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HEADlines: The Rape Exception

A young girl in a field
Credit: Mi Pham in

The Rape Exception

by Nancy E. Head

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. Psalm 139:13~

It was a flashpoint in the argument to legalize abortion in America during the 1970s: rape. How could anyone be so cruel as to suggest that woman who’s been raped has to carry the child of the rapist to term?

The surprising answer is that abortion is frequently pushed onto these rape victims, and abortion victimizes them further.

We are half a century removed from the complete eradication of abortion laws that Roe v Wade and Doe v. Bolton (1973) enacted and in the midst of states reacting to the overturning of those cases along with Roe-affirming Casey v. Planned Parenthood (1992).

Surprising is the scant discussion of the compelling subject of abortion because of rape or incest aside from an emotionally charged account of a 10-year-old victim who allegedly had to go out of state to be relieved of the child a rapist implanted.

And there seems to be little interest in finding facts to support what was and still is assumed: That women/girls who suffer rape and girls who suffer incest are better off having abortions than they are delivering babies.

We have barely looked beneath the surface of this assumption.

One study of 37 women pregnant from rape showed that a large majority opted against abortion. “Dr. Sandra Mahkorn found that 75 to 85 percent chose against abortion.[1] This evidence alone should cause people to pause and reflect on the presumption that abortion is wanted or even best for sexual assault victims.”

(Also, see here and here.)

Multiple factors play into the discussion: the woman’s view of abortion before she was assaulted and the conviction that something redeemable can result from something horrible.

It’s interesting that few have replicated such studies. As if impressions that abortion is best, even necessary, in cases of rape are universally valid, further testing is superfluous.

More likely, it seems researchers fear results that would overturn the public’s impression that abortion after rape is beneficial or even benign.

Those impressions carry the same conclusion into the discussion of incest. But in cases of incest, abortion erases the evidence of a crime and allows abuse to continue.

David C. Reardon, Ph.D.:

“Studies show that incest victims rarely ever voluntarily agree to an abortion.[4] Instead of viewing the pregnancy as unwanted, the incest victim is more likely to see the pregnancy as a way out of the incestuous relationship because the birth of her child will expose the sexual activity. She is also likely to see in her pregnancy the hope of bearing a child with whom she can establish a true, loving relationship, one far different than the exploitive relationship in which she has been trapped.”

So it isn’t the way we thought it was. No matter which study we consider, assault victims are not lining up in great majorities to abort their pregnancies. They are not claiming that abortion saved them from something more horrible.

A more recent survey of sexual assault victims–one that includes a much larger sample (192 women) than the studies cited above–states that 80 percent of women who aborted children conceived from assault regretted their abortions. No woman who gave birth expressed regret.

Missing in much of this discussion is the voice of the children. Rebecca Kiessling is one such voice. Conceived as a result of rape and later adopted, she speaks for the tiniest persons involved.

“Most importantly, I’ve learned, I’ll be able to teach my children, and I teach others that your value is not based on the circumstances of your conception, your parents, your siblings, your mate, your house, your clothes, your looks, your IQ, your grades, your scores, your money, your occupation, your successes or failures, or your abilities or disabilities — these are the lies that are perpetuated in our society.”

Jennifer Christie sees the situation from the mother's perspective. After a long day of work during a business trip, she headed back to her hotel room, unaware that someone followed her.

She saw him after she had opened the door to her room and stepped inside. He hit her in the face. He broke her fingers. He broke her ribs. He violated her.

She told herself he could touch her body but not her soul. She awoke in below-freezing temperatures in the outdoor stairwell of her motel.

Today she suffers from a seizure disorder because of the assault. She’s endured six major surgeries to repair the damage he caused.

“I couldn’t wrap my head around the evil we can do to each other,” she told a central Pennsylvania audience gathered to hear her a couple of years ago. Her story held us spellbound.

Weeks went by after the assault. Her body healed, but sudden noises made her jump.

Her husband was supportive, but she could hear him rage in the shower, shouting, sobbing, punching the wall. He would emerge and tell her: “Everything’s going to be okay,” only to rage and sob and punch again the next day.

At the end of six weeks, he suggested she go back to work–to go do what she loved as a sign language interpreter for the deaf. He stayed behind with their four children.

Work in this instance was a previously scheduled cruise. What could be a better way to find healing and restoration?

Unless you get dysentery on day two of the cruise.

When she didn’t bounce back as expected, the ship’s doctor suggested a pregnancy test.

That possibility had not occurred to her. Her youngest child was eight years old. Her husband had had a vasectomy years earlier.

“I was raped,” she told the doctor, having only used the word assaulted until that moment.

Yes, she was pregnant.

Others urged her to have an abortion–to get rid of the reminder sure to haunt the rest of her days.

Imagine the physical pain along with the realization that you've lost the sense of security most of us carry within us. Imagine the feeling of lost control over your life.

The argument for abortion in the case of rape is supposed to be one of compassion. How can we ask a woman so violated to carry the reminder of her attacker, to bring this reminder to life, to look him or her in the face every day (as we disregard the possibility of adoption)?

Now imagine people telling you what you have to do. What you can’t do. You have to abort. You can’t keep what came from rape. Imagine many people telling you what you MUST do. So many voices saying the same thing.

But she felt protective of the life within her.

“I couldn’t protect myself. Him I could protect. . . . The more I heard how easy it would be [to have an abortion], the more I felt protective.

Her husband’s reaction?

“This is a gift. This is something beautiful that came from something horrible.”

(What a gift is such a man.)

She says, “My son is a reminder that every day we can rise above our circumstances. . . . He came into our lives when we were hurting and broken and he healed our family.”

Jennifer Christie has lived that reality. She looks into her reminder’s face every day.

But years later, she does not see “some rapist’s child.” She sees “God’s child.” His name is Joshua. And he is beautiful.

The voices that would have snuffed out his life were many. And Jennifer says, “Those voices were loud.

“But little boy, we loved you louder.”

Only a loud love can drown out the voices that would tell us that an innocent life must end because of the evil of someone else.

See beauty. See that there are no rapists’ children. There are only God’s children.

Love loud.


About the Author

Nancy E. Head at Mustard Seed Sentinel

Author Nancy E. Head was a single mother with five children under the age of 14 when many in the Church came to her aid. Her story illustrates common problems in our society such as the fracturing of families and communities, reflecting a splintering Church. Alienated families and a riven Church cannot minister as effectively to their own members or others until they find accord. Nancy is the author of Restoring the Shattered: Illustrating Christ's Love Through the Church in One Accord.

Connect with Nancy on her website, Twitter, and Facebook.

You can read Nancy’s HEADlines column on the 4th Saturday each month here at Mustard Seed Sentinel.

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