I assume by now that most readers are aware of the controversy regarding comments by candidate Richard Mourdock, who is running for Senate, regarding rape not being an exception for abortion. In a recent debate, when asked about the issue, he responded:

This is that issue that every candidate for federal, or even state, office faces, and I too stand for life. I know there are some who disagree and I respect their point of view and I believe that life begins at conception. The only exception I have [for abortion] is in that case [where] the life of the mother [is threatened]. I struggled with it for a long time, but I came to realize that life is a gift from God. And I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape that it is something that God intended to happen.

President Obama, through a spokesperson, “felt those comments were outrageous and demeaning to women.”

There are many angles to this story, including media ignorance, media malfeasance, political clumsiness, bioethics, and Christian witness.

Many members of the media pounced on the story, reporting that Mr. Murdock said that rapes were intended by God. Al Mohler has an important commentary on this today. He writes:

The controversy over his statements reveals the irresponsibility of so many in the media and the political arena. The characterizations and willful distortions of Mourdock’s words amount to nothing less than lies.

A couple of liberal writers have recognized the same. See, for example, Kevin Drum’s “Richard Mourdock Gets in Trouble for His Extremely Conventional Religious Beliefs” and Amy Sullivan’s “Why Liberals Are Misreading Mourdock.”

But most seemed to be twisting the candidate’s words and also baffled by the worldview. Get Religion‘s Mollie Hemingway offered some advice to fellow journalists:

If you do these two things — bone up on just the very lowest level basics of Christian teaching on theodicy and meet a pro-lifer and find out what they really think — you might not lead your newscasts with a mangling of the news that some pro-lifers really believe (gasp!) that the circumstances of your conception and birth do not determine your worth and that every single child in the world is created and loved by God. You might learn about this newfangled ancient teaching that God causes good to result from evil.

But Mohler does not think the media, while certainly culpable, is entirely to blame:

At the same time, Mr. Mourdock is responsible for giving the media and his political enemies the very ammunition for their distortions. . . . The debate question did not force Mourdock to garble his argument. The cause of defending the unborn is harmed when the argument for that defense is expressed badly and recklessly, and Mourdock’s answer was both reckless and catastrophically incomplete.

Mohler is right: we must speak with precision, clarity, and compassion on this issue. We must put the question in perspective:

Any reference to rape must start with a clear affirmation of the horrifying evil of rape and an equal affirmation of concern for any woman or girl victimized by a rapist. At this point, the defender of the unborn should point to the fact that every single human life is sacred at every point of its development and without regard to the context of that life’s conception. No one would deny that this is true of a six-year-old child conceived in the horror of a rape. Those who defend the unborn know that it was equally true when that child was in the womb.

Mohler also looks at the broader issue of exceptions:

One truth must be transparently clear — a consistent defense of all human life means that there is no acceptable exception that would allow an intentional abortion. If every life is sacred, there is no exception.

The three exceptions most often proposed call for abortion to be allowed only in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother. These are the exceptions currently affirmed by Mitt Romney in his presidential campaign. What should we think of these?

Mohler gives his answer:

First, when speaking of saving the life of the mother, we should be clear that the abortion of her unborn child cannot be the intentional result. There can be no active intention to kill the baby. This does not mean that a mother might, in very rare and always tragic circumstances, require a medical procedure or treatment to save her life that would, as a secondary effect, terminate the life of her unborn child. This is clearly established in moral theory, and we must be thankful that such cases are very rare.

Next, when speaking of cases involving rape and incest, we must affirm the sinful tragedy of such acts and sympathize without reservation with the victims. We must then make the argument that the unborn child that has resulted from such a heinous act should not be added to the list of victims. That child possesses no less dignity than a child conceived in any other context.

What does this look like practically, in everyday conversations?

Scott Klusendorf points out that there are two types of people who ask about rape and abortion: the learner and the crusader. It’s helpful to know who you are dealing with. ” The learner is genuinely trying to work through the issue and resolve it rationally. The crusader just wants to make you, the pro-lifer, look bad.” In both cases, Klusendorf points out, “it’s our job to demonstrate wisdom and sensitivity.”

So when someone says that a child conceived by rape will remind the woman of this heinous crime forever, Klusendorf responds:

That’s an important question and you are absolutely right: She may indeed suffer painful memories when she looks at the child and it’s foolish to think she never will. I don’t understand people who say that if she’ll just give birth, everything will be okay.  That’s easy for them to say. They should try looking at it from her perspective before saying that.  Even if her attacker is punished to the fullest extent of the law—which he should be—her road to recovery will be tough.

He then delicately and gently asks one primary follow-up question:

Given we both agree the child may provoke unpleasant memories, how do you think a civil society should treat innocent human beings that remind us of a painful event? . . .  Is it okay to kill them so we can feel better?

In the course of the conversation, he is trying to get them to see the following:

If the unborn are human, killing them so others can feel better is wrong. Hardship doesn’t justify homicide.

Admittedly, I don’t like the way my answer feels because I know the mother may suffer consequences for doing the right thing. But sometimes the right thing to do isn’t the easy thing to do.

Here are two thought experiments that might help:

Suppose I have a two-year-old up here with me.  His father is a rapist and his mother is on anti-depressant drugs. At least once a day, the sight of the child sends her back into depression. Would it be okay to kill the toddler if doing so makes the mother feel better?

