Wednesday, September 5, 2012


I believe that abortion should be far more legally restricted than it currently is, but I don’t think it should be illegal in every circumstance.  I think abortion should be legal if the mother’s life is threatened, for example, or if the mother was raped (see more here.)

Because of my particular perspective, I’ve had both pro-choicers and pro-lifers tell me that I want to punish various people.  Some pro-choicers insist that being anti-abortion is about punishing women.  Some pro-lifers insist that having a rape exception is about punishing the fetus conceived in rape.  I disagree on both counts, and for the same reason.

To punish is to “subject to pain, loss, confinement, death, etc., as a penalty for some offense, transgression, or fault.”  [Emphasis added.]

This is a claim about motivation, not effect. 

There’s no denying that restricting abortion is restricting options for women, and would serve to prevent women who greatly desire abortions from obtaining them.  There’s no denying that having a rape exception allows the death of fetuses conceived in rape.  But in order for these situations to constitute punishment, they must be enforced with the goal of penalizing.  It’s not just the effect that matters—the motivation matters as well.  

It’s possible—indeed, it happens all the time—for people with completely different motivations to desire the same effect, as I’ve discussed before.  If you want to punish women you may want stricter abortion laws.  If you want to protect fetal life you may also want stricter abortion laws.  If you want to punish rape babies you may want a rape exception.  If you want to protect bodily integrity you may also want a rape exception.

Step outside the abortion debate for a moment, and consider this line of thinking as applied to other situations.  If you want everyone to know that those who support homosexuality are going to hell, you may support the Westboro Baptist Church’s right to protest.  If you want to protect free speech, you may also support that right.  If you want hothead motorists to feel frustrated having to drive less than 80 mph on the highway, you may support speed limits.  If you want safer driving conditions for everyone, you may also support speed limits.  Imagine telling someone you support speed limits on highways, and they tell you “You just want to punish people who like to drive quickly!” 

In every case, there are some people who may desire the outcome because they see it as a punishment, and other people who may desire the same outcome because they see it as a protection.  Someone may view the outcome as a punishment, but that doesn’t mean every person seeking that outcome wants to punish.

Assigning false motivations, and trying to get people to defend motivations they don’t even hold, is just a distraction.  This disconnect (or, in some cases, purposeful misdirection) prevents a true understanding of the opposition’s stance.  For those who just want to troll, I guess that works out.  But for those who want to have meaningful dialogue or proper debate, I have a suggestion: don’t tell people how they feel, or why they do what they do.  Let them tell you instead.


Clinton said...

If you truly believe the unborn are human from fertilization, it's inconsistent to support abortions in the case of rape (even if you disagree with it personally). Are they human or aren't they? If they are, then why would you allow someone to kill them just because they were conceived in rape?

Punishment may have some motivation involved but punishment itself is not the motivation. In your speed limit example, you are not punishing someone for the sake of punishing them. You are punishing them because they were driving recklessly (by speeding). If you kill an unborn human because she was conceived in rape, then you are not punishing the child for the sake of punishing the child. You are punishing her because she was conceived in rape. Most of the time, the rapist goes free (which is tragic), which means that often the child is the only one punished for a rape.

Consider this thought experiment: Suppose two women are raped. One decides to abort but the other one carries to term. The child becomes two years old and starts to take on the features of the rapist so that she looks with hatred on her child every time she looks at him.

Is she justified in killing the two year old child?
If not, what is different about the unborn child that she should be able to abort the child because he was conceived in rape?
And if there is a difference, couldn't that difference also be used to justify abortions in other cases than rape?

Monica Lynn said...

A woman is not justified in killing a 2-year-old child of a rapist, because the 2-year-old is not infringing on the woman's right to bodily integrity. Arguing for the rape exception is about acknowledging that the right to bodily integrity exists and is important.

A fetus's moral worth does not change with the method of conception, but a fetus's moral worth is not the only relevant factor in the abortion debate.

Clinton Wilcox said...

Hi, Monica:

Thanks for your reply. So my next question, then, is why is a woman's bodily autonomy important when it comes to rape, but not important for any other factors?

How can we justify abortion because a woman is exercising her bodily autonomy in rape, but not justify it in any other circumstances, even in circumstances in which having a child may result in severe psychological trauma (say a 16 year old girl who has sex, gets pregnant, and literally thinks her parents will kill her if they find out)?

simonjm1970 said...

