Attempting to read the divine will is a notoriously perilous enterprise, all the more so in the middle of a hotly contested Senate race. Richard Mourdock, the Republican nominee from Indiana, has come to appreciate this fact since answering a debate question about his views on abortion in cases of rape. “I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God. And, I think, even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”
Mourdock was not saying that God intended for the rape to happen — a thought that, taken seriously, would be heretical for a Christian to utter. Nor was he minimizing the anguish of rape, or of pregnancy resulting from rape. His remarks were unlike those of Todd Akin, the Republican Senate candidate from Missouri. Mourdock was not glibly denying that his pro-life principles could ever entail terrible torment.
In discussing these painful matters, we should keep in mind that there are real people involved. There are women who have been raped, too many of them, and we should never tell them, or say anything that can be heard as telling them, that God wanted them to be raped. There are people who were conceived in rape, and neither should we suggest that God does not consider their lives a blessing. Nor should we convey the impression that Christians believe either of these things.
For Mourdock to invoke God’s will was not merely a political mistake. Pro-life Christians and Jews do not believe that God has told us explicitly that unborn children have the same right not to be killed that newborns, toddlers, adolescents, and adults do. We believe that God has given us the power of reason, the ability to acquire knowledge, and the obligation to do justice. Science tells us that human lives begin at conception. Reason persuades us that it is wrong to will the death of human beings, regardless of their age, location, or state of dependency; and wrong, as well, to withhold legal protection on such bases. Our argument does not, that is, proceed from any claim to special access to the mind of God.
It is reasoning, as well, that persuades us that the innocent human beings created through rape deserve protection. We recognize that most people — even most people who believe that abortion should generally be prohibited — do not share this view. There are very few places in the country where a ban on abortion in cases of rape is even a remote possibility. What, then, should pro-lifers who believe that justice requires this ban do? What they have already been doing: Working first toward legal protection for the other 99 percent of unborn children, while seeking to change minds on this question toward the goal of more complete legal protection.
Mourdock has hurt himself by bringing attention, clumsily, to a position he holds that places him in a distinct minority. That position is, however, more than defensible, and it follows logically from very widely shared pro-life premises. President Obama’s support for partial-birth abortion, taxpayer-funded abortion, late-term abortion, and a type of infanticide is also an unpopular set of positions that follows logically from certain premises, albeit very different ones. Some of these views have actually been the law of the land, and others have a greater likelihood of becoming law than a ban on abortions in cases of rape. What a pity that the media’s interest in politicians who espouse unpopular views on abortion is so selective.