And:

Suppose I’m an American commander in Iraq and terrorists capture my unit.  My captors inform me that in 10 minutes, they’ll begin torturing me and my men to get intelligence information out of us. However, they are willing to make me an offer.  If I will help them torture and interrogate my own men, they won’t torture and interrogate me.  I’ll get by with no pain. Can I take that deal? There’s no way. I’ll suffer evil rather than inflict it.

Again, I don’t like how the answer feels, but it’s the right one. Thankfully, the woman who is raped does not need to suffer alone. Pro-life crisis pregnancy centers are standing by to help get her through this. We should help, too.

Back to how politicians should answer this. Here is Doug Wilson’s suggestion to pro-life candidates:

When a rape results in a pregnancy, this means that we are now dealing with three people instead of two. Two of those three are innocent, and one of them is guilty. Take a case of violent rape. The pro-choice ghouls want to do two things—first, they want to go easy on the guilty one, refusing to execute him, while executing one of the innocent parties for something his father did, and secondly, they want to make out anyone who objects to this arrangement as the callused one.

In the future (as if any of these guys are taking my counsel), pro-life candidates for office need to answer the question in this way: “That is an excellent question, but we have to settle certain things first before we answer it. When a rape results in a pregnancy, are we dealing with three people or two?” And then he should refuse to answer the question until the reporter tells him “three or two,” along with the reasons why. This is how the Lord handled this sort of question.

See also Trevin Wax’s post on what pro-life politicians should say about abortion and rape (as well as his post on the 10 questions you never hear a pro-abortion-rights candidate asked).

But the foregoing doesn’t answer the question about legislation and how to think about these issues in light of our current cultural and political context. It’s here where Mohler’s perspective could get more controversial, especially for those who do not recognize the role of prudence in cultural change and the reality of governance:

We must contend for the full dignity and humanity of every single human life at every point of development and life from conception until natural death, and we cannot rest from this cause so long as the threat to the dignity and sanctity of any life remains.

In the meantime, we are informed by the fact that, as the Gallup organization affirmed just months ago, the vast majority of Americans are willing to support increased restrictions on abortion so long as those exceptions are allowed. We should gladly accept and eagerly support such laws and the candidates who support them, knowing that such a law would save the life of over a million unborn children in the nation each year.

Can we be satisfied with such a law? Of course not, and we cannot be disingenuous in our public statements. But we can eagerly support a law that would save the vast majority of unborn children now threatened by abortion, even as we seek to convince our fellow Americans that this is not enough.

We must argue for the dignity, humanity, and right to life of every unborn child, regardless of the context of its conception, but we must argue well and make our arguments carefully. The use and deliberate abuse of Richard Mourdock’s comments should underline the risk of falling short in that task.

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67 thoughts on “Exceptions for Abortion?”

  1. Doc B says:

    “President Obama, through a spokesperson, “felt those comments were outrageous and demeaning to women.”

    Which women, the pregnant ones or the unborn ones?

  2. JR says:

    JT, this is a very well stated post that I thank you for greatly.

    One element that is missing, however, is the additional burden that is required of the woman.

    By legally requiring her to give birth to the child, you are now placing her in a position of not having rights to her own person. If she becomes pregnant willingly by consentual act, then her consequences are her own to bear.

    However, when this requirement is thrust upon her against her own will, the dimensions of the situation are great changed (regardless of the heinousness of the force act of rape itself).

    You mentioned a situation where soldiers are taken as POWs, which is a valid illustration in regard to part of this issue, but which ignores this other element, that continues to be overlooked.

    Here is a better illustration:
    A famous musician is diagnosed with a rare disease that will cause all of his organs to stop functioning and he will die within the next few days, and the only cure for him is to be joined entirely to the body of someone whose organs, blood and body functions are perfectly matched to his for a full nine months.

    His doctor indicates that there is only one person who fits all criteria, but he’s certain that the likelyhood of getting someone to submit to this huge sacrifice is small. Therefore, the doctor kidnaps and drugs the subject and while she is incapacitated, he performs invasive surgery, connecting all the famous musican to her and thus setting the condition whereby he is completely dependent on this one woman in order to live.

    The woman wakes up and finds this man connected to her against her will and the hospital officials tell her that by law she MUST stay connected to him for a full nine months. She feels great compassion toward the man, but not only has she has been violated – sin against – etc, and as most people would rightly argue her constitutional rights have been violated by such a law that would require her to comply with such a demand.

    So, to restate my position, as posted in TGC blog, this difficult issue ought to remain in the arena of Christian conscience. 1 – I do not see a command in scripture that requires it and 2 – a legal requirement for a woman to make this decision goes beyond what is ethically right to impose on another.

    Thanks.

    1. steve hays says:

      Of course, you’re pirating the infamous thought-experiment by Judith Jarvis Thomson. Two quick observations:

      i) The comparison is fatally equivocal. The relationship of a child to her mother is not analogous to the relationship of a woman to a complete stranger. Parents have an obligation to protect and provide for their own children, even if that means the parent is putting himself/herself at risk. Likewise, grown children have an obligation to protect and provide for elderly parents. Big brothers have an obligation to protect kid brothers.

      ii) There’s also such a thing as secondary moral obligations (as Jeremy Pierce puts it). Take the case of a founding. A poor mother who can’t provide for her newborn places the baby on the doorstep of a neighbor.

