortions in each trimester and isolating the “hard cases” is more illuminating.

Third and finally, Marist identified which of its survey-takers were religious (“practicing”) and not religious (“non-practicing”) and kindly broke down the data for each.

So what did they find?

When merely asked if they were “pro-life” or “pro-choice,” the results were stark. Among practicing adults, it was 58% pro-life and 37% pro-choice. But among non-practicing adults it was 28% pro-life and 66% pro-choice. In other words, a non-religious American is a whopping thirty percentage points less likely than a believer to identify themselves as pro-life.

But the more detailed questions showed that, in fact, support for abortion among the non-religious is not nearly that high (click to enlarge):

Only 21% of non-practicing Americans take the abortion-on-demand position held by Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and the like. 15% oppose third-trimester abortions, and 25% oppose both third- and second-trimester abortions. Banning abortions after the first trimester would require the reversal of Roe v. Wade. A ban on second-trimester abortions is murkier, but would arguably require the reversal of Roe‘s companion case, Doe v. Bolton.

26% of non-practicing Americans believe abortion should be limited to cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother, and 13% oppose abortion with no exception for rape and incest. In short, 39% of non-practicing Americans oppose the vast majority of abortions, and another 25% stand in stark opposition to the pro-choice establishment by advocating a ban after the first trimester. And yet only 28% will say that they are pro-life!

Moving to the next row of data, it’s clear that people are calling themselves “pro-choice” for reasons other than actual support for abortion. Adding together those who want a ban after the first trimester and those who want abortion in “hard cases” only, a majority (54%) of self-described pro-choicers want abortion to be more restricted than it is now!

This is why we do what we do. Non-religious Americans come to pro-life conclusions, but don’t adopt the pro-life label because they assume the pro-life movement is just a religious thing, or because they fear social ostracism from secular pro-choicers. They think they’re alone, because—availability heuristic again—pro-life atheism isn’t talked about in their networks of friends. If this sounds like you, Secular Pro-Life is ready to accept you with open arms!

There’s quite a bit more to explore in the poll, including breakdowns by sex and race. (Spoiler alert: you’re more likely to support abortion on demand if you’re male and white. Duh.) But since the religion angle is kind of our thing, we’ll end here.

Why did you convert to the pro-life side?

If we want to change hearts and minds regarding abortion, it’s helpful to know what’s converted people in the past. Recently we asked our Facebook followers, “Did you or someone you’re close to go from being pro-choice to pro-life? If so, what changed your mind?”

We got some amazing answers, and there were definitely some consistent themes: learning more about fetal development, learning about the effects of abortion, and having good relationships with pro-lifers. But by far the most common reason people cited for converting to the pro-life position was experiencing their own (or their partners’) pregnancies.

Below are a sampling of the answers we got, but you can see the full extent of them here.


Fetal Development

Leon V. – An embryology class. It was
so obvious.
Laurie L. – I was pro-choice until I
saw the fully formed fetuses at the Our Body exhibit at the museum. I was awed
at how early they looked human. These were not balls of cells. I was instantly
converted.
Reth S. – The first case I had as an
intern in the delivery room was a stillborn. I saw his parents crying and that
was all I needed to see to understand the humanity of a child.
Gisele T. – I was pro-choice. Science and philosophy changed my life.
Effects of Abortion

Buster A. – Science. Also, a few
friends got pregnant and I saw the coercion they were put through to kill their
boys.
Stephanie R. – Being pro-choice is the
standard over here [in Australia]. It’s just assumed if you have a pregnancy at the wrong time
you simply terminate it. It was that kind of attitude that led me to having abortions
myself, including one I didn’t even think twice about because it was just so
easy and acceptable. I think as soon as I was presented with a case against
abortion, and I actually had to think about it, I started asking questions and
I started changing my mind.
Pro-choice
rhetoric started to seem like all lies, manipulations, and false information.
It contradicted my own deeply held beliefs about being responsible for our
choices, not initiating violence, and ending discrimination. I couldn’t
reconcile being warm-hearted towards every other member of the human species
but going hard and cold when it came to the weakest and most vulnerable.
Lauren E. – I drank the Kool Aid
indoctrination of “it’s none of my business what someone else does with her
body.” Then I came
home from a date to find my lifeless roommate’s body in the living room, having
attempted suicide on her baby’s 8th “death day.” Suddenly her body
became my business, like it or not. She lived. I have since met many more
victims.
If abortion
clinics had to pay for post-trauma care (surgical reconstruction,
psychiatry/psychology, relationship therapy, and parenting skills), they’d be
out of money in 90 days. The industry is only lucrative if they end lives at $600
for every 20-minute procedure and leave the collateral damage and death to the
rest of us. NARAL loves to delete this testimony, because it’s an inconvenient
truth. Another’s life and body is
your business.
Once your
eyes are opened, there’s no turning back.



Relationships with Pro-Lifers

Roni C. – The humility of certain
Pro-Lifers in the face of name-calling (even from myself) and their consistency
in debate (for example, maintaining a central point no matter how much pro-choicers
jumped around), and the fact that I was not treated like a monster for being
pro-abortion-choice (even on the radical end) all played a huge role in my
conversion–one that cannot be appreciated enough, among other things.
Evan L. – I dated a wonderful girl
years ago who was conceived through rape. Her biological mother strongly
considered aborting her, but in the end decided not to. She grew up in
orphanages and was later adopted and eventually learned of her past (and met
her biological mother). I suspect that I’d always been secretly “consistently
pro-life,” but when I learned that the woman who had impacted my life in such a
wonderful way was very nearly put to death because of who her father was and
the circumstances behind her conception, it made me feel like I was going to
vomit. I realized then and there that abortion isn’t politically “progressive”
at all, and that I would have to accept the responsibility of holding a
political view that was going to be unpopular in my particular social circle
(very far to the Left). Rape is a horrible thing, to be sure; rape plus abortion
is even more horrible.
Lindsey W. – When an acquaintance from
school showed me a picture of her son she had given up for adoption after being
pregnant at 15, I realized this was a baby and that he might not have existed
if my friend had decided to have an abortion. She had been interested in getting
one and I said nothing to stop her (her body, her choice right?). I realized
that if I would defend his life as an infant, I couldn’t sit back when he was a
baby still growing in the womb. It also showed me that adoption is a realistic
and practical option, even for a teen. This friend was so happy she had chosen
life, despite the despair and fear she initially experienced.
Michelle R. – When abortion is discussed
in the textbooks, it’s illustrated as a debate where angry people go hold up
signs and neither side is right or wrong. Kind of feels like a waste of time
and something that doesn’t affect us at all.
I was
brought up by pro-choice parents. I feared overpopulation and blamed poverty,
deforestation, extinction, and war on unplanned children. My dad told me that
abortion was a responsible act. “If I ever got pregnant,” I told
myself, “those religious nuts would not help me stay in school,”
Afterward. I
fell in love with a pro-lifer, and while I was pregnant with his child many
people strongly encouraged me to abort, including my parents. This is when I
became personally pro-life, politically pro-choice.
A year after
that Myspace died and I made a Facebook account. I was browsing pages and came
across NARAL Pro-Choice America and Let’s find 1,000,000 people against Abortion. At the time NARAL had forums and
when I commented on there they made a mockery of my grammar and parenting
status. The posts by the page were nothing but hate towards the other side, and
there was way more glamorization of abortion than what I was comfortable with.
On the
pro-life page, however, they posted and argued from a scientific point of view,
they shared stories of women who conquered mountains, and they encouraged
pro-lifers to donate their time, money, and supplies to parents in need and
post-abortive women. When I talked to the admin and other people that follow
the page, even though they knew I wasn’t full on pro-life they were very
respectful and actually believed in me (graduating high school with a child).
I was a new
parent and I wanted to make the world a better place for her. Guess what side
is actually getting stuff done?
Pregnancies (and miscarriages)

