Is the Texas Abortion Law Harming Survivors of Sexual Assault?

Trigger Warning: The following paragraphs contain a description of a case of sexual assault.

Red headed girllaying her head on a guy's shoulder

Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

Ashley Lopez wrote an article for NPR recently, outlining how terrible the new Texas abortion law is for a specific group of women and girls—those who are survivors of rape and/or incest. 

She starts with explaining a heartbreaking case of a 12-year-old girl who was repeatedly raped by her father, was not allowed to leave the house, and got pregnant. She was counseled and got help; Lopez does not tell us what the outcome was, but we can assume it was an abortion. 

This is a dire scenario. Please, as a pro-life person, take a moment to seriously consider this young girl and her horrible situation. She survived terrible evil. There are no other words for that man’s deeds.

If you cannot sit with that girl’s story and acknowledge the awfulness of it; if you just gloss over that part of the NPR article because you’re already jumping ahead to “yeah, but that doesn’t justify abortion” in your head and you want to pick apart every other aspect of the article to see how wrong it is—stop. Right now, stop. 

Go read Josh Brahm’s article on how to respond to the question of rape. Go listen to Rachel Crawford talk about why this scenario of rape or incest is brought up in conversations about abortion and in defense of abortion all the time. Then come back and read the rest of the NPR article and this one. 

There is plenty in the article that made me salty enough to write a response to. In fact, weaponizing the violation of innocence of a young girl to support the legal option to kill humans is one of the very things that I got upset about. However, we as pro-lifers and as decent human beings cannot gloss over very real instances of monumental evil when trying to persuade others that our viewpoint is the correct one. So sit with that story and consider how a pro-choice person may find rape a compelling case for abortion. 

The rest of the article has some very disturbing pro-choice rhetoric, though, which I will gladly  attack.

Pro-choice claim #1: “Abortion is necessary to help heal from the trauma of sexual assault and rape.”

Piper Nelson, the SAFE Alliance chief public strategies officer, says of the 12-year-old-girl’s situation: 

The girl was eventually able to get help, but if this had happened after Sept. 1, when the state law went into effect, her options would have been severely curtailed.

She later added, speaking in general of other survivors of sexual assault: 

And so when you have something like SB 8…what it is doing is, it’s further taking control and power away from the survivor right at the moment when they need that power and control over their lives to begin healing.

A social worker in Austin, Monica Faulkner, says: 

Not having the option of terminating a pregnancy will make recovering from an assault even harder.

Stating abortion is a necessary choice for women and girls to have so they can have power and control, can heal, recover, and can get help is a very dangerous claim. Abortion is not an evidence-based mental health treatment, as Robin Atkins, LMHC, points out in this presentation. It’s questionable, at best, whether abortion either promotes healing or prevents further trauma.

Especially given this lack of evidence, claiming survivors of rape and incest need to be able to have their child killed to heal is absolutely disgusting. I am sure the sentiment comes from a sense of wanting to help the survivor work through her trauma. I can understand that! I believe survivors should be given all the help and resources we can possibly give—except the option to kill another human. Killing a human to alleviate another human’s trauma, even if it would actually work, is a line we should not cross.

I can understand how this viewpoint sounds harsh. How could I say that the woman who has been harmed in this way should have to endure carrying her rapist’s child and living with a potential reminder of her trauma and abuse? Do I hate women so much that I think they should continue to be punished for something that was not their fault? I’ll expound a bit more with a thought experiment. 

Let’s imagine a young woman—say, still in high school—was raped by her stepfather and he got her pregnant. Let’s imagine this young woman does not decide to get an abortion. Instead, she decides to carry to term and to parent. That is a possible reality; not all pregnant rape survivors get abortions. Let’s say she has the support she needs to be able to bring an accusation against her stepfather, he is found guilty, and he is jailed for raping her. But let’s fast forward a few years. She is now in college, and she has a 3-year-old son who is looking more and more like the evil stepfather. She can see her abuser in the lines of her child’s face, the expressions he makes, even the way he uses his hands when he babbles excitedly. This brings her great pain, and her trauma rises front and center to her mind and life again. She cannot focus on her classes; her grades start dropping. She can’t sleep at night because all she can replay in her mind is those awful moments years ago. Her anxiety grows, and she can’t eat. She keeps showing up late to work or missing shifts altogether and risks being fired. Her mental and physical health suffers. She is growing to hate even looking at her child, much less interacting with him. She wants him out of her life.

Should she be allowed to kill her 3-year-old son? Should she be allowed to, even if we knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that it would immediately ease her trauma and she would be able to heal and move forward in life?

If your response is, “No, but that’s obviously different,” I’d ask you to take a moment and reflect on why you said that. My guess is that it’s because you can clearly tell the toddler is a human being, and you know killing human beings to help another human being feel better is wrong.