      The neighbor didn’t ask for the child. But the neighbor has been put in a position where he now has a duty to care for the child, even though he didn’t volunteer for that job.

      1. JR says:

        fatally equivocal?? haha. Or we being just a tab bit melodramatic, eh?
        What relationship does the “mother” of the unborn child have with the baby in the womb? Especially in the early days of pregancy? None. And why would you assume that she couldn’t develop a caring and nurturing relationship with man also? The illustration doesn’t have to be perfectly analogous to make the point. An honest person would at least admit the point that has been made, which is that the legal requirement to force the woman to carry the baby is not firmly supportable. Pebble in the shoe. Let’s be honest.

        As far as Jeremy Pierce’s argument regarding secondary moral obligations, certain those issue come into play here, but again, at the end of the day, what we’re dealing with is what is the neighbor’s LEGAL requirement in dealing with the baby left to their care?

        The thing that we cannot get away from is the fact that the extreme position that doesn’t allow for exceptions requires us to make matters of conscience a legally binding requirement. When liberals do it on social issues, we’re the ones who are outraged. But for some reason when we do it with our own convictions (as wonderful as they may be), we’re blind to our own self-righteousness.

        Here’s a key point:
        At the end of the day, only the Christian worldview would compell someone to act in the way we are trying to mandate for all people. Very different from natural law issues, which are obvious to all regardless of whether they have a Christian basis or not. (Of course, that sort of two kingdom thinking, which I know some people here don’t really buy into.)

        1. steve hays says:

          JR

          “Fatally equivocal?? Haha.”

          Haha? You think aborting babies is amusing?

          “ Or we being just a tab bit melodramatic, eh?”

          No, I’m being accurate. A virtue it would behoove you to emulate.

          “What relationship does the ‘mother’ of the unborn child have with the baby in the womb?”

          Why do you put “mother” in scare quotes? A pregnant woman is a mother. Don’t you know that? It’s pretty elementary.

          “Especially in the early days of pregancy? None.”

          To the contrary, she has a maternal relationship. She’s the mother of the child. That’s a pretty fundamental relationship.

          “And why would you assume that she couldn’t develop a caring and nurturing relationship with man also?”

          Irrelevant. Duties don’t presuppose a caring, nurturing relationship. If a father abandons his kids, he’s still related to his kids. They are his kids. He is their father. Even if he’s indifferent to their welfare, he retains paternal duties to them.

          It’s not a caring relationship that creates the duty; rather, it’s the duty that obligates a caring relationship.

          And this isn’t a question of “developing” a relationship. The mother/child relationship is inbuilt, just like the father/child relationship.

          “The illustration doesn’t have to be perfectly analogous to make the point.”

          The analogy breaks down at the essential point of comparison. We don’t have the same obligation to strangers that we do to our children.

          To take another comparison, a husband has a duty to protect his wife, even if he must risk his own life to protect hers. He doesn’t have the same duty with respect to a perfect stranger.

          “An honest person would at least admit the point that has been made, which is that the legal requirement to force the woman to carry the baby is not firmly supportable.”

          You’re lapsing back into the euphemism of a “woman.” But we’re not talking about women in general. Rather, we’re talking about a “mother,” and her maternal responsibilities to her baby.

          Every mother is a woman, but every woman is not a mother. You keep disregarding fundamental human distinctions and moral distinctions.

          And, yes, the law can properly require parents to care for their children. That’s hardly extreme. If a father abandons his kids, the law can “force” him to pay child support.

          “As far as Jeremy Pierce’s argument regarding secondary moral obligations, certain those issue come into play here, but again, at the end of the day, what we’re dealing with is what is the neighbor’s LEGAL requirement in dealing with the baby left to their care?”

          Are you now admitting there’s a moral obligation, but drawing the line at a legal obligation?

          And why not make that a legal requirement? If the neighbor knows there’s a newborn on his doorstep, but leaves it there to die of exposure, then he ought to be criminally liable.

          “The thing that we cannot get away from is the fact that the extreme position that doesn’t allow for exceptions requires us to make matters of conscience a legally binding requirement.”

          Calling it “extreme” doesn’t make it extreme. And even if it were “extreme,” that doesn’t make it wrong. Even atheists like the philosopher Keith Burgess-Jackson think the rape exception is illogical. What you call “extreme” is simply a consistent position.

          “When liberals do it on social issues, we’re the ones who are outraged. But for some reason when we do it with our own convictions (as wonderful as they may be), we’re blind to our own self-righteousness.”

          That’s not because liberals are “extreme” on social issues, but because they are simply wrong.

          Moreover, you keep appealing to “conscience.” Well, that’s a just euphemism for your moral blindness, which you then baptize with a nice-sounding label like “conscience.”

          “Here’s a key point: At the end of the day, only the Christian worldview would compell someone to act in the way we are trying to mandate for all people.”

          Parents can rightly be mandated to care for their children, just as grown children can rightly be mandated to care for their elderly parents.

          “Very different from natural law issues, which are obvious to all regardless of whether they have a Christian basis or not.”

          Universal recognition isn’t a presupposition of natural law. That disregards the degree to which people like you can be morally warped.

          1. JR says:

            “the degree to which people like you can be morally warped”?
            Wow.
            Really?
            Good bye, Steve Hays. Have a good life.

            1. steve hays says:

              Pity you deny the unborn the right to a good life.

              1. Lou G says:

                Finally,
                Steve, JR stated that he is pro-life. And he stated that he wanted to have a discussion with other Evangelicals that went deeper than what is typical, and in the process he said he was open to being convinced otherwise. Calling him Jack Kevorkian and morally corrupt and all the other slanders you’ve given is not helpful. I don’t think he’ll waste his time with you anymore. I don’t think I will either. Peace.

    2. steve hays says:

      To take another comparison, suppose I move into a dumpy apartment complex. The neighborhood is a slum, but that’s all I can afford for now.

      After a few weeks there I discover that the tenant in the apartment next door to mine is an elderly woman who’s grown children abandoned her after she become too much of a chore for them to deal with. She’s too infirm to walk any distance, her car was stolen, and she really can’t afford to go shopping.

      So I begin having her over to my apartment for lunch or dinner. And I drive her to medical appointments. Mind you, it was hard for me to make ends meet even before I met her. Feeding her further complicates my financial struggles. And driving her to medical appointments is terribly inconvenient. Besides, she’s not even related to me.

      So what do you think I should do in that situation? Let her waste away in her apartment?

      1. Lou says:

        What you “should” do and what you are legally “required” to do are two entirely different questions. Ought vs. Must is the critical point.

        1. steve hays says:

          And I’m arguing from the lesser to the greater. If that’s what I should do for a neighbor, then there are things I must do for my child.

          1. Lou G says:

            Sorry, should doesn’t automatically turn into must, just because the stakes are higher. That’s an ineffective argument from lesser to greater that results in a logical fallacy.

            I like what Mohler said in the last paragraph of the article. That’s where I’m at. Peace.

            1. steve hays says:

              There’s nothing inherently fallacious about a lesser-to-greater argument. And, yes, sometimes higher stakes do convert should into must.

              For instance, you don’t think the state should require a father who abandons his kids to support them financially?

      2. steve hays says:

        Lou G
        October 26, 2012 at 10:48 pm

        “Steve, JR stated that he is pro-life.”

        And he’s also branded consistent prolifers as extremists. That tells you where he really stands.

        “And he stated that he wanted to have a discussion with other Evangelicals that went deeper than what is typical, and in the process he said he was open to being convinced otherwise.”

        No, he wants to talk us out of our position.

        “Calling him Jack Kevorkian…”

        How people deal with comparisons is always a good test of their intellectual seriousness, or lack thereof. You flunk.

        He said “Would you please understand that not everyone is seeing the issues exactly as you have seen it?”

        I cited a couple of obvious counterexamples. That’s the level at which the comparison operates.

        “I don’t think he’ll waste his time with you anymore. I don’t think I will either.”

        You’re blind to (and blinded by) your own bias. You’re hardly an even-handed broker in this debate. You defend him because you sympathize with his position.

  3. AJG says:

    Honest question. Why would a Calvinist find anything to disgree with in Mourdock’s statement? If God controls every particle of dust in the universe (as Piper has stated he believes), then why isn’t the rape of a woman what God intended to happen? It seems like a perfectly reasonable description of the Calvinist stance to me. It’s not just that God intended for good to come from an evil act, but that God ordainded that the evil act should take place. That’s what the media is reacting to. It seems that Calvinists are shying away or distancing themselves from the logical conclusions of their theology.

      1. AJG says:

        That’s not really a good answer at all. So is Piper a “Hyper-Calvinist”? I would guess so because he believes in double predestination. If God controls all of our actions for His glory, then did He control the rapist for His glory too? Piper himself has said that it is perfectly good for God to kill women and children whenever He feels like it. He also stated that it’s good for God to order someone else to kill women and children. If that’s the case, then why isn’t it perfectly good for God to ordain a man to rape a woman or a father to rape his own daughter?

        1. steve hays says:

          In other words, you weren’t asking a honest question. You’re just an Arminian troll. You were actually posing a dishonest question as a pretext to launch into a simplistic attack on John Piper.

          Jeremy Pierce is a Reformed philosopher. Instead of dealing with his response, you change the subject.

          BTW, double predestination isn’t hyper-Calvinism. Limited atonement isn’t hyper-Calvinism. You’re inventing an idiosyncratic definition to trade on the negative connotations of “hyper-Calvinism.

    1. AJG says:

      BTW, I think so-called Hyper-Calvinists are the only honest Calvinists, so I don’t see a need to make a distinction between them. Limited Atonement and Double Predestiniation follow logically from the entire theological argument. Those who deny LA or DP are either not really Calvinists or are not being honest. As much as I find Piper’s theology abhorent, I have a strange respect for him in being honest and forthright about what he professes. I think Mourdock was caught in a moment of extreme honesty and is backpedaling instead of facing up.

      1. steve hays says:

        You’re derailing a defense of the unborn so that you can attack Calvinism. Why do you hate Calvinism more than you love the unborn? If Justin Taylor does a post dismantling the rape exception, shouldn’t you defend his post rather than using his post as an excuse to attack Calvinism? At that point this becomes just another debate over Calvinism rather than a defense of the unborn. Where are your priorities? Are you even a Christian? Why can’t you take time out from the Calvinist/Arminian debate to support Justin’s post?

