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Pro-Life, Pro-Choice,
or Something Else?

Abortion for Special Circumstances

While the previous view argues that all abortions should be permissible based upon the rights of the mother, a more moderate view states that only some abortions should be legal, specifically – those that involve special circumstances such as rape, incest, or a health risk to the mother.  The following sections contain three different approaches to the discussion of abortion in special circumstances.

First, the pro-choice position is presented, taken from a book review.  The review is from RH Reality Check.

Katha Pollitt’s ‘Pro’ Hopes to Sway the ‘Muddled Middle’ on Abortion Ethics

By Eleanor J. Bader (Source)

Pollitt’s well-crafted defense of abortion as a social and ethical good will likely come as no surprise to most reproductive justice activists. But she’s really targeting those who aren’t convinced either way on the issue. (Macmillen Publishers)


In Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights, feminist and writer Katha Pollitt offers a well-crafted defense of abortion as a social and ethical good. While this will likely come as no surprise to most reproductive justice activists, Pollitt’s target audience is actually those who believe abortion should be legally limited. In order to convince them otherwise, she offers a step-by-step deconstruction of the arbitrary restrictions that implicitly declare some abortions as morally permissible and others as not.

Pollitt acknowledges that the anti-choice movement’s relentless fixation on abortion as the murder of innocent human life has resulted in many victories for reproductive rights opponents, notably with regard to public discourse on abortion. She writes:

The anti-abortion movement has placed the zygote/embryo/fetus at the moral center, while relegating women and their rights to the periphery … Over time, it has altered the way we talk about abortion and the way many people feel about it, even if they remain pro-choice. It has made abortion seem risky, when in fact it is remarkably safe—12 to 14 times safer than the alternative, which is continued pregnancy and childbirth.

In addition, anti-choicers’ frequent citation of “Post-Abortion Syndrome,” the unsubstantiated idea that after a termination women will suffer from a host of physical and psychological ailments—such as breast cancer, infertility, depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation—has planted more doubts in many people’s minds.

And all of this confusion is further compounded, Pollitt notes, by the language that politicians, pundits, and conservative activists typically use to publicly discuss abortion. Operation Save America, for example, routinely dubs abortion as “genocide” and its providers as “Nazis.” Even Hillary Rodham Clinton has claimed that abortion is a “sad, even tragic, choice,” rather than one that millions of women make without undue malaise every year.

Hillary Rodham Clinton

Hillary Rodham Clinton

As a whole, this ideological crusade has been disastrous for the reproductive justice movement. Support for devastatingly restrictive legislation, for instance, remains strong in many regions. And while one-third of U.S. women will have an abortion before age 45, the procedure continues to be shrouded in secrecy, shame, and silence, making it harder to access on both an individual and systemic level.

The anti-abortion movement’s smear campaign is largely to blame for this pervasive stigma; nonetheless, Pollitt says that some of the culpability also rests with the pro-choice movement’s reluctance to defend abortion as a necessary, safe, and normal part of everyday medicine. Instead, she says, pro-reproductive rights activists tend to focus on abortions necessary in extreme circumstances:

Forty years of apologetic rhetoric, 40 years of searching for arguments that will support legal abortion while never, ever, implying that it is an easy decision or a good thing—for women, men, and children, families, society—have left the pro-choice movement making the same limited, defensive arguments again and again … We hear endlessly about rape victims, incest victims, women at risk of death and injury, women carrying fetuses with rare fatal conditions—and make no mistake, those girls and women exist and their rights need to be defended because the laws in many states will harm them greatly. But we don’t hear about the vast majority of women who choose abortion, who are basically trying to get their life on track or keep it there.

Predictably, this strategy has led to a divide in opinion on abortion. The majority of Americans support abortion in cases of rape, incest, or danger to the pregnant woman’s life; at the same time, many oppose Medicaid funding for the procedure and stand against its availability in later trimesters.

This, Pollitt writes, is a logistically flawed stance. She asks:

Do those who say a woman should have the baby even if she has no money assume there’s help out there for her, the way so many people believe anyone who really wants to work can find a job? Do they think poor people shouldn’t have sex, even if they’re married, so tough luck if the condom breaks? Or that no woman should have sex unless she’s prepared to have a baby nine months later? That is the logic, after all, of the rape and incest exception: She can kill her baby if she was forced into intercourse, but not if she volunteered.

She also points out the reasons later abortions are legally necessary, including post-20-week discoveries of fetal anomalies, women denying or overlooking their pregnancies during the first few months of gestation, and financial or relationship troubles that make it impossible to obtain the procedure sooner.

