Reading Time: 3 minutes By University of Toronto Students for Life [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Reading Time: 3 minutes

The anti-abortion movement in the United States is mostly motivated by religious belief.  But there has been an upsurge in “pro-life” sentiment by people with no religious belief.  Organizations like Secular Pro-Life have sprung up.  Half the people in the US now identify themselves as “pro-life,” a significant increase over the past ten years.

“Pro-life” is a euphemism for anti-abortion, and a majority of pro-lifers favor an exception in the case of rape or incest.  There is some real irony in this situation.  Most anti-abortionists claim that human life is “sacred,” and that destroying it by abortion is a sin.  They would like to make it a crime.  But a great many of them are willing to allow it in cases of rape and incest.  Why is the fetus that results from a rape any less sacred?  Surely, the guilt of the rapist is not shared by the fetus.  What is the difference that changes the anti-abortionist’s mind in the case of rape?

If the difference is not the fetus, it must be the person carrying it.  Thus the “sacredness” of the fetus is exposed as a camouflage for the real agenda…a judgment against the woman.  The rape victim should not be forced to carry an unwanted fetus caused by a crime, they say.  But a woman who has consensual sex and gets pregnant is a different matter.  No abortion!

When queried, most people with this view would probably respond that it is a case of the “lesser of two evils.”  Forcing an already traumatized rape victim to carry an unwanted fetus to birth is worse than destroying it, they reason.  That is a laudable humanitarian position.  The fact that it could also be applied to the unfortunate woman who had a contraceptive failure apparently does not occur to anti-abortionists.  The defining distinction seems to be whether or not the woman enjoyed the encounter.  Sex for mere pleasure revokes the right to abortion.

I ran into an ingenious argument the other day which did not rely on the “sacredness” of the fetus to oppose abortion.  Instead, the argument was that women should take “responsibility” for their actions.  If they accidentally got pregnant, they should carry it to term and put it up for adoption if they were not prepared for parenthood.  When asked about the rape case, they agreed that an exception was warranted in that case, and they justified it by asserting that the “sin” of destroying the fetus was transferred to the rapist, thus exonerating the victim.

The first thing that comes to mind is the saying:  “Two wrongs do not make a right.”  Nowhere in modern jurisprudence does it say that one crime justifies the commission of another.  If you murder my friend, and in retaliation, I murder your friend, the courts would treat our two murders similarly, and we would both be punished.  My crime cannot be transferred to you.  But, of course, abortion is legal, at least for the moment, so this is not a legal issue.  It’s a moral issue.  It is a “sin,” that is transferred to the rapist.

Can sins be transferred?  The closest Biblical analogy I could find is “scapegoat.” That term usually is used to identify someone who is singled out for undeserved blame.  According to one source I found, the story of the scapegoat in Leviticus has been interpreted as a symbolic reference to the self-sacrifice of Jesus, who took the sins of humanity on his own head.  Sins can apparently be transferred…at least if you believe in the Bible.

The whole idea of sin is a Biblical concept…a transgression against divine law.  How could a secular anti-abortionist embrace this concept of transferral of sin?

I can only speculate on their justification.  Possibly they view the destruction of a potential human life as immoral in some fundamental sense…a “secular sin” as it were.

Making the rapist the scapegoat for the “sin” of aborting the fetus is ingenious…and very convenient.  It avoids the discomfort of cognitive dissonance.

Stay in touch! Like A Tippling Philosopher on Facebook:

Bert Bigelow is a trained engineer who pursued a career in software design. Now retired, he enjoys writing short essays on many subjects but mainly focuses on politics and religion and the intersection...

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments