Aftereffects of Akin
Let’s not double down on violence and pain.

Representative Todd Akin (R., Mo.)



During elections, we tend to have media debates about topics that are not even on the political table. We particularly — and most painfully — tend to debate the topic of abortion. If only we were at the point in history where we were debating whether or not to delimit the rare, terrible circumstances when abortion should be legal. Obviously, even 40 years after Roe v. Wade, we’re not there yet. Questions asked about rape on the campaign trail in reference to abortion remind me of when, a presidential-primary cycle ago, a reporter asked Mitt Romney if he would support a Human Life Amendment. He seemed amazed such a question would be asked, for we would be living in a changed country if the Supreme Court overruled Roe and Congress passed, and the states ratified, such an amendment; we’re not there yet, so let’s talk about what we can do to make abortions seem unthinkable in the lives of women who find themselves pregnant. Only the hardened ideologue doesn’t want to help mothers be mothers. We ought to focus on this in our politics and in our civic communities. This is a legitimate conversation, and a compassionate one.

— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online.

Congressman Todd Akin’s indefensible comments this past weekend have caused many pro-lifers to reconsider whether there should be an exception in the case of rape. It is the nature of politics to construct situations that place one’s ideological opponents in a difficult position. Pro-lifers have had success doing this with both the partial-birth abortion ban in the 1990s and the ongoing debate over the pain-capable abortion-prevention act. However, when abortion was legally restricted, supporters of legal abortion would often use cases such as rape, incest, the life of the mother, and severe fetal deformity to get people to support expanded access to abortion.

Obviously, the issue of rape puts pro-lifers in a difficult position. Pro-lifers like to talk about personal responsibility — this resonates well with a lot of people. However, in the case of rape, the woman bears no responsibility for the fact that she is now pregnant. Philosophically, pro-lifers still have a lot to say on the matter. If all innocent human life is precious and deserves legal protection, then that should include all unborn children. Furthermore, since no one has any control over the circumstances surrounding his conception, it is unfair for the child to suffer for the sins of his father. Furthermore, an abortion does not undo the rape. It ends the life of an innocent unborn child.

Still, most Americans do not think in purely philosophical terms. Even many who are sympathetic to the pro-life cause simply think it is fair to allow for abortion in the case of rape. The best way for pro-lifers to proceed is to put a human face on the issue. I serve as the faculty adviser to the newly formed campus pro-life group at University of Michigan–Dearborn. For our first event in April, we organized a lecture entitled “Did I Deserve the Death Penalty?” by lawyer Rebecca Kiessling, whose conception was the product of rape. Some asked why we were starting with such a controversial topic. Part of the reason was that I thought the controversy would attract a good crowd. More important, I thought that Kiessling’s presence, her powerful testimony about her mother, and her own life story would get people to reconsider the issue in a way that no philosophical argument ever could.

— Michael New is an assistant professor at the University of Michigan–Dearborn, a fellow at the Witherspoon Institute, and an adjunct scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_J_New.