IVF and Natural pregnancy

Overall, though anti-choicers may have distracted Americans with questions about timing and context, Pollitt maintains, their arguments are actually driven and reinforced by misogyny. “If we allow women’s lives to be derailed by a single sperm, if bearing and raising children is something she should be ready to do at any moment, we must not think women’s lives matter too much to begin with,” she observes. “What matters is that they had sex.”

And therein lies the crux of the issue. Pollitt is certainly not the first person to point out that the idea of women controlling their sexual and reproductive lives has shaken the foundational underpinnings of male-dominated culture. Small wonder that thousands of individuals and organizations—including the Catholic Church and the Republican Party—are dedicated to stopping the change.

Needless to say, they’re mighty foes.

Pollitt makes clear that abortion is central to women’s liberation and calls reproductive rights “the key to every other freedom.” She further argues that it is impossible not to see the attacks on abortion as an attack on feminism. “When you consider the way restrictions on abortion go hand-in-hand with cutbacks in social programs and stymied gender equality, it is hard not to suspect that the aim is to put women and children back under male control by making it impossible for them to survive outside it,” she writes.

Katha Pollitt

Katha Pollitt

So what to do? Although Pollitt says that her goal is to reach people in the “muddled middle”—”those who don’t want to ban abortion, exactly, but don’t want it to be widely available, either”—she still issues a call to arms for reproductive justice allies. She urges us to boldly and matter-of-factly claim abortion as socially beneficial across the board, and to stop skirting the issue of female sexuality as a valid justification for its availability.

She points out:

Pro-choice organizations avoid talking directly about sex and sexual freedom, making narrow and expedient points against each new proposed restriction: Parental notification and consent laws are wrong because some families are violent and dysfunctional; 20-week bans are wrong because of fetuses with extreme deformities; women need birth control coverage in the Affordable Care Act because the Pill has other medical uses.

While this is all true, she writes, the arguments against abortion restrictions are much broader than that. Ultimately, these laws are wrong because it is immoral to force parenthood on women who are not ready or able to be mothers. The reproductive justice movement should, first and foremost, stand for their right to autonomy and self-determination.

To that end, she also pushes us to defend family choice in all its incarnations by also advocating for paid parental leave; flex-time work schedules; available and affordable child care; decent housing; adequate public benefits; nutritious food; and access to schooling, job training, and medical care.

“For too long the pro-choice movement was either complacent or defensive,” she concludes. “It sold itself too cheaply to the Democratic Party, even when the Democrats were seeking out anti-abortion and anti-feminist candidates to run in conservative districts.”

Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights is a plea for feminists and the pro-choice and reproductive justice communities to be proactive in support of legal abortion in all circumstances, not just politically favorable ones. Those of us already in Pollitt’s corner will undoubtedly be energized and emboldened by her hard-hitting argument; hopefully, it will be enough to convince that aforementioned “muddled middle,” too. Indeed, if Pro finds its way into the hearts and minds of those whose support for abortion is equivocal, we just might win this epic struggle.

The other side is presented in this article from

Rape, Incest, and Abortion: Searching Beyond the Myths

By David C. Reardon, Ph.D. (Source)

“How can you deny an abortion to a twelve-year-old girl who is the victim of incest?” complains an indignant supporter of abortion. “And how can you call yourself a loving Christian if you would force a victim of violent rape to give birth to a rapist’s child?”


Every pro-lifer has heard these same challenges in one form or another. They are the emotionally charged questions designed to prove either 1) that pro-lifers are insensitive “fetus lovers,” 2) or ethically inconsistent, allowing abortion for some circumstances but not others.

Unfortunately, most pro-lifers have difficulty answering these challenges because the issue of sexual assault pregnancies is so widely misunderstood. Typically, both sides of the debate accept the presumption that women with sexual assault pregnancies would want an abortion and that the abortion would in some way help them to recover from the assault. Thus, the pro-lifer is left in the uncomfortable position of arguing that the sanctity of life is more important than the needs of the sexual assault victim with whom everyone should rightly sympathize.

But in fact, the welfare of the mother and child are never at odds, even in sexual assault cases. Both the mother and child are helped by preserving life, not by perpetuating violence.

The reason most people reach the wrong conclusion about abortion in cases of rape and incest is that the actual experiences of sexual assault victims who became pregnant are routinely left out of the debate. Most people, including sexual assault victims who have never been pregnant, are therefore forming opinions based on prejudices and fears which are disconnected from reality.

For example, it is commonly assumed that rape victims who become pregnant would naturally want abortions. But in the only major study of pregnant rape victims ever done, Dr. Sandra Mahkorn found that 75 to 85 percent chose against abortion.1 This evidence alone should cause people to pause and reflect on the presumption that abortion is wanted or even best for sexual assault victims.

