This topic has been discussed a lot lately in light of Proposition 26, which will be on the ballot in Mississippi this coming Tuesday, so I asked my friend, Matthew Delaughter, to write a post on the issue. Matthew lives in Louisville, KY, and serves as a deacon and pastoral apprentice at Immanuel Baptist Church. Though this is a lengthy and heart-wrenching post, we would all be wise to read through it and think deeply on this important topic.
The Sexually Assaulted
For the past couple of months my wife and I, having gone through foster care classes and knowing that we may have a sexually abused child in our house, have given more thought to sexual assault victims and how to counsel them to persevere and to continue to have hope amidst everyday situations that may be hindered because of how they were treated in the past. For example, we may lack patience for someone who is slow to put their trust in others, and we may not have given thought ourselves that something horrible may have happened to this person with someone they trusted. Maybe when you were a young child it was your favorite time when your Dad came to read you stories at night, while that was the most dreaded time for them because that is when their dad would come and molest them. Or for the husband whose wife never wants to have sex with him really does not know that his wife is living in denial from when she was raped in college and finds sex now to be dirty, shameful, and abusive. So, in this post on rape and abortion, I want to call us all not only to think ethically about rape and whether or not one should have an abortion, but I also want to call us to be like Christ and sympathize with those who are sexual assault victims.
The dilemma I am addressing is the ethics of one having an abortion because one has been raped, and they are now carrying their rapist’s child. Having done sidewalk counseling in the past at a local abortion clinic, this is one scenario that can be heavily discussed. I also remember watching one of my favorite T.V. shows, Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, and Detective Olivia Benson confronts an anti-abortion protester outside of the clinic and says something along the lines of, “So if abortion is always wrong, what about the woman who has been raped?” The protestor is left speechless and Detective Benson has supposedly won the battle of the debate by showing that abortion is at least ok when a woman is raped. I have also noticed many people through social media voicing their opinions in the great state of Mississippi, in response to Proposition 26, and it seems from many who would put Christian as a religious status on their Facebook profile that a woman is justified to have an abortion if she has been raped. So here is the dilemma, but before we pursue to examine the ethics, let us first consider that there is a woman who has been raped.
The Victim and The Effects
Most of everything I am about to say I would have to attribute to a book called, Rid of My Disgrace by Justin and Lindsey Holcomb. I have found this to be a helpful resource as they have ministered to many sexually assaulted victims. Now let us consider a very horrible act. Thinking of rape makes me literally sick to my stomach. I grew up around mostly girls and the thought of another man overpowering my wife, my mother, or my sister kindles great anger in me. This horrible action actually happens in the Bible with Amnon and Tamar. This story can be found in 2 Samuel 13 and basically what happens is that Amnon, Tamar’s brother, is obsessed with Tamar and pretends to be ill and asks for the virgin, Tamar, to come and to care for him. As Tamar is caring for him, Amnon begins to force himself, and as he forces himself onto Tamar, she pleads with him not to do this wicked thing, and says, “Where could I get rid of my disgrace?” What makes this story even more horrible is Amnon’s response to Tamar after he rapes his own sister. 2 Samuel 13:15 says, “Then Amnon hated her with intense hatred.” In fact, he hated her more than he had loved her. Amnon said to her, ‘Get up and get out!” This here is an example that rape is an expression of hatred, with the perpetrator seeing the victim not as a human being made in the image of God, but rather as an object for their use. Consider, as you read this, how selfless and full of hate one must be to do this to another person. Now most importantly consider the victim. Tamar, like 73% of other victims, was sexually assaulted by someone she was acquainted with, not a stranger. As Amnon forces himself onto Tamar, she recognizes and says that this will disgrace her.