Clinton the point regarding the rape exception is that people who grant it look to a general principle that we don't allow anyone to use of bodies against our will. If the baby is born and then requires blood or an organ no court will force the woman to do that even to save its life. Are we punishing the baby by denying that need?

I would add that I would require counseling as I don't think the mental anguish involved justifies allowing the abortion, no more than I think it gives a woman the right to kill or let die a postpartum baby for mental anguish reasons.

Another point I would raise that unless as a society we grant financial compensation to the rape victim to allow the use of her body it would be even more unjust to force her to do it.

Someone around here said...

"There’s no denying that restricting abortion is restricting options for women, and would serve to prevent women who greatly desire abortions from obtaining them."

So, you do at least admit it. Even if you don't believe what you're doing is punishment, you do not care that what you want stops a woman from doing with her body what she wants, i.e., you don't support her right to not be pregnant.

This mindset, along with the rape exception, is entirely consistent with the punishment mindset, even if what you WANT is to save fetuses and not punish women. Rape isn't the woman's fault, so she can have an abortion. Consensual sex is her fault, so she isn't allowed to have an abortion. So, fault is your determining factor on whether she is allowed to have her bodily rights. Your reasoning may not be that you are punishing the woman, but that is inconsistent with the outcome.

A woman should not be forced to give birth. Our bodies are ours to do with what we want, and we shouldn't have to be sexually violated to have that right. We should be allowed to cease being pregnant, to not give birth, to not raise a child. A fetus has no right to my body without my permission, just as a man has no right to my body without my permission.

Clinton Wilcox said...

It really sounds like your position is not consistent with the pro-life ethic, that every life is equally valuable and deserves equal protection (your avoidance of my questions is evident of this).

If a woman (or a girl) gets pregnant but doesn't want the baby (even if she had sex consensually), how can you tell her that she can't have an abortion? Even with consensual sex, your arguments can be used to support abortions in those cases.

Ellen Snyder said...

In any normal situation, bodily autonomy always outweighs the right to life.

However, consent to sex is consent to the risk of creating that bodily-dependent human being. It's, in effect, waiving your right to bodily autonomy should the accepted risk come to pass. Trying to then exercise bodily autonomy at the cost of someone's life is not justified.

In cases of rape, there was no consent and therefore bodily autonomy still trumps the right to life as it would in any other situation.

I hope that makes sense, Clinton, and I hope you read the rape exception blog posts because they go into much more detail.

frank maguire said...

I accept your distinction. I understand the rape exception and while I have certain issues with it. It still does not necessitate abortion. If you recognise the right to life of the unborn and the right to bodily autonomy of the rape victim, the solution isnt killing the fetus but removing it and forcing our doctors to try and preserve it outside the womb. This would preserve both rights with the "unintended" (principle of double effect) side affect that the fetus will *probably* die. (as opposed to abortion where the intent is to kill and which on occasion isnt even successful).

156 said...

Thank you for the article.

I do not want to get into an argument about semantics, but I do think you are forgetting that the issue -- with respect to public policy -- is about the future, not the past or present. We have two ways to prevent women from giving birth to babies conceived from rape. We can stop the rapes from occurring so the pregnancies cannot occur, or we can allow the women to abort after they have already become pregnant. If you support both the right of the baby to live and the right of the mother to bodily autonomy, why not advocate both simultaneously by supporting the former?

156 said...

Before viability, the fetus would definitely die. So what would be the point of requiring doctors to hopelessly trying to save it?

Monica Lynn said...

Well of course I support stopping rapes from occurring. But for those already impregnated by rape, that doesn't help a lot. Until a day when rape no longer exists, this is still going to be an issue.

Monica Lynn said...

This is a very good point. It would be much more accurate to say I support the ability of rape victims to have the fetus removed, rather than aborted. Unfortunately, most abortions occur at a time in pregnancy when it will result in fetal death either way.

Monica Lynn said...

If a man was raped, I don't think he should have to pay child support. If he had consensual sex, I think he should, and by the same reasoning.

Pervis dirt said...

Oh look it's a republican that wants to the government to be smaller except when it comes to women's bodily autonomy.

Someone around here said...

I don't think a man should have to pay child support, even if it was consensual.

But that is entire irrelevant.

Bryan said...

Heh we went up and down on this subject just a couple weeks ago. See the comments on:

Btw, this new comment system is 1000% less frustrating. Good job!

