The dust up over Representative Todd Akin’s statement that women who are raped rarely get pregnant has made the front page of The New York Times. (August 21,2012) Akin is a Republican pro life advocate whose campaign remarks were based on the publications of Dr. John C. Willke, the former president of the National Right to Life Committee. The Akin-Willke claim asserts that that due to the trauma of a forcible or “legitimate rape” a “woman’s body has ways to try and shut that whole thing down.”
These comments predictably incited outrage and protests-- from politicians, feminists, pro choice and pro life advocates, as well as derisive dismissals from medical experts. Congressman Akin apologized for the unfortunate wording of his statements, but continues to stand by his position that rape is not a justification for legal abortion. Unfortunately for him, his ineptitude may have aborted his political career.
My reservations re this controversy are complex. I deplore the fact that fellow pro life advocates can harm the cause by citing unproven scientific claims, seemingly motivated by wishful thinking. It is imperative when dealing with moral conflicts never to paper over the difficulties of taking a morally just stand for the protection of life. Costs and suffering have to be admitted as part of choosing to do the right thing. Abortion is wrong because it extinguishes an existing vulnerable and dependent human life. How that life began, whether by rape, incest or involuntary accident is not a morally determining factor.
More specifically, to deny the role that chance plays in our lives is intellectually inexcusable. To assert that “nature” knows best or is always benign in its effects is truly misleading. Ours is not a just world where everyone gets what they deserve. Innocent bystanders are injured often—indeed as in Bosnia forcibly raped and impregnated. Why? because contingency and constraining powers of all kinds operate in the disordered world bequeathed to us by evolutionary chance and human sinfulness. Hard as they try, individual humans can never fully control their bodies or their future lives. Ultimately, we are all vulnerable as embryos, and in real need of collective protection and communal support.
As I look around at our contentious current scene, a pattern of opposing beliefs can be discerned. Conservatives influenced by Ayn Rand’s illusions assert that autonomous strong individuals can succeed through their own mental and physical efforts, so let nature take its course. By contrast, other people (the 99%?) acknowledge human vulnerability to chance and negative forces beyond individual control, so mutual protection and sharing of resources are morally mandated. For the second group the government is no enemy or obstacle, but rather the best available instrument to ensure that humans survive and flourish. Who will win this argument?