Sunday, October 30, 2005

Abortion: A Solution to Pregnancy from Rape?

I've seen some interesting commentary going on in reply to a post over at Abortion Clinic Days which got me thinking about my own stance on rape and abortion. I understand and sympathise with the woman who has been raped and support theraputic abortion in the case of rape. However, I'm concerned that  societal stigma and well-meaning families and doctors are pressuring women who've become pregnant as a result of rape to have abortions and it's not a decision freely chosen by women. Also, I'm concerned that women are being mislead into believing that having an abortion and erasing the pregnancy will help bring them healing or closure from their rape, which they may not so easily find.

Caution: This post is an expression of my own personal opinions and views. This post is of a contraversial and sensitive topic, and may be a trigger for those who have experienced rape and/or abortion. I only recommend continuing to read this post and responses if you feel that you're at a place where you've found healing/peace and you are ready for often strong and opposing political views. If this posts upsets you or makes you feel uncomfortable in any way, this may not be the right time for you to read this and you may want to come back at a later time. Thank you.

A woman who has been raped has been physically assaulted, personally violated, and left with her an enormous and long-lasting trauma. In the case of rape and abuse, where she has been violated against her will, understandably there is a sense of loss of control over one's life. There are several essential needs at this point 1) address her physical needs by providing adequate medical care in the post-rape physical exam to treat for possible STDs and to prevent pregnancy, while respecting her privacy and the sensitivity of the situation 2) to address her emotional needs by providing non-judgmental support, understanding, and encouragement to seek professional counseling. 3) to stand by women and encourage them to report the rape early so that she can receive immediate medical treatment and so the rapist can be prosecuted so he won't trouble her or someone else again. We should provide a huge amount of support to help the woman report the rape. Only about 40% of rapes sexual assaults were reported to law enforcement in 2003(1).

In 2003, there were 198,850 victims of rape, attempted rape or sexual assault sccording to the 2003 National Crime Victimization Survey. Unfortuantly, up to 4,065 pregnancies may have resulted from these attacks(1). Both sides of the debate typically accept the notion that women with a pregnancy resulting from a sexual assault would want an abortion and the abortion will some how help her heal or recover from the assault. "But in the only major study of pregnant rape victims ever done, Dr. Sandra Mahkorn found that 75 to 85 percent chose against abortion."(2)Having an abortion is a major life event which is almost always stressful and sometimes even traumatic. Will an abortion truly help her, or will it only cause further hurt? "In answering this question, it is helpful to begin by noting that many women report that their abortions felt like a degrading and brutal form of medical rape"(3). Abortion involves an often intimate and painful examination of a woman's sexual organs. Also, once she is on the operating table, she must temporarily give up control of her body. This experiential association between abortion and sexual assault is very strong for many women. It is especially strong for women who have a prior history of sexual assault, whether or not she is presently pregnant as the result of an assault(4).Second, research shows that after any abortion, it is common for women to experience guilt, depression, feelings of being "dirty," resentment of men, and lowered self-esteem. What is most significant is that these feelings are identical to what women typically feel after rape. Abortion, then, only adds to and accentuates the traumatic feelings associated with sexual assault. Rather than easing the psychological burdens of the sexual assault victim, abortion adds to them."(6) Also, a woman may find that the emotional and physical hurts may still be there even after an abortion and she will still need lots of love, support, counseling, and time to heal.

Feelings of guilt, shame, devaluement, humiliation, and dirtiness are common reactions following a sexual assault. These may be further perpetuated by stereoptypes and myths about rape. A victim or rape may be stigmatized by her peers, friends, and even family. They may subtlly or not so sutly push for an abortion. "Feelings of guilt and shame are common reactions following a sexual assault. Because of misconceptions about rape, some victims blame themselves, doubt their own judgment, or wonder if they were in some way responsible for the assault. Feelings of guilt and self-blame may be reinforced by the reactions of others, who, because of prevalent myths about rape, may blame the victim or criticize his or her behavior."(6) Those encouraging abortion often do so because they are uncomfortable dealing with rape victims, or perhaps out of prejudice against victims whom they see as being "guilty for letting it happen. 'Wiping out the pregnancy is a way of hiding the problem. It is a "quick and easy" way to avoid dealing with the woman's true emotional, social and financial needs'(5). Keep in mind rape is usually a pre-meditated act of violence, of control and domination.

Also, those surrounding the woman (friends, co-workers, family) may harbor a sense of animosity towards a child concieved in rape and/or the child may be looked down upon unfavorably because of the circumstances surrounding her conception. The woman may be strongly pressured by those close to her and around her to have an abortion. Some may see wiping out the pregnancy is a way of hiding the problem. Another concern is that of will carrying to pregnancy to term cause the woman more emotional damage and serve as a reminder of the rape? The child of a rape will not necessarily cause further emotional damage to the mother. It may be in fact beneficial to her healing. Should she continue with the pregnancy, she may sense that if she can get through the pregnancy, she will have conquered the rape. Also, she might feel that she wants to rise above the violence done to her by protecting her child, has the ability to show compassion to her child, and prove to herself that she is brave and loving where the rapist was cowardly and hateful, that she is peaceful where he was violent, that she respects life where he tried to ruin hers. And so from that she may heal and grow stronger and prove to all that she is an infinitely better person that he could ever be(5). Also, by carrying the pregnancy to term, she would reveal the abuse which has happened to her.

A child conceived in rape may be labeled "the rapist's spawn" and even blamed for the rape or ruining the woman's life. No, harm was already done when he violated her. No one is to blame but the rapist for forcing the pregnancy on her. The child had no control over how he/she was conceived and is a second victim of the rape. Describing a child concieved in rape as the rapist's baby implies that he has some sort of ownership of the child that he forced upon the mother, and so implies that she can never truly take guardianship of the child and despite nurturing the child in her womb; that the child will always somehow be his or a monster like him in some way beyond mere genetics. The preborn child is an individual person in existence at fertilization and is not an extension of the father's body and is not a part of the mother's body. The child is more than just a product of rape, this is also her baby and individual human being. Regardless of the circumstances surrounding a child's conception, each child has worth and is deserving of love. How the child began is not what matters as much as a child raised with love, nuturing care, and encouragement so she can make the most of her life.

Regardless of the pregnancy outcome, a victim of rape still needs lots of love, support, and counseling, and time to heal.

If you have ever been raped, it's not too late to get help:
Call the RAINN hotline at 1.800.656.HOPE It's free and confidential.
or see my listing of hotlines for a complete list and international numbers.
State Laws on Statutes of Limitations
Books Suggested by Survivors
Understanding the Impact of Rape
Drugs Used in Rape

Works Cited: 1. The Rape, Abuse, and Incest Network's Statistic's page.
RAINN's "two and a half minute" calculation is based on 2003 National Crime Victimization Survey from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice.
2. Mahkorn, "Pregnancy and Sexual Assault," The Psychological Aspects of Abortion, eds. Mall & Watts, (Washington, D.C., University Publications of America, 1979) 55-69
3. Francke, The Ambivalence of Abortion (New York: Random House, 1978) 84-95, 167.; Reardon, Aborted Women - Silent No More (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1987), 51, 126.
4. 3. Zakus, "Adolescent Abortion Option," Social Work in Health Care, 12(4):87 (1987).
5. David C. Reardon, Ph.D. in Rape, Incest and Abortion: Searching Beyond the Myths.
6. Rape Treatment Center, Santa Monica - UCLA Rape Treatment Center
Impact of Rape: Self-Blame and Shame

I would like to thank the following sites for providing valuable insight and information:

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