Several reasons are given for not aborting. First, approximately 70 percent of all women believe abortion is immoral, even though many also feel it should be a legal choice for others. Approximately the same percentage of pregnant rape victims believe abortion would be just another act of violence perpetrated against their bodies and their children.

Second, some believe that their child’s life may have some intrinsic meaning or purpose which they do not yet understand. This child was brought into their lives by a horrible, repulsive act. But perhaps God, or fate, will use the child for some greater purpose. Good can come from evil.

Third, victims of assault often become introspective. Their sense of the value of life and respect for others is heightened. They have been victimized, and the thought that they in turn might victimize their own innocent child through abortion is repulsive.

Fourth, at least at a subconscious level, the victim may sense that if she can get through the pregnancy, she will have conquered the rape. By giving birth, she can reclaim some of her lost self-esteem. Giving birth, especially when conception was not desired, is a totally selfless act, a generous act, a display of courage, strength and honor. It is proof that she is better than the rapist. While he was selfish, she can be generous. While he was destroying, she can be nurturing.

If giving birth builds self respect, what about abortion? This is a question which most people fail to even consider. Instead, most people assume that an abortion will at least help a rape victim put the assault behind her and go on with her life. But in jumping to this conclusion, the public is adopting an unrealistic view of abortion.

Abortion is not some magical surgery which turns back time to make a woman “un-pregnant.” Instead, it is a real life event which is always very stressful and often traumatic. Once we accept that abortion is itself an event with ramifications on a woman’s life, then we must carefully look at the special circumstances of the pregnant rape victim. Will an abortion truly console her, or will it only cause further injury to her already bruised psyche?

In answering this question, it is helpful to begin by noting that many women report that their abortions felt like a degrading and brutal form of medical rape.2 This association between abortion and rape is not hard to understand.

Abortion involves a painful examination of a woman’s sexual organs by a masked stranger who is invading her body. Once she is on the operating table, she loses control over her body. If she protests and asks for the abortionist to stop, she will likely be ignored or told: “It’s too late to change your mind. This is what you wanted. We have to finish now.” And while she lies there tense and helpless, the life hidden within her is literally sucked out of her womb. The difference? In a sexual rape, a woman is robbed of her purity; in this medical rape she is robbed of her maternity.


This experiential association between abortion and sexual assault is very strong for many women. It is especially strong for women who have a prior history of sexual assault, whether or not she is presently pregnant as the result of an assault.3 This is just one reason why women with a history of sexual assault are likely to experience greater distress during and after an abortion than other women.

Second, research shows that after any abortion, it is common for women to experience guilt, depression, feelings of being “dirty,” resentment of men, and lowered self-esteem. What is most significant is that these feelings are identical to what women typically feel after rape. Abortion, then, only adds to and accentuates the traumatic feelings associated with sexual assault. Rather than easing the psychological burdens of the sexual assault victim, abortion adds to them.

This was the experience of Jackie Bakker, who reports: “I soon discovered that the aftermath of my abortion continued a long time after the memory of my rape had faded. I felt empty and horrible. Nobody told me about the pain I would feel deep within causing nightmares and deep depressions. They had all told me that after the abortion I could continue my life as if nothing had happened.”

Those encouraging abortion often do so because they are uncomfortable dealing with rape victims, or perhaps out of prejudice against victims whom they see as being “guilty for letting it happen.” Wiping out the pregnancy is a way of hiding the problem. It is a “quick and easy” way to avoid dealing with the woman’s true emotional, social and financial needs.

According to Kathleen DeZeeuw, “I, having lived through rape, and also having raised a child ‘conceived in rape,’ feel personally assaulted and insulted every time I hear that abortion should be legal because of rape and incest. I feel that we’re being used by pro-abortionists to further the abortion issue, even though we’ve not been asked to tell our side.”

The case against abortion of incest pregnancies is even stronger. Studies show that incest victims rarely ever voluntarily agree to an abortion.4 Instead of viewing the pregnancy as unwanted, the incest victim is more likely to see the pregnancy as a way out of the incestuous relationship because the birth of her child will expose the sexual activity. She is also likely to see in her pregnancy the hope of bearing a child with whom she can establish a true loving relationship, one far different than the exploitive relationship in which she has been trapped.

But while the incest victim may treasure her pregnancy because it offers her hope of release, and the hope of finding a nurturing love, her pregnancy is a threat to the exploiter. It is also a threat to the pathological secrecy which may envelop other members of the family who are afraid to acknowledge that the abuse is occurring. Because of this dual threat, the victim may be coerced into an unwanted abortion by both the abuser and other family members.

