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Abortion: One particularly difficult case


Wednesday, July 03, 2019

One of the difficult instances presented as justification in support of procuring an abortion, at least within 12 weeks, is the instance in which conception results from rape, especially if the victim is a young child. Instinctively, the supporters of abortion in this situation are rightly concerned about the trauma the victim experiences from such unjust attack. So advocates for abortion under such circumstance feel justified in their conviction because they conclude it is unreasonable, unfair, and repulsive to ask the victimised woman or child to carry to term and safeguard a human life conceived under such circumstances. Furthermore, they may posit that the motivation in this situation is not based on purely selfish reasons or out of convenience, but to “repair” an injustice.

Indeed, clinical evaluation of women who are victims of sexual assault experience the following psychological responses:

1. shock highlighted by embarrassment;

2. denial highlighted by belief that no one will understand, I cannot live with myself, I cannot handle this or I do not want anyone to know;

3. depression highlighted by shame, self-blame, hopelessness, self-doubt, he did not mean to hurt me, I wish I were dead;

4. fear and anxiety highlighted by nightmares, flashbacks;

5. anger at the rapist, the system; and

6. re-acceptance of self-acknowledgement that it was not my fault, it is okay to feel angry, channel anger to personal advancement, helping others, healing.

The manifestation of these psychological responses are not straightforward; they may interface with each other, include regression, and may take time.

The Roman Catholic church acknowledges that if pregnancy occurs as a result of sexual assault the knee-jerk reaction to procure abortion will not resolve the psychological impact of the bad experience by the victim. Of course, some people sympathising with the victimised will feel that an abortion to remove the physical biological consequence of the unjust sexual assault is justified. As an alternative, the church has intervention programmes that understand the variables and dynamics of the emotional reaction and response elicited in a victim of sexual assault. The essence of the church's programme is characterised by accompaniment. However, the impact of our digital milieu with ready technological access, spoils us into demanding immediate solutions for most problems. But, impulsive action can often lead to overlooking alternative solutions for complex situations. Hence, no consideration is given to protecting an innocent life, in conjunction with care for a victim if conception occurs from sexual assault and abuse. Yet, reasonable people can acknowledge that it is unjust to correct an injustice by doing what is unjust to an innocent life.

Therefore, it is appropriate to apply the following declaration by Thomas Jefferson as a consideration for protecting innocent life: “Courage is needed to resist pressures and false slogans, to proclaim the supreme dignity of all life, and to demand that society itself give it its protection.”

What are the considerations to be advanced to mitigate the dilemma under debate?

One mistake we make is that we prefer taking action in relation to symptoms instead of rooting out or stemming the problem. How about “prevention is better than cure?”

Therefore: 1. As an advancing civilisation we cannot continue accommodating sexual irresponsibility by ignoring that a sexually permissive environment makes sexual abuse commonplace. We must not overlook the correlation between sexual irresponsibility and the socio-moral issue at hand. Let us have programmes to improve sexual responsibility.

2. We must not allow easy cases for administering justice to escape criminal penalty and publicity. Taking steps to administer justice through follow-up on easy cases can be a deterrent. Therefore, make effective application of laws against sexual abuse.

3. Remain silent no more! We must advance campaigns that enable and empower victims of sexual abuse to seek immediate assistance and support. Families and community structures must become a space of trust for victims to immediately report abuse. Seeking immediate help can prevent the possibility of pregnancy resulting from rape and abuse. A campaign to break the silence can create an environ empowering victims of sexual abuse not to suffer alone. Breaking the silence can also prevent and mitigate: (i) health challenges associated with STDs; (ii) provide early psychosocial support; and (iii) prevent a pregnancy that can lead to further moral complications. This latter solution is quite complex because regard for innocent life if conception takes place requires protecting the innocent life. Therefore, establishing a protocol to prevent conception resulting from unjust sexual assault must include protecting innocent life if conception has taken place.

The challenge to determine right action in this debate must be based on valid moral principles and not emotive reactions. Establishing common agreeable principles must be our pursuit as we contend with this difficult issue.

The fact is, those of us contending “for or against” the termination of a pregnancy, successfully transitioned all the developmental stages in our mothers womb. In appreciation for the privilege of our existence, may we accord to innocent life in the womb the privilege we enjoy.


Kenneth D Richards is the Roman Catholic archbishop of Kingston. Send comments to the Observer or