Elizabeth D. – I went from being pro-life
with exceptions for disability and rape (so essentially still pro-choice) to pro-life
with no exceptions. My mind was changed when I lost my second son at 16 weeks
gestation. I delivered him and held him and looked at his perfectly formed body
including fingernails. He was a beautiful baby even if the doctors said he
would have been born with disabilities. Babies like him deserve a chance at life.
Sabri B. – I used to be pro-choice.
When my husband and I were trying very hard to conceive, abortion began to feel
wrong to me. Why would someone want to kill an unborn baby, while others longed
for one so badly? Then I finally got pregnant. As my pregnancy advanced and I
began feeling my baby and learning about her intrauterine development, I became
more and more pro-life. Fetuses are definitely not masses of cells! My baby is now 17 months old, and she’s the
love of our lives. I just can’t understand how someone can even think of
abortion as “liberating” and “empowering.” It sounds
inhuman and bizarre at the same time.
Kristen R. – I think it was when I
thought I was pregnant. I was already leaning towards being pro-life, but this
really hit home. Now I have a baby (8 years later, after difficulty) and it has
only reaffirmed my feelings. I heard my baby’s heartbeat at that first
appointment and couldn’t conceive of how anyone could think that this baby was
not a person. I felt her move before 20 weeks. It hurts my heart that anyone
could think that child was okay to kill.
Candice N. – My mother was a teen in
the 70’s and pro-choice. She believed the medical professionals who claimed
that the unborn child was only tissue. Why wouldn’t anyone believe a doctor?
Then in ’81, she was pregnant with her first child, my older brother. She
received a pamphlet from the OB on fetal development. It was then that she
discovered that the unborn child’s heart was beating long before she found out
she was expecting. The living baby was unique and distinct from the beginning.
Since then, she has been staunchly pro-life. I’m so thankful too! I became
pregnant at 16 and if it wasn’t for her showing me images since I was child of
the living unborn child, I might have aborted my first baby—who is now 15!
Jeff S. – It happened for me when I
heard my son’s heartbeat for the first time when my wife was pregnant. A few
years later my wife had an ectopic miscarriage that almost killed her. She was
ten weeks. It really hit home when we had to fill out a death certificate.
Years still after that, when our son was 13, we found out my wife was pregnant
again. It was very unexpected, but our second son has been the thrill of a
lifetime.
Gina P. – Miscarriage prior to my son
and threatened miscarriage with both my son and my daughter. I saw them on ultrasound
at 6-7 weeks; their hearts were beating.
Susan T. – Seeing my baby’s heartbeat on
a sonogram at 10 weeks changed my mind. I had always believed magazine articles
that described fetuses as a “clump of cells.” The more I learned
about fetal development the more I realized these were tiny lives and abortion
is ending that young life.
Lesli L. – I did when I became
pregnant. I realized I was ignorant about fetal development and ignorant to
believe the lies. I heard my son’s heartbeat at 6 weeks and was forever
changed.
Angela S. – Like so many other people
here, I had an unplanned pregnancy. I had only been dating my boyfriend for 6
months. I was in college and barely made any money. When my test came back
positive, the first thought was “I have a baby inside me. Not a clump of cells
or some non-sentient being.” Up until that moment I didn’t care about abortion;
it was none of my business. In that moment, however, abortion was the furthest
thing from my mind. This was our first picture of our first daughter. The
fortune was from dinner that same evening. I kept it like this on our fridge
the whole pregnancy. It was hard having a child the way we did, but, man, she
is worth it.

Why did you convert to the pro-life side?

If we want to change hearts and minds regarding abortion, it’s helpful to know what’s converted people in the past. Recently we asked our Facebook followers, “Did you or someone you’re close to go from being pro-choice to pro-life? If so, what changed your mind?”

We got some amazing answers, and there were definitely some consistent themes: learning more about fetal development, learning about the effects of abortion, and having good relationships with pro-lifers. But by far the most common reason people cited for converting to the pro-life position was experiencing their own (or their partners’) pregnancies.

Below are a sampling of the answers we got, but you can see the full extent of them here.


Fetal Development

Leon V. – An embryology class. It was
so obvious.
Laurie L. – I was pro-choice until I
saw the fully formed fetuses at the Our Body exhibit at the museum. I was awed
at how early they looked human. These were not balls of cells. I was instantly
converted.
Reth S. – The first case I had as an
intern in the delivery room was a stillborn. I saw his parents crying and that
was all I needed to see to understand the humanity of a child.
Gisele T. – I was pro-choice. Science and philosophy changed my life.
Effects of Abortion

Buster A. – Science. Also, a few
friends got pregnant and I saw the coercion they were put through to kill their
boys.
Stephanie R. – Being pro-choice is the
standard over here [in Australia]. It’s just assumed if you have a pregnancy at the wrong time
you simply terminate it. It was that kind of attitude that led me to having abortions
myself, including one I didn’t even think twice about because it was just so
easy and acceptable. I think as soon as I was presented with a case against
abortion, and I actually had to think about it, I started asking questions and
I started changing my mind.
Pro-choice
rhetoric started to seem like all lies, manipulations, and false information.
It contradicted my own deeply held beliefs about being responsible for our
choices, not initiating violence, and ending discrimination. I couldn’t
reconcile being warm-hearted towards every other member of the human species
but going hard and cold when it came to the weakest and most vulnerable.
Lauren E. – I drank the Kool Aid
indoctrination of “it’s none of my business what someone else does with her
body.” Then I came
home from a date to find my lifeless roommate’s body in the living room, having
attempted suicide on her baby’s 8th “death day.” Suddenly her body
became my business, like it or not. She lived. I have since met many more
victims.
If abortion
clinics had to pay for post-trauma care (surgical reconstruction,
psychiatry/psychology, relationship therapy, and parenting skills), they’d be
out of money in 90 days. The industry is only lucrative if they end lives at $600
for every 20-minute procedure and leave the collateral damage and death to the
rest of us. NARAL loves to delete this testimony, because it’s an inconvenient
truth. Another’s life and body is
your business.
Once your
eyes are opened, there’s no turning back.



Relationships with Pro-Lifers

Roni C. – The humility of certain
Pro-Lifers in the face of name-calling (even from myself) and their consistency
in debate (for example, maintaining a central point no matter how much pro-choicers
jumped around), and the fact that I was not treated like a monster for being
pro-abortion-choice (even on the radical end) all played a huge role in my
conversion–one that cannot be appreciated enough, among other things.
Evan L. – I dated a wonderful girl
years ago who was conceived through rape. Her biological mother strongly
considered aborting her, but in the end decided not to. She grew up in
orphanages and was later adopted and eventually learned of her past (and met
her biological mother). I suspect that I’d always been secretly “consistently
pro-life,” but when I learned that the woman who had impacted my life in such a
wonderful way was very nearly put to death because of who her father was and
the circumstances behind her conception, it made me feel like I was going to
vomit. I realized then and there that abortion isn’t politically “progressive”
at all, and that I would have to accept the responsibility of holding a
political view that was going to be unpopular in my particular social circle
(very far to the Left). Rape is a horrible thing, to be sure; rape plus abortion
is even more horrible.
Lindsey W. – When an acquaintance from
school showed me a picture of her son she had given up for adoption after being
pregnant at 15, I realized this was a baby and that he might not have existed
if my friend had decided to have an abortion. She had been interested in getting
one and I said nothing to stop her (her body, her choice right?). I realized
that if I would defend his life as an infant, I couldn’t sit back when he was a
baby still growing in the womb. It also showed me that adoption is a realistic
and practical option, even for a teen. This friend was so happy she had chosen
life, despite the despair and fear she initially experienced.
Michelle R. – When abortion is discussed
in the textbooks, it’s illustrated as a debate where angry people go hold up
signs and neither side is right or wrong. Kind of feels like a waste of time
and something that doesn’t affect us at all.
I was
brought up by pro-choice parents. I feared overpopulation and blamed poverty,
deforestation, extinction, and war on unplanned children. My dad told me that
abortion was a responsible act. “If I ever got pregnant,” I told
myself, “those religious nuts would not help me stay in school,”
Afterward. I
fell in love with a pro-lifer, and while I was pregnant with his child many
people strongly encouraged me to abort, including my parents. This is when I
became personally pro-life, politically pro-choice.
A year after
that Myspace died and I made a Facebook account. I was browsing pages and came
across NARAL Pro-Choice America and Let’s find 1,000,000 people against Abortion. At the time NARAL had forums and
when I commented on there they made a mockery of my grammar and parenting
status. The posts by the page were nothing but hate towards the other side, and
there was way more glamorization of abortion than what I was comfortable with.
On the
pro-life page, however, they posted and argued from a scientific point of view,
they shared stories of women who conquered mountains, and they encouraged
pro-lifers to donate their time, money, and supplies to parents in need and
post-abortive women. When I talked to the admin and other people that follow
the page, even though they knew I wasn’t full on pro-life they were very
respectful and actually believed in me (graduating high school with a child).
I was a new
parent and I wanted to make the world a better place for her. Guess what side
is actually getting stuff done?
Pregnancies (and miscarriages)

Elizabeth D. – I went from being pro-life
with exceptions for disability and rape (so essentially still pro-choice) to pro-life
with no exceptions. My mind was changed when I lost my second son at 16 weeks
gestation. I delivered him and held him and looked at his perfectly formed body
including fingernails. He was a beautiful baby even if the doctors said he
would have been born with disabilities. Babies like him deserve a chance at life.
Sabri B. – I used to be pro-choice.
When my husband and I were trying very hard to conceive, abortion began to feel
wrong to me. Why would someone want to kill an unborn baby, while others longed
for one so badly? Then I finally got pregnant. As my pregnancy advanced and I
began feeling my baby and learning about her intrauterine development, I became
more and more pro-life. Fetuses are definitely not masses of cells! My baby is now 17 months old, and she’s the
love of our lives. I just can’t understand how someone can even think of
abortion as “liberating” and “empowering.” It sounds
inhuman and bizarre at the same time.
Kristen R. – I think it was when I
thought I was pregnant. I was already leaning towards being pro-life, but this
really hit home. Now I have a baby (8 years later, after difficulty) and it has
only reaffirmed my feelings. I heard my baby’s heartbeat at that first
appointment and couldn’t conceive of how anyone could think that this baby was
not a person. I felt her move before 20 weeks. It hurts my heart that anyone
could think that child was okay to kill.
Candice N. – My mother was a teen in
the 70’s and pro-choice. She believed the medical professionals who claimed
that the unborn child was only tissue. Why wouldn’t anyone believe a doctor?
Then in ’81, she was pregnant with her first child, my older brother. She
received a pamphlet from the OB on fetal development. It was then that she
discovered that the unborn child’s heart was beating long before she found out
she was expecting. The living baby was unique and distinct from the beginning.
Since then, she has been staunchly pro-life. I’m so thankful too! I became
pregnant at 16 and if it wasn’t for her showing me images since I was child of
the living unborn child, I might have aborted my first baby—who is now 15!
Jeff S. – It happened for me when I
heard my son’s heartbeat for the first time when my wife was pregnant. A few
years later my wife had an ectopic miscarriage that almost killed her. She was
ten weeks. It really hit home when we had to fill out a death certificate.
Years still after that, when our son was 13, we found out my wife was pregnant
again. It was very unexpected, but our second son has been the thrill of a
lifetime.
Gina P. – Miscarriage prior to my son
and threatened miscarriage with both my son and my daughter. I saw them on ultrasound
at 6-7 weeks; their hearts were beating.
Susan T. – Seeing my baby’s heartbeat on
a sonogram at 10 weeks changed my mind. I had always believed magazine articles
that described fetuses as a “clump of cells.” The more I learned
about fetal development the more I realized these were tiny lives and abortion
is ending that young life.
Lesli L. – I did when I became
pregnant. I realized I was ignorant about fetal development and ignorant to
believe the lies. I heard my son’s heartbeat at 6 weeks and was forever
changed.
Angela S. – Like so many other people
here, I had an unplanned pregnancy. I had only been dating my boyfriend for 6
months. I was in college and barely made any money. When my test came back
positive, the first thought was “I have a baby inside me. Not a clump of cells
or some non-sentient being.” Up until that moment I didn’t care about abortion;
it was none of my business. In that moment, however, abortion was the furthest
thing from my mind. This was our first picture of our first daughter. The
fortune was from dinner that same evening. I kept it like this on our fridge
the whole pregnancy. It was hard having a child the way we did, but, man, she
is worth it.

Misconceptions about the rape exception.

A few notes: (1) SPL doesn’t take a stance on the rape exception and invites bloggers
to discuss both sides of the issue. (2) Because I’m talking about rape and
pregnancy, I use female pronouns to refer to rape survivors. However, please
remember that not all rape survivors are women. (3) I reference Thomson’s
Violinist
a few times. If you don’t know what that is you can read a
summary here. You can read more about my perspective on bodily rights arguments in general here.



I believe
abortion should be legal in cases of rape. I find that many pro-life activists
disagree very strongly with my stance. In the course of our discussions, they make
assertions and ask questions that often reflect a misunderstanding of my position. In
this post I am trying to clarify what I think the rape exception is—and isn’t—about.

The
rape exception is about bodily integrity.

I should
preface this point by saying, for me,
the rape exception is about bodily integrity. There are many
pro-lifers
who believe abortion should be legal in cases of rape, and I
expect they have a variety of reasons for their stance, including some reasons
I am going to object to later in this post. So please understand I am not
trying to speak for everyone who makes an exception; I’m only speaking for
myself and the people who ground their stance in bodily integrity.
Our
society pretty carefully guards people’s bodily integrity. We don’t have
required blood, bone marrow, or organ donations, not even
from the dead
. Taking a non-voluntary blood
sample from a drunk driver is
controversial
. We won’t legally require all
citizens to get vaccinated. All of these situations involve risk to other
people’s health and safety (people dying on organ waiting lists, people hit by
drunk drivers, people getting what
should be preventable diseases
), but our society
is generally willing to pay such a price; bodily integrity takes precedence.
Granted,
none of those situations involves such a direct threat to another’s life as abortion.
It’s hard to find a truly analogous situation. But I find most people agree
that you should legally be allowed to unplug from Thomson’s violinist, even
though that would allow the violinist to die.

Even if the violinist was Sherlock. Er, maybe.
As a
baseline stance, we protect one person’s bodily integrity even at the expense
of another person’s life. I think there are strong reasons to argue for an exception when it comes to most abortions.

But those reasons get a lot weaker when we are talking about pregnancy
resulting from rape. It’s very difficult for me to imagine any other
circumstance where we would tell someone she is legally required to give of
her body that way when she did not cause the other person’s
precarious position. (Justice For All has a great analogy to explore
that concept in their De Facto Guardian
paper
. Everyone interested in the abortion debate
should really read this paper—or you can listen to a presentation of the concepts here.) 

Because I
don’t believe we should legally require people to give of their bodies in any
situations analogous to pregnancies from rape, I can’t justify that legal
requirement for pregnancies from rape either. My support for the rape exception
is about my understanding of—and agreement with—how our society treats bodily
integrity. And that’s all it’s about.
However, fellow
pro-lifers (and, in fact, many pro-choicers) seem to think I believe abortion
should be legal in cases of rape for a whole variety of other reasons—reasons that
have little-to-nothing to do with my stance. I hope this post helps clarify a few issues.
1. The
rape exception isn’t about valuing children conceived in rape less than other
children.
When I
tell other pro-lifers I think abortion should be legal in cases of rape, the
most common response is “Why do you think children conceived in rape are worth
less than other children?”
The
answer: I don’t.
How we
are conceived doesn’t change our worth. It is illogical and unfair to hold
anyone responsible (especially children) for situations over which they have no
control, and a child has no control over how she is conceived. This is why I
hate the phrases (thankfully now rarely used) “illegitimate child” or “bastard
child.” It’s why I also hate the phrases (unfortunately still often
used) “rapist’s child” or “rape baby.” It’s wrong to assign a
child negative qualities based on how she was created.
Rape
doesn’t change the child’s worth, but it does change other factors that affect
the morality of abortion. For example, as pro-lifers, we very strongly
emphasize responsibility and consent to risks. How often have you heard any of
the following?

“The two
parents consented to risking pregnancy, and they are responsible for putting
the child in a position of dependence.”

“The real
choice is the choice to have sex in the first place.”

“We
aren’t talking about forced pregnancy because people choose to take that risk!”

