Note: This post assumes you have read the main Christianity and Abortion post, as it discusses the biblical principles that contribute to the pro-life stance, as well as some secular arguments.
When talking about abortion, a possible point of contention even among strong pro-lifers is what to do about two special categories of cases. The first is rape. In this case, the pregnancy is almost certainly unwanted and the mother is possibly also unable to raise the child (too young, not enough money, no boyfriend/husband, etc.), so abortion seems like the ‘best’ option to preserve the well-being of the pregnant women. Given the principles previously discussed, though, abortion should also be avoided in this scenario. It is a life growing in the mother’s womb, and whether the sex was consensual or not doesn’t affect that. It is here that care towards mother and child is the most essential and needed. Even though the mother might never want to think of herself as a mother during this process, and even though the child might be fated to go up for adoption, it is still far better for the child to survive. A highly immoral act towards an innocent victim should not inspire another.
Some pro-lifers hold that this rape exception to an otherwise pro-life set of beliefs is valid because it is the epitome of an unwanted pregnancy. After having the mother horrendously violated in such a way, is it right to make her change her lifestyle so drastically to inconvenience her more? The answer lies in our perceptions of how much life is valued. When we think about it, the situation really doesn’t seem so different than that of a consenting couple who ends up with a child unexpectedly (with the exception of the obvious fact that the pregnancy in this case was the direct result of a violent crime, which as already argued would not make a child less human in any way). It is here especially we see the physical consequences of rape which can last way beyond the initial act itself, and why sex and marriage are held to be sacred acts to Christians. But that could easily be an article of its own.
Pro-choice supporters sometimes like to accuse pro-life supporters who hold to the validity of this rape exception of not being consistent, and they are right. A life is a life, regardless if it came as a result of a rape or not. As mentioned above, the sin of the offending parent should not have any bearing on the status of the child.
A second contentious situation is what to do if the life of the mother is threatened as a result of the pregnancy. Here too, even some serious pro-life supporters grant exceptions. Doctors typically claim an ethical duty formalized in texts like the Hippocratic Oath to do their best to heal the sick through any and all measures that are required, while doing the least harm (if an otherwise ideal treatment should have any negative side-effects). If a situation requiring an operation on or concerning the fetus should occur, the goal is to save all life involved, giving priority to the mother. At the same time, all possible precautions should be taken to make sure the child survives as well. Such situations, if they occur, would usually take place later on in the pregnancy outside the typical window for abortions (most abortions are administered in the first trimester).
As we see, this ‘special case’ may be even simpler than the first. The important part is to recall the definition of abortion (as given in Part 1) as the intentional, unnatural death of a pre-born child, with emphasis on the word ‘intentional’. If a good-faith effort is made to save the child whether they are still inside or moved outside of the mother, but they unfortunately still die despite the doctor’s best efforts, it is certainly tragic, but not considered abortion. The killing of the child was never the goal. In fact, saving the child was the goal.
In the end, both of these cases are uncommon. The Guttmacher Institute carried out research on the reasons why mothers sought abortion in a study published in 2005 featuring data from 2004, where over 1,100 U.S. mothers were surveyed. Of those surveyed, rape/incest abortions account for less than 1.5% of abortions and health issues from the mother account for 12%. Keep in mind the latter is merely categorized as ‘physical problems with my health’ and can include a wide variety of issues “from chronic or debilitating conditions such as cancer and cystic fibrosis to pregnancy-specific concerns such as gestational diabetes and morning sickness.” Only a certain subset of these (and I would guess a very small one) would fall into the ‘potential death of mother’ category of interest here. Given that the 1987 figure for abortions in the interest of parent health was actually smaller, at 8%, it is an extremely valid guess that a significant amount of these 12% in 2004 are non-lethal situations given the general improving trend of science and medicine. Also, there may be overlap between these two cases because respondents could choose more than one reason (I don’t feel this would be too significant, though). Compared to 74% answering ‘having a baby would dramatically change my life’, 73% answering ‘can’t afford a baby’, and 48% answering ‘relationship problems or inability to be a single mother’, the two special cases outlined in this article are actually nowhere near the most common cases. Yet, the pro-life principles of love, support, and education touched on at the end of our Christianity and Abortion article listed at the top of this post apply here more than ever. Rape and medical complications are certainly not things to easily dismiss, but they needn’t result in further intentional deaths.