Pro-life activists should be wary of kicking out those who favor rape exceptions  05/17/2019 13:59:00 

Abortion has been a unifying issue for Republicans in recent years, but now that the possibility exists of overturning Roe v. Wade, we're starting to see fissures develop.

As long as Roe v. Wade has been on safe ground, as has been the case since 1992, abortion could be a unifying issue on the Right. It was easy for most Republicans to simply talk about the importance of judges and to emphasize an incremental strategy of curtailing abortions. The confines imposed by Roe has made it easy for anybody who considers themselves pro-life to support state laws that only trim around the margins. And the increased radicalism of Democrats, even when it comes to late-term abortions, has made it easy for Republicans to find common ground.

But after the appointment of Justice Brett Kavanaugh made overturning Roe at least a theoretical possibility, this has changed. The Alabama abortion law, passed to test the waters at the newly constituted Supreme Court, outlaws abortion, and does not include exceptions for rape and incest (though it does for severe health risk to the mother or lethal anomaly in the child). The restrictive law has reopened old fissures among those who consider themselves pro-life.

When House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said he opposed the Alabama abortion law because he supports rape and incest exceptions, he was attacked in some segments of the pro-life community. Lila Rose, the tireless anti-abortion activist, called on him to step down, writing, "Human lives hang in the balance and youre abandonment of their right to live is a betrayal of your own promises."

Now, I get the argument as to why favoring no exceptions for rape or incest is the more morally consistent pro-life position. But I also think that pro-lifers need all the allies we can get, and kicking out people who believe in certain exceptions means fewer pro-lifers, and almost certainly more abortions.

To expand a bit. If you believe that an unborn child is a life that should be guaranteed state protection, then it's difficult to argue that the mode of conception should make a difference, since it does not change the underlying reality of the human life. So, the anti-exceptions position can claim to be more consistent.

But in terms of the broader debate surrounding abortion, there is a significant difference in the case of rape. The abortion rights movement bills itself as "pro-choice" because they want to argue that those who favor protecting the unborn want to deny women control over their bodies. In most cases, however, pro-lifers could argue that women have a lot of choices prior to carrying a child such as abstinence or birth control. Those choices would either eliminate or significantly reduce the possibility of becoming pregnant. Of course, abortion rights supporters would counter that given that women have to carry the burden of child-bearing, laws against abortion uniquely impose control over their sexual choices in a way that they do not for men. But at least in those other cases there is some argument that the female had choices prior to pregnancy. In the case of rape, however, it's indisputable that no choice exists. A woman who becomes pregnant as the result of a horrific, violent crime never had control at any point in the process.

It's no surprise, then, to see this distinction affect polling. According to Gallup numbers, asked about first trimester abortions, 53% of Americans say they believe it should be illegal in cases "when the woman does not want the child for any reason," compared with 45% who say it should be legal. However, in cases of rape or incest, 77% think it should be legal, compared to 21% who say it should be illegal. In other words, arguing against abortion on demand is a majority position, but arguing for no exceptions for rape or incest is the significant minority position.

Given that the status quo under Roe v. Wade has been to allow abortions virtually on demand well into the pregnancy, there's a lot of room to significantly reduce abortion and save millions of human lives even while allowing those exceptions. Rape and incest cases make up an estimated 1.5% of abortions. If pro-lifers ever get in the position of being able to ban nearly 99% of abortions, that would be one of the most incredible victories for a political movement in American history. They put that at risk by insisting that all allies adopt the purest position.

It's one thing to continue making the case for why there should be no exceptions. Or to argue that the federal government should not require states to include such exceptions. But to put everything that abortion opponents have fought for over the last several decades at risk by defining the term "pro-life" as narrowly as possible and driving out anybody who disagrees is a huge mistake.

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