We get
frustrated when our opponents seem to suggest pregnancy happens in a vacuum,
divorced from our choices and therefore wholly out of our control. So we
respond with ideas like those listed above, and I get that. But when we’re talking about rape, those ideas are
irrelevant. The child conceived in rape is worth just as much as any
other, but a rape survivor is not responsible for the fact that the child is
growing inside her. By definition, she did not consent to that risk.
So if
responsibility and consent to risks are such important factors, it should be
clear how cases of rape are fundamentally different even though the child’s value
is the same. You would have to ignore the very nature of rape—the entire reason
it’s so much worse and so controversial—to think fetal value is the only factor
that could be different about a rape case.
2. The
rape exception isn’t about the rape survivor’s emotional turmoil.
Because I
think abortion should be legal in cases of rape, people have accused me of “caving
under pressure.” They seem to think I just don’t have the nerve to tell women
who are emotionally or psychologically traumatized that they should still carry
unwanted pregnancies.
I do
think it’s important to understand the gravity of rape and how it affects
people. And I worry that some pro-lifers, eager to show the consistency of
their pro-life stances, end up speaking callously or dismissively about rape. I
think, as a movement, we should acknowledge that, yes, many rape survivors want to carry resulting pregnancies and need more
social support
. But we should also acknowledge
that, no, not all rape survivors want to carry resulting pregnancies; some
really, really do not want to. I often feel as if my fellow pro-lifers prefer
to pretend those women don’t exist.
So yes,
the rape survivor’s emotional turmoil is important and we need to strive to
understand where she’s coming from. But actually, no, I don’t think her
emotional turmoil justifies the rape exception (though
some think maybe it could
).
As a
pro-lifer, when I think about the morality of abortion in a given case I try to
imagine how I would view that case if we were talking about a born child rather
than an unborn one. And we would not say killing a born child should be legal
if the parent is too emotionally traumatized to care for that child. If we
wouldn’t say that for a born child, I don’t believe the reasoning works to
justify abortion either.
However,
if we look at the issue in terms of bodily integrity, it gets more complicated.
It’s hard to think of equivalent situations where born children are using their
parents’ bodies the way unborn children do. To me, this is why grounding the
rape exception in bodily integrity is so different, and more compelling, than
grounding the exception in the woman’s emotional turmoil.
3. The
rape exception isn’t about political expediency.
Some
people assume I grant the rape exception because I believe that’s the only way
we can get pro-life legislation passed.
I expect
there are many people who grant the rape exception
for this reason. After all, only about
1%
 of abortions are for cases of rape. Given that the debate over
the rape exception is especially emotional, controversial, and entrenched, I
expect many pro-lifers would rather focus on the majority of abortions which
seem clearer cut—that is, abortions performed on a healthy fetus carried by a
healthy mother for pregnancies resulting from consensual sex. I think
some pro-lifers grant the rape exception to simplify the conversation. They
believe it’s more effective to focus our finite political power elsewhere.
But even
if we had the political power to do so, I would not support outlawing abortion
in cases of rape. This is because I don’t argue for the rape exception to be
politically practical; I argue for the rape exception because I believe it’s
the right and consistent stance to take. Our society already guards bodily
integrity even in cases where doing so can hurt other people, and to my view
supporting the rape exception is consistent with that approach.
4a.
The rape exception isn’t about punishing the child.
I’ve talked about
this point before
. People who make this claim
usually try to assert that if you advocate for an effect that harms people, you
are punishing those people regardless of your motivation. So even if I don’t
want to punish anyone for being conceived in rape, they assert that, effectively, I am still
punishing the children.
But all
we have to do is apply this line of thinking to a myriad of other topics and we
see the assertion is disingenuous. If you believe marriage should be between a
man and a woman, does that mean you want to punish people for being gay? If you
support social welfare of any kind, does that mean you want to punish
taxpayers? If you believe we shouldn’t be legally obligated to donate our extra
kidneys, does that mean you want to punish people dying while they wait on organ donor lists? Why do you think
people waiting on organ donor lists are worth less than everyone else? Why
don’t you care about their lives??
See what
I did there?
You can
apply this punishment accusation to almost anything. If we’re saying that
motivation is irrelevant and only effect
matters, then when you support any sort of law or regulation or principle that
narrows the options of any group at all, people can accuse you of wanting to
punish that group. In fact this is the exact mentality that leads so many of
our opponents to accuse pro-lifers of wanting to punish women for having sex.
If you think that accusation is unfair, maybe keep that unfairness in mind
before accusing those of us who support the rape exception of wanting to punish
the child.
4b.
The rape exception is not about avoiding punishment for the rapist!
How many
of you have heard (or said) “punish the rapist, not the child”?
Is there
a rule I don’t know about that says if I support a rape exception, I am not
allowed to also support punishing rapists? Are the rape exception and
punishments for rape mutually exclusive? Does anyone actually believe that people
who support the rape exception have some desire to take the focus away from
rapists?
I mean,
seriously, where do people get this phrase? What is the logic behind this idea?
People who advocate for the rape exception often do so from a place of particular
empathy for rape survivors and particular concern over the continued violation
of their bodily integrity. There’s really no reason to tell us—of all people—to
“punish the rapist.” I’m not sure I can overemphasize how baffling this phrase
sounds.
And the
phrase isn’t just baffling because it implies we don’t care about punishing
rapists. It’s also ignorant because it makes it sound as if punishing rapists
is a simple thing to do.
Do you know how many rapists ever even get accused of their rapes? And
of those who get accused, how many have formal charges brought against them?
And of those who get charged, how many go to trial? And of those who go to
trial, how many get convicted? Seriously, do you know? Because it’s not many.
It’s an appallingly small number, actually.

Source: RAINN.org
Why? Well,
there’s no shortage of reasons. Many rape survivors have great difficulty
telling anyone, much less telling the authorities, about what has happened to
them. Some aren’t psychologically prepared to process it. Many fear they
won’t be believed
, or that there will be
repercussions against them.
A woman
who gets pregnant due to rape can find herself in an even more complicated
situation, with geniuses
like Todd Akin
 acting as if she doesn’t exist, and with a society that
assumes she will want to abort. And, if she chooses to carry her pregnancy,
that same society treats her with increased suspicion about whether
she was really raped. And, if she lives in one of the majority of
states
 that don’t have specific custody laws regarding rapists,
she also risks having to share custody or deal with visitation or other
parenting issues with her attacker for years to come. There are already cases
where rapists
have threatened to assert parental rights
 unless these
women drop charges or testimony against them.
Even if a
rape survivor decides to go to the authorities, if she takes a while to work up
the courage much or all of the forensic evidence may already be lost, if there
was any forensic evidence to begin with! Sometimes there isn’t any.
Even if
she goes forward quickly and there is evidence and she has the evidence
collected, it doesn’t guarantee a successful prosecution. What’s the difference
between forensic evidence of rape and forensic evidence of consensual sex? If
he didn’t leave signs of other physical violence (such as bruises or
strangulation, etc.) and if she didn’t try to physically fight him off
(potentially leaving signs of physical violence on him), the evidence between
rape and consensual sex can be indistinguishable.
(And
please note that many rapes don’t involve that level of physical
violence. Our society falsely believes the “stranger-rape
prototype
,” where people think “real” rape requires
a stranger attacking in some alley with a weapon and threats of violence. In
actuality, most rapes are by someone the survivor knows, occur without weapons,
and happen in the survivor’s home or the home of a relative, friend, or
neighbor. Imagine what kind of evidence those rapes leave.)
When
people tell me “punish the rapist, not the child,” I hear “I really do not
understand your perspective and I am unaware of what a complicated, painful,
and seemingly intractable problem rape is from a judicial standpoint.”
5. The
rape exception isn’t about “undoing” the rape.
You don’t
“undo” rape. Whether a rape survivor gets pregnant or not, whether she carries
that pregnancy or not, she was still raped.
When a
rape survivor gets pregnant and doesn’t want to be pregnant, there are two
separate issues: (1) she was raped, and (2) she is pregnant against her will.
The rape exception is about addressing the second issue, not the first.
6. The
rape exception isn’t about wanting women who were raped to get abortions.
This is a
less common accusation, but occasionally people will try to claim that I favor
or am okay with abortion in cases of rape.
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, 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. 
In conclusion…
I know
many pro-lifers disagree with me on the rape exception. This post is not my
attempt to convince you to make the rape exception. I just ask that, when you
are debating the rape exception with someone, first try to find out how they
ground their position. You may be surprised by all the points we agree on.

Misconceptions about the rape exception.

A few notes: (1) SPL doesn’t take a stance on the rape exception and invites bloggers
to discuss both sides of the issue. (2) Because I’m talking about rape and
pregnancy, I use female pronouns to refer to rape survivors. However, please
remember that not all rape survivors are women. (3) I reference Thomson’s
Violinist
a few times. If you don’t know what that is you can read a
summary here. You can read more about my perspective on bodily rights arguments in general here.



I believe
abortion should be legal in cases of rape. I find that many pro-life activists
disagree very strongly with my stance. In the course of our discussions, they make
assertions and ask questions that often reflect a misunderstanding of my position. In
this post I am trying to clarify what I think the rape exception is—and isn’t—about.

The
rape exception is about bodily integrity.

I should
preface this point by saying, for me,
the rape exception is about bodily integrity. There are many
pro-lifers
who believe abortion should be legal in cases of rape, and I
expect they have a variety of reasons for their stance, including some reasons
I am going to object to later in this post. So please understand I am not
trying to speak for everyone who makes an exception; I’m only speaking for
myself and the people who ground their stance in bodily integrity.
Our
society pretty carefully guards people’s bodily integrity. We don’t have
required blood, bone marrow, or organ donations, not even
from the dead
. Taking a non-voluntary blood
sample from a drunk driver is
controversial
. We won’t legally require all
citizens to get vaccinated. All of these situations involve risk to other
people’s health and safety (people dying on organ waiting lists, people hit by
drunk drivers, people getting what
should be preventable diseases
), but our society
is generally willing to pay such a price; bodily integrity takes precedence.
Granted,
none of those situations involves such a direct threat to another’s life as abortion.
It’s hard to find a truly analogous situation. But I find most people agree
that you should legally be allowed to unplug from Thomson’s violinist, even
though that would allow the violinist to die.

Even if the violinist was Sherlock. Er, maybe.
As a
baseline stance, we protect one person’s bodily integrity even at the expense
of another person’s life. I think there are strong reasons to argue for an exception when it comes to most abortions.

But those reasons get a lot weaker when we are talking about pregnancy
resulting from rape. It’s very difficult for me to imagine any other
circumstance where we would tell someone she is legally required to give of
her body that way when she did not cause the other person’s
precarious position. (Justice For All has a great analogy to explore
that concept in their De Facto Guardian
paper
. Everyone interested in the abortion debate
should really read this paper—or you can listen to a presentation of the concepts here.) 

Because I
don’t believe we should legally require people to give of their bodies in any
situations analogous to pregnancies from rape, I can’t justify that legal
requirement for pregnancies from rape either. My support for the rape exception
is about my understanding of—and agreement with—how our society treats bodily
integrity. And that’s all it’s about.
However, fellow
pro-lifers (and, in fact, many pro-choicers) seem to think I believe abortion
should be legal in cases of rape for a whole variety of other reasons—reasons that
have little-to-nothing to do with my stance. I hope this post helps clarify a few issues.
1. The
rape exception isn’t about valuing children conceived in rape less than other
children.
When I
tell other pro-lifers I think abortion should be legal in cases of rape, the
most common response is “Why do you think children conceived in rape are worth
less than other children?”
The
answer: I don’t.
How we
are conceived doesn’t change our worth. It is illogical and unfair to hold
anyone responsible (especially children) for situations over which they have no
control, and a child has no control over how she is conceived. This is why I
hate the phrases (thankfully now rarely used) “illegitimate child” or “bastard
child.” It’s why I also hate the phrases (unfortunately still often
used) “rapist’s child” or “rape baby.” It’s wrong to assign a
child negative qualities based on how she was created.
Rape
doesn’t change the child’s worth, but it does change other factors that affect
the morality of abortion. For example, as pro-lifers, we very strongly
emphasize responsibility and consent to risks. How often have you heard any of
the following?

“The two
parents consented to risking pregnancy, and they are responsible for putting
the child in a position of dependence.”

“The real
choice is the choice to have sex in the first place.”

“We
aren’t talking about forced pregnancy because people choose to take that risk!”

We get
frustrated when our opponents seem to suggest pregnancy happens in a vacuum,
divorced from our choices and therefore wholly out of our control. So we
respond with ideas like those listed above, and I get that. But when we’re talking about rape, those ideas are
irrelevant. The child conceived in rape is worth just as much as any
other, but a rape survivor is not responsible for the fact that the child is
growing inside her. By definition, she did not consent to that risk.
So if
responsibility and consent to risks are such important factors, it should be
clear how cases of rape are fundamentally different even though the child’s value
is the same. You would have to ignore the very nature of rape—the entire reason
it’s so much worse and so controversial—to think fetal value is the only factor
that could be different about a rape case.
2. The
rape exception isn’t about the rape survivor’s emotional turmoil.
Because I
think abortion should be legal in cases of rape, people have accused me of “caving
under pressure.” They seem to think I just don’t have the nerve to tell women
who are emotionally or psychologically traumatized that they should still carry
unwanted pregnancies.
I do
think it’s important to understand the gravity of rape and how it affects
people. And I worry that some pro-lifers, eager to show the consistency of
their pro-life stances, end up speaking callously or dismissively about rape. I
think, as a movement, we should acknowledge that, yes, many rape survivors want to carry resulting pregnancies and need more
social support
. But we should also acknowledge
that, no, not all rape survivors want to carry resulting pregnancies; some
really, really do not want to. I often feel as if my fellow pro-lifers prefer
to pretend those women don’t exist.
So yes,
the rape survivor’s emotional turmoil is important and we need to strive to
understand where she’s coming from. But actually, no, I don’t think her
emotional turmoil justifies the rape exception (though
some think maybe it could
).
As a
pro-lifer, when I think about the morality of abortion in a given case I try to
imagine how I would view that case if we were talking about a born child rather
than an unborn one. And we would not say killing a born child should be legal
if the parent is too emotionally traumatized to care for that child. If we
wouldn’t say that for a born child, I don’t believe the reasoning works to
justify abortion either.
However,
if we look at the issue in terms of bodily integrity, it gets more complicated.
It’s hard to think of equivalent situations where born children are using their
parents’ bodies the way unborn children do. To me, this is why grounding the
rape exception in bodily integrity is so different, and more compelling, than
grounding the exception in the woman’s emotional turmoil.
3. The
rape exception isn’t about political expediency.
Some
people assume I grant the rape exception because I believe that’s the only way
we can get pro-life legislation passed.
I expect
there are many people who grant the rape exception
for this reason. After all, only about
1%
 of abortions are for cases of rape. Given that the debate over
the rape exception is especially emotional, controversial, and entrenched, I
expect many pro-lifers would rather focus on the majority of abortions which
seem clearer cut—that is, abortions performed on a healthy fetus carried by a
healthy mother for pregnancies resulting from consensual sex. I think
some pro-lifers grant the rape exception to simplify the conversation. They
believe it’s more effective to focus our finite political power elsewhere.
But even
if we had the political power to do so, I would not support outlawing abortion
in cases of rape. This is because I don’t argue for the rape exception to be
politically practical; I argue for the rape exception because I believe it’s
the right and consistent stance to take. Our society already guards bodily
integrity even in cases where doing so can hurt other people, and to my view
supporting the rape exception is consistent with that approach.
4a.
The rape exception isn’t about punishing the child.
I’ve talked about
this point before
. People who make this claim
usually try to assert that if you advocate for an effect that harms people, you
are punishing those people regardless of your motivation. So even if I don’t
want to punish anyone for being conceived in rape, they assert that, effectively, I am still
punishing the children.
But all
we have to do is apply this line of thinking to a myriad of other topics and we
see the assertion is disingenuous. If you believe marriage should be between a
man and a woman, does that mean you want to punish people for being gay? If you
support social welfare of any kind, does that mean you want to punish
taxpayers? If you believe we shouldn’t be legally obligated to donate our extra
kidneys, does that mean you want to punish people dying while they wait on organ donor lists? Why do you think
people waiting on organ donor lists are worth less than everyone else? Why
don’t you care about their lives??
See what
I did there?
You can
apply this punishment accusation to almost anything. If we’re saying that
motivation is irrelevant and only effect
matters, then when you support any sort of law or regulation or principle that
narrows the options of any group at all, people can accuse you of wanting to
punish that group. In fact this is the exact mentality that leads so many of
our opponents to accuse pro-lifers of wanting to punish women for having sex.
If you think that accusation is unfair, maybe keep that unfairness in mind
before accusing those of us who support the rape exception of wanting to punish
the child.
4b.
The rape exception is not about avoiding punishment for the rapist!
How many
of you have heard (or said) “punish the rapist, not the child”?
Is there
a rule I don’t know about that says if I support a rape exception, I am not
allowed to also support punishing rapists? Are the rape exception and
punishments for rape mutually exclusive? Does anyone actually believe that people
who support the rape exception have some desire to take the focus away from
rapists?
I mean,
seriously, where do people get this phrase? What is the logic behind this idea?
People who advocate for the rape exception often do so from a place of particular
empathy for rape survivors and particular concern over the continued violation
of their bodily integrity. There’s really no reason to tell us—of all people—to
“punish the rapist.” I’m not sure I can overemphasize how baffling this phrase
sounds.
And the
phrase isn’t just baffling because it implies we don’t care about punishing
rapists. It’s also ignorant because it makes it sound as if punishing rapists
is a simple thing to do.
Do you know how many rapists ever even get accused of their rapes? And
of those who get accused, how many have formal charges brought against them?
And of those who get charged, how many go to trial? And of those who go to
trial, how many get convicted? Seriously, do you know? Because it’s not many.
It’s an appallingly small number, actually.

