Conception from Rape: Something God Intended to Happen
This is what Indiana Treasurer and GOP Senate candidate Richard Mourdock said in a debate last night:
This is that issue that every federal or state candidate faces and I too certainly stand for life. I know there are some who disagree and I respect their point of view, but I believe that life begins at conception. Uh, the only exception I have for an abortion is in that case of the life of the mother. I struggled with it myself for a long time but I came to realize that life is a gift from God. And I think that even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape that it is something God intended to happen.
Those were his words. The context is plain.
So much to say. So little time.
First, for those who are shocked I want to offer this:
Faithful to the “self-evident” truths enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, we assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed. We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children. We oppose using public revenues to promote or perform abortion or fund organizations which perform or advocate it and will not fund or subsidize health care which includes abortion coverage. We support the appointment of judges who respect traditional family values and the sanctity of innocent human life.
Those are the words of the 2012 Republican Platform. You’ll note, of course, that the platform calls for a so-called “personhood” amendment whereby an “unborn child” has a right to life. In actuality, this is almost always phrased as saying that life begins at conception and that the “unborn child” (i.e., fertilized egg, zygote, or fetus) has full rights under the 14th Amendment. Moreover, by design, a personhood amendment would automatically outlaw all abortions; after all, how could we choose to “kill” some “unborn children” but not others? (Please see my post A Closer Look at Personhood Legislation for a more detailed discussion.) So, in reality, the position that Richard Mourdock espoused was actually less extreme than the actual Republican Party platform. Seriously.
And that scares me.
Now, it is true that almost immediately after the debate, Mourdock attempted to clarify the statement that he made during the debate:
God creates life, and that was my point. God does not want rape, and by no means was I suggesting that He does. Rape is a horrible thing, and for anyone to twist my words otherwise is absurd and sick.
Then, in the face of a continued firestorm of criticism, Mourdock held a press conference to further explain his comments. As reported by The Indianapolis Star:
Mourdock said: “I said life is precious. I believe life is precious. I believe rape is a brutal act. It is something that I abhor. That anyone could come away with any meaning other than what I just said is regrettable, and for that I apologize.”
But he would not apologize for the words themselves.
“The apology — as I said before, roll this tape back — is if anybody misinterpreted what I said,” he said.
He said he hates violence, including rape, and that God does as well. His words, he said, had been twisted, including by his Democratic opponent Joe Donnelly, and that that was what was wrong with Washington these days.
“The God that I worship would never ever want to see evil done,” he said.
But when asked if God intended a pregnancy that arose from a rape, Mourdock said such theological questions were “above my pay grade.”
So let’s take the original statement, the clarification, and the explanation, parse them together, and see what we have.
I want to note the “non-apology”. Though I’m sure that some will say that Mourdock has apologized, even he recognizes that he didn’t. Rather, he specifically notes that he is only apologizing for someone being able to come away with a different meaning or misinterpreting what he said. He’s not apologizing for saying that he doesn’t believe in an exception for rape and he is not apologizing for saying that an egg fertilized by rape is something “God intended to happen”. His apology is only for those who misinterpreted what he said; in other words, he did nothing wrong, but you did by not understanding that what he said isn’t what he meant, even if it really is what he meant when he said it.
So let me see if I can wrap my arms around what Mourdock is really saying.
God doesn’t like rapes or violence (though a careful reading of the Bible might make one dispute that*). But if a woman is impregnated by a rape that God doesn’t like, the fertilized egg was still something that “God intended to happen.” Um. What? If the conception was something that God intended, then how is it possible that the act that led to the conception was something that God did not intend? I have a hard time with the idea that a supposedly benevolent deity might just happen upon a rape in progress and say, “Gee, I don’t know. I really hate this rape and all, but I think I’d like to make a baby anyway!” Or, maybe ask it a different way: If God intended for the conception, why not introduce the sperm to the egg via, oh, I don’t know, maybe a dinner date, some chocolates, and some roses? Either God is involved in the process … or not. But I don’t see how God intends the result but not the method. For that matter, if God did not intend the rape and God does have the power to create life … then why didn’t God stop the rape? Omnipotent or not?
