In a recent post to the Slate blog XX Factor, Amanda Marcotte takes the Senatorial campaign of Republican candidate Richard Mourdock to task for his use of women speaking in his favor. Marcotte is an outspoken pro-choice advocate when it comes to these issues, but she takes a strange stance on these campaigns in her post:
A new pro-Mourdock ad features a woman defending Mourdock's belief in forced childbirth after rape on the grounds that she was conceived in rape. The "but I was conceived in rape!" "argument" is a particularly gross and heartless version of the anti-choice stoner's gambit of asking, "But what if you had been aborted?"
Pro-choicers fixate on rights to the neglect of duty. The difficulty in a rape situation is that rights have already been violated. This brutal fact leaves us furious and sympathetic to the victim. But one evil does not justify another, and it is important to consider not just rights but also duties. Horrible situations do not diminish our duties to care for others.
For instance, parents have a duty to care for their children. We don't call a child heartless or selfish when she expects her parents to care for her needs by changing a diaper or feeding her when she is hungry. This isn't limited to mothers—we hold it as a matter of law that the father also has this duty. In the very least, if he is not directly raising the child, he must still pay child support. Is that child selfish to expect food, clothing, and school supplies? How much more absurd to call an unborn child heartless to expect to be given safety during a time when the mother-child connection is so intimate, so intertwined!
An analogous responsibility is the moral duty to care for the poor and needy. I believe this is unqualified. So do most people in this country, and we reinforce this idea through taxation. We don't ask whether such taxes are convenient or whether individual taxpayers care about the people their money supports. They are expected to do their part because it is the moral responsibility of those who have to provide assistance for those who do not. Is it a selfish imposition for the impoverished to expect relief? Consider the fallout from superstorm Sandy—millions to billions of taxpayer dollars will be spent to help the needy in this emergency. This is not heartlessness on the part of the dispossessed.
To take a classic trope, imagine a baby left in a basket on your doorstep. You didn't ask for the baby—you might even be in the midst of an urgent or emergency situation that makes it an extreme burden to take action. However, by finding the baby you are obligated to act for its wellbeing and safety. This doesn't mean that you will necessarily raise the child—you probably won't. But until provisions are made, the baby is your responsibility and it would be considered a heinous crime to simply leave the baby to fate, or worse, kill it. Is that baby selfishly imposing itself upon you?
In a disaster scenario, where life and limb are at risk, adults prioritize the safety of children and infants over and above their own safety. Pregnancy is not a death sentence, but in the case of rape it is an imposed responsibility. It does require sacrifice and there is an element of risk involved. How can we expect adults to risk their lives for children they have no connection to while having no expectations that a mother would maintain the life of her child at a small risk?
Rape is a terrible, tragic violation of another person's rights and basic human dignity. But how can Ms. Marcotte call a child resulting from rape heartless for wanting to preserve his or her own rights and basic human dignity?
We have duties, and duties by definition limit our choices. This very fact does not make the object of that duty selfish. We expect charity, compassion, and sacrifice from complete strangers but we do not expect the same of mothers? Women across the nation should be offended at being held to a lower standard.
Kristen Gappa is a stay-at-home mother and works as a nonprofit consultant.
The CJS Forum seeks to promote an open exchange of ideas about the relationship between faith, culture, law and public policy. While all the articles are original and written especially for the CJS Forum, they do not necessarily reflect the views of the Center for a Just Society.