Source: RAINN.org
Why? Well,
there’s no shortage of reasons. Many rape survivors have great difficulty
telling anyone, much less telling the authorities, about what has happened to
them. Some aren’t psychologically prepared to process it. Many fear they
won’t be believed
, or that there will be
repercussions against them.
A woman
who gets pregnant due to rape can find herself in an even more complicated
situation, with geniuses
like Todd Akin
 acting as if she doesn’t exist, and with a society that
assumes she will want to abort. And, if she chooses to carry her pregnancy,
that same society treats her with increased suspicion about whether
she was really raped. And, if she lives in one of the majority of
states
 that don’t have specific custody laws regarding rapists,
she also risks having to share custody or deal with visitation or other
parenting issues with her attacker for years to come. There are already cases
where rapists
have threatened to assert parental rights
 unless these
women drop charges or testimony against them.
Even if a
rape survivor decides to go to the authorities, if she takes a while to work up
the courage much or all of the forensic evidence may already be lost, if there
was any forensic evidence to begin with! Sometimes there isn’t any.
Even if
she goes forward quickly and there is evidence and she has the evidence
collected, it doesn’t guarantee a successful prosecution. What’s the difference
between forensic evidence of rape and forensic evidence of consensual sex? If
he didn’t leave signs of other physical violence (such as bruises or
strangulation, etc.) and if she didn’t try to physically fight him off
(potentially leaving signs of physical violence on him), the evidence between
rape and consensual sex can be indistinguishable.
(And
please note that many rapes don’t involve that level of physical
violence. Our society falsely believes the “stranger-rape
prototype
,” where people think “real” rape requires
a stranger attacking in some alley with a weapon and threats of violence. In
actuality, most rapes are by someone the survivor knows, occur without weapons,
and happen in the survivor’s home or the home of a relative, friend, or
neighbor. Imagine what kind of evidence those rapes leave.)
When
people tell me “punish the rapist, not the child,” I hear “I really do not
understand your perspective and I am unaware of what a complicated, painful,
and seemingly intractable problem rape is from a judicial standpoint.”
5. The
rape exception isn’t about “undoing” the rape.
You don’t
“undo” rape. Whether a rape survivor gets pregnant or not, whether she carries
that pregnancy or not, she was still raped.
When a
rape survivor gets pregnant and doesn’t want to be pregnant, there are two
separate issues: (1) she was raped, and (2) she is pregnant against her will.
The rape exception is about addressing the second issue, not the first.
6. The
rape exception isn’t about wanting women who were raped to get abortions.
This is a
less common accusation, but occasionally people will try to claim that I favor
or am okay with abortion in cases of rape.
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, 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. 
In conclusion…
I know
many pro-lifers disagree with me on the rape exception. This post is not my
attempt to convince you to make the rape exception. I just ask that, when you
are debating the rape exception with someone, first try to find out how they
ground their position. You may be surprised by all the points we agree on.

“What if she’s lying?”

Preface: Many pro-life activists argue that abortion should be illegal even in the case of rape. While SPL does not take a position on the rape exception, we do agree that the rape exception should be discussed with particular sensitivity. Whenever you are discussing topics related to sexual assault, whether in the context of abortion or any other context, please take the time to understand how your comments could affect sexual assault survivors.


Additionally, please note that the following blog post originally arises from a conversation about rape and pregnancy, so the ideas are expressed in terms of male attackers and female victims. However it’s important to be aware that men can also be sexually assaulted.



Recently I posted this paper to the SPL Facebook page, and quoted from it as follows:

A victim of acquaintance rape in North Carolina became
pregnant and carried her child to term. The man she accused of raping her
threatened to assert his parental rights unless she agreed not to file charges
against him. Another woman from North Carolina became pregnant as a result of
rape and placed the baby for adoption. To complete the adoption, she needed the
rapist to terminate his parental rights. The rapist, who was in custody
awaiting trial, told her that he would terminate his parental rights only if
she agreed not to testify against him.

I thought this passage
would inspire a conversation about how our society can better support survivors
of rape who want to carry their pregnancies and parent their children. To my
dismay, this was one of the first comments:




There were also comments
like this:




Similarly, the other
day, a casual FB friend of mine tagged me in a post asking what I thought of
this photo:

Never before have I so wanted to punch a puffin.

Okay, class. What’s wrong with these ideas?

People who haven’t looked much into rape culture (or worse, who don’t believe rape culture exists), may argue that, underneath some of the harsh verbiage, there are valid points to be made here. They muse, “Yes, of course, we all care about rape victims. But if our interest is justice, we must also care about people falsely accused of rape. The wrongfully accused deserve consideration too.” 

We want people to pay for the crimes they commit, but we also don’t want innocent people to be punished, right? Right! So why would anyone have a problem with focusing on false rape accusations?

In order to explain the problem, I need to give you a quick quiz. Don’t cheat now! See how you do without scrolling ahead.
  1. How many rapes and sexual assaults happen per year in the United States?
    • Thousands
    • Tens of thousands
    • Hundreds of thousands
    • Over one million
  2. What percentage of these attacks are not reported to authorities?
    • Less than 50%
    • 50-60%
    • 60-70%
    • Over 70%
  3. How many accusations of assault are false?
    • 1-2%
    • 2-8%
    • 8-20%
    • 20-40%
    • Over 40%
Curious how you did? Let’s review. 

According to the US Department of Justice, in 2012 there were 346,830 rapes and sexual assaults, and 72% of these attacks were not reported to authorities. In other words, an average of 684 attacks went unreported each day, for a total of 249,717 unreported attacks in 2012. And we aren’t even touching on how few reported attacks result in charges filed, or how few charges filed result in convictions.

In contrast, the most methodologically sound research suggests between 2% and 8% of rape and sexual assault accusations are false. 

So if 28% of attacks are reported to authorities, and there were 346,830 attacks in 2012, how many reports did authorities receive? That’s right! Authorities would have received 97,112 reports of rapes and sexual assault. Please note we are again talking about reports, which are, again, not the same as charges filed, much less convictions.

Research suggests that 2% to 8% of these reports are false. To be conservative, let’s assume it’s 8%; so 8% of 97,112 reports means 7,769 false accusations. (And we are being very conservative. Read the previous link for issues with the way “false accusations” are often defined. Read here (trigger warning) for an example of a woman marked down as a “false accusation.” I would especially like the people who wax poetic about how we’re not harsh enough with women who lie about rape to read that link.)

So we have (at least) 249,717 unreported attacks and (at most) 7,769 false accusations. That comes down to at least 32 times as many unreported attacks as there are false accusations.

I’m going to go ahead and repeat that, just to be super, super clear:




Now, does this situation mean we should never talk about the injustice of false accusations? No. Falsely accusing someone of a crime is horribly wrong, and it wreaks havoc both on the person falsely accused and on the criminal justice system as a whole. That deserves a conversation.


But what I am seeking is a sense of proportion here. Do you hear people talking about unreported rape 32 times as often as you hear them talk about false rape accusations? Because I sure don’t. If anything, I hear people discuss false rape accusations more often than they ever talk about how many attacks go unreported. Our public discourse on rape is hugely disproportionate to the reality of the situation.



And having such a skewed public conversation about rape isn’t just misleading–it’s horribly damaging. Sexual assault survivors are frequently surrounded by an atmosphere of suspicion and even hostility, and we promote that atmosphere every time we jump to, “But what if she lied?” When survivors think they won’t be believed, they don’t speak up. When they don’t speak up, unreported rapes rise, both because less people are reporting their attacks and because the attackers can continue their behavior without repercussion.


So remember this idea? “Yes, of course, we all care about rape victims. But if our interest is justice, we must also care about people falsely accused of rape. The wrongfully accused deserve consideration too.” 


I’m going to explain the disproportionality of this response by way of analogy*. Let’s pretend “justice” is a big house we want to upkeep. Whenever injustice happens, it damages the house. So false rape accusations look something like this:

A smashed window in the House of Justice.

And unreported rapes look something like this:

Huh.
Now consider this conversation:


Me: “Oh my god! The House of Justice is on fire, please help me to save it!” 

Other people: “Yes, of course, we all care about the house being on fire. But if our interest is in keeping up the house, we must also care about smashed windows. Smashed windows require repair too.”

How does that sound to you?

