The Corner

Rape & Incest

I keep reading Andrew Sullivan’s attempts to paint Ramesh and NR’s editors as crazy extremists on abortion. That’s one fight. But Sullivan also keeps harping on the the fact that Ramesh and other “extremists” are opposed to abortion even in cases involving rape and incest. This, of course, is a famous objection used by politicians, feminists and push-pollers alike. And I can understand the revulsion and I’m even sympathetic to rape and incest exceptions. But I think I’m honest enough to admit I can’t figure out the principled argument about why, if you are prolife in a morally rigorous way, they should be excluded. I can think of public policy arguments, such as kids born under such circumstances may well have serious pyschological problems because mothers may not be committed to their children. And the general, “ick” response is very, very strong and I think that should tell us something.

But what is the argument grounded in principle? Is it a liberty of the women argument? If that’s case, why are these the only places where personal liberty should triumph? In the case of incest there’s surely a health issue for the child involved. But incest isn’t the only circumstance where that’s the case. Is it the psychological health of the mother? I think that’s obviously a serious concern. But, obviously, psychological health isn’t at risk only in cases of unwanted pregnancies from rape or incest.

Is it — and I suspect this is the closest to the real answer — because huge majorities of Americans just detest the idea that women should have to have children from rape and incest? That’s not an illegitimate answer, but it is a populist one based in a very disturbing understanding of popular sovereignty, at least if you’re a prolifer. If you’re prolife, but think when really big majorities favor killing it’s ok, you need to think things through a bit more. Tactically, making allownces for rape and incest is pefectly fine. But as a matter of first principles, I’m not sure I get it.

Again, I’m not committed to a position either way, but when I read Andrew making it sound like being opposed to the rape and incest exception is objectively “extremist,” I’m curious to know why. After all, in the 1990s Andrew used to say he was prolife. So why is he not only opposed to the exception but so convinced that it’s “extremist” not to be? And, please, no arguments based on instinctual or cultural objections from America’s leading advocate for gay marriage.

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