For example, Edith Young, a 12-year-old victim of incest impregnated by her stepfather, writes twenty-five years after the abortion of her child: “Throughout the years I have been depressed, suicidal, furious, outraged, lonely, and have felt a sense of loss… The abortion which was to ‘be in my best interest’ just has not been. As far as I can tell, it only ‘saved their reputations,’ ‘solved their problems,’ and ‘allowed their lives to go merrily on.’… My daughter, how I miss her so. I miss her regardless of the reason for her conception.”

Abortion providers who ignore this evidence, and neglect to interview minors presented for abortion for signs of coercion or incest, are actually contributing to the young girl’s victimization. They are not only robbing the victim of her child, they are concealing a crime, abetting a perpetrator, and handing the victim back to her abuser so that the exploitation can continue.

Finally, we must recognize that the children conceived through sexual assault also have a voice which deserves to be heard. Julie Makimaa, conceived by an act of rape, works diligently against the perception that abortion is acceptable or even necessary in cases of sexual assault. While sympathetic to the suffering her mother endured at the hands of her attacker, Julie is also rightfully proud of her mother’s courage and generosity. Regarding her own view of her origin, Julie proclaims: “It doesn’t matter how I began. What matters is who I will become.”

That’s a slogan we can all live with.


1. Mahkorn, “Pregnancy and Sexual Assault,” The Psychological Aspects of Abortion, eds. Mall & Watts, (Washington, D.C., University Publications of America, 1979) 55-69.

2. Francke, The Ambivalence of Abortion (New York: Random House, 1978) 84-95, 167.; Reardon, Aborted Women – Silent No More (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1987), 51, 126.

3. Zakus, “Adolescent Abortion Option,” Social Work in Health Care, 12(4):87 (1987).

4. Maloof, “The Consequences of Incest: Giving and Taking Life” The Psychological Aspects of Abortion (eds. Mall & Watts, Washington, D.C., University Publications of America, 1979) 84-85.

Originally published in The Post-Abortion Review 2(1) Winter 1994. Copyright 1994 Elliot Institute

Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins

A final piece to this part of the debate is the newer belief that abortion should be used as a form of eugenics, or a way to rid the world of suffering through certain genetic disorders.  One popularizer of this view is Richard Dawkins, whose view is covered in the following article.

Richard Dawkins says it is ‘immoral’ to allow babies with Down’s Syndrome to be born

By Amy Willis (Source)

Richard Dawkins has caused a storm on Twitter after claiming it would be ‘immoral’ not to abort an unborn baby with Down’s Syndrome.

Prof Dawkins, the atheist scientist who wrote The God Delusion, made the comments after social media user @InYourFaceNYer asked him about a hypothetical ‘ethical dilemma’ regarding fetuses with Down’s Syndrome. The remarks followed a discussion on abortion laws in Ireland.

The biologist responded by saying: ‘It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.’

@InYourFaceNYer Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice. — Richard Dawkins (@RichardDawkins) August 20, 2014

Down Syndrome screening is not eugenic: DS has extremely low heritability. Screening offers a humane moral choice. Majority choose abortion. — Richard Dawkins (@RichardDawkins) August 21, 2014

And after another user asked him whether killing 994 human beings with Down’s Syndrome a year was ‘civilised’, he said: ‘Yes, it is very civilised. These are foetuses, diagnosed before they have human feelings.’

The next day he continued the rant by adding: ‘If I were a woman with a DS fetus I personally would abort. So do most women in fact. If you wouldn’t, good luck to you, it’s your decision’

Perhaps realising the fury he had provoked, he later tried to backtrack by saying the decision would be up to the mother and he ‘obviously’ wouldn’t tell a pregnant woman what to do with her foetus.

Woman said she wouldn’t know whether to abort. I told her what I would do & why. I OBVIOUSLY wouldn’t TELL a woman what to do. Up to her. — Richard Dawkins (@RichardDawkins) August 20, 2014

But he refused to apologise.

I do not for one moment apologise for approaching moral philosophic questions in a logical way. There’s a place for emotion & this isn’t it. — Richard Dawkins (@RichardDawkins) August 20, 2014


Dozens of Twitter users – some parents of children with Downs Syndrome – rebuked the best-selling atheist author with some calling him a ‘monster’, an ‘idiot’ and ‘Hitler Dawkins’.

The Down’s Syndrome Association (DSA) said: ‘People with Down’s Syndrome can and do live full and rewarding lives, they also make a valuable contribution to our society.

‘At the Down’s Syndrome Association, we do not believe Down’s Syndrome in itself should be a reason for termination, however, we realize that families must make their own choice.

‘The DSA strives to ensure that all prospective parents are given accurate and up to date information about the condition and what life might be like today for someone with Down’s syndrome.’