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Life Lessons With Josh


“One of the most common questions I get about being pro-life is ‘But what if the mother was raped?’ I stand for all life, even life that was created through rape or any other difficult situation. How can I explain that to a pro-choicer in such a way that I don’t come across as callous or uncaring about the mother’s situation?”

Sincerely, Troubled in Tuscaloosa


I love the way this question is worded. You clearly desire to show that you don’t only care about the child, but that you rightly care for the survivor of rape as well. Many pro-life people don’t communicate that very well when they talk about rape. They come across as if they have something we call “Fetus Tunnel Vision.”

I think rape is the most common example of this. Immediately we say, “The child’s right to life shouldn’t be dependent on how it was conceived!” I agree with that, but who does this skip? The mother.

As my friend Steve Wagner from Justice For All says, “When a pro-choice person brings up the issue of rape, they’re not terribly concerned at that point if the unborn is human. They want to find out whether you’re human.” Can you comprehend how horrible rape is? If not, please don’t tell people you’re pro-life. I’ve trained people before who understood the definition of rape, but they don’t understand what rape is. There are other pro-lifers who cannot hear the word “rape” and let themselves acknowledge how horrible rape is because they feel like they’re losing debate points or time. There’s too much of that out there and it’s hurting our movement.

So, here’s what we should do instead. We should first acknowledge the horror of rape. Please hear me. I’m not telling you to fake compassion. Rather, we should clearly express the genuine compassion we have for survivors of rape.

I was talking with a pro-choice woman in the Denver airport once, and it wasn’t long before she asked me, “What about rape?” I took a cue from Steve Wagner and said this:

Rape is one of the worst things that I know about. Thinking about rape makes me feel really sad and really angry at the same time. I have friends who have been through that experience. Rape is horrific, and if she becomes pregnant, she’s probably going to make the most difficult decision of her life.

She has three choices.

She can either do what’s right, which in my mind is carrying the baby to term, which includes nine months of pregnancy and a painful delivery. She can then keep the child which is a very expensive 18-year commitment; she can choose adoption, which I think is a very heroic and selfless act, but it’s also very emotionally painful for most birthmoms; or she’s going to make the wrong decision and hire a doctor to shred the baby to death.

I think the rapist should be punished for all of that. He has committed multiple moral crimes if the survivor becomes pregnant. He’s not only forced himself on her sexually, but he’s also forced her to become a mother. I don’t think we should force women to become mothers.

Now, this is where I stop. You see, there are two challenges in front of me when someone brings up the issue of rape: a relational challenge and an intellectual challenge. We at ERI believe that the most effective response is to first address the relational challenge and to only address the intellectual challenge if the other person brings us there. Some people only need to hear the relational part that day. When we talk to people, we are trying to love them, and loving people well is complicated. Sometimes loving people means making a good argument. Sometimes it means just listening to them.

Sometimes the other person does bring the conversation to the intellectual challenge. “Okay, I get it. You don’t like rape. I appreciate that, I really do. We agree that rape is really horrible and since we agree on that, can’t we agree that at least in the case of rape abortion should be legal because rape is so bad?”

I’ll tell you the response that has worked the best for me. I used it in a public debate with a leader from Georgians for Choice in front of a packed auditorium of pro-choice students. The issue of rape came up a lot, but it was only when I presented the following scenario that I could see light bulbs come on for some of the students. I said:

Let’s imagine that a woman is raped and becomes pregnant, and she decides not to have an abortion. Some people do decide to not have abortions. Not every pregnant rape survivor has an abortion. So she’s one of those who decides not to have an abortion. She gives birth to a baby boy. She is getting therapy, and the rapist’s butt is in jail where it belongs. It’s not easy, but for the sake of the argument, it’s going as well as it could be. She’s on the slow road to healing. And then, her son turns two, and, for the first time, he looks like her rapist. Her son got his looks from his biological dad, and now it’s causing flashbacks every time she sees him, and she’s having nightmares every night because she’s around her son all the time. It gets to the point where it’s really bad and she’s starting to hate her son, to the point where she wants to kill her son.

I asked the audience, “Should she be allowed to kill her son?” Everyone in the audience said, “No.” I said, “Why not?” Somebody said, “That’s different.” And I said, “Why is that different?” And she said, “Because he’s human.” I said, “Precisely! And if the unborn is equally valuable as the toddler, then we shouldn’t kill the unborn to solve an emotionally traumatic event.”

We should surround this woman with love and the kinds of resources she needs. I’m not saying we fix it, but we do the best we can. Basically, we should be willing to do just about anything for this woman except kill someone. I won’t cross that line. It doesn’t mean that I don’t care about her. I want things to be instantly better for her. But if people should be given an equal right to life because of the kind of thing they are, then the most rational conclusion I can come to is that we should not kill young people to help someone else feel better about a horrible situation.

I often summarize this point for the pro-choice person in the following way: “We both agree that rape is an act of violence that was done against an innocent person, the woman. We shouldn’t try to fix the problem by doing another act of violence toward another innocent person, the child.”

Josh Brahm is the president of Equal Rights Institute, an organization dedicated to training pro-life advocates to think clearly, reason honestly, and argue persuasively.


Disclaimer: The views presented in the Rehumanize Blog do not necessarily represent the views of all members, contributors, or donors. We exist to present a forum for discussion within the Consistent Life Ethic, to promote discourse and present an opportunity for peer review and dialogue.

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