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No Exceptions: The Case for a Consistent Pro-Life Ethic

No Exceptions: The Case for a Consistent Pro-Life Ethic


Sep 12 2012
Is unborn life not worth protecting in cases of rape and incest?

The trouble with "exceptions" on abortion—whether one is pro-life "with exceptions" or pro-choice "with exceptions"—is that exceptions make doling out abortions seem as capricious as Seinfeld's Soup Nazi: "No abortion for you. Next!"

With the recent blunder of a pro-life politician hedging on the rape and abortion question, the "hard cases" in the abortion debate have gotten the pro-life movement in trouble again.

While well-intended (and politically prudent), the attempt to demonstrate compassion in cases of rape and incest by taking a "pro-life with exceptions" position commits the fatal errors of ignorance and inconsistency.

Consider the mental gymnastics exercised by pro-lifers uncomfortable with prohibiting abortion in cases of rape and incest: on one hand, you have those who make exceptions in such cases (thereby putting the lie to the sanctity of life claim); on the other you have those who try to make the case that pregnancies don't even occur in such cases, not the "legitimate" ones, anyway. (Note: Medically necessary abortions done to save the life of the mother are not in the same category as "elective abortions," which were made constitutional by Roe v. Wade and now constitute the vast majority of abortions.) Whether the "exception" is a victim of rape or incest, pregnant with a child who has an abnormality, or simply not too far along to trouble the pro-choice conscience, the result is essentially the same: a choice permitted by virtue of an arbitrary line rather than a clear, consistent principle, a la the capricious Soup Nazi. Once begun, such parsing—of abortion, of human life—can go on ad infinitum.

Such capriciousness, even if motivated by compassion, is inherently cruel. It generates an air of judgmentalism in deeming some situations appropriate for abortion (rape or incest) and some not (consensual sex). The implied judgment spills over like boiling soup onto all cases, even the "exceptional" ones. When even more parsing occurs to determine which cases of rape are "legitimate" and which are not, justifiable outrage only grows.

Indeed, pro-choice advocates have long charged that opposing abortion is rooted more in punishing women for sexual behavior deemed immoral than in protecting human life. It's hard to argue otherwise when some claim to be pro-life but favor exceptions based not on the sanctity of life but on the sexual situation surrounding the pregnancy. Such positions, ironically, are based on choice—namely, the role that choice plays in the circumstances leading to the pregnancy.

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No Exceptions: The Case for a Consistent Pro-Life Ethic