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Richard Mourdock (left) and Todd Akin
Mourdock: Michael Conroy/AP; Akin: Jeff Roberson/AP
Richard Mourdock (left) and Todd Akin

Doing better on ‘hard cases’

Roe v. Wade | The issue of abortion in cases of rape doesn’t have to be a PR nightmare for pro-lifers

Issue: "Roe v. Wade turns 40," Jan. 26, 2013

In WORLD we try to avoid “talking heads” stories in which experts voice their opinions about issues—but here comes an exception, because the only abortion news for many mainstream reporters in last year’s election came out of two talking heads.

With more than 1 million children aborted last year, the big news was that two GOP candidates for the U.S. Senate were mistaken and misspoken. Missouri’s Todd Akin lost after claiming that women subjected to “legitimate rape” rarely became pregnant, and Indiana’s Richard Mourdock lost after mistaking a political debate for a theological discussion and telling the moderator that conception through rape “is something that God intended to happen.”

We asked four pro-life leaders in separate interviews how Akin and Mourdock should have answered questions regarding abortion after rape. Lila Rose, president of Live Action, voiced a position all shared: “The child shouldn’t be held accountable for the crimes of the father. The child should be protected and loved just like the woman should be protected and loved.” Rose added that journalistic questioning also provides an opportunity “to remind people that abortion is an act of violence that kills a child, that tears a tiny child that’s just developing apart in his or her mother’s womb.”

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Americans United for Life president Charmaine Yoest suggested that an interviewee “start with acknowledging the pain that women in crisis pregnancy situations are facing. That is the absolute starting point for any conversation about abortion, really whether you’re talking about the hard cases or just any kind of discussion about abortion … the general public [needs to] understand that abortion is not a choice that women want for themselves and for the babies.”

When it comes to the rape question specifically, she recommends referring reporters to people born after rape such as Ryan Bomberger and Rebecca Kiessling: “People who have the moral authority to speak on a situation are the people who have some sort of personal connection to it.” Care Net president Melinda Delahoyde agreed: “When reporters come face to face with a person who was conceived in rape, then it becomes a totally different issue. … I know some who have said, ‘Why would you deny me the right to life? Do you seriously think that you can tell me that because I was conceived in rape, I don’t deserve to live, or that my life isn’t worthy to be lived?’”

Amherst College political science professor Hadley Arkes suggested asking reporters whether they favor capital punishment for the rapist—and when they say no, asking why they want “lethal surgery for the innocent issue of the rape: Do you think that the child bears any responsibility for the rape?” Arkes noted that reporters are likely to talk about the trauma of a mother bearing a rapist’s child—but “if you think the mother having the child would have trauma, do you think she would have trauma in confronting the rapist, again, in a trial? Would you just order up the killing of the rapist, rather than have her go through that?” 

Yoest noted that a hard-pressed abortion movement tries to “turn the American people’s attention towards the hard cases,” so she reminds herself to focus on “the vast majority of abortion cases” and “not to address every question” she is asked. Delahoyde said the raped woman is inevitably the center of attention “for the help that she needs and the resources she needs and the violation that has happened to her soul and her spirit and her body. But we have forgotten that there is another innocent victim here who had no choice in the matter, and who truly in many ways is the least protected of people in society and children in society—and it’s that child conceived and born in rape.”

Arkes proposed that when a typical secular reporter asks a Christian candidate a question designed “to embarrass him in the eyes of the urbane out there who are not Christians and not particularly religious,” he might respond, “‘I don’t know whether it’s part of God’s plan for reporters to be asking questions that they don’t understand, to elicit theological commentaries that they don’t understand.’” Arkes, though, observed that Todd Akin had run for years “in a congressional district where he strikes the right chord ... but as soon as he has to move out to another stage, with people who are more critical and don’t respond to the same cues, he suddenly finds he has to give an argument. And he starts fumbling. Because he’s just not used to having to explain himself.” Last year’s losses were a warning to pro-life candidates: Think and train, because reporters know “they can produce some unforced errors by inducing them to talk.” 

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