This is where much sympathy must come in for those who have experienced sexual assault. Why? Because some general feelings that victims may experience are disgrace/shame, denial, guilt, and anger. So, what does it mean for someone to feel shame? Well what do we think of when we think of shame? We think of women who try to wear extra clothing to hide what their culture would consider fat. We think of political figures being exposed of wild college days or even sexual assaults that they have committed. Or what about Adam and Eve hiding from God and covering themselves with fig leaves? When I think of shame, I think of some kind of inadequacy being exposed to the world around you or something that may not be inadequate but you prefer it not be exposed. I think exposure can help us to think more in terms with the rape victim and help us see that not only is a rape victim being exposed, but they are being forcefully exposed, and the most personal parts of their bodies are being violated, and not only are they violated but they are left alone. Tamar was a virgin girl who probably dreamed of marriage like any other girl and she was raped, hated, and told to leave as if she had no soul that would bear the unbearable feelings. Tamar, like all rape victims, was disgraced.
Now, what about denial? Why may sexual assault victims live in denial? My answer would be that because they have such a lack of hope in anything else, the only way they can cope with reality and the future is to act like the assault never happened. There can also be a form of denial where the victim acknowledges what happened but acts as if the event has not affected them at all. The Holcombs write, “Denial of the assault and its effects can lead victims to minimize the anxiety and distress they are feeling, which can lead to isolation and loneliness. Sadly, some would rather deny or minimize their own emotions than grieve the irretrievable loss of their innocence and trust in others.”
Though there are many other emotions and effects that victims will face, the last one I want to make note of is guilt. Guilt may be experienced by bringing on self-blame and thinking that they could have done more to stop the assault. Sadly, much guilt can be fueled by family members, by comments like, “Well, I told you that skirt was too promiscuous.” or “Why were you even walking by yourself in that part of town?” The Holcombs also point out that a rape victim may experience guilt because they experienced arousal during the assault. Now, after observing the disgraceful act of rape and a few of the horrible effects that follow it, how do we respond in love and grace to these victims that live in our communities?
Is there Hope?
In my mind, there is no greater hope than knowing that Jesus Christ came to the earth, sympathized with humanity by becoming a man, by suffering, by dying, and now by being raised from the dead has given us hope to walk in newness of life. The amazing hope found in the here and now for believers in Christ is not only that we are forgiven of our sins and await a new heavens and a new earth, but also we have communion with the Lord Jesus Christ, who sympathizes with us through the Spirit. Hebrews 4:15 says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” What great hope we have, that the God who spoke and brought forth everything that has ever existed, sympathizes with us in our weaknesses. Yes, God cares when you suffer with infertility, and He cares that you have been single for 30 years but desire to be married, and He cares that you were laid off from work after 15 years of faithful service, and he cares and weeps that somebody sexually violated you. But how can He sympathize? I mean, we have no account of Jesus being sexually violated? No, but we know that the King of Glory was brought to shame and experienced our griefs. We see this in Isaiah 53:3-5, which says, “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely, he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.” Be encouraged by this: that the pain of rape is not foreign to the God of the Bible.
Well if God hates rape so much, then why did he not stop my perpetrator? I think this is a great question and the Bible certainly entertains it. We see that God allows Joseph’s brothers to sell him into slavery, and the end result after much hardship is Joseph leading in the land of Egypt as he provides food to a surrounding world that is in famine. Job, a man who was blameless, lost everything and it seems that God just stood by and let it happen, but as we read the story we find out in the end that Job is speechless before God because God is ultimately wise and does nothing outside of his wisdom. God also allows His people to be taken into captivity, but in doing so, shows that He is most powerful by humbling one of the greatest rulers ever, Nebuchadnezzar. Finally, the greatest example is the cross of Christ, where God actively pours out his wrath on Jesus, in order that sin may be atoned for and sinners be saved. God wisely uses this broken, sinful world to bring His people more into the image of Christ. He also does this intricately, because stumped toes, hot weather, and spilled milk do not happen without purpose. God is aware of all circumstances and is using all circumstances. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” I think it is also important to see in this question that God is patient. Well, what does that mean? The reason that God has not wiped away all rapists, murderers, liars, thieves, and gossips, is because as in the days of Noah, God is patient towards sinners. The Bible says that every intention of the hearts of the people of Noah’s day was evil and God was patient not to destroy for 120 years. Notice also alongside God’s patience that He is just and will one day repay. Your rapist may be roaming the streets, raping other women, and laughing that he has never been caught, but if he does not repent, his wickedness will not fall through the cracks because God will recount all his works (Rom. 2:5-10). God will vindicate every enemy that has harmed you.