Since pro-life people think even human embryos and fetuses are persons, we also think they have exactly the same moral value as this imaginary toddler and this imaginary young woman, and therefore, it is also wrong to kill them to ease someone else’s trauma. It might sound crazy to say that a fetus is worth the same as you or me, but there are very good reasons to believe that’s true, and pro-life people can explain why using arguments like the Equal Rights Argument.

Pro-choice claim #2: “Not having the option of abortion means there are no options for survivors, and abortion is the most logical choice for pregnant survivors.”

Faulkner repeatedly acts as if abortion is the logical default option for a pregnant rape or incest survivor. She says:

The impact of finally coming forward and then being told there are no options for you is devastating and that the TX law clearly is taking away any choice that they have.

By taking away one choice (a choice that perpetuates violence against another human), Faulkner claims any choice the pregnant survivor has is taken away. This shows her hand quite clearly. She presupposes the option of abortion is by default the best choice—is, in fact, the only choice. And if abortion is the only choice, then it’s not really a choice, is it?

She completely ignores live birth as a valid option. Any choice of medical, mental health, or spiritual support services to help the survivor address her trauma are not mentioned. Abortion is positioned as the central requirement in order to help a survivor overcome her trauma; therefore, an abortion ban is just a way to further traumatize women.

Nelson even argues the law “further strips away agency…after their sense of safety and control has already been violated.”

I cannot overstate how much I believe that pregnant women who have survived rape or incest should have options for helping recover from trauma. In fact, let’s give these women information on the mental and physical health risks of abortion so they can make an informed decision instead of condescendingly counseling them toward abortion as if it’s the obvious, default best choice.

The single choice I simply cannot agree with is allowing an innocent child to be killed because it might help their traumatized mother heal more quickly. As I said above, even if abortion did help rape survivors heal more quickly, that would still not justify the killing of another human. Choosing to present this killing as the only reasonable option is itself a limitation imposed on survivors of sexual violence by people who stand to profit off of their trauma.

Pro-choice claim #3: “No-exceptions abortion bans are fringe beliefs and only politicians with extremist views push them.”

While a great chunk of the article is pure rhetoric and emotional blackmail, it is just factually untrue that only a fringe minority supports a ban on abortion even in cases of rape and incest. For example, a plurality of Texans believes abortion should be illegal in all or most cases after 6 weeks’ gestation and a majority of Texans believe abortion should be illegal except to save the life of the mother after a fetal heartbeat can be detected. Banning abortion after signs of life is a pretty popular view, it turns out, at least in some places.

I have seen growing unrest in pro-life people towards laws with exceptions in them for rape, incest, and fetal abnormalities. Many of us understand the apparent hypocrisy of such exceptions. We also understand that having the exceptions is sometimes the only way to get the law to pass, and we will take saving some lives over saving no lives at all. But that does not mean we’re happy with exceptions. Pro-life people have been so emboldened by the Texas law that more states have followed suit. Ohio, for example, has an abortion bill going through the legislature that outlaws abortion from conception instead of after a detectable heartbeat; the only exception allowed for abortion is if it is “necessary to prevent the death of the pregnant woman or a serious risk of the substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman.” Rape, incest, fetal abnormalities, and mental health are not allowable exceptions.

The assertions in this article are frankly condescending and ridiculous. I see this as a weaponization of a rare and tragic case to justify all abortion and to villainize pro-lifers. However, I have to balance my anger and incredulity with humility and empathy. I cannot give up the line that says killing humans to alleviate trauma is wrong, but I also cannot forget to care for the survivor in the process.

Please tweet this article!

  • Tweet: Is the TX Abortion Law Harming Survivors of Sexual Assault?
  • Tweet: We as pro-lifers and as decent human beings cannot gloss over very real instances of monumental evil when trying to persuade others that our viewpoint is the correct one
  • Tweet: Killing a human to alleviate another human’s trauma, even if it would actually work, is a line we should not cross
  • Tweet: She presupposes the option of abortion is by default the best choice—is, in fact, the only choice

The post Is the TX Abortion Law Harming Survivors of Sexual Assault? originally appeared at the Equal Rights Institute blog. Subscribe to our email list with the form below and get a FREE gift. Click here to learn more about our pro-life apologetics course, “Equipped for Life: A Fresh Approach to Conversations About Abortion.”

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Writing Intern

Petra is a Kansas City native who transplanted to Columbus, OH in 2014 to attend graduate school at Ohio State University. She got her B.S. in chemistry from UMKC and her M.S. in chemistry from OSU, studying DNA polymerases and HIV RNA.

She worked at OSU in the chemistry and biochemistry departments and now works full-time at Heartbeat International, helping connect pregnant and worried women with local life-affirming resources to get the help and support they need.

In her free time, she is a writer, editor, and the Content Director for the Human Defense Initiative, has written for Pregnancy Help News, and gives presentations about the pro-life viewpoint and movement to anyone willing to give her a captive audience. Petra is passionate about the pro-life movement and strives to find ways to use her science background and teaching experience to speak up for the most vulnerable humans among us.

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