I think Mourdock realized the conundrum that he’d put himself in when asked if God intended the pregnancy that arose from the rape. Thus he responded that theological questions were above his pay grade. Of course, it was his theological pronouncement about God’s intent that started the mess in the first place. Oh, wait. I get it. He understands the will and intent of God when he’s legislating but not when he’s called to explain.
And Mourdock thinks that we’re “absurd and sick” for thinking he meant what he said.
But there’s more to Mourdock’s debate statement that I want to discuss.
One thing that really struck me was his statement that “there are some who disagree and I respect their point of view.” The problem, of course, is that though he may “respect their point of view” he has no problem legislating his point of view. Then again, we need to remember that Mourdock, just the day after beating Sen. Richard Lugar in the primary last spring, talked about liking to “inflict” (again, his word) his opinion on others. Thus, it seems to me that Mourdock’s claim to respect other viewpoints is just a sham. He doesn’t respect any view but the one he holds and chooses to inflict. And he uses God’s intent as a crutch to try to avoid responsibility for inflicting that viewpoint.
Might some women view a rape-induced pregnancy as a “gift from God”? Certainly. Might some or even many women choose to go through with the pregnancy and either keep the baby or put it up for adoption? Again, certainly. And I have nothing but respect for those women. But might there not also be women who look at their growing belly and see not a gift but rather the violent acts of their rapist? Might not many women, when feeling the discomfort of the pregnancy be reminded of the pain of the rape? Might not rape victims feel victimized not only by having been raped but also by the changes that they must make in their life to accommodate the pregnancy or child (such as dropping out of school or not being able to work in a desired job or whatever)? Might not many mothers be reminded of the horror of that rape each time they look upon their child’s face and see some vestige of the rapist’s DNA? Imagine the feelings of a woman who looks at a child with physical features that strongly resemble the rapist’s and not the mothers. Might not those women be subjected to the horror all over again if the rapist should seek custody rights (as is allowed in some states)? And I cannot imagine how a woman handles explaining to her child that the father who is missing from that child’s life was a rapist. Or, for that matter, how that child explains to his or her friends that “no, daddy isn’t dead and no, mommy isn’t divorced; daddy is in jail for raping mommy and making me.”
Should the government tell a woman who is the victim of a rape that she must live with that burden?
Mourdock and the Republican Party say “yes”. And they want a Constitutional Amendment, too.
I also want to look at the remainder of Mourdock’s answer to the question (the part that isn’t included in the video of his “God intended it” comment):
You know, Mr. Donnelly's comments about and what's happening there, trying to reform it. That's good to reform it, but it should not be here in the first place. You know, the fact that we have the Catholic Church and so many institutions having to file a lawsuit to get their basic freedom that I thought was guaranteed under the Constitution, the practice of your religion, that now there has to be an amendment put forward to somehow bring that about. If the law had never been passed that lawsuit wouldn't be in place and religious freedom would not today be in question.
(This is my own transcription from the video of the entire debate; this portion begins at about 45:40. I apologize for errors in the transcription.)
Please note Mourdock’s concern over freedom to practice religion. He is so very concerned with the impact of the birth control insurance coverage mandate on religious freedom. OK. I get that (though he’s wrong; see The Birth Control Brouhaha, More on the Birth Control Brouhaha, Still More on the Birth Control Brouhaha, Yet More on the Birth Control Brouhaha, and Paul Ryan and the Birth Control Brouhaha for detailed explanations of why). But now note that his explanation for why he opposes abortion in the case of rape relates to … religion. He bases his opposition to his understanding of theology, both in terms of what his religious understanding tells him about the beginnings of life and about God’s intent. So please, Mr. Mourdock, explain to me how you can synthesize opposition to infringements of religious belief at the same time that you are willing to outlaw certain abortions that are specifically allowed by other religious beliefs? If Jews believe that a woman can get an abortion after she has been raped, then isn’t telling her that she can’t an infringement upon her religious viewpoint? And what about a woman who doesn’t believe in the existence of a deity or the involvement of a deity in the creation of life? Aren’t you imposing your deity-determined worldview upon that woman in direct contravention of your own idea of freedom of religion? It’s like he wants to eat his cake … and that of the women, too.