        1. AJG says:

          I’m asking those who adhere to the idea that God ordains and controls everything to state why they have a problem with Mourdock’s statement. Al Mohler seems to think he spoke unwisely which allowed the media to run with a caricature of God. Does God ordain rape or not? Does God control every particle in the universe or not? If yes, then what’s the problem with Mourdock’s statement?

          1. steve hays says:

            You were already given an answer. You’re ignoring the distinctions drawn by Jeremy Pierce. You pretended to be asking an “honest question,” but when you’re given a honest answer, you steadfastly refuse to make a good faith effort to interact with the details of the answer.

            You’re conducting yourself in a morally reprehensible fashion.

          2. AJG says:

            BTW, I don’t feel the need to attack Calvinism. More learned men than me have done a far better job of dismantling it than I could ever hope to on this humble blog. Either you believe that God knows and ordains and controls all that is, was and ever will be or you do not. Al Mohler does so he should not express displeasure when someone like Mourdock speaks openly to the public about those beliefs. I’m all for speaking the truth about what you believe instead of controlling the flow of ideas in the public sphere.

            1. steve hays says:

              “BTW, I don’t feel the need to attack Calvinism.”

              That’s further dissimulation on your part. You’re blatantly using your disingenuous question as a pretext to attack Calvinism.

              Why can’t you take a little break from your myopic obsession with Calvinism just long enough to stick up for the right of unborn babies not to be murdered in the womb? Is that really asking too much? Why are you morally impervious to that elementary concern?

              1. Brad says:

                Steve, that wasn’t really an argument just an ad hom attack – and a bad one at that…

    2. David Zook says:

      Great question AJG. I hope my response is helpful. As I read the Scripture I have yet to find God ordaining (decreeing) a heinous evil, or any evil for that matter. That would pervert his goodness and justice … and he would no longer be God.

      Rather, I see God permitting evil to occur (if he didn’t none of us would be here) to work toward good for his purposes. Outside of the Passion, the story of Joseph may be the clearest story that illustrates this point. This is his story of redemption.

      1. steve hays says:

        People have habit of not finding what they’re avoiding. It’s easy to overlook something you weren’t looking for. Funny how that works. Like a burglar who can’t find a policeman.

        1. AJG says:

          So you do not believe that God pre-ordains all that is to come to pass, including evil? Why don’t you answer the question instead of calling me an Arminian troll (something which I absolutely am not). I only demand that people are honest about what they profess to believe, and I really don’t see why the Calvinists are attacking Mourdock for speaking the things that they profess to believe.

          1. steve hays says:

            You are feigning honesty, but your modus operandi is dishonest. If your question was actually sincere, you’d acknowledge and address the distinctions given by Jeremy Pierce. He’s a Calvinist. He’s dealing with the very issue at hand.

            This post is not about Calvinism. This post is about protecting the life of babies conceived in rape. But you can’t bring yourself to defend the right of the unborn. That’s not important to you. The only thing you care about is changing the subject so that you can turn this into yet another debate over Calvinism. What does that say about your moral priorities?

      2. MichaelS says:

        David, I must kindly and respectfully disagree. God is not the author of sin in that He does not cause them to do evil. But He is both all-knowing and all-powerful, therefore, all things that come to pass we certainly decreed.

        God did not cause Joseph’s brothers to throw him in the pit, but He certainly decreed it. He did not cause Potiphar’s wife to lie, but He did decree it. Everything that happened to Joseph, or to Christ, or to me and you is decreed by God as part of His good and perfect will.

        1. AJG says:

          “God did not cause Joseph’s brothers to throw him in the pit, but He certainly decreed it.”

          I don’t understand the distinction at all. If God decreed and pre-ordained it, how can man do anything else but what God has pre-ordained?

          1. Abby says:

            You guys are kidding me. I can’t believe you are ignoring the real issue and arguing this.

      3. steve hays says:

        Brad,

        Your comment wasn’t really an argument, just an ad hom attack – and a bad one at that…

  4. Angela says:

    I liked the last few paragraphs by Mohler. Lately I have been haunted by the idea of how many babies have died by our unwillingness to “compromise.” If I saw three babies lying in front of a moving vehicle, would I snatch away the ones I could, or would I walk away because I couldn’t save them all?

    1. JR says:

      Angela, that’s an excellent point! I sure hope that our culture warriors will consider Dr. Mohler’s wisdom to consider compromise for the sake the unborn, rather than insisting on an all or nothing strategy. Thanks for your example

      1. steve hays says:

        No, that muddies the waters. There’s a basic moral difference between not attempting to outlaw abortion in case of rape because you couldn’t succeed even if you tried, and not attempting to outlaw abortion in case of rape even if you could succeed because you don’t think abortion in case of rape is wrong. JR is dissembling.

        1. Lou G says:

          Please see a shrink.

  5. Jon says:

    Thanks for this lengthy post and links. This is extremely helpful in thinking this issue through and assisting others by asking thoughtful and compassionate questions.

  6. S says:

    Thank you for this wonderful post. We need to be grace filled in how we speak and ever wise.

  7. Norma says:

    I don’t see that there is ever any reason to kill an unborn child. Two wrongs do not a right make.

