Abortion and the Political “Big Tent”
Abortion and the Political “Big Tent”
Written By Laurie Higgins   |   08.28.12

In the past week, two troubling comments regarding abortion caught my attention—one of which justifiably caught the attention of the entire country. Once again much heat but little light was generated in the ensuing brouhaha.

The first troubling comment was a particularly inept and painful statement from U.S. Representative Todd Akin, which included the phrase “legitimate rape.” Akin’s unfortunate comment could have provided an opportunity to explore with greater clarity and depth a philosophical and moral question of supreme importance, but instead what followed was superficial, dishonest, and exploitative noise. Our feckless talking heads and political leaders chose to use Akin’s comment for political jujitsu rather than enlightened discourse.

Some random thoughts on the Akin debacle:

  • There exists no such thing as “legitimate rape.” “Legitimate rape” is an oxymoron.
  • Akin’s disastrous sentence construction, which implies that some rapes are legitimate, communicated an idea that he does not believe and did not mean to say. The correct phraseology would be something like “legitimate claims of rape,” meaning that some claims are false, which of course is true. Some women claim to have been raped when actually they have not been raped.
  • This clumsily expressed fact—that some women falsely claim to have been raped—could have provided an opportunity to discuss the pragmatic, intellectual, and moral problems with the position of those who oppose abortion except in cases of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest.
  • The pragmatic problem of permitting abortions (or federal funding of abortions) for pregnancies resulting from rape is that such exceptions put the government in the thorny position of determining whether claims of rape are legitimate, that is to say, true. Rebecca Kiessling,  who was conceived in rape and is now a pro-life attorney, explains:

Rape exceptions in the law actually put the government in the position of having to ascertain when the child was conceived, who the father is, whether the child was conceived during the alleged rape or during intercourse with her husband or boyfriend, and if the child was conceived during the time frame of the alleged rape, then the government would need to determine whether the sexual intercourse was consensual or not….So rape exceptions serve to perpetuate the injustice against rape victims that their accounts are to be viewed with skepticism…

  • But more important are the inextricably linked intellectual and moral problems with rape and incest exceptions. If the product of conception between two humans is a human, and if human life—including inchoate human life—is deserving of protection, then the manner of a baby’s conception is irrelevant to a determination of whether that inchoate life has the right to continued existence.
  • Certainly the manner of conception has meaning to the victim of rape or incest. And society should have compassion for these victims, offering as much help as possible. But the ends of alleviating suffering do not justify the means of exterminating the innocent life growing inside rape victims. The mother’s right to control her reproductive processes and parts does not supersede the right of a baby simply to exist. Just as a rape victim had no control over the criminal act that resulted in a pregnancy, neither had the baby so conceived. The suffering of rape victims does not justify the further and more horrifying victimization of preborn babies.
  • It is intellectually inconsistent and morally bankrupt to argue that life begins at conception, that all human life has intrinsic value and rights, but that society has the right to exterminate the life of another if its temporary dependency status is painful to another.

The second troubling comment came from Kay Bailey Hutchison, retiring Republican senator from Texas who said this on a Sunday morning news program:

Mothers and daughters can disagree on abortion, and we shouldn’t put a party around an issue that is so personal and also, religious-based. I think we need to say, “Here are our principles, and we welcome you as a Republican. We can disagree on any number of issues, but if you want to be a Republican, we welcome you.”

Several thoughts:

  • How many times have you heard Democrats beseech the Democratic Party to abandon their position on abortion in order to accommodate pro-life Democrats?
  • The arguments in support of the pro-life position are not exclusively religious.
  • When using the “personal” nature of abortion as a defense, Hutchinson needs to remember that there are two persons involved. Who speaks for those who can’t?
  • Hutchison’s statement is quintessential political double-speak: While asserting in one sentence that opposition to abortion should not be a party position, she asserts in the next sentence that “here are our principles.” Is Hutchison saying that opposition to abortion should or should not be one of the Republican principles?

It seems that Republicans like Kay Bailey Hutchison are again calling for the  infamous “Big Tent” that allows for the destruction of marriage and the unborn—you know, those trivial issues that can’t hold a candle next to fiscal issues. Apparently, the Republican tent is supposed to become big enough to accommodate a herd of donkeys.


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Laurie Higgins
Laurie Higgins became the Illinois Family Institute’s Cultural Analyst in the fall of 2008. Prior to working for the IFI, Laurie worked full-time for eight years in Deerfield High School’s...
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