156 said...

Are you "M?"

Again, you are forgetting that we are talking about laws that apply to the future, not the present. Therefore, "those already impregnated by rape" are not relevant to the discussion.

There is no reason why we need to talk about the end of rape as though it is out of our control and in the distant future. It is in our control and it is very relevant to the issue of abortion in the case of rape.

LN said...

I think this fails to acknowledge that, no matter how many resources you dump into preventing rape, there will still be *some rape* and there will still be some pregnancies from rape. We need to have a thought-out policy for those cases, and frankly I don't see how it hurts to have one just in case rape isn't completely eliminated (especially since it won't be).

Roe_Flip said...

I don't see rape being wholly eliminated anymore than murder, theft, or a multitude of other crimes. I think it's admirable and necessary to work to reduce these crimes as much as possible, but foolish to pretend they can ever be wholly eliminated and even more foolish to assert that their *eventual* *theoretical* elimination is reason enough to refuse to work out how to handle situations in which the crimes still happen. Do you also argue that we should not worry about/get rid of counseling for rape victims because that focuses on the present and not your (incredibly idealistic) future?

Roe_Flip said...

"Oh look it's someone that wants the government to prevent people from killing other people."

Roe_Flip said...

It's analogous.

"Even if you don't believe what you're doing is punishment, you do not care that what you want stops a man from doing with his property what he wants, i.e., you don't support his right to not pay child support.

This mindset, along with the rape exception, is entirely consistent with the punishment mindset, even if what you WANT is to support children and not punish men. Rape isn't the man's fault, so he doesn't have to pay child's support. Consensual sex is his fault, so he has to pay child support. So, fault is your determining factor on whether he is allowed to have property rights. Your reasoning may not be that you are punishing the man, but that is inconsistent with the outcome.
A man should not be forced to give up his money. Our property is ours to do with what we want, and we shouldn't have to be sexually violated to have that right. We should be allowed to keep our hard-earned money, to not pay child support, to not raise a child. A child has no right to my money without my permission."

156 said...

If you review the article, you will see that she was criticizing the article linked to below. The article did not mention her, nor did it merely talk about "having
a rape exception." Instead, it asked the following question: "...[w]hy are we suggesting capital punishment for the innocent unborn child rather than the guilty rapist?" Therefore, either "M" opposes capital punishment for rapists, and other policies to hold them accountable, or the article was not talking about her position. Since she implied that the article referred to her position, I think we can reasonably assume that she opposes capital punishment and other policies that hold them accountable for their crimes.

156 said...

If she really favors doing everything in our power to prevent rapes from occurring, why did she use a blog post to talk about a rape exception rather than advocating policies to stop rape? For example, why not use the blog post to advocate expanded DNA testing and limiting consent to forms that are verifiable in court? Why not use all of her political and persuasive capital to oppose rape rather than support a rape exception to abortion laws?

Furthermore, a rape exception would mean that women have less incentive to support anti-rape policies.

Also, does she support the rape exception in the Hyde Amendment? Paying for abortions actively encourages them and consumes resources that can be used to stop rape, rather than just allow abortion in that case.

LN said...

So you're saying if someone really favors preventing rape, they will not ever take the time to talk about inevitable cases where rape isn't prevented? This seems very unreasonable.

Furthermore, a rape exception would mean that women have less incentive to support anti-rape policies."
Is this a joke? What woman would not support anti-rape policies-- regardless of the resources used to help rape victims? I don't even know if I can take you seriously this is such a ludicrous claim.

LN said...

Well your reasoning is not sound, then, because M absolutely does not oppose holding rapists accountable. She was taking issue with the wording. Specifically the notion that the fetus is being punished. Perhaps you should read the blog post again.

156 said...

She stated the following: "Some pro-lifers insist that having
a rape exception is about punishing the fetus conceived in rape."

Her only citation for such an insistence was the link above. But the link was criticizing the position that rapists should not be given the death penalty but abortionists should be allowed to kill unborn babies conceived in rape. It was not addressing her, more general, point. Therefore, I do not think that she substantiated her assertion.

156 said...

"So you're saying if someone really favors preventing rape, they will not
ever take the time to talk about inevitable cases where rape isn't

No, I was asking a question. Note the question mark.

"What woman would not support anti-rape policies-- regardless of the resources used to help rape victims?"