  8. NnNn says:

    Can somebody please delete all the argumentation about calvinism so that I can feel comfortable sharing this excellent article with others? Aside from the fact that it distracts from the actual topic, it isn’t even being done in a gracious way.

  9. Dane says:

    Very clarifying, thanks for pulling all this together Justin.

  10. Booth Muller says:

    I read Dr. Mohler’s comments. I agree with him that Mourdoch’s failure to adequately and accurately explain his position on rape was extremely lamentable.

    I appreciated his discussion of the three commonly accepted exceptions to a prohibition on abortion — rape, incest and life of the mother.

    I’m interested in learning more about his views regarding abortion after rape. In his article he did not address one of the arguments in favor of making rape an exception to a theoretical legal ban on abortions. That argument is that the rape victim is the unwilling carrier of this embryonic human, that the embryo was thrust upon her, installed in her womb without her consent and against her will. Is it just to require her to provide nine months of sustenance to a person whose very existence she finds distasteful, perhaps even revolting or horrifying?

    Now, in the absence of rape, I think there can be no legitimate legal or moral problem with requiring a mother to carry her infant to term when the pregnancy resulted from her voluntary act, even if the pregnancy was unintended and unwanted by her. (Even “pro choice” liberals have no problem with requiring the father to provide support to the infant after its birth and for the next 18 years, even if the pregnancy was unintended and unwanted by him.)

    But in the case of rape? Pregnancy is costly to the mother, both emotionally and physically. Ordinarily we do not legally require people to provide sustenance for other people when it’s against their will (except in the cases of a few specific family relationships, which relationships were generally entered into voluntarily).

    Admittedly, pregnancy is substantially different from other situations or relationships in which we say that one person should not be forced to provide sustenance to another person, because no other person can possibly take over and provide sustenance to an embryonic infant. There’s no such thing as prenatal adoption, so an abortion necessarily ends the life of the unborn child. Nevertheless, given the argument that the mother had no choice, might it not be possible for a sincere Christian to take the position that abortion may be morally acceptable in the case of rape?

    Even if we do not agree that it’s morally acceptable, I submit that it’s foolish to think abortion will ever be legally unacceptable after a rape. And I think Christians should reconcile ourselves to that. There are, after all, many morally unacceptable things that we would not even want to be legally prohibited — e.g. coveting our neighbor’s goods, or taking the Lord’s name in vain. I believe we Christians should not even try to ban abortion in the case of rape, though we should reserve our right to try to persuade the victim/mother not to abort the child.

    1. Booth Muller says:

      Okay, folks, I ‘posted’ my comment before I had read the string of other comments. Never mind. Please don’t let this reignite an exchange involving regrettable amounts of contumely.

    2. steve hays says:

      Booth Muller

      “Even if we do not agree that it’s morally acceptable, I submit that it’s foolish to think abortion will ever be legally unacceptable after a rape. And I think Christians should reconcile ourselves to that. There are, after all, many morally unacceptable things that we would not even want to be legally prohibited — e.g. coveting our neighbor’s goods, or taking the Lord’s name in vain. I believe we Christians should not even try to ban abortion in the case of rape, though we should reserve our right to try to persuade the victim/mother not to abort the child.”

      Several things wrong with that objection:

      i) You’re conflating two different issues: (a) We shouldn’t try to ban abortion in case of rape because that’s politically unrealistic; (b) We shouldn’t try to ban abortion in case of rape because there ought to be a rape exception. Whether or not it’s politically realistic is a separate issue from whether it’s right or wrong.

      ii) Even if it the attempt to ban abortion in that situation couldn’t succeed politically, that might still be a worthwhile effort if it was a teaching moment. If the attempt to ban abortion in that situation gave prolifers a public platform to explain the ethical issues surrounding abortion in general, then that might be productive. If the prolife case is never made, people never hear the supporting arguments. Never fighting for the cause becomes a self-defeating exercise. You can’t persuade people if you fail to engage the argument in the first place.

      iii) Even if it’s politically unrealistic to ban it at a national level, that doesn’t mean it’s politically unrealistic to ban in at a local level. For some states are more socially conservative than others.

    3. steve hays says:

      No doubt that’s a hardship on the mother. No doubt that’s unfair to the mother.

      However, the acid test of morality is doing the right thing even when it hurts.

      Suppose I have a special-needs brother. Maybe he’s autistic. He’s a danger to himself. He requires supervision. He will never be able to live on his own.

      Maybe our parents care for my autistic brother for as long as they can. But unless he accidentally kills himself, he is likely to outlive our parents. Moreover, long before they die, they may become too enfeebled by the infirmities of old age to look after him.

      At that point it falls to me. I didn’t ask for that. I didn’t sign up for that. But it’s my fraternal duty to look out for my autistic brother, even though that’s a tremendous imposition on me.

      And there’s no reason why that shouldn’t be a legal requirement as well. Why should I be allowed to desert him, and leave it up to strangers to care for him?

      1. Brad says:

        Steve have you adopted the child of a rape victim? If not, why not, since you say the “acid test of morality is doing the right thing even when it hurts.” Well?