And really, this analogy doesn’t even cover it, because it doesn’t account for how, every time you focus disproportionately on smashed windows, you actually throw gas on the fire. How? Because every time you emphasize not trusting women who say they’ve been raped, you make it harder for survivors to come forward with their incredibly painful stories. And that means more rapes go unreported.

So if you’re not going to help me put out the fire, could you at least stop throwing fuel on the flames? That’d be great.


*Thanks to my friend Mishy for the analogy.

“What if she’s lying?”

Preface: Many pro-life activists argue that abortion should be illegal even in the case of rape. While SPL does not take a position on the rape exception, we do agree that the rape exception should be discussed with particular sensitivity. Whenever you are discussing topics related to sexual assault, whether in the context of abortion or any other context, please take the time to understand how your comments could affect sexual assault survivors.


Additionally, please note that the following blog post originally arises from a conversation about rape and pregnancy, so the ideas are expressed in terms of male attackers and female victims. However it’s important to be aware that men can also be sexually assaulted.



Recently I posted this paper to the SPL Facebook page, and quoted from it as follows:

A victim of acquaintance rape in North Carolina became
pregnant and carried her child to term. The man she accused of raping her
threatened to assert his parental rights unless she agreed not to file charges
against him. Another woman from North Carolina became pregnant as a result of
rape and placed the baby for adoption. To complete the adoption, she needed the
rapist to terminate his parental rights. The rapist, who was in custody
awaiting trial, told her that he would terminate his parental rights only if
she agreed not to testify against him.

I thought this passage
would inspire a conversation about how our society can better support survivors
of rape who want to carry their pregnancies and parent their children. To my
dismay, this was one of the first comments:




There were also comments
like this:




Similarly, the other
day, a casual FB friend of mine tagged me in a post asking what I thought of
this photo:

Never before have I so wanted to punch a puffin.

Okay, class. What’s wrong with these ideas?

People who haven’t looked much into rape culture (or worse, who don’t believe rape culture exists), may argue that, underneath some of the harsh verbiage, there are valid points to be made here. They muse, “Yes, of course, we all care about rape victims. But if our interest is justice, we must also care about people falsely accused of rape. The wrongfully accused deserve consideration too.” 

We want people to pay for the crimes they commit, but we also don’t want innocent people to be punished, right? Right! So why would anyone have a problem with focusing on false rape accusations?

In order to explain the problem, I need to give you a quick quiz. Don’t cheat now! See how you do without scrolling ahead.
  1. How many rapes and sexual assaults happen per year in the United States?
    • Thousands
    • Tens of thousands
    • Hundreds of thousands
    • Over one million
  2. What percentage of these attacks are not reported to authorities?
    • Less than 50%
    • 50-60%
    • 60-70%
    • Over 70%
  3. How many accusations of assault are false?
    • 1-2%
    • 2-8%
    • 8-20%
    • 20-40%
    • Over 40%
Curious how you did? Let’s review. 

According to the US Department of Justice, in 2012 there were 346,830 rapes and sexual assaults, and 72% of these attacks were not reported to authorities. In other words, an average of 684 attacks went unreported each day, for a total of 249,717 unreported attacks in 2012. And we aren’t even touching on how few reported attacks result in charges filed, or how few charges filed result in convictions.

In contrast, the most methodologically sound research suggests between 2% and 8% of rape and sexual assault accusations are false. 

So if 28% of attacks are reported to authorities, and there were 346,830 attacks in 2012, how many reports did authorities receive? That’s right! Authorities would have received 97,112 reports of rapes and sexual assault. Please note we are again talking about reports, which are, again, not the same as charges filed, much less convictions.

Research suggests that 2% to 8% of these reports are false. To be conservative, let’s assume it’s 8%; so 8% of 97,112 reports means 7,769 false accusations. (And we are being very conservative. Read the previous link for issues with the way “false accusations” are often defined. Read here (trigger warning) for an example of a woman marked down as a “false accusation.” I would especially like the people who wax poetic about how we’re not harsh enough with women who lie about rape to read that link.)

So we have (at least) 249,717 unreported attacks and (at most) 7,769 false accusations. That comes down to at least 32 times as many unreported attacks as there are false accusations.

I’m going to go ahead and repeat that, just to be super, super clear:




Now, does this situation mean we should never talk about the injustice of false accusations? No. Falsely accusing someone of a crime is horribly wrong, and it wreaks havoc both on the person falsely accused and on the criminal justice system as a whole. That deserves a conversation.


But what I am seeking is a sense of proportion here. Do you hear people talking about unreported rape 32 times as often as you hear them talk about false rape accusations? Because I sure don’t. If anything, I hear people discuss false rape accusations more often than they ever talk about how many attacks go unreported. Our public discourse on rape is hugely disproportionate to the reality of the situation.



And having such a skewed public conversation about rape isn’t just misleading–it’s horribly damaging. Sexual assault survivors are frequently surrounded by an atmosphere of suspicion and even hostility, and we promote that atmosphere every time we jump to, “But what if she lied?” When survivors think they won’t be believed, they don’t speak up. When they don’t speak up, unreported rapes rise, both because less people are reporting their attacks and because the attackers can continue their behavior without repercussion.


So remember this idea? “Yes, of course, we all care about rape victims. But if our interest is justice, we must also care about people falsely accused of rape. The wrongfully accused deserve consideration too.” 


I’m going to explain the disproportionality of this response by way of analogy*. Let’s pretend “justice” is a big house we want to upkeep. Whenever injustice happens, it damages the house. So false rape accusations look something like this:

A smashed window in the House of Justice.

And unreported rapes look something like this:

Huh.
Now consider this conversation:


Me: “Oh my god! The House of Justice is on fire, please help me to save it!” 

Other people: “Yes, of course, we all care about the house being on fire. But if our interest is in keeping up the house, we must also care about smashed windows. Smashed windows require repair too.”

How does that sound to you?

And really, this analogy doesn’t even cover it, because it doesn’t account for how, every time you focus disproportionately on smashed windows, you actually throw gas on the fire. How? Because every time you emphasize not trusting women who say they’ve been raped, you make it harder for survivors to come forward with their incredibly painful stories. And that means more rapes go unreported.

So if you’re not going to help me put out the fire, could you at least stop throwing fuel on the flames? That’d be great.


*Thanks to my friend Mishy for the analogy.

Why I am Agnostic and Pro-life

Today’s blog post is by guest blogger Nick Reynosa.

