After Todd Akin talked about "legitimate rape" and then lost his U.S. Senate campaign in Missouri last year, Marjorie Dannenfelser remarked that Akin "clearly could have used a little bit of debate prep before he made that statement." Dannenfelser heads the Susan B. Anthony List, a pro-life political action committee. She suggested how her group will deal with future candidates who want its support: "... I drill you on all the questions, all the tough things, and then you give it back to me. And then we see if that actually merits endorsement or not, because if you can't handle a rape question after everything that we just went through ... then you're not paying attention and you don't care enough to figure it out."1
Feminists for Life of America has been dealing with rape and abortion for many years. "We will never trade one form of violence for another," says FFLA President Serrín Foster. She champions both the federal Violence Against Women Act and pro-life legislation. She calls abortion "a second act of violence against a woman who is raped," and she quotes a medical student who said her abortion "was worse than the rape." Foster declares: "Both victims-the woman and her child-deserve our unconditional support."2
It seems impossible to avoid some injustice when rape leads to pregnancy. It is unjust that a woman must carry to term a child conceived through rape. It is, though, a greater injustice to kill the child. Yet ethics, law, and reason are not enough to deal with this case. There is a need for wholehearted support and exceptionally good counseling for the mother and eventually for the child. Placing the child for adoption soon after birth is sometimes the best solution. Yet many women in this situation-32 percent of them, according to one study-decide to raise the child by themselves. This may be as many as 8,000 women each year.3 Running through many case studies, though, is a heart-breaking strain of loneliness and lack of support from family or friends. Instead, these women should be recognized as the heroines they are, and their children should be welcomed as the innocents they are.
While there has been real progress in rape prevention in recent years, there is room for improvement there as well. 1 will make suggestions about that in the last section of this article. I write with the conviction that all children, born and unborn, have the right to life and to freedom from assault. And that all women have the same rights.
What Mr. Akin Should Have Said
Pro-lifers must appeal to the kindness, generosity, and courage of women who are pregnant by rape. Whatever the legal status of abortion, these strengths are needed to deal with hard cases in a positive way. Women who have done this provide outstanding examples that others can follow.
Mr. Akin would have done far better had he said something like this: "Let's stop both forms of violence. There is no reason to be defeatist about either one. In fact, there has been a decline in abortion since the 1980s-and a dramatic decline in rape in recent years. Let's learn from those successes and build upon them. Women have led strong anti-rape efforts over the past 40 years. They have prompted legal reforms in the handling of rape cases; educated police, judges, and doctors; and helped women learn self-defense skills. I salute them for that great work and pledge my support for their continued efforts to end rape.
"In the meantime, what should our response be when rape does occur and a child is conceived through it? Here, I believe we can learn from the experience of women who have carried such children to term and either brought them up themselves or released them for adoption. And we can learn from the children of rape, who speak out in increasing numbers, saying they are glad they weren't made to pay for their fathers' crimes. They believe that, like the rest of us, they have a right to be here. I urge all citizens-whatever their views on the legal status of abortion-to listen to these mothers and their children. …