Does Conception through Rape Justify Abortion?
So, what should I do if I was raped and conceived a child? I do not know if I can bear the pain of carrying, much less seeing my rapist’s child? Should I get an abortion? My answer to that would be, “No.” My main reason is because of the gospel hope that I just presented above. The problem with abortion after rape is that it is a false hope. People argue all the time that if a woman has her rapist’s child, she will be constantly reminded of that horrid day. No, if she has the abortion she will still be reminded of that horrid day by later sex with a spouse or by insensitive comments made by others in society. So the gospel liberates a rape victim not to feel nasty and shameful to have sex with a future husband; the gospel also strengthens her to receive insensitive comments from others in culture, and surely the gospel motivates a woman to know that though she was not seeking a child, she can by the grace of God carry and give birth to a child that was conceived in rape. How does the gospel motivate this? Well, I believe much said above could show why, but let us look at another passage. 2 Corinthians 8:9 says, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” Jesus, who is God, sacrificed Himself and made Himself nothing in order to make something poor, rich. Oh, then how much more should we lay our lives down for the least of these and those who society considers worthless! Mothers, I plead with you to know the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and to lay down your life for small, developing human beings, who are being knit together by God (Psalm 139:13)! They exist in your womb by the very sovereign hand of God. Babies conceived through rape, incest, and some who develop with mental defects and physical deformities are surely not outside of the Lordship of our God.
What if one says they do not believe the Bible is authoritative and that the gospel is no motivation for them to not have an abortion? Then I would just argue for what is clearly evident in Creation. It is evident from conception that an embryo is a separate human being from the mother. Robert P. George, a professor of jurisprudence at Princeton, and Christopher Tollefsen, a professor of philosophy at South Carolina, write that, “(A Zygote) has all the genetic information it will need to develop and grow into a much larger organism. Moreover, the zygote does not itself serve a functional role in the biological economy of either parent; it is a separate organism, distinct and whole, albeit at the very beginning of a long process of development to adulthood.” I think it is important to note from this quote that a zygote, which is a fertilized ovum in scientific terms, has all the genetic information it needs. This means from this very early process it was already determined what color your eyes and hair would be, what sex you would be, and any other personal attribute that would separate you from the rest of humanity.
Well, you may say, “I think it is a life, but not a person so that justifies the abortion.” I challenge you then to decide when someone becomes a person outside the time of conception and try to be consistent with ethics. I say this because if you say they are not a person because they are underdeveloped, or dependent, or unable to make a choice, then I would argue so is a newborn infant. Robert and Tollefsen define personhood as this, “To be a person is to be an individual who has the basic natural capacity to shape his or her life, by reason and free choice, even though that natural capacity may not be immediately exercisable (as when someone is in a coma), or may take months or years to become immediately exercisable (as with a human infant, fetus, or embryo), or may be blocked by disease of defect (as in severely retarded persons). If not just sentience, but also being ‘capable of experience and consciousness‘ were required to be a person, then it would follow that infants and the comatose would not be persons either.” Please understand that the baby conceived through rape has the same nature and innocence as of the baby who was conceived to parents who have been happily married for five years. The outside circumstances of how conception took place does not change the rights of the human within the woman. For the unbeliever reading this though I warn you please, “Be not wise in your own eye; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil (Proverbs 3:7).”
The Forgiveness that Knows no End
If you have had an abortion then I want you to know that there is free grace to every sinner that acknowledges his or her sin, repents, and turns to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. Do not try to deny what you did to cope with the rest of life; rather, embrace God’s forgiveness. Romans 4:7-8 says, “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” Hold fast to these verses and understand how blessed you are to have faith in Christ. I cannot help to close by addressing those who fear they have sinned too greatly and for those who have been sexually violated by quoting Romans 8:1 and Psalm 34: 16-18. First, to those who fear their sin is too great, know that, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” And for the one who has been harmed or is just suffering from a great loss, please hear that, “The face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth. When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.”