In a 2010 survey,
Americans stated that the group of people that they trust the least is people
of no religion. The study went on to say that Americans see irreligion as more
suspect than other controversial lifestyles, including homosexuality. In this less than welcoming climate, it is
easy to see how, for some young people, opening up about their lack of faith is akin to coming out of the closet, so to speak.
Being an
atheist or agnostic in America isn’t the easiest of tasks. Likewise being a
pro-life college student on a campus where the key age demographic (18-24) accounts for 44 percent of abortions performed isn’t a cake walk either. Yet I remain
steadfastly pro-life and agnostic; as one secular person I know has described
it, we are a minority within a minority.
So why do I
hold both positions? Let me attempt to explain. Because the abortion debate is
so extensively peppered with red-herrings and distractions, an interesting way
for me to explain myself is to state issues that are NOT the reasons I am
pro-life.
I am not pro-life
because I am “anti-choice.” I believe in the maximum amount of just choices
between consenting adults. I think women and men should have the right to
choose to have sex or not. They should be able to choose whom they have sex
with and when and how often they have sex. They should be able to access
whatever scientific sexual education materials they are interested in and whatever
types of birth control they prefer. Men and women who are not ready should be
able to choose adoption and whether the adoption is open or closed. Women and
men who are struggling as new parents should be able to choose to apply for
government assistance for the sake of their new child.
But men
and women should not be able to choose to take the life of their child. Not all
choices are moral; the choice to own slaves is immoral, the choice to
discriminate against minorities is immoral; choice is only the embodiment of
freedom when those choices do not harm others.
I am not
pro-life because I am against “women’s health.” I support the right of any
woman to abort a pregnancy that poses a risk to her physical well-being. According to the Guttmacher Institute, only twelve percent
involved issues with the mother’s health. In contrast, half of all babies
aborted are female, and one-hundred percent of innocent female fetuses’ health
is affected when they are intentionally killed. As the late and renowned atheist Christopher Hitchens stated, In order to terminate a pregnancy, you have to still a heartbeat, switch
off a developing brain . . . break some bones and rupture some organs.” Therefore
I ask: is the purpose of women’s health to keep women’s hearts beating or
intentionally stop them? I support women’s health by opposing the 1,750 baby
girls that were unjustly killed yesterday, are being unjustly killed today, and
will be unjustly killed tomorrow; that’s opposing a real “war on women.”
I am not pro-life because I
against bodily autonomy. I believe that men and women should be able to put
whatever they want into their bodies so long as they are willing to accept the
consequences. Pregnancy is not applicable to this principle because both
parents should accept the risk of parenthood by engaging in consensual sex. In
rape cases, because consent is not present, I do believe a bodily autonomy
argument is compelling and therefore I do support an exception for rape cases.
I am not pro-life because I
am a clueless, sexist man who will never get pregnant. I consider myself a male
feminist. I do not want to send all women back to the kitchen, barefoot and
pregnant. On the contrary I have an equal amount of respect for women who wish
to focus on their education or careers, for women who wish to be stay at home as
mothers, or for those who wish to do both at some point in their lives. I hope
my future spouse is an intelligent, accomplished, and independent woman;
likewise I wish to live in a world where my future daughters have the same
opportunities available as my future sons. In fact I hope the day Roe v. Wade is overturned, we have a pro-life female chief justice and a pro-life woman as
our president. And on that beautiful day I would love to have pro-choicers
lecture me about sexism.
I am not pro-life because
of religion or politics.  I am an
agnostic and a registered independent. I hold some liberal, some conservative, and
some libertarian viewpoints. I am certainly not pro-life because I want to
create a wedge issue to divide people. I wish people would naturally recognize
the dignity of the unborn. This would save me the time and money trying to
persuade them; however if they don’t recognize fetal humanity I have a moral
obligation to try to show them.
I am not pro-life because I
want to restrict people’s freedom. If I am a “culture warrior” in any sense I
would not be on the conservative side. In fact I am very socially libertarian
on every issue except abortion. The right to an abortion perverts the very
notion of freedom. As the classic libertarian quote states, the freedom to
swing your arms stops at the tip of someone else’s nose. Likewise our sexual
and reproductive freedom stops at the tip an innocent’s baby nose.
I am pro-life because it is
the pre-eminent moral and legal dilemma of our time. In determining which side
to take I’m often reminded of the famous quote of Supreme Court justice Potter
Stewart who said he did not know how to define obscenity, but he added, “I know
it when I see it”. Well as an agnostic and social libertarian, I don’t have a
definition of barbarism but I know it when I see it. For anyone who has ever
seen an abortion, it’s hard to imagine how they could describe it as anything but
barbaric. The founder of NARAL himself, Dr. Bernard Nathanson, became a fervent
pro-life activist as the development of ultrasound technology opened his eyes
to horror of the procedure. Before his death he wrote his autobiography, in
which he
stated, “I am one of those who
helped to usher in this barbaric age.”

Thankfully for Dr.
Nathanson, he spent the last thirty-two years of his life attempting to make
things right. We are equally fortunate to use our lives to end this great
injustice. Whether you’re a secularist, believer, man, woman, Republican, Democrat, or even a former pro-choicer, we can all wear the label “pro-life”
proudly.


Pictured: guest blogger Nick.
Stand up and be counted as a pro-life secularist! Send us your photo.

Why I am Agnostic and Pro-life

Today’s blog post is by guest blogger Nick Reynosa.

In a 2010 survey,
Americans stated that the group of people that they trust the least is people
of no religion. The study went on to say that Americans see irreligion as more
suspect than other controversial lifestyles, including homosexuality. In this less than welcoming climate, it is
easy to see how, for some young people, opening up about their lack of faith is akin to coming out of the closet, so to speak.
Being an
atheist or agnostic in America isn’t the easiest of tasks. Likewise being a
pro-life college student on a campus where the key age demographic (18-24) accounts for 44 percent of abortions performed isn’t a cake walk either. Yet I remain
steadfastly pro-life and agnostic; as one secular person I know has described
it, we are a minority within a minority.
So why do I
hold both positions? Let me attempt to explain. Because the abortion debate is
so extensively peppered with red-herrings and distractions, an interesting way
for me to explain myself is to state issues that are NOT the reasons I am
pro-life.
I am not pro-life
because I am “anti-choice.” I believe in the maximum amount of just choices
between consenting adults. I think women and men should have the right to
choose to have sex or not. They should be able to choose whom they have sex
with and when and how often they have sex. They should be able to access
whatever scientific sexual education materials they are interested in and whatever
types of birth control they prefer. Men and women who are not ready should be
able to choose adoption and whether the adoption is open or closed. Women and
men who are struggling as new parents should be able to choose to apply for
government assistance for the sake of their new child.
But men
and women should not be able to choose to take the life of their child. Not all
choices are moral; the choice to own slaves is immoral, the choice to
discriminate against minorities is immoral; choice is only the embodiment of
freedom when those choices do not harm others.
I am not
pro-life because I am against “women’s health.” I support the right of any
woman to abort a pregnancy that poses a risk to her physical well-being. According to the Guttmacher Institute, only twelve percent
involved issues with the mother’s health. In contrast, half of all babies
aborted are female, and one-hundred percent of innocent female fetuses’ health
is affected when they are intentionally killed. As the late and renowned atheist Christopher Hitchens stated, In order to terminate a pregnancy, you have to still a heartbeat, switch
off a developing brain . . . break some bones and rupture some organs.” Therefore
I ask: is the purpose of women’s health to keep women’s hearts beating or
intentionally stop them? I support women’s health by opposing the 1,750 baby
girls that were unjustly killed yesterday, are being unjustly killed today, and
will be unjustly killed tomorrow; that’s opposing a real “war on women.”
I am not pro-life because I
against bodily autonomy. I believe that men and women should be able to put
whatever they want into their bodies so long as they are willing to accept the
consequences. Pregnancy is not applicable to this principle because both
parents should accept the risk of parenthood by engaging in consensual sex. In
rape cases, because consent is not present, I do believe a bodily autonomy
argument is compelling and therefore I do support an exception for rape cases.
I am not pro-life because I
am a clueless, sexist man who will never get pregnant. I consider myself a male
feminist. I do not want to send all women back to the kitchen, barefoot and
pregnant. On the contrary I have an equal amount of respect for women who wish
to focus on their education or careers, for women who wish to be stay at home as
mothers, or for those who wish to do both at some point in their lives. I hope
my future spouse is an intelligent, accomplished, and independent woman;
likewise I wish to live in a world where my future daughters have the same
opportunities available as my future sons. In fact I hope the day Roe v. Wade is overturned, we have a pro-life female chief justice and a pro-life woman as
our president. And on that beautiful day I would love to have pro-choicers
lecture me about sexism.
I am not pro-life because
of religion or politics.  I am an
agnostic and a registered independent. I hold some liberal, some conservative, and
some libertarian viewpoints. I am certainly not pro-life because I want to
create a wedge issue to divide people. I wish people would naturally recognize
the dignity of the unborn. This would save me the time and money trying to
persuade them; however if they don’t recognize fetal humanity I have a moral
obligation to try to show them.
I am not pro-life because I
want to restrict people’s freedom. If I am a “culture warrior” in any sense I
would not be on the conservative side. In fact I am very socially libertarian
on every issue except abortion. The right to an abortion perverts the very
notion of freedom. As the classic libertarian quote states, the freedom to
swing your arms stops at the tip of someone else’s nose. Likewise our sexual
and reproductive freedom stops at the tip an innocent’s baby nose.
I am pro-life because it is
the pre-eminent moral and legal dilemma of our time. In determining which side
to take I’m often reminded of the famous quote of Supreme Court justice Potter
Stewart who said he did not know how to define obscenity, but he added, “I know
it when I see it”. Well as an agnostic and social libertarian, I don’t have a
definition of barbarism but I know it when I see it. For anyone who has ever
seen an abortion, it’s hard to imagine how they could describe it as anything but
barbaric. The founder of NARAL himself, Dr. Bernard Nathanson, became a fervent
pro-life activist as the development of ultrasound technology opened his eyes
to horror of the procedure. Before his death he wrote his autobiography, in
which he
stated, “I am one of those who
helped to usher in this barbaric age.”

Thankfully for Dr.
Nathanson, he spent the last thirty-two years of his life attempting to make
things right. We are equally fortunate to use our lives to end this great
injustice. Whether you’re a secularist, believer, man, woman, Republican, Democrat, or even a former pro-choicer, we can all wear the label “pro-life”
proudly.


Pictured: guest blogger Nick.
Stand up and be counted as a pro-life secularist! Send us your photo.