(For those interested in the Jewish viewpoint on abortion, please see my post Keep Your Religious Doctrine Out of My State's Laws, in particular the section entitled Beginning of human physical life, about half-way into the post.)
Ironically, it was just this week that the Mourdock campaign began airing a television commercial featuring an endorsement by Mitt Romney. I’ve read that this commercial is the only commercial that Romney has filmed in support of a down-ticket candidate. Which makes watching this response commercial by American Bridge, created in the hours immediately after Mourdock’s debate comments, particularly relevant:
While the Romney campaign (via a spokesperson, not Romney himself) has said that they don’t agree with Mourdock’s statement, support has not been withdrawn nor has a request been made to pull down the endorsement ad.
“Gov. Romney disagrees with Richard Mourdock, and Mr. Mourdock’s comments do not reflect Gov. Romney’s views. We disagree on the policy regarding exceptions for rape and incest but still support him,” said Romney spokesperson Andrea Saul.
Interesting, isn’t it, that the Romney campaign statement talks about Mourdock’s views on abortion in case of rape and incest, but does not discuss Mourdock’s “God intended it to happen” statement that gave rise to the furor.
In addition, though GOP Gubernatorial candidate Mike Pence has issued a clear statement disagreeing with Mourdock’s comment, he has been somewhat disingenuous in doing so. According to the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette:
Congressman Mike Pence — who is in the middle of a race for governor — distanced himself from U.S. Senate candidate Richard Mourdock Wednesday morning.
Democrats immediately pounced on the comment and Gov. Mitt Romney also denounced it.
Now you can add Pence to that list.
“I strongly disagree with the statement made by Richard Mourdock during last night’s Senate debate. I urge him to apologize.”
While Pence is strongly against abortion, his campaign said he has consistently supported exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother.
That doesn’t appear to be the case though.
A question on Indiana Right to Life’s survey this year asked statewide candidates in which circumstances they believe abortion should be legal.
Pence checked B — or life of the mother only.
Democrat John Gregg checked B and C — life of the mother and rape and/or incest.
Gregg's campaign also pointed out that last year Pence signed on to a House resolution with no exceptions.
Unless I’m mistaken, that would be the same House resolution that also sought to redefine rape to “forcible rape”.
Mourdock’s words were terrible. And while it’s good to see both Mitt Romney and Mike Pence (kinda sorta) distance themselves from Mourdock, it remains true that Mourdock’s position is less extreme than that set forth in the Republican platform or by Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan. The far right of the Republican party wants to outlaw all abortions, without exceptions. They want to use the Constitution do accomplish that goal. Or the Supreme Court, if they must. Some of them have grudgingly agreed to a few exceptions. For now. Maybe.
But if Congress is dominated by people like Mourdock, safe and legal abortions will be a thing of the past. Even for women who don’t share Mourdock’s religious views on abortion. Hangers in back alleys will again be the way of the world. Well, that is if you’re poor. The wealthy will still be able to obtain abortions by traveling to a state or country where they’re legal.
One final point that I want to share. When this story broke last night, I went to the website of The Indianapolis Star just to see how others were reacting. Thankfully, much of the reaction to Mourdock’s statement was quite negative in the nature of teeth-gnashing or “woe is we” if we elect Mourdock. If you’re offended by Mourdock’s statement — or by the platform of the GOP — then please take heed of the the following comment that I posted last night:
To all of those who are offended by Mourdock's comments tonight: Expressing your outrage here is fine and important. But if you don't act, if you don't do something, if you don't make sure to vote and make sure that all of your friends vote, if you don't do everything that you can to be sure that Mourdock never again holds elected office, then your outrage will be for naught. When confronted by the sort of horrific worldview espoused by people like Mourdock, those of us who disagree must stand up and fight for what we believe in. Put up a yard sign. Make some calls. Do something. Because we cannot allow Mourdock to become Indiana's next Senator.
Oh, and I couldn’t help but post this:
*See, for example Deuteronomy 22:28-29 (New International Version, for my Christian readers):
If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay her father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.