Thursday, September 6, 2012

Catholicism and abortion in cases of rape

Everyone should know by now about the infamous quote by Senator Akin. If you don't know, you can find an article here.

This has made me wonder, what is the Catholic response in regards to abortion in the case of rape?

I know that in the Church, it is considered licit to indirectly lead to the death of a pre-born child when the mother's life is at stake. For example, when a mother has uterine cancer that will kill her if the uterus is not removed and it cannot wait until the child is viable. Then, the goal is to save the mother's life, not to kill the child. In that case, killing the child is a horribly unfortunate outcome. As it says in the "Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services":

47. Operations, treatments, and medications that have as their direct purpose the cure of a proportionately serious pathological condition of a pregnant woman are permitted when they cannot be safely postponed until the child is viable, even if they will result in the death of the unborn child.  
So, effectively, the Church makes an exception in the case of the mother's life being in danger. We highly respect women who give their lives for their child, like St.  Gianna Beretta Molla, but we don't force the choice on them. That said, I need to clarify that the exception is for the life of the mother, not for the health. Many Catholics feel that making an exception for the health of the mother is too big of a loophole. The value of the life of the child should not be dependent upon the physical and mental effects of the pregnancy on the mother.

Perhaps that gives us a window into the Catholic response to the question of abortion in the case of rape. A pamphlet distributed by the USCCB states:

 Children are sometimes conceived as a result of an evil act, such as rape, but a child's worth does not depend on the circumstances of his or her conception. A child is always a great good in the eyes of God and a source of joy and love to his biological or adoptive family as well. While nurturing such a child to birth requires courage and sacrifice, aborting a child conceived in rape simply answers violence and injustice with even greater violence and injustice.

Pro-life Catholics rejoice in legislation that limits abortion to cases of rape, incest and the life of the mother because it will greatly reduce the number of abortions. However, they do feel that a child should not be punished for the sins of the father.

Sadly, I am not finding any resources for a pastoral response to rape. What are priests and lay ministers to do when faced with a woman who has been viciously violated who does not feel as if she can keep the pregnancy? There are guides for ministers helping women who are victims of domestic violence. Where are the guides for ministers helping victims of rape? There is a tremendous lack of Catholic counseling services for rape victims. I have never heard of any. I searched google for "Catholic rape victim" and two of the first three results were about sex abuse crisis.  A search for "Catholic rape counseling" gives links for many rape counseling services, but only one or two are linked to any Catholic organization.

For someone who believes that life starts at conception, the logic of keeping the child makes sense. You wouldn't execute someone for another person's crime, would you? But if one does not believe that life starts at conception, the idea of forcing a rape victim to keep their pregnancy seems grossly unfair and insensitive. While pro-life activists argue that aborting a child after rape is a violence on top of a violence, others argue that forcing a woman to keep the child is further taking away the autonomy of a woman who has already been violated.

I can see both sides of the situation and I think it would help the Catholic Church's position if we only had more services to help rape victims. We can't offer simple platitudes about "nurturing a child...requires courage and sacrifice" without giving women the tools and support to have that courage and make that sacrifice. Where is the canonized saint who was raped and carried the child to birth? Where are the counseling services? Where is the financial and emotional support? Preaching without action makes the Catholic Church appear very insensitive and heartlessly patriarchal in this situation.

In light of recent publicity of this issue, we can be a voice and a hand upholding the dignity of both the rape victim and the unborn child.

Edit: It is still up in the air on whether or not a Catholic hospital can give treatments like Plan B to women who have been raped. I have seen arguments both for and against. The general consensus seems to be that Plan B is morally permissible as long as conception has not already taken place. The debate is still not definitively decided.

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