Todd Akin’s position on abortion is logically more consistent than Mitt Romney’s

The big political fuss this week over abortion and rape affords me an opportunity to make an argument I’ve made here on several previous occasions: Any exceptions to a ban on abortion would be logically inconsistent.

(My own position on abortion, by the way, is somewhat nuanced. I’m pro-choice, but pro-choice is a political position, not a moral position. I don’t favor laws against everything I consider immoral. And, in fact, I do have moral misgivings about abortion in certain circumstances. My position, however, is not the subject at hand. I’m talking here about the curious politics of abortion. I’m not a politician or an activist on either side of the abortion issue.)

As you probably know by now, the current controversy on this subject arose the other day when Todd Akin, a Republican candidate for a U.S. Senate seat in Missouri, foolishly contended in an interview that the trauma of a rape makes the female victim highly unlikely to become pregnant. That’s nonsense, of course, but it’s basically irrelevant to the larger point of Akin’s opposition to abortion even in cases of rape.

Akin’s view on this matter is not one shared by most Americans, according to the polls. Even lots of so-called pro-lifers — Mitt Romney, for example — are willing to allow for exceptions where rape or incest is a factor.

This is an area in which John McCain got into a little political trouble a few years ago.

McCain had long been generally opposed to abortion but wanted its legality maintained in cases of rape or incest. Accordingly, he advocated on several occasions that the Republican Party platform be changed from its opposition to all abortions to a position allowing for certain exceptions.

But when he emerged as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee in 2008, McCain came under big pressure from the party’s hard-core anti-abortion wing to drop his plan to change the platform.

The squeeze in which McCain found himself involved an angle that still seems not to have occurred to casual observers — that is, that the stricter position against abortion is more logically consistent than the one that allows for exceptions.

The only good reason for a person to oppose abortion in general requires one to believe that it’s the taking of an innocent life. If it’s not the taking of an innocent life, it shouldn’t really be a legal issue.

Granted, the decision on whether to bring a fetus to full term can involve complex emotions and considerations, but absent the homicide question, the ethics are purely personal considerations, and the government has no legitimate interest in the matter.

The basic premise advanced by the pro-life movement is that abortion is wrong because it’s tantamount to murder. If you don’t buy that argument, you have no valid reason to want abortion outlawed.

How can a fetus in a case of rape or incest be less innocent than one produced in more acceptable circumstances? How can people who want exceptions made for rape and incest deny that they’re logically and morally inconsistent on this score?

Another question: If a fetus is a person, and abortion is the unwarranted killing of that innocent person, why do few, if any, pro-life politicians favor a law under which the mother would be charged with murder?

Indeed, one has to wonder if the many politicians who would allow for exceptions in cases of rape and incest have actually thought this matter through, or whether their general opposition to abortion is merely an insincere political convenience.

There are lots of other hypocrites on this issue. Most people who call themselves “pro-life” shudder at the thought of a woman having to bring a fetus to full term in a case of rape or incest. And most politicians are loathe to buck majority sentiment in that regard. So much for the sincerity of their pro-life positions.

If abortion is wrong, it’s wrong no matter who impregnated the woman or how he did it.

Nor is there any consistency of logic in making an exception for an abortion to save the life of the mother, as Mitt Romney does. In his book “Papal Sin,” author Garry Wills argues: “If the fetus and the mother have equal status as persons, the natural and not the inflicted death should be preferred,” if you’re going to be morally and logically consistent about it.

I think candidates for public office who take positions on the issue of abortion should be required to explain in detail their opinions on just when life starts and when, if ever, it’s permissible to end such life and what penalties should be imposed for violations of any limits that are enacted into law. And they should be required to square their anti-abortion positions with the belief among some folks — orthodox Catholics, for example — that the so-called morning-after pill is an abortifacient. Are any of these pols willing to call for a ban on morning-after pills? Are they willing to call for murder charges against women who take such pills? If not, why not?

I suspect that questions like these would prompt lots of so-called pro-life politicians to squirm and dance and tie themselves into ideological knots.




  1. It get’s even more intersting for both sides when you throw in the debate about the death penalty.

    There may always be justifiable positions for taking a life. War, execution of a clearly guilty perpetrator of heinous crimes, abortion in the case where a mother’s life is truly at risk.

    First, you have to define life.

    Second, you have to negotiate the vast territory of gray zones that crop up any time you try and draw a line in the sand.

  2. Wonder if Willard and Ryan have good mirrors on their bicycles. They certainly need them for all the back pedaling on the subject of abortion and rape.

  3. As a pro-lifer, I have attempted to articulate this position on rape and incesr many times. You’re analysis of the logic is spot-on. I would like to see tax dollars offered to cover all expenses in such cases for pre-natal care, adoption services and any counseling or therapeutic services deemed appropriate by mental health professionals, but I do not think the baby should suffer harm.

    I would push back a bit on the ‘mother’s life in danger’ exception, though the analysis you provide is new and requires some thought on my part. I have long held that, because both lives are of equal value, it is legitimate for the mother to act in self-defense against a threat to her life. An emotionally complicated decision, for sure, but one that seems logically consistent from a moral and legal perspective. What say you?

  4. Patty Bennett

    Whenever the mother’s life is in danger, medical actions taken to treat whatever disease she happens to have ARE moral and ethical, and do not constitute a direct abortion, even if the child dies as a result of the treatment. Some examples of this are if the mother has cancer and requires chemotherapy. The fetus (innocent child) may die as a sad side-effect of this treatment, but that would not be tantamount to murder. Abortion–the intentional death of the child–is not something that can cure ANY disease of the mother, and indeed, can cause her even further health problems, both emotional and physical. And an abortion will NEVER undo a rape. It just causes further trauma.
    Even in more severe cases, such as ectopic pregnancy, where the embryo is implanted in the fallopian tube of the mother, removing the fallopian tube will have the GOAL of preserving the mother’s life by correcting the rupture and hemorrhage of the tube. The baby does die, but it is not the intended result. At this point, some people argue that this is mere hair-splitting, that if the child dies either way, what’s the difference? Wouldn’t you agree that there is a difference between manslaughter and murder? That is the analogy I would use.
    The “hard cases” are hard for a reason. At any rate, the child is innocent, no matter what the circumstances of conception, and should NEVER be sentenced to the death penalty.

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