        1. steve hays says:

          Brad,

          i) What makes you think adoption agencies classify children put up for adoption according to how they were conceived? What makes you think they’d even by privy to that information–unless the mother happened to volunteer that detail?

          ii) For all you know, I already have a prior obligation that precludes me from adopting a child. There’s more than one way of doing the right thing even when it hurts. Everyone isn’t in the same situation.

          Don’t raise objections unless you have a serious objection.

    4. steve hays says:

      Let’s take another hypothetical. Suppose I go on a charter fishing trip with three other tourists. While we’re out at sea we’re overtaken by a terrible squall. Our fishing boat is blown off course and capsizes. Only two passengers (including me) make it to the lifeboat. The captain and the other two passengers drown.

      The rations of food and water on the lifeboat are in short supply. It would up my chances of survival if I pushed my fellow passenger overboard while he slept.

      I didn’t ask for this predicament. And I barely know my fellow passenger. We just met a few hours ago.

      Do I have a responsibility for his welfare, even if it puts my own survival at greater risk?

      Suppose he’s injured. He needs me to hold the canteen and pour what little fresh water we have into his mouth. What if I just let him die? The rations will go twice as far with half the passengers. I didn’t create this situation.

    5. steve hays says:

      Booth Muller

      “Is it just to require her to provide nine months of sustenance to a person whose very existence she finds distasteful, perhaps even revolting or horrifying?”

      Suppose I’m the parent of a student who was killed in the Columbine massacre. Never a day goes by that I don’t think about my dead child. Never a day goes by that I don’t miss my dead child.

      However, there are times when I can put it in the back of my mind. When there are other things I think about.

      Suppose, every now and then, when I go shopping, I bump into the parents of Eric Harris or Dylan Klebod. The moment I see their parents, that brings everything back. Suddenly I’m reliving that horrible day. I can’t look at their parents without remembering what happened to my child. The grief I managed to suppress instantly rises to the surface.

      Does the fact that they remind me of a horrifying experience mean they ought to be executed to spare my feelings?

    6. steve hays says:

      Booth Muller

      “But in the case of rape? Pregnancy is costly to the mother, both emotionally and physically.”

      True. What about caring for an elderly parent who’s becoming senile? That’s emotionally and physically exhausting, too. And the grown child didn’t choose to be put in that situation.

      So would it be okay to euthanize your mother or father under those circumstances? Or do you have a filial duty to them no matter what?

  11. steve hays says:

    Booth Muller

    “Even if we do not agree that it’s morally acceptable, I submit that it’s foolish to think abortion will ever be legally unacceptable after a rape. And I think Christians should reconcile ourselves to that. There are, after all, many morally unacceptable things that we would not even want to be legally prohibited — e.g. coveting our neighbor’s goods, or taking the Lord’s name in vain. I believe we Christians should not even try to ban abortion in the case of rape, though we should reserve our right to try to persuade the victim/mother not to abort the child.”

    Even if prolifers will never succeed in banning abortion in case of rape, we also can’t dodge the issue. We can’t get away with not making a case for our position, even if that’s hypothetical.

    And that’s because abortion proponents won’t let us remain silent on this issue. Because the issue is so emotionally charged, they use abortion in case of rape as a wedge issue. They taunt prolifers with that scenario. They exploit that issue to make us back down. “Well, if you do make an exception in the case of rape, then where do you draw the line?”

    So this debate is unavoidable.

  12. steve hays says:

    Booth Muller

    “But in the case of rape? Pregnancy is costly to the mother, both emotionally and physically.”

    We should be extremely sympathetic to the plight of the rape victim. We should be as understanding as possible (our understanding is necessarily limited when it didn’t happen to us).

    However, there’s a danger of patronizing women. Acting as though women are too emotionally fragile to cope with traumatic situations. That’s a popular stereotype which many women understandably resent. Are we holding women to a lower standard than men?

    I knew a man whose wife developed mental illness. For a time, she was institutionalized. That was too much for him to deal with. He couldn’t cope. So he left her for another woman. While she was in the asylum, he divorced her and remarried.

    His first wife later recovered, no thanks to him.

    Now, he was in a tough situation. He didn’t have a functioning marriage. No doubt it was painful to see his wife in that condition. To compare her with what she had been, before mental illness overtook her.

    Still, I suspect most of us have contempt for the man. He deserted his wife when she needed him more than ever. When she was most vulnerable.

    We expect him to tough it out. That’s his duty. Even though she can’t be a wife to him, he can still be a husband to her.

    Are we in danger of belittling women by treating them as such frail creatures that they can’t cope with wrenching situations when we expect men to rise to the occasion? Isn’t that attitude demeaning to women? There are some very tough women in the Bible. There are some very tough women in church history.

  13. steve hays says:

    Booth Muller

    “But in the case of rape? Pregnancy is costly to the mother, both emotionally and physically.”

    What about parents who have an autistic child? Their child has no sense of danger. He requires constant supervision. It’s emotionally and physically exhausting to monitor his activities round the clock.

    And unlike most kids, who outgrow the need for constant supervision, their autistic kid will make unceasing demands on his parents.

    The parents never planned to have an autistic child. They didn’t agree to that ahead of time. It took them by surprise. Perhaps, had they known the outcome, they would have practiced contraception.

    Does that mean it’s okay for the beleaguered father to drive his autistic son to a remote location and abandon him by the side of the road? To either leave him to die or shift the burden to someone else?

    (Mind you, I think parents of autistic kids are entitled to a support system.)

