Is there a case for abortion following rape?
Dr Pravin Thevathasan
Pregnancy following rape is far from common – well below 1% of abortions in the United Kingdom are carried out for reasons of rape or incest and if abortion is merely carried out for these reasons, it would hardly be the multi-million dollar industry that it is today. However, over a period of decades, the pro-abortion industry has focussed on this single issue for tactical reasons.
Abortion following rape constitutes direct abortion and it is therefore objectively a grave moral disorder. However, there is a necessity to handle such cases with pastoral sensitivity and compassion – as was shown by the Archbishop of Recife and the clergy in the “Recife case”, which will be discussed later.
When a woman has an abortion after consenting to intercourse, she might argue that it is “my body”. When she has an abortion after being raped, she might argue that it is “his body”. Both arguments are false: the unborn child is neither hers nor his but is a unique human being entirely innocent of the criminal action that led to his or her conception. Nevertheless, it remains a highly charged issue: for describing abortion as a moral crime even in the case of rape, the Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet was condemned by the Harper government, politicians in Quebec, feminist groups and of course, the media. One columnist wished him a slow and painful death.
For several decades, the global pro-abortion lobby has used the tragedy of abortion following rape in order to further its own agenda. In 1938, Mr Aleck Bourne, Consultant Gynaecologist at St Mary’s Hospital, London, performed an abortion on a fourteen year old girl who had been raped. Following the abortion, he drew the attention of the police to his action. His defence was based on the offences against the person act, 1861, in which the only acceptable justification for abortion is if the life of the woman was in danger. Bourne was tried at the Central Criminal Court and was acquitted. In his summing up, Justice MacNaughton said: “If the doctor is of the opinion.... that the probable consequences will be to make the woman a physical or mental wreck, the Jury are quite entitled to take the view that the doctor...is operating for the purposes of preserving the life of the mother.” (1)
That single term “mental wreck” was to open the floodgates as it gradually evolved into the “Mental Health Clause” of the 1967 Abortion Act which states that an abortion may be performed in order to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman. The “Mental Health Clause” is also referred to as the “Social Clause” as it allows for abortion for a variety of reasons. 95% of abortions are performed under this clause.
Something similar happened in the case of Roe v wade in the United States, although the alleged rape in this case was later admitted to have been fabricated. Even if the lawyer acting for “Roe” claimed that the issue of rape was not central to the legal decision, it most certainly was central to the mind of the media and of the public. (2)
The X case in the Republic of Ireland was remarkably similar to the Bourne Case. In 1992, a fourteen year old girl became pregnant following statutory rape. She was said by a Psychologist who had assessed her to be suicidal and the Courts determined that she had a right to travel in order to obtain an abortion. The ideological commitment of the majority looking after the girl was well known to have been pro-abortion and the psychologist was said to have been on the Executive Board of the Irish Family Planning Association. The girl was said to be no longer suicidal two months after the abortion and the implication was that the abortion had been beneficial to her mental health. (3)
But does the current scientific evidence demonstrate a link between improved mental health and abortion following an unwanted pregnancy? In 2008, Professor David Fergusson published an article entitled: Abortion and Mental Health Disorder: Evidence from a thirty year longitudinal study. The most important conclusion of the study is that while over 90% of abortions are on the ground that continuation of the pregnancy would lead to serious consequences for the woman’s mental health, there is actually no evidence to suggest that abortion reduces the mental health risks of unwanted pregnancy. There are no studies to suggest that the mental health risk of unwanted childbirth is greater than the mental health risks of abortion. It is quite the opposite: having an abortion may cause more mental health problems in some women than giving birth following an unwanted pregnancy. (4)
What do the women themselves who have become pregnant after rape believe? According to a study by Dr Sandra Mahkorn, 75%-85% of these women were against having an abortion. It is believed that this is because 70% of women in the general population are against abortion anyway-although this does not mean that they all campaign to make abortion illegal-and 70% of women believe that abortion is a further act of violence to follow the violent act of rape. (5)
In 2009, a girl aged only 9 years was given an abortion in Recife, Brazil, after she was found to be pregnant with twins. She had been subjected to sexual assaults by her stepfather over a period of some years. It was falsely alleged at first that the young girl’s life was in danger if she had continued with the pregnancy. It was also falsely alleged that the then Archbishop of Recife had rushed to publically declare the automatic excommunication of all those who had formally cooperated with the abortion, with the exception of the young girl who was obviously incapable of giving consent. In fact, the case was made public by the media on the 25th of February, the Archbishop made his first public pronouncement on the 3rd of March and the abortion took place on the 4th of March. The media failed to mention that the clergy had provided great support to the young girl and her mother from very early on and that she was in a hospital where doctors took “great pride” in performing abortions. One doctor even boasted: “ I have been excommunicated many times.”
Yet again, the media, Politicians ( including the President of Brazil), secularists and “ progressive Catholics” joined ranks to condemn the heroic Archbishop who stated:
“The silence of the church would be prejudicial, especially considering that 50 million abortions are being performed every year around the world.” (6)
The Archbishop had clearly identified a phenomenon that had not been understood by the then President of the Pontifical Academy for Life: that the abortion lobby continues to exploit this tragic situation in order to promote its own agenda. It is a highly effective strategy and it is to be anticipated that it would be made use of again and again in future.
(1) Walsh, G The worst Acts of Violence (Athena Press, 2004) 154-159
(2) Walsh G The worst Acts of Violence (Athena Press, 2004) 210-217
(3) Loscher, C The X Cases ( Human Life International, 1992) 37-71
(4) Ferguson, D.M, Harwood, L.J and Boden, J.M Abortion and Mental Health Disorders: evidence from a 30 year longitudinal Study (British Journal of Psychiatry, 2008) 193, 444-451
(5) Mahkorn, S Pregnancy and Sexual Assault, The psychological Aspects of Abortion, Eds Mall and Watts (Washington DC: University Publication of America, 1979) 55-69