The women in the Minnesota Legislature do not support aggressive anti-rape policies. For example, the penalty for rape in the state, except in exceptional circumstances, is capped at one year of imprisonment and a fine of $3,000. No minimum sentence exists. The women in the Minnesota Legislature have not moved to increase the penalty.

simonjm1970 said...

Technically no I'm not Pro-Life but nor do I think that your stance is consistent with moral precepts you already accept as a 'Pro-Lifer'.

My stance is this the act of consensual sex creates a moral duty of care by effectively placing the baby in a state of existential despondency, thus owing bodily compensation. But until we allow bodily compensation under the law -which I'm happy to see happen- procedurally and as a matter of fairness we cannot just force this on women.

simonjm1970 said...

edit dependency for despondency

Clinton Wilcox said...

So it seems the only difference between a pro-choice advocate and a pro-life advocate with the rape exception is consent to sex.

Clinton Wilcox said...

This is exactly why I believe being pro-life with the rape exception is indefensible. Either bodily autonomy trumps right to life or it doesn't. Having consensual intercourse doesn't change that. That's why I don't believe pro-lifers should make the rape exception, especially since the nature and value of the unborn does not change due to the circumstances of their conception.

I'd be open to discussing bodily autonomy with you more, if you're willing.

Clinton Wilcox said...

My response is perfectly consist with moral precepts. My moral precept is that it abortion is wrong because it unjustly takes the life of an innocent human being. The only thing that changes during rape is that the woman did not consent to sexual intercourse. Nothing changes in the unborn except the circumstances of her conception. Her nature and her value does not change.

Yes, rape is an incredibly heinous crime that no woman should ever have to go through, and rape victims deserves special care. But we should not punish the child for the crimes of her father. If a woman aborts, that's exactly what she's doing. If the pregnancy is not life-threatened (and they very rarely are), a woman is not morally justified in having an abortion.

Even abortionists recognize that abortion is not the right answer after the trauma of a rape:

“Victims of sexual abuse and rape deserve special care. However, the abortion counselor should recognize that the emotional trauma experienced by the rape or incest victim cannot be treated adequately, if at all, in the abortion clinic setting. All rape and incest victims, as well as victims of physical abuse, should be referred for appropriate psychological counseling and support.”
--Dr. Warren Hern, Abortion Practice, p. 84.

simonjm1970 said...

I also think counseling is necessary but if life is valuable, then every life that can be saved by abrogating bodily autonomy is also valuable enough to force someone to give up their bodily autonomy rights to save them.So unless we all are prepared to have our bodily autonomy abrogated don't just ask them to. Also if you are going to do that the women should have financially compensated. Do that and I would accept a change in law.

Clinton Wilcox said...

That's not exactly true. Doctors cannot operate on me if I refuse to let them because of my bodily autonomy. However, in abortion there is another life at stake, not just the woman's. By allowing her to have an abortion, an innocent human life is take (without adequate justification -- it's inadequate because you wouldn't allow a woman to kill her toddler just because he reminds her of a painful event, the rape).

Plus, I actually agree with you that she should be financially compensated. I believe that our government should be doing much more to support pregnant women and single mothers. I think our government should take money away from Planned Parenthood, which makes its money killing children, and give it to organizations that help pregnant women and single mothers, which Planned Parenthood fails miserably at.

LN said...

I'm not sure what you mean by advocate. I would always advocate for life. I just don't think there is enough justification for overriding bodily autonomy (BA) in cases where there was no consent-- ie, *forcing* life over BA. And pro-choicers feel the same way there.

simonjm1970 said...

The simple fact remains the foetus is using her body and the the toddler isn't; but I agree that trauma related issues shouldn't be a reason for the abortion. That's why I advocate counseling.

From my point of view that isn't just about killing innocent humans.

Again if this life is so important that you must override a moral value that we place near or on par with the value of a life. Then lives are important enough that the distinction of killing vs letting die is irrelevant, in the same way that standing by and watching a baby drown in a bath is as bad as drowning it. It maybe wired into our brain to only react to these cases but the result is still the same.

If its important enough to keep this life alive by overriding someones fundamental rights, its important enough that we all do it in situations that it can keep someone who we aren't morally responsible for alive.

Moral equality requires we all bare this burden to save lives otherwise the rape victim doesn't have the same moral consideration that we do.

The foetus is being treated in the same way we are, we cannot force someone to allow use of their body against their will. It is just due to circumstance that it leads to their death.