  14. DL says:

    Hi Justin,
    Your blog post was right on and I thank you.
    One additional observation:
    Perhaps we can now let this comments section ever remind us, should anyone anywhere ever again wonder why the mainstream media does not typically invite us to the public dialogue on this topic.

    Have a blessed Sabbath in the Lord Jesus Christ!

  15. Jon says:

    I may have missed it but I think Lou posed the central question on this issue:
    What you “should” do and what you are legally “required” to do are two entirely different questions. Ought vs. Must is the critical point.

    I was hoping more would be said about this that was clear. I may have missed it in some of the other comments.

    1. steve hays says:

      Yes, you missed it.

  16. Booth Muller says:

    Jon –
    Agreed. “Legally required” is and should be different from “morally required.” Steve Hays took the position that I was conflating two issues when I said abortion in the case of rape was arguably morally permissible and would unarguably never be banned by law. (I don’t think I was conflating the two at all; my argument was additive.)
    I think Steve, however, is conflating moral and ethical obligation. That is, he continually seems to be arguing that because there is a moral obligation there is or ought to be a legal obligation. Nonsense. There is not currently a legal obligation in American law for me even to care for that injured fellow passenger on a life raft. If he dies of thirst because I failed to share my water with him, then (even if our raft is rescued 30 minutes after he died) in most states I am legally guilty of nothing, in either tort or criminal law, so far as I know. That’s not the same as saying I had no moral obligation to him, of course.
    There’s a big difference between a legal obligation and a moral obligation. The abortion question necessarily involves both, of course. We’re not going to get (and I don’t think we should attempt to get) some Christian version of sharia law.

    1. steve hays says:

      Booth is artificially dichotomizing moral and legal obligations, as if moral obligations are never legal obligations.

      “If he dies of thirst because I failed to share my water with him…”

      It isn’t *your* water. The lifeboat is equipped with standard rations. They don’t belong to one passenger rather than another.

      Also, the law can require many things. The law can require doctors to report apparent child abuse or statutory rape.

      There are also Good Samaritan laws which require bystanders to render reasonable aid to injured, ill, endangered, or otherwise incapacitated individuals.

      Moreover, Muller’s argument is circular. The law is whatever law we choose to pass. You can’t say we shouldn’t pass a law because we don’t have a law that does that, for it’s precisely the absence of such a law which justifies enacting a law to deal with that situation.

      He then resorts to the incendiary rhetoric of “a Christian version of sharia law,” as if legally requiring parents not to murder their own children is equivalent to rule under the Taliban. That’s not a serious engagement of the issues. Rather, that’s a tacit admission that his position is indefensible, so he has to resort to scurrilous comparisons.

    2. steve hays says:

      Booth Muller

      “I think Steve, however, is conflating moral and ethical obligation. That is, he continually seems to be arguing that because there is a moral obligation there is or ought to be a legal obligation. Nonsense.”

      That’s an ironic disjunction in the context of a guy who’s defending the rape exception for abortion. Why does he think rape is illegal in the first place? It begins with a moral obligation not to rape women (or men or children). We then codify that moral obligation into law. The legal obligation presupposes the moral obligation.

  17. Jon says:

    So Steve are you saying that every moral obligation should be a legal obligation?

    1. steve hays says:

      Can you show where I’m saying that?

      1. Jon says:

        Mr Hays,
        Since I asked a question I think it would apparent I was not sure what you were saying in the multiple post you have made. This particular sentence prompted me to ask the question: The legal obligation presupposes the moral obligation.

        But let me see if I can ask my question a little better ( I suspect I will not succeed but here goes). Are you saying that since there is a moral obligation to protect the life of the unborn even in the case of rape that there should be also a legal obligation to do so? My motive for asking is not to be argumentative, but is the question I struggle with when it comes to the issue of abortion and the politicizing it in a way that I think has been damaging to the church and it’s witness. I am of the mind that it is a truly moral issue and one the church should be exercising diligence in trying to change but not looking to the law or politics to bring a real solution to this issue. Naive I maybe but I believe we are fighting this battle using the wrong weapons.

        1. steve hays says:

          Jon

          “Since I asked a question I think it would apparent I was not sure what you were saying in the multiple post you have made. This particular sentence prompted me to ask the question: The legal obligation presupposes the moral obligation.”

          Notice that I was responding to Booth Muller on his own terms. That was a tacit presupposition of *his* argument.

          “Are you saying that since there is a moral obligation to protect the life of the unborn even in the case of rape that there should be also a legal obligation to do so?”

          I’m saying we have moral obligations to *family members* which properly translate into legal obligations.

          “…the politicizing it in a way that I think has been damaging to the church and it’s witness.”

          How is attempting to provide legal protections for the weak and defenseless damaging to the church and its witness?

          If there were a move to euthanize the handicapped, and Christians opposed that move by attempting to enact legal protections for the handicapped, would that damage the church and its witness?

          If anything, wouldn’t it be damaging to the church not to advocate for the most vulnerable members of our society?

          I don’t know what you mean by a “real solution.” Just as the law is no substitute for evangelism, evangelism is no substitute for the law.

          1. Jon says:

            Thank you for your time Mr. Hays.

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Justin Taylor


Justin Taylor is senior vice president and publisher for books at Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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