Throughout my childhood, I was molested by my father. He suffered neglect and abuse in his own childhood, and his service in World War II added to his demons. All that led to drinking, and alcoholism fueled his abusive behavior.
He never had sexual intercourse with me, which is the dictionary definition of incest, but his abuse nonetheless left lasting negative effects in my life. Years of therapy and what my shrink calls a “extreme predisposition to empathy” resulted in my forgiving my father years ago, even though he went to his grave denying he ever sexually abused me and disowned me for saying that he did. I came to see him as a product of his upbringing, his pain and his inability to confront what ailed him and came to look at him with compassion.
Normally, I don’t think much about this history. But the recent rush by eight states to pass highly restrictive abortion bills — including two in Alabama and Missouri with the unnecessarily cruel twist of no rape or incest exceptions — has brought it all to the forefront again. I keep thinking: What if my father had impregnated me? What would I do?
There’s no doubt in my mind. If that horrific, criminal event had occurred, I would have done all I could to obtain an abortion, possibly dying in the process, as so many women did when abortion was illegal.
It seems easy for people who have not been the victim of parental sexual abuse to say, as Missouri state Sen. Bob Onder did in supporting Missouri’s “heartbeat” abortion bill, that we don’t answer the violent act of incest or rape with the violent act of abortion.
In theory, as a seamless-garment-of-life supporter, I would agree. It would be much better if we fully supported women in fragile circumstances — free childcare, living-wage jobs, subsidized higher education and job training — so they never had to consider abortion.
But we are far from that utopia, and as someone who lived life of under threat of incest until I left for college, let me be clear about what we are saying when we allow no incest exception in anti-abortion bills: You, minor child, will give birth to what will be both your child and your half-sibling.
Let that sink in for a minute. Your child and your half-sibling. Could the legislators passing these laws survive that sentence? Do they even understand why we don’t let first-order relatives marry?
All human life is sacred, but in some very rare, heartbreaking cases we will have to make a judgment about which life is most important, and in those cases, we should come down in favor of the living child. This doesn’t mean that the 10-week-old fetus isn’t valuable, that it isn’t life, that given time, safety and prenatal vitamins, it wouldn’t become a viable human baby.
Rather, it means that because 34 percent of all victims of sexual assault and rape are under the age of 12, we need to be extra protective of those youngsters as well and that we don’t force minors to become incubators for relatives who rape them.
If that makes me no longer fit in the pro-life box, so be it. I have company because the vast majority of Americans — 77 percent according to a 2018 Gallup poll — agree that abortion should be legal when the pregnancy results from incest or rape.
The fact is, there are men out there who think nothing of sexually “taking” their wives, girlfriends or children at any time they want. There are also men who impregnate women and then disappear, taking no responsibility for the children legislators in the aforementioned states want so desperately to protect. Until we have a society that deals with that, there may be rare cases where abortion is not only necessary but the most compassionate answer to a horrible situation.
I agree that violent acts should not be met with further violence. This is why I support wide access to birth control and some restrictions on abortion, don’t support the death penalty and lose sleep over my taxes paying for bombs that kill other people’s children across the globe. Violence for violence isn’t the answer.
But forcing a victim of incest to give birth is not a peaceful act. It is further brutality to a young girl after she’s already endured the cruelty of rape by a relative. And no matter how hard lawmakers try to jerry-rig their “no exceptions” decision into appearing pro-life, it is the furthest thing from it.